For 20 years, I’ve been fortunate to live and work in this fabulous country and I’ve assembled the following information with links to share a slice of paradise with you.
CENTRAL VALLEY – The heart and soul of Costa Rica, where 70% of the population lives and works. Strikingly beautiful with a mild, spring-like climate year-round. Costa Rica’s Central Valley lies at an elevation of 3,000 to 5,000 feet above sea level. The valley dominates a large portion of the interior of Costa Rica, with lush forests, fruitful farms and coffee plantations, for which the country is famous.
In the Central Valley, you can find many small towns, well-known for their beauty and charm. Residents here enjoy going to the theater, concerts, art galleries, malls, boutiques, bars, restaurants, produce ferias and friendly village churches.
SAN JOSE PROVINCE – Here you will find the communities of Escazu – Santa Ana -Desamparados – Moravia – Guadalupe – San Pedro – Curridabat – Tres Rios – Cartago
Historically, Spanish colonists were attracted to the valley’s fertile soil, from which crops flourished and plantations prospered, helping farmers achieve easy sustenance, a reality that was already well-known to the region’s many indigenous inhabitants. Expats with second homes in the Central Valley enjoy going to art galleries, handicraft shops, boutiques, bars, restaurants, flower markets, and friendly village churches.
San Jose City, Provincial Capital, also Capital of Costa Rica – Area: 4,965.30 sq. km. Population: 1,345,750 (2000).
Climate: Moderate. Average Temperature: 23 C.
Altitude: 1,160 Mts. above sea level.
About San Jose – San Jose is by far the most populated province in the country. Within the boundaries of San Jose you can find portions of the Talamanca and Central Mountain Ranges. The major areas of development are the surrounding areas of the city of San Jose. San Jose has all the basic technology which you would find in any major metropolitan city; however it is all being upgraded at a much slower pace. Great tempered climate all year round!
HEREDIA PROVINCE – Here you will find the communities of Belén – San Joaquin de Flores- Santa Barbara – Barva – San Pablo – Santo Domingo – San Isidro – Sarapiqui.
Area: 2,657 sq. km.
Population: 354,732 (2000).
Average Temperature: 23 C
Heredia City, Provincial Capital – Population 42,600 (2004).
Altitude: 1,150 Mts. above sea level.
About Heredia – Heredia is one of the smaller provinces however is very rich in colonial tradition. This province is situated on the Central Mountain Range and extends north to the border of Nicaragua. Heredia is the heartland of Costa Rica’s world famous coffee plantations. For the fourth year in a row, the cleanest and best managed city in Costa Rica, as determined by the Control Generals Office is Belén, Heredia.
Sarapiquí – The protected rainforest around Sarapiquí is an outstanding eco-tourism destination. This area lies along a river valley beneath the Cordillera Central mountain range. To the west is the rainforest of Braulio Carrillo National Park, and to the east are Tortuguero National Park and Barra del Colorado National Wildlife Refuge. In between these protected areas lie thousands of acres of banana, pineapple, and palm plantations interspersed with forest. The area is renowned for its conservation efforts, centered primarily at Tirimbina Biological Reserve and OTS (Organization for Tropical Studies) La Selva, a protected rainforest area and state-of-the-art international research facility.
ALAJUELA PROVINCE – Here you will find the communities of San Ramón – Grecia – San Mateo – Atenas – Naranjo – Palmares – Orotina – San Carlos – Sarchí – Upala – Los Chiles.
Area: 9,754 sq. km.
Population: 716,286 (2000).
Climate: Moderate to warm.
Average Temperature: 23 to 26 C
Juan Santamaria Museum
Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge
Sarchi (oxcart factories)
Poas Volcano National Park
Carara Biological Reserve
Panoramas of the lush and fertile plains of San Carlos
Alajuela City, Provincial Capital – Population 220,000.
Altitude: 925 Mts. above sea level.
About Alajuela – Alajuela is one of the largest provinces in Costa Rica, and here you will find portions of the Central, Tilaran and Guanacaste Mountain Ranges. Altitudes vary from 900 to 90 meters above sea level, so you will also notice dramatic changes in flora and fauna throughout the province.
Poas Volcano – At Poas Volcano National Park, steam rises from vents in the earth, near crystal-blue sulfur pools. Lunch at La Paz Waterfall Gardens, a lush nature preserve famed for its butterflies and hummingbird gardens. Later, we learn about bats at Tirimbina Rainforest Center. On a night walk into the forest we find the mist nets that scientists have erected to trap bats. We can see them up close and even touch them before they are released. Check out La Paz Waterfall Gardens.
Arenal Volcano – Few natural phenomena rival the rumblings, eruptions and lava flows of one of the world’s most active volcanoes. At Arenal Volcano, that thrill is compounded by the proximity of our accommodations at Arenal Observatory Lodge, little over a mile from the cone’s crater. From here we can see, hear, and even feel the ground shake as smoking cinders the size of houses are ejected from the crater and sent crashing down the mountain. On clear nights, we may see brilliant red lava spewing from the top and flowing down the sides. The protected rainforest environs provide great hiking and wildlife viewing opportunities. Arenal Volcano, among the most active volcanoes in the world. Costa Rica lies on the edge of two tectonic plates, one of the most dynamic such junctures on earth. Molten rock, created by the friction of the plates, is forced up through fissures and emerges as fiery magma. Arenal regularly puts on a spectacular performance, hissing and rumbling and spewing ash and lava into the sky. Check out Arenal Observatory Lodge.
CARTAGO PROVINCE – Here you will find the communities of Cartago – Paraíso – Tres Ríos – Turrialba – Pacayas – San Rafael – Tejar. Area: 3,125 sq. km.
Population: 432,395 (2000).
Average Temperature: 20-23 C
Cartago City, Provincial Capital – Population 141,524 (2003).
Altitude: 1,150 Mts. above sea level.
About Cartago – This is one of the smallest provinces in Costa Rica however it is probably the richest in colonial tradition. Cartago was the capital city of Costa Rica until 1823 when the capital was changed to San Jose. The highest peak is Cerro de la Muerte at 3,600 meters above sea level and the lowest point of the province would have to be Turrialba which is 90 meters above sea level.
CENTRAL PACIFIC COAST – Spectacular ocean views, gorgeous beaches, world-class surfing, sport fishing, bird watching, scuba diving, snorkeling, kayaking, and horseback riding make the Pacific Coast a prime attraction for adventuresome tourists. It’s also becoming a Mecca for property shoppers. And remarkably, there are still places along the Pacific Coast that aren’t overcrowded.
PUNTARENAS PROVINCE – Here you will find the communities of Caldera – Jaco – Esterillos – Quepos – Manuel Antonio – Dominical – Uvita – Ojochal – Coronado – Palma Sur.
This province is a narrow strip of coastal land stretching from just north of Jacó, southeast of the Golfo de Nicoya, down south to Marino Ballena National Park, just above of the Osa Peninsula. These magnificent beaches are flanked by spectacular deep green mountains (year-round), which highlight the awe-inspiring landscape. The Central Pacific region, a combination of lush tropical vegetation and ocean panorama, has scenery unlike any other.
Monteverde – Rising nearly 5,000 feet into the misty skies, the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve, is home to 400 species of birds, more than 100 species of mammals and an estimated 2,500 species of plants. Among the dense forest vegetation we find many wild relatives of familiar tropical houseplants including philodendrons, ficus trees, bromeliads and ferns, and orchids abound, with over 500 species. Guided walks through the reserve offer an introduction to this tiny country’s amazing biodiversity. Monteverde means “green mountain,” though moisture comes not so much in the form of rain but in the constant mists that swath the mountaintops. More than 400 species of birds flourish here, including the rare resplendent quetzal. A hundred mammal species live in the cloud forest as well as an estimated 2,500 species of plants, including 300 different orchids. Check out Fonda Vela.
Manuel Antonio, Quepos – Manuel Antonio National Park is one of the most famous in the country and is south of Quepos on the Pacific Coast, 132 km from San José. Perhaps It is so popular because of its expensive white sand beaches backed by an evergreen forest that grows right up to the high tide line. The principal habitants are primary forest, secondary forest, mangrove swamps, lagoons and beach vegetation. There is quite a varied fauna with 109 species of mammals and 184 of birds. The park includes 12 little isles just off the coast; these are a number of dolphins and, at times, migrating whales can be observed. Check out these unique hotels; SicoMono, Hotel Parador, and Lamariposa.
Punta Leona – Herradura – These beach communities are the closest to San Jose. When driving on the new highway, it should take no more than 1-1/2 hours. If you don’t have a lot of time and want to chill out at the beach, this area is a convenient option. Check out these hotels; Hotel Villa Caletas, and the Marriott.
Cocos Island – Located off the southeastern shore of the province of Puntarenas in Costa Rica, the island measures 23,85 sq. km. and is a protected national park, approximately 550 km (340 mi) from the Pacific shore of Costa Rica. Surrounded by deep waters with counter-currents, Cocos Island is admired by scuba divers for its populations of Hammerhead sharks, rays, dolphins and other large marine species. The extremely wet climate and oceanic character give Cocos an ecological character that is not shared with any other islands.
-Diving Cocos Island – Famous among experienced divers for the big animal action with challenging, high-tension dives among hammerheads, mantas, occasional whale sharks, and other awe-inspiring creatures.
-Diving is better during the rainy season from June through December. Some records show that the sharks are seen more often during this rainy season. Diving is year-round, but some of the boats are pulled out of service from mid-September to October for repairs, indicating that this is probably not the best time to dive Cocos.
Puntarenas – Area: 11,266 sq. km.
Population: 357,483 (2000).
Climate: Hot and humid.
Average Temperature: 28 C
Manuel Antonio National Park
Cabo Blanco National Wildlife Refuge
Cano Island Biological Reserve
Islands in the Gulf; Guayabo, Negritos, Pajaros Biological Reserves
Corcovado National Park
Puntarenas City, Provincial Capital – Population 100,000.
Altitude: Sea level.
About Puntarenas – This is a typical port city with businesses catering to mariners as well as tourists.
OSA PENINSULA – This is the largest stretch of prehistoric rainforest on the Pacific coast of Central America and is regarded as one of the most biologically diverse and beautiful locations on the planet. This region is quite different from the Costa Rican mainland. There are an extraordinary number of animal and plant species found nowhere else on Earth. Quite simply, it’s one of the most pristine and awe-inspiring natural wonders you’ll ever visit. Imagine a “floating island” with a thousand shades of blue and green saturating its rolling hills.
Golfito – There are still places along the Southern Pacific Coast that aren’t overcrowded. In fact, you can still find small fishing villages and stretches of beach that may remind you of a completely wild tropical island. This historic peninsula and its port of Golfito are unlike most places you’ll ever see. There are several government protected, national parks and wildlife preserves nearby that are home to dozens of exotic animals.
Pavones – Corcovado – Far removed from the larger population centers, this area encompasses some of the country’s most stunning natural beauty. Situated in the southern Pacific part of Costa Rica, it boasts the largest remaining tracts of Pacific coastal rainforests in Central America. The forest here is particularly lush and dense, due to high rainfall throughout the year. If you’re craving adventure and getting in touch with nature on the grandest scale, an overnight stay at one of the following lodges, will provide you with access to secluded beaches and beautiful national parks: Tiskita Lodge, Laparios, Aguiladeosa
NORTHERN PACIFIC – The government has designated this region the as a preferential tourism development area. In order to facilitate access, the Liberia airport was upgraded and extended to become the second international airport in the country. Foreign pensioners and investors have chosen the area for retirement, in Flamingo Beach there are mainly USA citizens, in Tamarindo and Playa Grande mostly Europeans and Potrero has many Canadians. Guanacaste, like the rest of Costa Rica, has interesting national parks, which boast of lush flora, fauna, birds and wildlife.
GUANACASTE PROVINCE – Here you will find the communities of La Cruz – Liberia – Guardia – Sardinal – Coco – Santa Cruz – Tamarindo – Flamingo – Nicoya – Samara – Nosara.
Area: 10,140 KM2 or 6,300 square miles.
Capital: Liberia, population 32,951.
175 miles from San José
Climate: Warm, average temperature 83 F
Altitude: 25 meters or 82 feet above sea level.
Guanacaste is one of the largest and least populated of the seven provinces of Costa Rica. The province is known primarily for its cattle production, and it is often compared to the State of Texas for this reason. This comparison is not altogether erroneous as Guanacaste shares with Texas the long stretches of plains, which are ideal for cattle ranches. The Pacific Ocean off Guanacaste offers anglers excellent fishing options. The main fishing season is April through December and during the months of January and February, the waters off Guanacaste produce some of the best bill fishing found anywhere in the world. Most of the fishing from December until April is out of Playa Carrillo, to escape the Papagayo winds that consistently blow from the north that time of year.
Liberia City, Provincial Capital – Population 35,847.
Altitude: 25 Mts. above sea level
Flamingo – The center of activity and home to the largest marina in Guanacaste (presently being rebuilt). There are many charter boats operating in that area, ranging from 23 to 47 feet in length. Hotels in the area are luxurious and most have pools and spectacular views of the ocean.
Bat Islands – A long run from Flamingo, but faster boats can make the run in about an hour out of Playas del Coco. The volcanic underwater structure of the islands make for great haunts for a variety of species to prowl the fertile waters. Because of the little fishing pressure in this area, inshore species like Roosterfish, Snapper, Grouper, Amberjack, Wahoo and Dorado are readily available. Anglers have even been surprised with marlin and sailfish hook-ups fishing for other species.
Catalina Islands – A short run out of Flamingo and produce the same inshore species as the Bat Islands but not in the numbers as the islands to the north. At times, they have a great run of Wahoo that stop at the island to feed during their migratory runs.
Tamarindo – An excellent spot to stay while fishing or surfing. More laid back than Flamingo, but still luxury hotels are available as well as less expensive lodging.
Santa Cruz – This city has been declared Costa Rica’s National Folklore City. Santa Cruz is famous for its colorful fiestas, which feature delicious native foods and dances. Santa Cruz is a short 30-minute drive south from Liberia.
Guaitil – This small town hosts one of Costa Rica’s best centers for native ceramic handicrafts. Guaitil is situated amid Costa Rican cattle country between the cities of Santa Cruz and Nicoya. The Guaitil Art Cooperative continues the long tradition of fine Chorotega Indian ceramic crafts. Descendants of this Indian tribe own and operate the center while generating their modem creations employing the techniques of their ancestors.
SOUTHERN NICOYA PENINSULA – Protruding outward into the Pacific Ocean, the Nicoya Peninsula runs alongside Costa Rica’s Central Pacific coastline, with the Gulf of Nicoya lying calmly in between. It’s also home to the Reserva Natural Absoluta Cabo Blanco, Costa Rica’s oldest protected piece of land – and the Refugio Nacional de Vida Silvestre Curu, which includes a great variety of wildlife, such as deer, monkeys, and wildcats roaming through the forest here. In this region you will find the communities of Paquera – Tambor – Montezuma – Santa Teresa – Mal Pais.
Long a secret in Costa Rica, these communities are home to a small but thriving community of artists, actors, singers, writers, celebrities, models, musicians, and other creative visionaries that have made this undiscovered paradise their new home away from home.
CARIBBEAN COAST – For decades, tourists have been ttracted to the Caribbean Coast, where the commercial port of Limon is located and where you can enjoy superb surfing, sport fishing, and opportunities to get a close-up look at nature in an area where tropical rainforest’s extend to the white-sand beaches. The Caribbean Coast is also home to several wildlife refuges and parks, including the Tortuguero National Park – where turtles go to nest.
LIMON PROVINCE – Here you will find the communities of Limón – Guápiles – Siquirres – Bratsi – Matina – Guácimo
This Province runs 125 miles (200 km) north to south starting at the Nicaraguan boarder, near Punta Castilla, and finishing at the headwaters of the Sixaola River on the Panamanian boarder. With its monopoly on alluring Caribbean beaches, dense inland wet-rainforest, and unique Afro-Caribbean culture, Limón offers a side of Costa Rica not found outside the province. Rains spawned by trade winds off the Caribbean, fuel the dense forests that envelop the region, thus providing sanctuary for the region’s biologically diverse flora and fauna. Here, humidity is more pronounced, the result of heavy moist air hovering over the Caribbean.
Puerto Viejo, Punta Uva, Manzanillo – I’ve lived in Costa Rica for over sixteen years, six of those years right on a Pacific Ocean Beach in Guanacaste, and the only beaches I go to for pleasure are Punta Uva and Manzanillo. They are located on the Atlantic Ocean south of Puerto Viejo, at the end of the road in southeast Costa Rica. There are a couple of small hotels and restaurants, and a small residential area.
Punta Uva is well known for its excellent beaches and the Punta Uva butterfly garden, which has an amazing variety of tropical butterflies. The actual point of Punta Uva is a rocky promontory which extends out over the lovely Caribbean Sea. The rock is a great place to explore, covered with lush jungle, and a trail leading to up to a great lookout point at the top. To the north-west of the point there is a sheltered cove with great swimming. One of the most popular beaches in the area, especially among the locals, this beach even offers kayak rental during the tourist season, and is a great spot for water sports and just lying around in the sun. A short access road leads down to this beach right across the main road from the Punta Uva grocery store, and there is parking right next to the beach. To the south-east of the point, the town of Punta Uva comes right down to the beach, with several beach-front houses and a restaurant or two. This region also has excellent beaches, with white sand and no reef.
Manzanillo is known for the fabulous beachfront restaurant and bar, Maxi’s.
Tortuguero – Tortuguero National Park is a sprawling maze of brackish canals through lowland tropical rainforest along the northern Caribbean coast. The park embraces eleven different habitats, supporting an amazing array of wildlife and a spectacular stretch of black sand beach. The park is named for the green turtles that nest on its protected beaches from July to September. Park explorations include boat rides through the canals where we may see spider, howler, and white-faced capuchin monkeys, crocodiles, tree sloths, and more than 300 bird species, arguably the best wildlife viewing in Costa Rica.
Travel through some of the richest rainforest on earth at Braulio Carillo National Park this morning on our way to Limón, where we board our boat for Tortuguero, considered by many to be the best place to view wildlife in Costa Rica. A boat cruise along canals that wind through the dense jungle may reveal spider, howler and white-faced capuchin monkeys, tree sloths, caimans, and a spectrum of colorful birds. Here in the tropics, steady sunlight, constant rain and warm temperatures create an intense incubator for a profusion of species. After lunch, we may have time to visit the Caribbean Conservation Center before heading to our jungle lodge accommodations adjacent to the park. Check out this hotel; Pachira Lodge.
Limon – Area: 9,189 SQ. KM.
Population: 339,295 (2000).
Climate: Hot and humid.
Average Temperature: 29 C
Limon City, Provincial Capital – Population 105,000.
Altitude: Sea level.
About Limon – When Christopher Columbus discovered Costa Rica in 1502, it was the coastline of Limon that inspired him to name it the “Rich Coast” (Costa Rica).
The following regions are not as popular as those above, however they are equally as unique and beautiful.
Central Highlands -A thin belt of dramatic peaks which give way to impressive views extend from the town of Tilarán, in the northwest, down to the southeast and the Turrialba Volcano, outlining the spectacular Central Highlands. The uppermost peaks make up a dazzling skyline as they provide views that get better and better as you wind your way up the coffee-shrouded hills. The scenery is so spectacular from areas like Atenas and San Ramon, that on many of the highest points it is possible to simultaneously view the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. The region is bordered by the Northern Lowlands to the north, the Central Valley to the south, the Caribbean to the east and Guanacaste to the west—encompassing an elliptical expanse full of dense green rolling hills which give rise to an explosion of jaw-dropping peaks and unparalleled biodiversity. Beautiful discoveries lie around every corner of the Central Highlands.
Northern Lowlands – Positioned just north of San José and the Central Valley, east of Guanacaste and west of the Caribbean coast, the ideally situated Northern Lowlands of Costa Rica offer some of the country’s most diverse scenery. With the exception of the Arenal Volcano (Volcán Arenal)—home to dazzling light shows as the volcano spews molten rock and ash down its hillsides—the region is mostly rolling flatlands that sweep across northern Costa Rica. The wide variety of jungles, cloud and rain forests, and webs of rivers run through the two main flatlands, Llanuras de los Guatusos, to the west towards Guanacaste and Llanura de San Carlos to the east. The region is supplied with spectacular attractions, not to mention the diverse flora and fauna that Costa Rica is famous for.
South Central -If remoteness and inaccessibility appeal to you, the wild South Central region may be just what you need. One of the most rugged and unexplored regions in the country, it is here that you will find natural wonders like Costa Rica’s largest collection of virgin forest and the highest peak south of Guatemala, Cerro Chirripó. Winding trails through various ecosystems stroll through this scarcely populated landscape exposing various peaks over 9,800 ft (3,000 m) along the Talamanca Mountain Range.