Costa Rica has 112 volcanoes that can be seen throughout
By Richard Carroll
Photos: Halina Kubalski
itting at an umbrella table in downtown San Jose overlooking the Plaza
de la Cultura is like a page out of Hemingway's "The Sun Also
Rises." The plaza is laid out in a maze of stalls where passive
vendors sell sparkling silver jewelry by the trayfull, hand-carved clay
masks, colorful Guatemalan belts, area rugs, and hammocks perfect for
a midday siesta.
Greetings from Costa Rica. The essence of the country
is preserving nature and an organic lifestyle.
Three men play an old wood marimba over the buzz of
the crowd while a steaming plate of Gallo Pinto (rice and beans) is
served to an elegant lady who was performing with her guitar and who
is chummy with everyone from the shoeshine man to the waitresses. Attractive
Tico (Costa Ricans) couples, dressed to the "nines" chat over
coffee, somehow ignoring a talented mime performing a few feet away.
Costa Rica is noted for its colorful arts and crafts.
The pulse is passionate and vibrant, much like the sidewalk
cafes of Pamplona, Spain, before mass tourism. Papa's presence is felt,
along with the international crowd that hangs out here discussing the
charms of a dazzling little country with an oversized green thumb that
offers a marvelous opportunity to experience nature at its best.
Visiting Costa Rica is the opportunity to
enjoy a wide-ranging variety of nature.
Laced with steep-sided mountain ranges that are covered
with coffee fields, the tiny country boasts of 112 volcanoes, nine of
which are active, thousands of acres of gorgeous rain forests, and 600
miles of beaches. Costa Rica has designated 25 percent of the land to
a National Park System, vigilantly preserved with 39 parks and reserves.
There are 11,000 native plant species, 12 distinct climactic zones,
butterflies galore, and more species of trees and birds than one can
experience in a lifetime in a country only about the size of West Virginia.
A photographers dream, Hemingway would have to leave
his rifle in Africa and replace it with a long-lens camera, since Costa
Rica, which avidly practices ecotourism and cherishes wildlife, realized
years ago that it would be far better to protect their abundant wildlife
in order to share it with the world.
A bridge to South America with Nicaragua to the north
to the south, Costa Rica is independent and proud. Visitors feel welcome
here thanks to the friendly Ticos who are primarily of Spanish descent,
embrace peace and democracy, and who have no standing army, a low crime
rate, a higher literacy rate than the United States, and some of the
best health care services in Latin America.
For a quick refreshment fresh coconuts are offered
for sale throughout Costa Rica.
The country's gracious personality is long standing.
Vivacious Rosemary Dexter and her husband the Reverend Rollin Dexter
commonly referred to as Reverend Dex were missionaries in Costa Rica
for five years and with brilliant memories, Rosemary explains, "We
arrived in San Jose in 1965 and lived there for one year while we were
in language school and then in Alajuela for four years and what a lovely
place to live in. It's truly the land of eternal spring. The weather
was never cold or too warm, and the views were wonderful, lots of mountains
and volcanoes, coffee plantations, busy markets and picturesque farms.
But the most endearing part of Costa Rica was and still is are the people.
They are friendly, easy going and industrious, and beautiful in person
and in spirit. I would chose Costa Rica as the perfect place for a vacation
and would go in a minute if I had the opportunity even at my age of
Soda's, popular mom and pop cafe's, are found throughout
the country and a great place to meet the Tico's and enjoy authenic
Costa Rican cuisine.
Now some 52-years later the folks at Disney couldn't
have done a better job than the current tourism infrastructure, Rosemary
would be proud. Exhilarating nature excursions from San Jose, the capital,
or from any location within the sprawling Central Valley are available,
which include excursions to the Highlands, the Poas Volcano, the Valley
of Orosi, Cartago, the submerged rainforest at Tortuguero, and the Irazu
and Tuirrialba Volcanoes. Turrialba is ranked among the world's most
spectacular volcanoes with trails leading to five giant craters often
ablaze with wild flowers, and views of the Caribbean.
Swim in the Caribbean Sea in the morning and the Pacific
Ocean in the afternoon. Hike till your feet scream, book bird-watching
tours in search of 901 bird species, or lounge the days away in a hammock
made for two. You'll never feel so free-spirited. It's the time to grow
a beard, put your hair in a ponytail, and slip on shorts, sandals and
Costa Rica with 600 miles of beaches visitors can
swim in both the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean.
For those with time on their hands, the 27 national
parks alone could take months to explore since virtually all of them
offer extensive hiking trails and nature preservation. Five representative
forests teeming with bird life and hundreds of varieties of orchids
and ferns are found within the Braulio Carrillo National Park alone.
Corcovado National Park has the last remaining virgin rain forest in
Central America with more than 100 species of trees found on a mere
one acre of land. Scientists from throughout the world with notebooks
in hand work on passionate research projects and make up a huge percentage
of the park's visitors.
Costa Rica is far advanced enforcing an organic
lifestyle that helps to protect their 39 parks and reserves.
The two-lane road to Irazu, heading southeast from San
Jose, winds slowly up the side of the highest volcano in Costa Rica,
towering 11,259 feet into the clouds. From the summit, the city of Cartago
below is a tiny checkerboard. The colonial capital until1823, Cartago
is home to the Cathedral of the Virgin of Los Angeles, Patron Saint
of Costa Rica. The road makes its way past crusty, tin-roofed homes,
carpets of hilly green grass, and forests of fern, through farming villages
and over a one-lane bridge affording vistas of the Central Valley as
beautiful as any in the Swiss Alps.
The volcanoes that dot the Costa Rican landscape,
some of which are active are responsible for the country's rich, verdant
Here amongst the drifting clouds Ticos are working on
the side of the volcano where only mountain goats should be. The volcano
itself is a moonscape of two sheer-sided craters, startlingly barren
amidst all the Costa Rican greenery, and with a yellowish lake smelling
faintly of sulfur. The drive down the volcano heads into the Orosi Valley
past fields of coffee to the town of Orosi and the oldest colonial church
still in use built in 1735. The town is so engulfed in greenery, lush
plantations, and ancient cloud-covered volcano peaks, that it looks
as if it's waiting to be gobbled up by vines on the move.
MANUEL ANTONIO PARK & RAINMAKER NATURE REFUGE
Manuel Antonio National Park is home to white-faced
and the rare squirrel monkey, and splendid bird watching opportunities
Manuel Antonio National Park has extensive
organized hiking trails with or without a naturalist guide.
Manuel Antonio National Park near Quepos on the Central
Pacific Coast is a splendid grouping of tropical forest and sandy beach
where visitors walk the trails to spot white-faced and squirrel monkeys
to hear the eerie screams of the howler monkeys and birds singing their
songs somewhere high in the canopy. A short drive from Manuel Antonio
is the RainMaker Nature Refuge, ensconced in an exquisite rain forest
canyon. A nature guide leads visitors up mossy steps to hanging rope
bridges dangling across the canyon, where far below is a fast-moving,
rock-strewn river where one seems to be suspended in space in the middle
of a misty rainforest with robust textures and contrasting shadings
tickling the senses.
Adjoining Manuel Antonio and a short drive from RainMaker
is the award-winning 56-room Si Como No. Opened in 1992, energy efficient,
televisions banned, conversation okay, it's the perfect place to book
in for a few days to enjoy romantic dinners overlooking the ocean, and
to be surrounded by the spectacular natural splendor of the area.
Manuel Antonio National Park also has miles of gorgeous
beaches, coves and inlets.
Not unlike Si Como No, the essence of sustainable and
organic living is also found via a spectacular 90-minute drive from
the San Jose International Airport to the El Silencio Lodge and Spa,
tucked away on 500-acres in a private cloud forest reserve. Located
in the Central Volcanic Range with the Juan Castro Blanco and Poas Volcano
National Parks accessible, the Relais & Chateaux lodge also bans
television, and tobacco is left at the gate.
The El Silencio Lodge and Spa is located on 500-acres
in a private cloud forest reserve in the Central Volcanic Range and
is almost completely self-sustaining.
From the moment you enter the lodge grounds, the energy
of the setting, the tumbled boulders strewn about, the massive surroundings
of the mountains, the rain forest with 20 shades of green, and the low-hanging
misty clouds swirling about creates a marvelous disconnect from reality
and where stress-free moments capture the soul.
The El Silencio Lodge and Spa, a Relaix & Chateau
property without television and bans tobacco, but is surrounded with
20 shades of green, extensive hiking trails, and creative organic cuisine.
Costa Rica will catch your fancy and incredibly the
friendly welcome is unchanged from 1965 when Rosemary and Reverend Dex
fell in love with the country. According to Rosemary, "All one
needs is a big heart and some precious holiday time."
WHEN YOU GO
With an area of 19,700 square miles, Costa Rica is one
of the smallest countries in Central America. Three fourths of the country's
population lives in the Central Valley anchored by San Jose at 3,870
feet. While in San Jose use the buses and taxis, which own the roads.
Rent a car only when heading out of town or better yet book a tour.
Specific directions are important. Costa Rican road signage is not up
to par. When you ask Ticos why they don't have road signs, they say,
"Because we know where we're going."
Scattered throughout the country are the delightful
mom and pop cafes called Sodas offering traditional fare that includes
rice, beans, salad, vegetables and fish or meat. Also along the roadways
are stands of refreshing coconuts, freshly cut and served alfresco.
Alaska Airlines, a major carrier to Mexico and Central America, serves
San Joe and Liberia with a range of Vacation Packages. www.visitcostarica.com
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