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Rainforest meets the beach

Costa Rica — the tiny country tucked between Nicaragua and Panama inthe strip that links Latin America to the U.S. — is packed withattractions.

Costa Rica — the tiny country tucked between Nicaragua and Panama in the strip that links Latin America to the U.S. — is packed with attractions.

Amazing nature, an exciting capital city, luxurious beach life, pioneering eco-tourism and home to more than five per cent of the world’s flora and fauna species. So, how to choose? Here are four ideas:

Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve: A late discovery
Costa Rica’s most famous natural attraction are the clouded forests of Monteverde, high up in the mountain chain, Cordillera de Tilarán. The mountains were charted as late as the 1980s by American biologists and immediately became an attraction thanks to the beautiful and abundant flora and fauna there.

Unfortunately there’s plenty of theme park tourism here including cable-gliding between treetops and guided tours on quadbikes. However it is easy to escape this commercial side of Monteverde by venturing into the nature reserves of Reserva Biológica Bosque Nuboso Monteverde or Reserva Santa Helena, where only boots and backpacks are allowed — and the mystique of the clouded forest is preserved.

The unique reserve is home to more than 400 bird species, 490 types of butterfly, 100 species of mammal, 2,500 plant species — 500 of which are orchids. Keep an eye out for the sacred bird of the Maya Indians and the area’s symbol, the quetzal, with its splendid metallic green back, red belly and tail of long feathers.

Corcovado: Beach life with a difference
If Monteverde is too much of a drive-through jungle for your taste there are of course more challenging eco-experiences in Costa Rica — for example in Parque Nacional Corcovado by the Pacific ocean.

The park is situated on a peninsula by the border to Panama, It was named “the most biologically intense place on earth” by National Geographic magazine.

Here rainforest, swamps, rivers and beautiful sandy beaches meet. There’s an enormous range of animals here: Baird’s tapir, Giant Anteater, Capuchin monkeys, the timid central American jaguar, sea turtles and many types of dolphins. The best place to spot these creatures are the beaches, where the constant noise from the battering waves makes it possible for hikers to walk almost undetected.

Camping costs a few dollars at ranger stations in the national park, and there are bunk beds at Sirena, from $10 a night.

San José: The small but fun capital city
San José isn’t a spectacular big city, but it is exciting all the same. The central areas feature a mix of colonial architecture with office blocks from the 1960s, and the streets are filled with crowds of salesmen, students and office workers.

In Escazú and the more fashionable suburbs there are modern shopping centres and more luxurious restaurants. In the university areas San Pedro and Los Yoses there are lots of bars and clubs.

There are fun things to do everywhere in town. San Jose is relatively safe, but crime does exist, so visitors shouldn’t walk around the city alone at night, and watch for pickpockets.

Santa Teresa: Surfing and jetsetting

It isn’t easy to get to Santa Teresa by the Pacific, but it is well worth the effort. The beach goes on for miles, the sea feels infinite and the coast is lined with lush green forests.

There is no untouched nature here, with the exception of National park Cabo Blanco and its howler monkeys. Away from the coast there is an idyllic countryside with tiny villages, children playing, chickens, flowering gardens and senior citizens resting in rocking chairs.

Santa Teresa itself, and the neighbouring village Malpaís, consists of a series of restaurants, bars, hostels, yoga hotels and private villas host celebrities, including Leonardo DiCaprio, Mel Gibson and Kate Moss.

But far from being glitzy, the beaches and nightlife belong to the surfers, which gives the place a laidback and groovy atmosphere.

If You Go
Where to stay: Anywhere from hostels to all-inclusive resorts. Prices are reasonable.
What to eat: There are restaurants to suit all budgets, but the most fun is going to a “soda,” a mix of cheap local restaurant and fast food stand.
Languages: Spanish, though English is widely spoken.
Currency: $1=458 Colónes. Most stores, restaurants and hotels accept U.S. dollars. Cash machines are surprisingly common.

 
 
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