I fell in love with Costa Rica during a one day stop on a ten day Caribbean cruise. How could you not like a country that disbanded its army in 1949? The Costa Ricans, or Ticos as they call themselves very pragmatically decided after a bloody civil war that if there was no army then there would be no more civil wars, and they were right. This, along with its craggy volcanic peaks, cascading waterfalls, lush forests and breathtaking views prompts the nation’s sobriquet of “the Switzerland of Central America”. Costa Rica is a country of almost 5 million and an area of 51,000 square kilometers. It is located between Panama and Nicaragua.
Expatriates have long loved it’s stability and excellent health care system of this and have been attracted to the country by its “pensionado” program designed to bring retirees down, creating employment, jobs and a pleasantly international flavor to the country. Tourists are drawn by the fabulous eco-tourism opportunities facilitated by the fact that 25% of the country is designated conservation area.
Having vowed to return after my one day cruise stop, this winter found me spending a full week in Costa Rica’s Guanacaste Province in the northwest portion of the country. I had booked via Air Canada Vacations at the Flamingo Beach Resort on Playa Flamingo. My significant other had to cancel out but I found a not-at-all reluctant last minute companion in my baby sister Heather.
Perched on the fine white sand of Flamingo Beach our hotel had a panoramic view of low mountains, other nearby beaches and the Catalina Islands, a string of rocky sea stacks that stretches across the horizon like a strand of the beach vendors’ beaded jewelry.
In front of the hotel Jose Matagalpa (ph. 86-26-70-08), originally a Nicaraguan cowboy, has a string of well-groomed and well-loved horses he’ll rent to worthy visitors for a scenic one to two hour beach ride. He tailors his pace to the skill level of his guests. My sister, Heather, a top notch equestrian proved a challenge to him and they spent half the time galloping full tilt down the beach, with me inelegantly bringing up the rear.
After checking out the beach you may want to head inland to the nearby Rincon de la Vieja National Park where visitors can hike up the slopes of an active volcano to view the craters, crater lakes, bubbling springs of water and mud pools as well as varied wildlife. Several species of monkeys haunt the forests and can often be seen and heard. Warning: the howlers sound more like gorillas!
Heather and I spent our time here at the Buena Vista Ranch, commencing our day with a hike up through old growth forest to a spectacular network of ziplines. Well harnessed, we skimmed the treetops from platform to platform stationed high above the jungle floor.
Afterwards the quarter-mile long water-slide beckoned. This narrow concrete shoot is wedged between the huge trees which dot the volcanic slope and happily bore no resemblance to the ones found in most North American water parks. It’s not for the faint hearted, however.
Following our slide this we horseback rode down to the volcanic hot springs for a hot steam bath, a volcanic mud slathering, then soaks in pools of various temperatures nestled alongside a cascading stream. This treatment is reputed to have potent anti-aging effects. I spotted a group of teenagers and joked with Heather that they were the members of a senior citizen tour group we’d spotted earlier.
That evening we made our way up the Mary Sol, a restaurant and bar with awesome views of the sunset and excellent food. It’s a local tradition to watch the sun as it sinks into the depths of the Pacific Ocean from here. If you don’t have a car and the climb up the hill is too daunting, they have a shuttle they’ll send for you.
The following day I booked a jet ski tour through Playa Vida to see the Catalina Islands and snorkel at Honeymoon Beach. The bizarre sea stacks are intriguing and the jet ski ride, headed by Playa Vida guide, Yasser, was an incredible rush as the two of us blasted across the chop of the bay, sometimes becoming air borne. Again, the tours are adjusted to the skill level of the participants and Yasser had taken a young family for a jet ski adventure earlier in the calm morning waters.
Visitors can also go to the nearby Las Baulas National Park for an opportunity to see endangered leatherback turtles laying there eggs on the beach, or they can venture further afield to the Monteverde cloud forest or the Arenal volcano. There is also a great opportunity to take a side trip from Guanacaste to Nicaragua and see the spectacular old colonial city of Granada, and to get a close look at the Masaya volcano, sometimes called “the Gates of Hell”.
I would like to have done a great deal more but it would take a solid month or more to see all that Costa Rica has to offer. Needless to say, to paraphrase a former California governor, “I’ll be back”.
If you go:
Costa Rica Tourism Board
For travellers from Canada
Air Canada Vacations
All Images By George Burden – All Rights Reserved
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