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Costa Rica ("rich coast" in Spanish) lies between Nicaragua to the north, Panama to the southeast, the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Caribbean Sea to the east. The country is often referred to as the Switzerland of Central America due to it's comfortable lifestyle, peaceful democracy and it's compelling natural beauty.
Costa Rica is one of the world's prime eco-tourism destinations being one of the most biodiverse areas on the planet. The nation shelters 5% of the world's existing biodiversity. Its wide range of habitats, ranging from rainforests and beaches to volcanoes and mangrove swamps, support a fascinating variety of wildlife, with over 25% of its habitats now protected by a national conservation system.
Tourism revenue is one of the reasons Costa Ricans – or Ticos, as they are generally known – now enjoy the highest rate of literacy, health care, education and life expectancy in the Central American isthmus.
Costa Rica's richness also lies on the cultural diversity of the people. The country's population is largely of Spanish origin, although there is a substantial community of English-speaking Costa Ricans of African origin around the Caribbean coast, along with 65,000 or so indigenous peoples. People of Asian ascendance, as well as people from the American continent have interacted among them, enriching the cultural backgrounds in the process.
A visit to Costa Rica will have you experiencing "la pura vida" - the pure life or real living!
For by far the best diving in Costa Rica, head out to the Cocos Island Marine Park located over 500km southwest of the mainland.
The Republic of Costa Rica covers a total area of 51,100 square kilometres. It consists of a mountainous backbone ranging from approximately 1,000 to 2,000 metres above sea level, rising to its highest point at 3,819 metres at the summit of Cerro Chirripó. The Guanacaste Mountain Range, Central Mountain Range, and Talamanca Mountain Range are the main mountain ranges extending the entire length of the country. There are several active volcanoes and many National Parks. The country has 1,290 kilometres of low-lying coastline in both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, as well as a number of rivers, streams and waterfalls.
San Jose is the nation's capital and is the main gateway for international flight arrivals and departures. Nowhere in the country is more than a 9 hour drive from San Jose. The surrounding Valle Central is the country's agricultural heartland and coffee-growing region. It is home to several of Costa Rica's finest volcanoes including the steaming crater of Volcán Poás and the largely dormant Volcán Irazú with its strange lunar landscape above the regional capital of Cartago.
The broad alluvial plains of the Zona Norte features the active Volcán Arenal and tourist town of La Fortuna, and the rich jungles of the Sarapiquí region with its dense rainforest harbouring monkeys, poison-dart frogs and countless species of bird, including the endangered great green macaw. The seasonal wetlands of the Refugio Nacional de Vida Silvestre Caño Negro, by the border with Nicaragua, provide a haven for water birds and groups of lounging caiman.
The rugged Zona Sur is home to Cerro Chirripó, the highest point in the country, and further south on the Osa Peninsula is Parque Nacional Corcovado, protecting the last significant area of tropical wetland forest on the Pacific coast of the isthmus; a haven for serious hikers seeking out some of Costa Rica's more exotic wildlife.
The cattle-ranching province of Guanacaste in the northwest is often called "the home of Costa Rican folklore". Cowboy culture dominates here - rodeos and large cattle haciendas dot the hot, baked earthed surrounding the regional capital of Liberia. This is the driest region of Costa Rica, also featuring some of the most spectacular beaches along the Pacific Coast. Sámara and Nosara on the Nicoya Peninsula are a photographers delight without the crowds of other areas.
Limón Province, on the Caribbean coast, is the complete opposite to the more traditional ladino Guanacaste. Home to the descendants of the Afro-Caribbeans who came to Costa Rica at the end of the 19th century to work on the San José–Limón railroad, their language (Creole English), Protestantism and West Indian traditions have been kept to this day. Parque Nacional Tortuguero is home to three species of marine turtles that lay their eggs on its beaches each year.
Puntarenas (known as the Pearl of the Pacific) is the largest province of Costa Rica. Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is the country's number-one tourist attraction. Further down the coast is popular Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio, with its impressive white sand beaches, blue Pacific waters and hundreds of hectares of rainforest where spider monkeys still live; plus the equally pretty but more surf-oriented beach towns of Montezuma and Santa Teresa/Mal País on the southern Nicoya Peninsula.
There is much to draw the visitor to Costa Rica - wildlife such as howler monkeys, scarlet macaws, the resplendent quetzal and toucans can be spotted with the naked eye. Humpback Whales pass Costa Rica on their annual migration. Leatherback and green turtles nest on the beach. Hiking and wildlife spotting in the cloud forest of Monteverde is a popular activity. You can explore the active Arenal Volcano or choose to relax by one of the many beaches. Both the Pacific and Caribbean coastlines offer fishing, surfing, diving and snorkelling opportunities and for adrenaline junkies there is zip lining over the forest canopy, river kayaking and white water rafting.
Costa Rica is located 8-12 degrees north of the equator and has a tropical climate with many micro climates throughout the country - the highlands are chilly, the cloud forest is misty and cool, San José (the capital) and the Central Valley have a never ending spring climate, and both the Pacific and Caribbean coasts are hot year-round, with more humidity on the Caribbean side. The “drier”, or summer, season lasts from December to April whilst the rainy, or winter, season lasts from May to November. During the rainy season, rivers can start to swell and dirt roads and tracks can get muddy, making it more difficult to travel. Visitors should consider the focus of their holiday when deciding when to travel as, for example, prime wildlife and surf seasons will vary.
There are many islands, reefs, caves and rocks off the coast of Costa Rica that provide areas to explore. However, visibility will vary with the season and location. Heavy rainfall causes the rivers to swell and muddy water then flows along the coastline and well offshore.
Most of the Caribbean reefs have been destroyed by the banana plantations and their run off. On the Pacific side, Isla del Caño, Bat Island, and the Catalina Islands offer the best diving options. Here you can spot manta rays, moray eels, white tipped reef sharks, a large number of smaller reef and coral species.
During the greater part of the year, water temperatures range between 26ºC to 28ºC. In extreme conditions caused by currents or thermocline, the temperature may drop to 19ºC.
For the ultimate in a Costa Rican dive experience, join a dive liveaboard charter to the remote Isla del Coco located nearly 550 kilometres off the Pacific Coast. Here you will find the best scuba diving that Costa Rica has to offer, famous for it's big fish action and healthy and abundant marine life.
Costa Rica is located in Central America between the countries of Nicaragua and Panama. The Pacific Ocean lies to the west and the Caribbean Sea to the east.
The international country code for Costa Rica is +506.
Costa Rica is 6 hours behind Greenwich Mean Time (GMT).
(subject to change)
Citizens of Australia, New Zealand, USA, Canada, United Kingdom are amongst those who can travel to Costa Rica without a visa for a period of up to 90 days. Check with your closest Costa Rican Consulate for current entry requirements.
The currency of Costa Rica is the Colon. In most tourist towns, larger stores and restaurants accept US dollars. Credit cards are widely accepted but expect a transaction fee.
1 AUD = approximately 375 Colones (May 2016)
United Airlines: 1 bag 23kg. 2nd bag for a fee of US $100.
Qantas: 2 pieces (max. 23kg per piece).
Delta Airlines: 2 pieces (max. 23kg per piece). (Subject to change without notice)
Ensure that all equipment is serviced and in working order prior to departure. You will need to bring a DIN converter for DIN regulators. 3-5mm wetsuits are recommended (check season). Dive operators supply tanks, weight belts and dive guide services. There will be an extra charge if equipment hire is required.