San José, the Capital of Costa Rica, located at 1149 m above sea
level, maintains an average all year round temperature of 24°C and
is home to the main museums and cultural centers. This is where you might
spend your first night before embarking on the unforgettable experience
of discovering the natural beauty this small country has to offer.
The National Theater
San José's foremost architectural showpiece, the National Theater
is a source of pride to Costa Ricans everywhere. Inaugurated on October
19, 1897 with a performance of "Faust" by the Paris Opera Company,
the building's origins date to 1890 when the Italian opera singer, Angela
Pelati, gave a number of performances in Guatemala but refused to come
to Costa Rica due to the lack of a proper theater. The members of the
country's coffee elite proposed that a theater be built in San José
to correct this situation and agreed to contribute five centavos per exported
sack of coffee to finance the construction.
Best known for the variety of pre-Columbian artifacts on permanent display,
the National Museum also has exhibits dedicated to Costa Rican religious
art and the history of the country since the Spanish conquest. The building
itself has historic significance since it was once a military fortress
and after the abolishment of the army, following the Revolution of 1948,
was converted into the museum.
Operated by the Central Bank of Costa Rica, this museum houses an extensive
collection of pre-Columbian gold in which the level of artistry achieved
by native craftsman working with this precious metal is easily appreciated.
Although the numerous pre-Columbian jade pieces on display are among the
most impressive anywhere, the museum also features excellent examples
of indigenous craftsmanship in stone, ceramics, and gold. Housed on the
11th floor of the National Insurance Company (INS) building, the view
of the city and surrounding mountains is an added attraction to a visit
to this museum.
Costa Rican Art Museum
Rotating selections from the permanent collection together with temporary
exhibitions showcase the artwork of Costa Rican painters and sculptors
in a building that was once an airport terminal. The Sabana Metropolitan
Park which stretches west behind the museum was formerly the international
airport landing strip in the days prior to jet planes.
Many hands-on exhibits designed to make learning fun are a highlight of
this museum which brings science, culture and history to life (or at least
nearly so through the use of robotized Costa Rican personalities). One
of the country's newest museums (inaugurated in 1994), it occupies what
was once a prison.
Cerro de la Muerte
Along this approximately 50-kilometer stretch of the PanAmerican Highway,
one can see practically all of the country's highland flora and fauna,
thus making a drive across Cerro de la Muerte like visiting Mount Chirripó,
but without all the strenuous effort. To the North American who is familiar
with the vegetation back home, many plants along the Cerro will look familiar.
There are alders, blueberries (not a very juicy variety), gooseberries,
lady's slippers, Indian paintbrush, giant thistles, and St. John's worts.
Nonetheless, botanical surveys of the area show an even stronger affinity
with Andean flora.
Los Cusingos Neotropical Bird Sanctuary (Dr. Skutch's
This small forest reserve has been the private home of Dr. Alexander F.
Skutch since 1941. When Dr. Skutch first purchased the land, the cleared
area around the house was one of the few clearings in the entire valley
of San Isidro del General. By the close of the 20th century, his property
has become one of the last remaining forested patches in this now agricultural
landscape, where he and his wife live much as they did when they first
settled the land -- without motor vehicles, electricity, or telephones.
El Rodeo Forest Reserve
Almost 400 hectares of forest still remain on this large cattle ranch
in the southwestern corner of the Central Valley. The forest is not all
in one block, however, but scattered about the property in patches of
varied sizes. Some of the larger sections are across from the old hacienda
building and beyond the United Nations University for Peace (the Costa
Rican campus of this prestigious institution is also located within El
Rodeo land). You have to cross some pasture to get to these forests. Another
alternative is taking the gravel road to the right just before reaching
the University for Peace and following it down towards the community of
Piedras Negras, stopping whenever you come to some forested portions.
Simón Bolivar National Zoological Park
This small zoo is operated by the National Park Service, and although
it is not on a par with modern zoos in more developed countries, it does
provide an opportunity to view numerous species of native wildlife that
are not all that easily seen in the wild, even after a week or two of
walking trails through different national parks.
This small community in northwestern Costa Rica was founded by Quakers
in 1951 and is now a popular and interesting destination for both local
and international visitors. The small town of Santa Elena is the closest
settlement to the Monteverde cloud-forest reserve but the road leading
from the town's center to the reserve is clustered with attractions including
the butterfly garden, the serpentarium, a cheese factory, a and number
of art galleries.
If you've seen one too many macaws, you can swim or relax on one of Costa
Rica's beaches. The Pacific coast has a pleasing mixture of luxury resorts
and deserted beaches. Golfito is on the southern Pacific coast, tucked
in a small bay off Golfo Dulce and is an important port and jumping-off
point for the region's fantastic beaches. Heading northeast from the town,
the coast features numerous remote coves, with jungle-lodge accommodations
and virgin rain forest backdrop. The coastal Parque Nacional Corcovado,
on the Península de Osa, has a huge colony of scarlet macaws. Beaches
worth pausing at include Playa Cativo, Playa Zancudo (claimed by the locals
to be the best swimming beach) and Pavones (which has some of the best
Arenal Volcano National Park
Arenal Volcano, Costa RicaArenal has been a dormant strato-volcano. Young
deposits were of the slopes of the volcano but it had not erupted in historic
time. Arenal's status changed dramatically in July of 1968. An explosive
eruption produced hot avalanches and ejected blocks that devastated the
west flank of the volcano and killed 78 people. Arenal has been continuously
active since 1968. It rises 1,633 meters above sea level and casts an
almost flawless silhouette on the land below it. Arenal's last explosion
was in 1969 but this volcano is far from dormant. Its constant rumblings
are Arenal's most popular characteristics. Often spewing ash and smoke,
the volcano provides a striking backdrop for photographs and video. There
are several excellent look out points along the highway and several resorts
and spas that have developed in the area. Starting point for all excursions
is the picturesque town of La Fortuna, located about 8 km east of the
volcano. Most of the hotels and lodges are situated along the road between
La Fortuna and the Arenal Volcano National Park.
The Caribbean has more cultural diversity than the Pacific coast. Half
of this coastal area is protected by national parks and wildlife refuges,
which has slowed development and the building of access roads, making
it an especially verdant place to get away from it all. The main city
is Puerto Limón, which has a tropical park teeming with flowers
and sloths. Parque Nacional Tortuguero is the most important Caribbean
breeding ground of the green sea turtle and has plenty of birds, monkeys
and lizards. The Creole beach paradise of Cahuita has a nearby national
park with attractive beaches, coral reef and coastal rain forest. Bribrí
culture can be experienced in the surfing mecca of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca.
Handicrafts, reggae, homestays and cultural tours make Puerto Viejo an
especially interesting destination.
Costa Rica is bordered to the north by Nicaragua and to the southeast
by Panama. It has both a Caribbean and a Pacific coast. A series of volcanic
mountain chains runs from the Nicaraguan border to the Panamanian border,
splitting the country in two. In the centre of these ranges is a high-altitude
plain, with coastal lowlands on either side. Over half the population
lives on this plain, which has fertile volcanic soils. The Caribbean coast
is 212km (131mi) long and is characterised by mangroves, swamps and sandy
beaches. The Pacific coast is much more rugged and rocky, and, thanks
to a number of gulfs and peninsulas, is a tortuous 1016km (630mi) long.
The country's biodiversity attracts nature lovers from all over the world;
its tropical forests contain 1500 tree species. National parks cover almost
12% of the country, and forest reserves and indigenous reservations boost
the protected land area to 27%.
Costa Rica's jungles provide a variety of habitats for the country's
fauna including four types of monkey, sloths, armadillos, jaguars and
tapirs.The primary attraction for many visitors is the 850 recorded bird
species, which include the resplendent quetzal, indigo-capped hummingbirds,
macaws and toucans. There are also a number of dazzling butterflies.