In sharp contrast to the turbulence experienced by so many of its neighbours, Costa Rica has become synonymous with stability and prosperity – Costa Ricans, or Ticos, enjoy the highest rate of literacy, health care, education and life expectancy in the isthmus. The country has a long democratic tradition of free and open elections, no standing army (it was abolished in 1948) and even a Nobel Peace Prize to its name, won by current president Oscar Arias. Indeed, Costa Rica’s past and present are so quiet, comparatively, that it’s often said that the nation lacks a history or identity. This is far from the truth: Costa Rica’s character is rooted in its distinct local cultures, from the Afro-Caribbean province of Limon, with its Creole cuisine and Caribbean English, to the traditional ladino values embodied by the sabanero (cowboy) of Guanacaste.
For travellers, Costa Rica is regarded as the prime ecotourism destination in Central America. Each year many thousands of visitors come to experience the extreme biodiversity offered by its 161 parks and reserves, from Monteverde to Corcovado to Tortuguero; hiking, rafting and zip-line canopy tours are the most popular activities for exploring the enormous array of exotic flora and fauna.
There’s also the country’s incredibly varied landscape: active volcanoes, such as Arenal and Rincon de la Vieja, punctuate its mountainous spine, while the beaches on both coasts – Jaco, Tamarindo and Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, among others – provide excellent surfing. The potent combination of sights and activities, accessibility and the country’s relative safety do mean that Costa Rica can on occasion be expensive and crowded, but no trip to Central America would be complete without a trip here.
When to visit
Costa Rican weather can be unpredictable – and varied – but you can count on some general trends. The main rainy season runs from May to November, peaking in September and October (on the Caribbean coast, rain falls April-Aug and Nov-Dec). These months are less crowded and generally cheaper, as hotels, tours and activities lower their prices to attract the smaller numbers of tourists. Peak season (Dec, Jan and at Easter) is the most expensive time to visit – accommodation and transportation require advanced bookings during these times.