Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Why Travel to Costa Rica and Where to Start Your Trip?

Why travel to Costa Rica? Maybe I am not the best person to answer because I am biased. I have grown to love the country as my second home. I will tell you that I first traveled to Costa Rica by good fortune and with the help of the study abroad office at the University of Texas at Austin. The study abroad adviser at UT was the most incredible woman named Helena. She worked so much with me to choose a program that would be right for me. BTW she is still a very cool lady. She inspired me to continue learning Spanish and exploring Latin American culture.
Most people arrive at the airport near the capital just as I first did so many years ago. I found a relatively small country of incredible nice people who lived in a beautiful, tropical paradise. I encourage people to visit Costa Rica. I have continued to live part-time and visit for the past 17 years. The Americans and Europeans who visit and/or live in Costa Rica can speak Gringo but hopefully with an attempt at Spanish, order gallo pinto (national dish made of rice and beans) and indulge in pura vida, a Costa Rican construction of the good life.
Most of the population lives in the Central Valley. On either side there are incredible coasts. The country has so many types of climates. You can tame a wild river (the Pacuare) or hike through the jungle. This place simply has it all.
In this post I wanted to focus on the Central Valley. There are four main cities in the valley are San José, Heredia, Alajuela and Cartago. The majority of the population lives here in and/or near one of these principal cities. While many North Americans choose to live or vacation at any number of the country’s beaches, others who want to integrate themselves more into the local culture choose to live in the Central Valley.
My favorite place in the Central Valley is the plaza de cultura next to the Grand Hotel. It is a plaza where children come to play; lovers kiss and street vendors hawk their wares. It is a special place for me. Whenever I had a break from my classes I would come here to watch these intercultural interactions between the tourists and the vendors. Every time I go to Costa Rica I return to this spot.

The plaza is next to the National Theater. It is a stunning display of artwork. The theater continues to be active and many famous artists perform here.

Inside the national theater is really pretty cafe. You can see me having a cup of coffee in that cafe  in the picture below. FYI before moving to Costa Rica I did not like coffee much, now I am addicted to good coffee.

  The nearby National Museum is a great way to learn about Costa Rican history. I took my friend Kristi there and she loved it. You can learn a lot about Costa Rica’s past in this museum. Kristi found a giant old stone….perfect moment for a picture.

San José is a vibrant city. You can do anything here that would in any other nation’s capital. There are plenty of shopping malls, movie theaters and night clubs. I personally think the nightlife in San José can rival many other much larger cities. If you want to dance, gamble, or just eat great food. You cannot go wrong.
Many people often ask me if the thousands of tourists and foreign residents get along in Costa Rica. On the surface most Gringos see this intercultural relationship between expatriates and Costa Ricans as one which is very pleasant and mutually agreeable. In fact, it is for the most part. However, in these exchanges, typically the English speakers expect the Costa Ricans to accommodate them more than those same English speakers are generally willing to adapt to the host culture. You as a visitor will have a much more fulfilling experience if you let go of many of your Gringo ways and just appreciate the local culture and people. Try to learn some Spanish; the Costa Ricans would certainly appreciate that. Meet the locals. Try to make friends. San José is a wonderful city. If you want me to blog with more specifics on San José or the rest of the Central Valley I would be happy to do so.

Next up…I would like to tell you about some areas outside of the Central Valley. I only ask that you be smart and respectful travelers. How about going to the beach next time? If this sounds like you…Costa Rica is waiting for you.


  1. Costa Rica sounds like a nice alternative to a Caribbean vacation with more culture to soak in.

  2. Why thank you Dr. Johnson. It is a very nice alternative to the resort-style vacation. Although you can find that there as well. What makes Costa Rica so interesting is that there are vacations for every budget. Thanks so much for your post!

  3. I love your Scooby Doo t-shirt! My favorite thing in Costa Rica is the wildlife. Sloths, birds, monkeys, kinkajous and very shy ocelot like cats!

  4. Thanks. I love my Scooby Doo T-shirt too. A great friend gave it to me. I like the wildlife but from a distance!