Friday, July 20, 2012

I Heart Costa Rica

Me + sunshine + water + adventure = dream vacation.

So it's been kind of hard not to have become a walking billboard for Costa Rica since I've been back. Costa Rica really is breathtaking and it's almost impossible to describe it's raw and untamed beauty (though hopefully the billion picture will convince you that you need to put it on your travel plans).

People keep ask me why they should go to Costa Rica and here's what I tell them.

1. Pura Vida or the pure life. 
I loved Costa Rican's laid back attitude that reminded me that people and experiences were more important than things and schedules. Not only we're we often greeted with "Pura Vida," but when we tended to be a little American about schedules (we'd been waiting for a half an hour for tours) we were gently reminded to "Pura Vida."  Don't let their laid back attitude fool you, they were some of the hardest working people I've ever meet.

2. It's the Happiest Country in the World. 
One of the first things we saw upon arrival was a  "Welcome to the Happiest Country in the World"  sign and it's not just boasting.  It's a title Costa Rica has been given by Happy Planet Index. With their long life span, high literacy (96% percent), high GDP, no standing army, stable democracy, and a small carbon footprint, it's hard to image them being anything but happy.

3. It's clean. 
Costa Rican's take pride in what they have. Bathrooms, streets, and even the slums were clean and orderly and I never saw trash just lying around.

4. They're green.
Costa Rica is the only country that makes you feel better about throwing your toilet paper into the garbage can as they tell you that by doing so your helping save the planet. They're passionate about protecting their country and it's wildlife and fauna which means that over 30% of the country is National Parks and they hope in the next twenty years that number becomes closer to 50-80%.

You can't really tell, but the signs in the bathroom remind you to be green.

5. 12 Hours of sunshine all years long.
Granted the Sun is fully risen by 5:30 AM and it's completely dark by 6 PM, but that's just a minor detail for some of the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets I've ever seen.  Who just doesn't want to spend the rest of their life on the beach with views like this?

Sunsets and sunrises over the Pacific and Atlantic oceans

6. 12 distinct biodiversity zones
With over 500,000 different plant and animal species, 4%  of the total species world wide can be found in Costa Rica. Everywhere we looked, we were greeted with stunning views of  coastlines, mangrove forests, tropical rain forests, cloud forests, and deciduous forests.  Then add volcanoes, waterfalls, rivers, and lakes and it's really is the perfect combination. I can't even begin to name or describe everything we saw as it really was sensory overload.

7. Animals and birds.
We saw so many animals: Squirrel Monkeys, White-headed Monkeys, Crocodiles, Caimens, Boa Constrictors, Jesus Christ Iguana, Lizards, Sloths, Bats, Quetzel, Possoms, Tarantula, Raccoons, Snakes, Spiders, Cranes, birds, hummingbirds, Poison Dart Frogs, and butterflies. The only thing I didn't see that I wanted to was the Sea Turtles.

 8. Adventure.
If you're wanting to spend your time in air conditioned building, don't go to Costa Rica. If you're looking for a little (or a lot of adventure) everything you wanted to do is available white-water rafting, surfing, scuba diving, snorkeling, zip-lining, bungee jumping, rappelling, kayaking, hiking, horse back riding, and swimming

9. Yummy Food
The fish was amazing. The fresh fruits beyond belief (the best pineapple I've EVER eaten in my life). The rice and beans scrumptious (who knew). The ice cream divine.

10. They speak English--sort of. 
While you can get around without knowing Spanish, it's helpful to have someone who does. Though seeing the "English" signs made me laugh.

10. The use the American dollar.
I love how everything is not only listed in Costa Rican Colones, but also in American dollars. After my exchange rate fiasco in Iceland, I like knowing what I'm paying. :)

Ok, so there was one small thing that I didn't like--the driving.  It really is crazy as people said it would be. There were many of times I prayed that we'd be ok and that I wouldn't roll into the cars behind us. Most roads aren't paved, or even marked (there's no way you can do it without a GPS). They don't seem to follow any type of rules. If you do something wrong they let you know. People cross/walk on the major highways.  Everything takes three times as long as it says it would because there's no way you can go above 25 MPH.

The funny thing is, despite how crazy it was to drive I'd actually recommend people to do their own driving. They just need to have a good GPS. We put over a 1000 miles and in the process we were able to see some/do things we wouldn't have if we'd been on public transportation. While incredibly scary, I'm kind of glad I conquered the driving because it was kind of fun to pretend I was on Top Gear.

The views from the car window
More views from the car window

Even more views from the car window

And in case you haven't gotten enough, here's some more.

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