Places To See
Yes, they farm butterflies in Costa Rica, and it's a fascinating process. Opened in 1983, this was the first commercial butterfly farm in Latin America. Informative guided tours will take you through tropical gardens filled with hundreds of butterflies. Learn about the complex butterfly life cycle and discover the importance of butterflies in nature.
In the wild, it's estimated that less than 2% of caterpillars survive to adulthood, though breeders at the farm boast an astounding 90% survival rate. This ensures a steady supply of pupae for gardens, schools, museums and private collections around the world. If you visit on a Monday or a Thursday from March to August, you can watch thousands of pupae being packed for export.
The butterflies are busiest when it's sunny, particularly in the morning, so try to get here early. Your entrance fee includes a guided two-hour tour, where you can learn about the stages of the complex butterfly life cycle, and the importance of butterflies in nature. Tours in English, German, Spanish or French run three times daily, more often when it's busy.
Wilson Botanical Garden
The world class Wilson Botanical Garden covers 12 hectares (30 acres) and is surrounded by 254 hectares (628 acres) of natural forest. The garden was established by Robert and Catherine Wilson in 1963 and thereafter became internationally known for its collection. Today, the well-maintained garden holds more than 1000 genera of plants in about 200 families and plays a scientific role as a research center.
The gardens are well laid out and many of the plants are labelled. A trail map is available for self-guided walks featuring exotic species like orchids, bromeliads, palms and medicinal plants. The many ornamental varieties are breathtakingly beautiful and tours explain that they are useful too (such as the delicate cycad, used by Cabécar and Bribrí indigenous people as a treatment for snakebite). The gardens are especially popular among bird-watchers, who may see scarlet-thighed dacnis, silver-throated tanagers, violaceous trogons, blue-headed parrots, violet sabre-wing hummingbirds and turquoise cotingas.
Península de Nicoya
The Nicoya Peninsula is a sun-drenched strip of land with over 130km (81mi) of stunning coastline bound by dry, tropical rainforest. As looks go, it's a beauty and the most popular tourist destination in the whole country. Though the coastlines are being increasingly colonized by gringos, the interior remains dedicated to agriculture and ranching.
In the past, poor access kept development in check. The recently constructed Friendship Bridge and the international airport in Liberia have created fast-track access. The resort mania around Playa Panamá and Playa Tambor is quickly spreading south. With record numbers of foreigners flocking to Nicoya, it's more important than ever for visitors to be conscientious about their impact.
Parque Nacional Santa Rosa
Santa Rosa is a wild space of pristine beaches, tropical dry forests and savannahs of thorn trees and swaying jaragua grass. The wildlife on Península Santa Elena is both varied and prolific, especially during the dry season. The rainy months of September and October are best for turtle watching. Here you'll find arribadas (mass-nesting) of up to 8,000 olive ridley sea turtles.
Established in 1971, this national park is one of the oldest in Costa Rica - it's also one of the biggest, spanning 38,674ha (95,565 acres). Santa Rosa is one of the best-developed, though still simple, camping facilities of the nation's parks.
The surfing at Playa Naranjo is world-renowned, especially near Witches Rock, famous for its 3m (9.8ft) curls (not recommended for beginners). Although this is a beach break, there are rocks near the river mouth. Be especially careful near the estuary as it's a rich feeding ground for crocodiles during the tide changes. The surfing is equally legendary off Playa Portero Grande at Ollie's Point.
Buses between Liberia and the Nicaraguan border of Peñas Blancas stop at the entrance; rangers can help you catch a return bus. Alternatively, arrange private transportation from a hotel in Liberia.
Parque Nacional Chirripó
At 3820m (12,533ft), Cerro Chirripó is Costa Rica's highest peak and the centerpiece of a gorgeous national park set in the rugged Cordillera de Talamanca. Lush cloud forest, high alpine lakes and bare paramó define the landscape. A well-marked hiking trail leads to the top where trekkers can sleepover in a mountain hostel. It's a two-day climb.
Get ready for mud. The steep 16km (10mi) ascent winds through changing scenery with abundant vegetation. Wildlife includes the harpy eagle and resplendent quetzal. Start early and allow six to eight hours to reach the hostel. It's a hard grind, so take plenty of water and provisions. From there, the terrain flattens and it's a two-hour hike to the summit.
The highland forests are home to birds such as the flame-throated warbler and buffy tuftedcheek, to name but two. Small brown frogs and lime-colored caterpillars thickly covered with stinging hairs make their way across the trail, and spider monkeys and Baird's tapirs lurk in the thick vegetation (though you aren't likely to see them). Eventually, the trail climbs out of the rainforest into the bare and windswept páramo.
All park fees are payable at the ranger office.
Costa Ricans love to party, kicking off the New Year with 10 days of beer-drinking, horse shows and other carnival events in the tiny town of Palmares. You've two opportunities to catch the Fiesta de los Diablitos; it takes place in Reserva Indígena Boruca (December 31 to January 2) and in Curré (February 5-8). Men wear carved wooden devil masks and burlap masks to re-enact the fight between the Indians and the Spanish. In this version, the Spanish lose.
Día de San José (March) honors the capital's patron saint, and Fiesta de La Virgen del Mar (Festival of the Virgin of the Sea), with its colorful regattas and boat parades, is held in Puntarenas and Playa del Coco (July).
Día de Guanacaste (July), celebrates the annexation of Guanacaste from Nicaragua. There's a rodeo in Santa Cruz on this day. Virgen de Los Angeles (August) is celebrated with an important religious procession from San José to Cartago.
El Día de la Raza (Columbus Day) takes place in October - the town of Puerto Limón celebrates with a four-day carnival. It's all about colorful street parades, dancing, music, singing and drinking!
Families visit graveyards and have religious parades in honor of the deceased on Día de los Muertos (All Souls' Day). During Las Fiestas de Zapote, at the end of the year, a week-long celebration of all things Costa Rican (namely rodeos, cowboys, carnival rides, fried food and a whole lot of drinking) takes place in Zapote, southeast of San José.
When to go?
The early months of the rainy season (May to July) are a wonderful time to travel to Costa Rica with some towns experiencing a mini-high season. During this time, rivers start to swell and dirt roads get muddy, making travel more challenging. Remote roads may not be accessible to public transport, so always ask locally before setting out. Bring your umbrella and a little patience.
For surfers, the Pacific coast sees increased swells and bigger, faster waves during the rainy season, peaking in the worst rainy months of September and October. The Caribbean side has better waves from November through May.
Wildlife enthusiasts may wish to plan their trip around high visibility seasons. The best time to spot the resplendent quetzal is between November and April. The peak season for leatherback turtles from April to May; for green turtles it's during August and September.
Fishing is good year-round, but you might choose your season if you have your heart set on a specific fish. Anglers head to the Caribbean coast between January and May in search of tarpon, while autumn is the season for snook. On the Pacific coast and in the Golfo Dulce, the best time to snag that sailfish is between November and May.
Travel Visa Overview
Passport-carrying nationals of the following countries are allowed 90 days' stay with no visa: Argentina, Canada, Israel, Japan, Panama, the USA, and most Western European countries. Citizens of Australia, Iceland, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, Russia, South Africa and Venezuela are allowed to stay for 30 days with no visa. Others require a visa from a Costa Rican embassy or consulate. For the latest info on visas, check the websites of the ICT (www.visitcostarica.com) or the Costa Rican embassy in (www.costarica-embassy.org) Washington, DC.
Travelers officially need onward tickets before they are allowed to enter Costa Rica. This requirement is not often checked at the airport, but travelers arriving by land should anticipate a need to show an onward ticket.
American-style plug with two parallel flat blades above a circular grounding pin
Japanese-style plug with two parallel flat blades
This diarrheal disease can cause rapid dehydration and death. Cholera is caused by a bacteria, Vibrio cholerae . It's transmitted from person to person by direct contact (often via healthy carriers of the disease) or via contaminated food and water. It can be spread by seafood, including crustaceans and shellfish, which get infected via sewage.
Cholera exists where standards of environmental and personal hygiene are low. Every so often there are massive epidemics, usually due to contaminated water in conditions where there is a breakdown of the normal infrastructure.
The time between becoming infected and symptoms appearing is usually short, between one and five days. The diarrhea starts suddenly, and pours out of you. It's characteristically described as 'rice water' diarrhea because it is watery and flecked with white mucus. Vomiting and muscle cramps are usual, but fever is rare. In its most serious form, it causes a massive outpouring of fluid (up to 20L a day). This is the worst case scenario - only about one in 10 sufferers get this severe form.
It's a self-limiting illness, meaning that if you don't succumb to dehydration, it will end in about a week without any treatment.
You should seek medical help urgently; in the meantime, start re-hydration therapy with oral re-hydration salts. You may need antibiotic treatment with tetracycline, but fluid replacement is the single most important treatment strategy in cholera.
Prevention is by taking basic food and water precautions, avoiding seafood and having scrupulous personal hygiene. The currently available vaccine is not thought worthwhile as it provides only limited protection for a short time.
Unlike the malaria mosquito, the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which transmits the dengue virus, is most active during the day, and is found mainly in urban areas, in and around human dwellings.
Signs and symptoms of dengue fever include a sudden onset of high fever, headache, joint and muscle pains, nausea and vomiting. A rash of small red spots sometimes appears three to four days after the onset of fever. Severe complications do sometimes occur.
You should seek medical attention as soon as possible if you think you may be infected. A blood test can indicate the possibility of the fever. There is no specific treatment. Aspirin should be avoided, as it increases the risk of hemorrhaging. There is no vaccine against dengue fever.
This serious and potentially fatal disease is spread by mosquito bites. If you are traveling in endemic areas it is extremely important to avoid mosquito bites and to take tablets to prevent this disease. Symptoms range from fever, chills and sweating, headache, diarrhea and abdominal pains to a vague feeling of ill-health. Seek medical help immediately if malaria is suspected. Without treatment malaria can rapidly become more serious and can be fatal.
If medical care is not available, malaria tablets can be used for treatment. You should seek medical advice, before you travel, on the right medication and dosage for you.
If you do contract malaria, be sure to be re-tested for malaria once you return home as you can harbor malaria parasites in your body even if you are symptom free.
Travelers are advised to prevent mosquito bites at all times. The main messages are: wear light-colored clothing; wear long trousers and long-sleeved shirts; use mosquito repellents containing the compound DEET on exposed areas (prolonged overuse of DEET may be harmful, especially to children, but its use is considered preferable to being bitten by disease-transmitting mosquitoes); avoid perfumes and aftershave. Use a mosquito net impregnated with mosquito repellent (permethrin) - it may be worth taking your own.
Several different viruses cause hepatitis; they differ in the way that they are transmitted. The symptoms in all forms of the illness include fever, chills, headache, fatigue, feelings of weakness and aches and pains, followed by loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, light-colored feces, jaundiced (yellow) skin and yellowing of the whites of the eyes.
There are 6 known types of viral hepatitis: A, B, C, D, E and G. G is not dangerous. A and E are passed on by the fecal-oral route of transmission; there is a vaccine. Seek medical advice, but there is not much you can do apart from resting, drinking lots of fluids, eating lightly and avoiding fatty foods. A and E cause an acute illness, but you will recover fully from it.
B and D are passed on via blood, saliva, semen and vaginal fluids. They can be passed on by close contact, sexual contact, and blood-to-blood contact. The symptoms of hepatitis B may be more severe than type A and the disease can lead to long-term problems such as chronic liver damage, liver cancer or a long-term carrier state. There is a vaccine.
Hepatitis C is only passed on from blood-to-blood contact. There is no vaccine.
Costa Rica is a tropical country and experiences only two seasons: wet and dry. The dry season is generally between late December and April; the wet season lasts the rest of the year. The highlands are cold: San José and the Central Valley get an 'eternal spring' with lows averaging 15°C (60°F) and highs averaging 26°C (79°F). Both the Pacific and Caribbean coasts are pretty much sweltering year-round - get ready for some bad-hair days. Temperatures vary little between seasons; the main influence on temperature is altitude. The humidity at low altitudes can be oppressive.
History and Culture
Pre-20th Century History
Mystery shrouds Pre-Columbian Costa Rica: few archaeological monuments have been found and no proof of a written language has ever been discovered. Recorded history tends to begin with Christopher Columbus, who stayed for 17 days in 1502 and was so impressed by the gold decorations worn by the friendly locals that he promptly dubbed the country Costa Rica, 'the rich coast'. Despite the lure of untold wealth, colonization was slow to take hold and it took nearly 60 years for Spanish settlers to make a dent in the tangled jungle. Once the process started, however, Costa Rica, like its similarly colonized neighbors, suffered the effects of European invasion. The indigenous population did not have the necessary numbers to resist the Spanish, and their populations dwindled quickly because of susceptibility to European diseases.
The hoped-for hoardes of gold never materialized and Costa Rica remained a forgotten backwater for many years. The 18th century saw the establishment of settlements such as Heredia, San José and Alajuela. It was not until the introduction of coffee in 1808, however, that the country registered on the radars of the 19th-century white-shoe brigade and frontier entrepreneurs looking to make a killing. Coffee brought wealth, a class structure, a more outward-looking perspective and, most importantly, independence.
A bizarre turn of events in 1856 provided one of the first important landmarks in the nation's history and served to unify the people. During the term of coffee-grower-turned-president Juan Rafael Mora, a period remembered for the country's economic and cultural growth, Costa Rica was invaded by US military adventurer William Walker and his army of recently captured Nicaraguan slaves. Mora organized an army of 9000 civilians that, against all odds, succeeded in forcing Walker & Co to flee.
The ensuing years of the 19th century saw power struggles among members of the coffee-growing elite and the institution of the first democratic elections, which have since been a hallmark of Costa Rican politics.
Civil war, however, did raise its ugly head in the 1940s when ex-president Calderón and his successor, Picado, lined up against the recent ballot-winner Ulate (whose election win was not recognized by Picado's government) and José Figueres. After weeks of warfare, Figueres emerged victorious, formed an interim government and handed the presidency to Ulate.
The constitution of 1949 gave women and blacks the vote and, controversially, dismantled the country's armed forces - giving Costa Rica the sobriquet of 'the only country which doesn't have an army'. President Oscar Arias received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987 for his attempts to spread Costa Rica's example of peace to the rest of Central America. The peace has, in recent years, been disturbed by upheavals of a different kind. In July 1996, Hurricane César caused several dozen deaths and much of southern Costa Rica was cut off from the rest of the country. The Interamericana highway was closed for about two months and the damage was estimated at about
By the time the February 2002 elections rolled around, however, Ticos were mumbling about a lack of government transparency and shady deals between political mates. These grass-roots misgivings resulted in a 'no win' election, and pollsters returned to the ballot box in April 2002. Rodríguez was succeeded by Abel Pacheco, of the conservative Social Christian Unity Party.
Pacheco began by promising to eliminate public debt within four years. He launched a conservationist platform banning new oil drilling and mining, and proposed legislation guaranteeing citizens the right to a healthy environment. But a campaign finance scandal clouded his presidency, leading some opponents to demand his resignation, but he eked out the rest of his term and handed power back to Oscar Arias in May 2006.
Arias won the 2006 election after a hotly contested ballot recount, narrowly beating the Citizens' Action Party (PAC). President Arias is seen as business-friendly and supports the ratification of the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), which was passed following a national referendum in 2007. Opinion, however, remains divided as to whether opening up trade with the USA will be beneficial in the long term for Costa Rica.