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Attention Travelers: Insider Tips for Visiting Costa Rica

February 10, 2011

Horseback Riding on the Beach in Montezuma

My most recent out-of-the-country travel experience landed me in the picturesque Central American country of Costa Rica. This past December, two of my best friends and I set out to backpack as much of the country as we could in two short weeks over winter break.

The rumors are true, Costa Rica is absolutely stunning. Lush green rainforests, active volcanoes, exotic wildlife and tropical beaches make this a world class destination and a dream come true.

Squirrel Monkey near Parque Manuel Antonio

Some things to take note of if you are, or interested in, planning a trip to Costa Rica.

1. While lots of people speak English, it will greatly benefit you to speak Spanish. You will be less likely to get ripped off and you will earn the respect of the locals. I recommend bringing a phrasebook and refreshing with a few quick lessons of Rosetta Stone before you depart.

2. Costa Rica is an adventurous, outdoorsy destination.  But most of the things you do will come with little or no instruction.  So, be prepared to rough it and enjoy it.

3.  Give yourself plenty of time to travel to and from each destination. While local buses are easier on the wallet, they can be very timely and require lots of confusing transfers. If you have some extra cash or are on a tight schedule, ask your hostels or hotels about direct shuttles. The cost is significantly higher but the time you save can be priceless.

4. Ask locals and other travelers about “out of the guidebook” places to visit. My friends and I were lucky enough to discover a wildlife facility , The Toucan Rescue Ranch, 20 minutes from San Jose. It was an incredible  opportunity to explore a place off the tourist path.

Volcano Arenal in La Fortuna

Tourists will commonly hear the expression “pura vida” as a greeting, farewell or in conversation. It has a few simple meanings that translate to cool, full of life, living is excellent and beautiful, etc. Use it freely as many travelers find it a perfect phrase for describing their Costa Rican experience.

I visited La Fortuna, Playa Tamarindo, Mal Pais, Montezuma, Parque Manual Antonio and San Jose; I recommend them all! Travelers can tailor their trip to hike volcanoes, zip-line through the jungle, rapel waterfalls, snorkel or dive reefs, or just relax with monkeys on the beach. If you’re looking for a once in a lifetime adventure, Costa Rica is an ideal destination for an audacious spirit. Remember to keep an open mind, be safe and enjoy your travels, pura vida!

By Jenna Markowick

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