Travel Guide - Costa Rica

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Introduction To Costa Rica

Overview
Costa Rica is sometimes referred to as “the Switzerland of Central America.” And no wonder…the comfortable lifestyle, peaceful government, and stunning natural wonders make this small Central American country the perfect vacation spot. Whether you prefer hiking on pristine rainforest trails among howler monkeys and toucans, or sipping margaritas on the Caribbean Coast, Costa Rica has something for everyone.

History buffs will thrill at the ruins of 3000-year-old Guayabo de Turrialba, as well as the pre-Columbian architecture found in cities throughout the country. If city-life is more your style, the bustling capital of San Jose is home to six major museums, a handful of stunning parks and plazas, open-air markets, and restaurants and bars galore.

If you’re interested in hiking, Costa Rica’s 35 national parks cover 11% of the country, and boast hiking trails for all levels. (If you’re up to the 2-day climb of Cerro Chirripo, a hike to the 3820m peak yields a view that spreads from the Pacific to the Caribbean Ocean.) Culture

For the people of Costa Rica, the frequent reply of “pura vida” (“pure life”) to the question “How are you?” isn’t just a slang term…it’s a way of life. It symbolizes the Costa Rican ideal of sitting back and enjoying the beauty of life. Costa Ricans pride themselves on being friendly, helpful, and easygoing. Family is important to Costa Ricans, and many live in extended family units. In 2012, Costa Rica was ranked number one in the Happy Planet Index, a rating based on life expectancy, ecological footprint, and subjective life satisfaction.

The people of Costa Rica are 75% Catholic, and Spanish is the national language. Costa Ricans have managed to maintain a country of peace and relative prosperity, despite the conflict that occasionally rages in nearby countries. In the absence of war, Costa Rica boasts the highest standard of living in Central America.

Primary education is free and compulsory for school-aged children, and for the large part, Costa Rican youth have ample time to worry about dating, music, fashion, and of course, soccer. Tourism is a major source of Costa Rica’s income, and the people of Costa Rica have certainly made their country worth touring.

Costa Rica’s popular proverb panza llena, corazon contento (“full stomach, happy heart”) sums up the nation’s love of savory dishes, preferably eaten with good company. Costa Rican cuisine leans more toward the mild blends of garlic and herbs than spicy chili peppers or piquant powders. The unofficial national dish of gallo pinto—black beans and rice, seasoned with onion, sweet pepper, cilanthro and Lizano sauce—will satisfy all palates.

Visitors to Costa Rica can also enjoy fried plantains, tamales, and empanadas. Refreshing natural fruit juices grace the tables of both 5-star restaurants and “sodas” (small restaurants that serve affordable and healthy local fare). And of course, you can’t leave the country without a taste of the nation’s most famous commodity…its rich and flavorful coffee.

Orientation/Location
Nestled between Nicaragua and Panama, Costa Rica is a small Central American country with the Pacific Ocean on one side and the sparkling Caribbean on the other. Located within the Northwestern hemisphere, Costa Rica is near the equator, between latitudes 8° and 12°N, and longitudes 82° and 86°W. It is roughly 1170 km (730 miles) to the southwest of Jamaica, Haiti, and the Cayman islands.

With five major mountain ranges, fourteen river systems, and four volcanoes (two of them active) within its 51,000 sq km, Costa Rica is home to startlingly diverse ecosystems, and is considered one of the most biologically diverse areas of the planet.

It’s no wonder that with so many natural resources, Costa Rica is making efforts to protect and sustain the land. Costa Rica is known as one of the “greenest” countries on the planet, being the only one to successfully meet...
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