Pure Life in Costa Rica

Costa Rica has long been considered the paradise on Earth. Warm weather year around, beautiful nature, welcoming people, wildlife diversity...

Costa Rica has long been considered the paradise on Earth. Warm weather year around, beautiful nature, welcoming people, wildlife diversity, political stability and military neutrality - all of these factors have contributed to building a reputation of Costa Rica as the best vacation destination. I was very fortunate to have seen this beautiful corner of the world up close in December 2015.
Local people call themselves ''ticos" (men) and "ticas" (women). When they greet other people, they usually say "Pura Vida" which translates from Spanish as "Pure Life" instead of traditional "Hola" ("Hello"). "Pura Vida" is quintessential and the most precise term to describe Costa Rica. 
Costa Rica is one of the wealthiest countries in Central and South America. And although people in Costa Rica make way less money than people, let's say, in the United States, Canada or Europe, they are generally happy and really enjoy their life. 
Costa Rican live in relatively small single story houses. In big cities like San Jose, the Costa Rican capital, a property is often surrounded by a tall fence with barbed wire. In countryside, a fence is very minimal. Houses are painted in different colors, but the mainstream is white and blue. The weather in Costa Rica is pretty much the same year around, so there is no need to build a solid house with good insulation. The only thing which is absolutely required is the roof - it can protect from heavy rains during the rainy season (May to November) and occasionally during the dry season (December to April).
For the first time I saw the church with no doors - people come and leave through the hole in the wall.
Historically, Costa Rica has been a large producer and exporter of coffee and bananas. Canada, for instance, imports bananas mainly from Costa Rica, Honduras and Colombia. I think the blue plastic bags (on the picture below) protect bananas from birds and other animals. Would you agree?
Costa Rican coffee has less caffeine, therefore it's not as strong as the one from Brazil or Indonesia. And in order to grow well, it requires very specific weather patterns. With the global warming, the area where coffee could historically grow in Costa Rica is shrinking which makes it difficult to produce this valuable crop. 
Besides banana and coffee, Costa Rican also grow pineapple, papaya, mango, passion fruit (maracuyá), coconut, strawberry etc. On the picture below - the field with pineapples.
Nowhere else in the world did I try such sweet and fragrant pineapples, banana, papayas and coconuts. Local fruits are usually produced for local markets, except banana which travels as far as Eastern Canada. I'm not sure what these tents are used for, but I'm guessing these are greenhouses for some fruits or vegetables. I saw many of them in Alajuela province, north of San Jose.
Howler monkeys on the mango tree.
Costa Rica is also a big producer of milk and dairy products. 
Costa Rica has access to both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. About 25% of Costa Rican population is engaged in fishing. We incidentally found this low-key fishing village in Nicoya Peninsula, far from the beaten path.
Modern Costa Rica no longer depends on the agriculture and fishing. Banana and coffee crops make only a small chunk of the Costa Rican economy. The biggest one is services, which makes about 72% of the Costa Rican GDP. It includes financial and IT outsourcing, pharmaceuticals, electronics and ever-growing ecotourism. 
Ecotourism is very popular among visitors from the US, Canada and Europe 'spoiled' by national parks in their home countries. However, I saw many local tourists and tourists from South America (e.g. Chile, Argentina), too. 
Costa Rica has about 25% of its land protected as national parks and other public and private reserves. Wealthy entrepreneurs used to buy land in order to cut the trees and make money out of timber. But, fortunately, Costa Rican government realized early enough the importance to protect forests, and started offering money to the property owners for keeping the forests intact. 
There are many private reserves in Costa Rica along with the public ones. The goal is the same: to keep the ecosystem pristine and allow visitors to enjoy the nature at its best by leaving only footprints. 
Costa Rica has 26 national parks managed by the Ministry of Environment and Energy. Each of them has at least one natural feature that makes it unique and worth visiting. Admission fee is rather expensive (US $15-20 per adult), however I'm always happy to pay it since it helps protect and maintain the parks.  
Speaking about the natural features of the national parks and other public and private reserves. Costa Rica has over 100 volcanoes, 7 of them being active. Yes, Costa Rica is one of the hottest places on Earth with two tectonic plates colliding and causing volcanic activity such as earthquakes and eruptions. 
One of the biggest natural hot springs in the world in La Fortuna area.
Beautiful pristine beaches, however only few of them with white sand.
Rain and cloud forests full of life.
Those who have ever been to national parks in Canada or the United States, will find a typical Costa Rican national park or a private reserve very similar: there are marked trails, often with boardwalks or paved paths. Information signs in Spanish and English are located along the trails. Maps are usually available at a visitors centre. There are some ranger walks, usually for an additional fee.
Private guides are helpful if you want to increase your chances to see wildlife such as birds or mammals that live high up in the trees. They always have a spyglass on a tripod and usually know where to look. 
Costa Rica has about 5% of biodiversity on Earth. That's a lot! With some patience and luck, you'll likely see a lot of animals such as birds, butterflies, frogs, mammals, reptiles, etc. From our imaginary bucket list we did not see only one animal - a jaguar. 
Even in a restaurant you can encounter wildlife such as this cute wild sloth!
Renting a car in Costa Rica is not necessary. With some thorough planning, you can use public transportation which is good and reliable.
But a rental car gives you a flexibility and freedom. Roads in Costa Rica are generally in a good condition and drivers are polite. Every travel book about Costa Rica says that you should refrain from driving in Costa Rica after dark. Unfortunately, I had to, but I didn't have any problems.
I do recommend though to rent an SUV with a high clearance as not all roads in Costa Rica are paved. This small Japanese Daihatsu Terios is your best bet. 
Interesting fact: there are no regular addresses in Costa Rica such as a street name and number. This makes it a little bit more complicated to find a hotel or an attraction. For instance, one of our hotel had this address: 300 m west from gas station in Monteverde. Another one had this: at the entrance of the Billingual School in Manuel Antonio. I ended up using a 'Find on Map' feature in my GPS navigator. 
Tropical rainfalls can be heavy, but usually do not last long.
Typical Costa Rican food is called "pinto". It's a white rice with red beans, served with fried plantain and local cheese. On this picture - lobsters freshly caught from the sea.
Costa Rican have really impressed me with the way they treat plastic things. In 100% restaurants we have been to, there was no single plastic silverware and dishware. All forks, knives, spoons, glasses, plates are reusable.
Costa Rica is very safe country to travel. Local people are often curious about you, especially in off-beaten places. But they always friendly and open.
Average life expectancy in Costa Rica is 79 years as of 2012. People from Nicoya Peninsula often live over 100 years. 
Many expats from the United States and Canada move to Costa Rica when they retire.
More posts from different parts of Costa Rica to come. Stay tuned!

My other posts from Costa Rica:
Manuel Antonio National Park - A Paradise on the Pacific Coast
Poás Volcano National Park
Scarlet Macaws in Carara National Park
Hiking in Arenal Volcano National Park
2-in-1: Zoo and Nature Park in Costa Rica
Tenorio Volcano and Celeste River
Monteverde Cloud Forest
Tortuga Island - More Than Just A Tropical Beach

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