Tucked between the Pacific Ocean on one side and the Caribbean on the other, this extremely diversified, eco-rich land offers an embarrassingly lush landscape of sandy beaches, rugged coastline, cloud-forest havens and rainforest canopies. Celebrating over 100 years of peace and democracy, Costa Rica is a jewel of a country, not to mention one of the most environmentally sensitive. It is the only country to meet all five criteria established to measure environmental sustainability and, despite its size, sets aside thirty percent of its land for nature conservation and wildlife.
The Ticos, as they’re called, have a national identity of deep-rooted equality, a value not easily held in a world of competing interests. In pre-Columbian times, the Boruca tribes of Costa Rica’s South Pacific region made perfect spheres of stone that continue to mystify archaeologists.
The sphere is the representation of the cosmos, harmony and also the social structure of Costa Rica—rounded, equal, without the points and hierarchy of the pyramid. The stone sphere was an early archetype, an indigenous art form that contemporary artists recognize as a timeless and appropriate metaphor. Seamless and edgeless, with its implications of wholeness, the sphere is a potent symbol of Costa Rica that both puzzles and enthralls.
In Costa Rica, even the most modest and remote neighborhoods inevitably contain three features: a school, a church and a soccer field. Schoolchildren in their prim blue-and-white uniforms are ever present on weekdays, and school teachers are esteemed members of society, creating one of the highest literacy rates in the world: 96 percent.
Education, free and obligatory since 1879, commands nearly 30 percent of the nation’s budget. The churches reflect the predominance of Catholicism—three-quarters of the population is Catholic—and are active community centers. The soccer field is a brilliant, well-maintained splash of green, a social hub that serves as the center of the village where games are played at all times of the day. Even the most isolated villages devote a patch of their land to soccer.
Four major mountain ranges, run the length of the country in an orderly geological tableau. Cordillera Guanacaste farthest north, Tilaran southeast of it, Central near San José, and Talamanca, closest to Panama, form the geological backbone of Costa Rica, traversing the country northeast-to-southwest like the crest of a green iguana.
Farthest north, Rincón de la Vieja bubbles with steam vents and creamy mud pools, its waterfalls and rivers colored bright aqua by the rich minerals of the mountain. Southeast of Rincón, Arenal, an active volcano, plays hide and seek in the clouds but dazzles when it appears, red lava glowing bright at night .In the Cordillera Central, the heart of the country, Poás and Irazú volcanoes lure viewers to their crater rims to behold their stark lunar landscapes.
The desire of the Costa Rican to be inclusive and cooperative is particularly notable in a region marked by a long history of political power struggles and foreign intervention.
Conquered by the Spanish, Costa Rica teaches the world that a heterogeneous society, when courageous and adaptable, can thrive. It dismantled its military in 1948 and remains an exemplary member of the international community. It was the first nation to recognize the Inter-American Human Rights Court, based in its capital, San José. And while violence raged among his Central American neighbors, then-President Oscar Arias authored a regional peace plan and earned the 1987 Nobel Peace Prize. While proclaiming neutrality in global affairs, Costa Rica has held to its national priorities: peace, human rights, the environment, education, and health care.
Costa Rica, the vastly understated “rich coast,” is actually a coast-to-coast country; 19,691 square miles in size (51,000 sq. km.), 200 miles from Pacific to Caribbean shorelines and 300 miles north to south.
What lies between these boundaries is a tropical universe bountiful enough to sustain 12 major life zones.This place that represents only .01% of the earth’s landmass is home to 5% of its wild life . Universally regarded for its ecological sensitivity, Costa Rica is a rare and diverse kingdom where nature still reigns supreme
The regions—the Pacific northwest (Guanacaste), the Pacific southwest (Nicoya Peninsula), the Central Valley (San Jose´ and environs), the northern lowlands (Tortuguero National Park), and the Caribbean coast (Limón)—offer an array of topography and ecosystems.
Costa Rica offers Latin America’s highest quality health care. The country’s universal health care system currently stands 37th in the World Health Organization ranking. It is a mix of publicly ran hospitals and clinics and a considerable number of private hospitals and facilities spread across the country.
Both public and private services benefit from very skilled physicians across all medical disciplines. Most doctors, especially in the private system, speak English and many of them have received training in the U.S. and Europe. There are four high quality private hospitals that offer world-class care for a fraction of the U.S. prize. Hospitals and equipments are constantly being upgraded making Costa Rica a highly coveted destination for health tourism as well.
Consider Costa Rica’s statistics: 857 species of birds; 182 species of amphibians; 235 species of reptiles; 241 species of mammals; and 1,500 species of orchids. And if Costa Rica is nature’s showcase, Guanacaste is its showpiece. Ostional Wildlife Refuge, on the Pacific coast of Nicoya Peninsula, is the most populous nesting site for olive ridley turtles in the world.
This is only one of 161 national parks and wildlife refuges in the country, many of them in Guanacaste. In the Gulf of Papagayo thrives a coral, guiri guiri, found nowhere else in the Pacific. In the waters of Santa Elena Peninsula, wind and water anomalies, called upwellings, draw nutrients from the depths to the surface to create some of the richest biological conditions possible. At Peninsula Papagayo, where the ocean meets the estuary, old-growth mangroves nearly 100 feet tall form a womb of the sea: rich ecosystems in water, the treetops, and on land.
Situated in the Central Time Zone, flying times from many major U.S. cities to Guanacaste range from three to five hours. It’s one of the more readily accessible exotic destinations. Guanacaste’s newly expanded Liberia International Airport lies just 30 minutes away from Peninsula Papagayo’s doorstep.
Fly direct to Daniel Oduber International Airport from New York, Newark, Los Angeles, Charlotte, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Chicago, Atlanta, Miami, Toronto, and other gateways. Or arrive via San Jose International Airport and board a 40-minute hopper flight to Liberia. By land, amble over pastoral countryside and through scenic sabanero country to the private entry of Peninsula Papagayo…a whisper of untold adventures behind a veil of indigenous Costa Rica landscaping.
Guanacaste is a land of contrasts,there are no seasonal in-betweens. The landscape reverses itself every six months, from a moist, exotic greenscape during May to November to the denuded plains and forests of the December-through-April gold season. The green season, or invierno as locals call it, gives another definition to the concept of exotic jungles. Heavy afternoon rains almost on a daily basis bring temperatures down and paint the forests emerald green.
Though arid, the gold season is painted in its own rich schemes of honey and tawny tones. Ocean views become suddenly visible between leafless boughs that only days earlier were opaque walls of greenery. In two distinct seasons, nature expresses the visual drama most places need four seasons to achieve. High temperatures during dry season range from 87°F. to a sweltering 96°; low temperatures range from 69 to 73°F. Green season shows a moderate range, with highs of 87 to 93°F. and lows of 71 to 79°F.
Firmly rooted in the land, the silent witness through eons has been the national tree of Costa Rica. The Guanacaste, Enterolobium cyclocarpum, commonly known as the ear pod tree, is a significant presence on the coastal plain of its namesake lands: a majestic form, a broad, stately canopy with a crown that can reach 130 feet high and a strong, tawny trunk that is proportionately massive.
The tree provides shady rest stops for the sabaneros, the spirited “savanna men” of the Guanacaste ranch culture, as they drive their cattle in the wilting heat. Its seeds are edible but not easily germinated, its wood is used to build furniture and boats, and its fruit can be used as soap. Often seen as a solitary silhouette in an arid landscape, it is a loner of a tree.
Guanacaste’s 3,800 square miles—roughly one-fifth of Costa Rica—are the driest in the country. The region contains one of the few remaining tropical dry forests in the world.Even with its light average rainfall of 65 inches a year—compared to a tropical rainforest’s 80 to 160 inches a year—Guanacaste is a land of liquid plenty, a province that also encompasses rain and cloud forest as the plains ascend into higher elevations.
The Pacific shoreline of the province, running north-south for approximately one-third of the country, seems longer than its 254 miles (414.54 km) because of the elaborate twists and curves of its inlets, bays and beaches. Watered by the Tempisque River and the cloud forests of the uplands, the province is carved with rivers, estuaries, mangrove swamps, springs and waterfalls.
Considered by many to be Costa Rica’s crown jewel, Guanacaste has raised the curtain on a new era of international travel.The attractions are abundant and well-known—beaches, wildlife, rainforests, volcanoes—and accommodations range from eco-camps and hostels to Peninsula Papagayo, a resort and residential community that sets new standards of luxury for the world.
In Guanacaste, the ocean laps at the shoreline with ceaseless invitations for divers, surfers and windsurfers to come out and play. When the air is still and the ocean calm, fishermen, sailors and kauyakers look west and take to the ocean. Every moment brings the discovery of blue- dark, light,deep, shallow, suffused with the Guanacaste lightl.