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Costa Rica: A Perfect Vacation, With Photos of This Beautiful Country

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The Beautiful Country of Costa Rica

In the summer of 2010, five of my family members and I visited Costa Rica, and I’m so glad we did. This is a beautiful country between the Pacific and the Caribbean. Costa Rica means “Rich Coast,” and it ranks first on the Happy Planet’s Index as the "greenest” country in the world. They abolished their Army in 1949. Since they have no defense budget, they devote their money to their people in the form of good education and health benefits. Costa Rica boasts a literacy rate of 94.9%. Bananas and coffee are their main exports.

The climate of Costa Rica is tropical year-round. Tourism makes it the most visited nation in Central America. Medical tourism is attractive to Americans because of Costa Rica's proximity (a short flight), the quality of its medical service, and lower costs. The country has gained a good reputation in plastic surgery for these reasons, and now you see resorts devoted to the privacy of patients, affording them luxury while getting their procedure done.

Costa Rica features an awesome variety of natural beauty. Nearly 12% of the country is devoted to the preservation of nature and wildlife, under the protection of the national park system. Costa Rica offers visitors a view of rare birds, turtles, animals, and hundreds of species of ferns and orchids—so much so that it is often referred to as the “Garden of the Americas.” Other natural wonders include coral reefs, jungle scenery, and a range of active volcanoes reaching a height of 12,000 feet.

Costa Rica refuses to conform to stereotypes about Central American countries; it enjoys a stable democratic government, adheres to high standards of education, and is a relatively prosperous land. I was struck by the cleanliness of the people and the country. They are very friendly people. Since English is required as a second language, it is not difficult to converse with the local people. Their national food dish is gallo pinto, which is cooked rice and beans fried together.

Beginning Our 9-Day Trip

We spent nine days here in this beautiful place. I wish now we had planned for a longer trip. We flew out of Ft. Lauderdale, Fl. The flight only takes about two hours. When you first see Costa Rica from the air as you land, you see miles and miles of green, which I found out later are mostly coffee plantations, and of course, the rain forests. We were met at the Juan Santamaria Airport by our friendly tour director, who drove us to the lovely hotel, the El Rodeo. We had a great dinner there, complete with native food. He would pick us up here in the morning to begin our fabulous trip.

I took all the photos with my digital camera.

Day 2

Day 2: Early the next morning we began driving to the Poas Volcano area and what they call a cloud forest. The diameter of this volcano is one of the widest in the world. After that, we drove to the La Paz Waterfall Gardens Nature Park. We walked spectacular trails that led us to Magia Blanca Falls (the largest and the most spectacular of the falls in the area). While at this park, we visited the largest enclosed butterfly observatory in the world.

The Poas Volcano, Costa Rica

The Poas Volcano, Costa Rica

Day 3 in Costa Rica

Day 3: Early in the morning, we headed off to do rafting on the Sarapiqui River. This river offers some of Costa Rica’s most lush and vibrant scenery. Free-flowing, it has its origins in clear mountain streams that tumble down through thick rainforest, finally joining together in the crystal waters of the beautiful Sarapiqui. This narrow, low-volume river is ideal for white-water novices, as well as families, all of whom will enjoy its moderately flowing rapids. This journey is excellent for bird-watchers and nature lovers. You will see hummingbirds, toucans, woodpeckers, and scores of other native birds.

Later that day we visited the Ecotermales Hot Springs. This is a wonderful place to just get into the warm water and relax.

The Sarapiqui River in Costa Rica

The Sarapiqui River in Costa Rica

Parrots Fly Wild in the Rain Forest, Costa Rica

Parrots Fly Wild in the Rain Forest, Costa Rica

Day 4

Day 4: We go to the Monteverde Cloudforest/Sky Trek and Tram and Nature Walk. We hiked through well-marked trails. We spotted a quetzal, a rare and beautiful bird, and one of the most beautiful birds in the world. We saw lots of monkeys and sloths hanging from the trees. We spent the night at the Trapp Family Lodge. While we were on our hike, a baby sloth fell out of a tree, and our guide gently picked it up and placed it back on the tree where it firmly attached itself. This trip took us all day.

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Day 5

Day 5: We’re up early and ready for the big Sky Tram/ Zip Line Tour. The view from the Sky Tram was amazing. You look out over the rain forest. The cable runs along the tree tops, and stretches 7000 feet. Here, you have the opportunity to observe and appreciate tropical forest from different vantage points. We then walked across a suspended bridge, called the Sky Walk. This bridge is 300 feet long and 66 feet high. This was a little unnerving, as the bridge swayed a great deal.

We also did the zip line which is cable strung high up in the canopy of the trees. There are platforms about 500 feet apart. They put you in safety gear, harness, helmet, etc. You have to sign a release that they will not be responsible for your safety, and that was a little alarming to me. The guides take you up by steps all the way to the first platform (which is quite a haul up). They make sure you are ready, and then they push you off. And, off you go….attached to the cable. You then zip along to the next platform. I screamed the whole way. There were some people who begged to do it again, but I did not. At the last platform, the only way down is to rappel down. I didn’t know what that meant until I had to do it.

Suspension Bridge in The Rain Forest, Costa Rica

Suspension Bridge in The Rain Forest, Costa Rica

Riding in the Sky Tram in the Cloud Forest, Costa Rica

Riding in the Sky Tram in the Cloud Forest, Costa Rica

Day 6

Day 6: This day we spent traveling for five hours to get to Manuel Antonio, Quepos. We were in a 4-wheel van. The driver didn’t seem to notice all the pot holes in the road. At one point, the road was completely washed out, but he didn’t even slow down! The drive was well worth it, though. We were tired after the long drive, so we ate a large Costa Rican dinner and went to bed. We stayed at the California Hotel.

Day 7

Day 7: We got up early and headed for the Manuel Antonio National Park. An experienced guide took us through the park. He pointed out things of interest along the way. We hiked for 3 hours.

This park is considered to be Costa Rica’s most beautiful park, with white-sand beaches ideal for swimming, and tropical rainforest alive with wildlife. There were monkeys and iguanas everywhere. We were pretty tired after this trip. If you go to Costa Rica, invest in some good hiking shoes; you will need them. We just relaxed and went to bed early at the California Hotel.

The Beach at Manuel Antonio National Park

The Beach at Manuel Antonio National Park

Day 8

Day 8: We were up early, had a good hearty breakfast of gallo pinto, and were ready to go Horseback riding. We really enjoyed the horses, and got the chance to get off and walk underneath some high water falls. That was a lot of fun. This activity took up most of the day. As usual, we were bone tired, had a great dinner, and went to bed. We stayed this night again at the California Hotel.

Horseback Riding

Horseback Riding

We're Playing Underneath the Falls

We're Playing Underneath the Falls

Playing In the Hot Springs

Playing In the Hot Springs

Day 9

Day 9: We slept late for a change. We spent the afternoon on a kayak adventure through canals. We saw lots of wildlife on the side: white-faced monkey, sloths, snakes, crabs, and lots of birds. After this tiring trip, we went back to the hotel to clean up and have a huge dinner. We packed for our trip home.

Rafting on the Sarapiqui River

Rafting on the Sarapiqui River

Goodbye, Costa Rica

We have to say good-bye to this beautiful place. We all had a wonderful time, and would like very much to return one day. I can understand why so many Americans are retiring in Costa Rica. The cost of living is so much less that in the states, the government is stable, the people are warm and friendly, and of course, the main reason I’d like to live in Costa Rica is the weather. It’s warm year round. It gets a little cold up in the mountains, they tell us. We didn’t go up into the mountains. Another plus for me is that they keep the same time year round, no moving the clocks back and forward.

If you are thinking of visiting Costa Rica, I’d recommend you contact a tour company. You might think you will save some money by renting a car where you arrive in the capital of San Juan. I would discourage you from doing this. The roads in Costa Rica are full of pot holes; they don’t mark their streets very well. The natives say they don’t repair their roads because they don’t want a lot of traffic. The bus and cab systems are very good. It is well worth the cost of hiring a tour company who will drive you around, buy all the tickets for the parks, and pay for the hotels and food. They will take care of everything from picking you up at the airport when you arrive, conducting all the tours, and they take you back to the airport for departure. These costs are all included in their fee. At the end of the tour, if you are pleased with the service you got, you are expected to tip your driver. The tour group we used is called Costa Rican Trails, but there are many of these tour companies. Do some research on the internet to find them. I would also say everyone in your group should be in good physical condition because of the hikes. If you do have someone in your group that is not up to hiking, they could stay behind in the hotel, and let the more adventuresome do the more strenuous things.

I would certainly recommend Costa Rica for a family vacation at any time of the year. I would advise people planning to go to Costa Rica to take a longer trip than we did. If I go again, I will take a two-week tour package. The country is small, but you just can’t do it justice in eight days. The two-week tours take you from coast to coast.

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