Ok, so I’ve been here in Costa Rica for two weeks thus far. After extensive time in San Jose during the week broken up by weekends in two diverse, yet equally beautiful places (the beach at Manuel Antonio and the rainforest/volcano landscape in La Fortuna), I feel adequately informed to share my findings, both on the pro and con side.
- The People: Costa Ricans, or Ticos, as they call themselves are wonderfully good natured and hospitable. I don’t know if I’ve ever heard anyone laugh as often or as heartily as my host mother, and that seems to be the trend amongst all Ticos. Their generous hearts and big smiles, as well as their eagerness to show you this amazing country they call home, makes it easy to see why so many people fall in love with Costa Rica
- The Food: The most common meal here, called a casado, consists of hefty portions of rice, beans, a tortilla, salad, some form of meat (either beef, chicken or fish), and my favorite, fried plantains. These delicious platters are extremely cheap (around $6 generally) at Costa Rican cafes called sodas, which can be found around every corner. Seafood of all sorts is obviously exceptional here and the huge variety of fresh fruit is unbeatable.
- Ease of Transport: Although I am stuck in class all day Monday-Friday, CR’s unbelievable inexpensive transportation, combined with the compact size of the diverse country makes getting the most out of the weekends so easy. Buses leave to desirable locations several times a day, beginning in the very early morning, which accommodates head starts on the day. Three or four hour bus rides can take you to diverse parts of the country including the beach, rainforests or volcanos for well under $10, making short trips sensible and affordable for everyone.
- The Colors: Of course CR’s landscape showcases an array of colors, but so does everything else here. Fences, walls and buildings are generally painted vibrant hues and even in a hazy city, the pops of color raise your mood. The festive paint jobs all over reinforce the laid back vibe you already feel here.
- San Jose’s Pollution and Trash: For a country as green and environmentally friendly as rainforest-covered Costa Rica, the state of San Jose will be a surprise to most. Lack of trash receptacles around the city leaves most streets littered with garbage. Also the air is thick here as is the traffic, and suffocating exhaust clouds as you walk down the sidewalk are not uncommon. San Jose is definitely worth seeing and has a lot to offer for students etc., but if your goal is ecotourism, a day should be more than sufficient.
- No Addresses!?: The rest of the world may follow the number, street, city formula, but Costa Ricans seem not to want or need them. Locations are described instead by a distance from an intersection of two roads or from one of the many Catholic churches throughout the city. While this may be more than sufficient for one familiar with the city, visitors should be aware and make sure they have a detailed description of where they want to go.
- Cab Scams: Especially in San Jose, but throughout all of C.R. you must be careful of what cab you get into. Only cabs with triangular yellow stickers on the front and top as well as a lighted taxi sign on top are official. Take only these cabs unless you wish to pay obnoxiously inflated prices. Other cab drivers will be waiting at bus stops and try to convince you to ride with them. Unless they have the appropriate cars and reset the meter to the standard 585 colones start point, do NOT go with them. It may be necessary to walk a little ways away from the tourist trapped bus arrivals.
And of course, The Beautiful
All of the stereotypical things you’ve heard about Costa Rica are all true. The landscapes and wildlife here are so diverse and easy to access. The country is smothered in green foliage, splattered with brightly colored flowers and accented with white-sand beaches and perfect blue-green ocean. I’ve seen more new sorts of wildlife here in the past two weeks than the last six years of my life combined. Sloths, monkeys, lizards and exotic birds are all likely to show their quirky faces to you at one point or another during your visit. The waterfalls and volcanos will not disappoint. In fact, Arenal may provide the most perfect prototype of a volcano on earth with its smoking top and misty, forested sides. And of course, anywhere you want to zip, bungee, canyon, raft or ride, Costa Rica will make it possible with the friendliest guides you could imagine. Even with its reputation as an ecotourism jackpot, Costa Rica will probably still exceed your expectations.