Saturday, June 6, 2009

Sea Glass and Sand Dollars

The beaches in Costa Rica are as diverse as the flora and fauna. The popular beaches like Playa Tamarindo, Jaco, and Manuel Antonio Beach can provide you with a hopping and exciting beach vacation.

At these an many other popular beaches in Costa Rica, you can enjoy the beautiful Pacific Caribbean Ocean while sitting in a chair beneath an umbrella, ordering a cold and fruity drink from the beach, and people watching. The popular beaches have nearby shops and restaurants, they are accessible by bus or by taxi. Sometimes, being at one of the popular tourist beach is just the right way to pass the day.

But for me, one of the beautiful things about Costa Rica is the large number of undeveloped beaches. There are countless little explored and less developed beaches along the Pacific coast from Playa Junquillal to Esterillos to Uvita, to the small beaches of the Osa Peninsula.

Today we visited Playa Palo Seco and were literally the only people enjoying the sound of the roaring surf. This beach is one of our favorite beaches, mostly because it is almost always deserted. Even in the midst of high season you can walk for miles collecting sand dollars and sea glass (a new hobby of mine since reading the novel by Anita Shreve) without encountering another person. With the tide out there are countless rocks, shells, sand dollars and pieces of sea glass to find. If a brisk walk or run is more your style you have 9 miles of open beach to cover while enjoying sound of roaring surf and a vista of Manuel Antonio in the distance.

Although there is not much development along Isla Palo Seco, if you haven’t brought your own refreshment, you can find a cold drink and a nice lunch at the Timarai Bamboo Resort. I like to travel to Palo Seco early, enjoy the beach, then get a freshwater rinse off and cold drink at the resort. With lunch or a drinks at the restaurant you can enjoy the pool or lounge catch a little shade in a poolside lounge chair.

With over 800 miles of Coastline and two oceans from which to chose there is a beach for every traveler to Costa Rica. Whether you prefer black sand, white sand, pink sand, trendy, deserted, developed, primitive, pounding surf, or gentle lapping waves, your perfect beach awaits. Better yet, don't choose plan to visit several beaches during your visit.

When planning a trip to the beach it is always a good idea to check out the tide tables. Some beaches virtually disappear during high tide, but are expansive when the tide is out. If possible plan your visit near low tide and you will have hours to enjoy the beach.

Friday, June 5, 2009


You can not visit (or live in) Costa Rica without being amazed by the huge numbers of plants and animals that inhabit this incredible green wonderland. As a former biology teacher, I find the biodiversity fascinating. I love spotting new birds, reptiles and mammals. I love that as each month passes there are different plants and trees blooming. I love that with a short drive you can be in a completely new ecosystem. I love Costa Rica, however, I don’t think it is fair to talk to tourists about Costa Rica without mentioning the bugs. When people talk about biodiversity everyone needs to understand that birds and mammals are not the only creatures that make Costa Rica one of the most biodiverse places on the planet. The insects make a big contribution too.

It is uncertain the exact number of species of insects in Costa Rica, but some estimates are as high as a fifty thousand different species. There are at least 1250 species of butterflies, 8000 species of moth, 80 species of fireflies, 60 species of stingless bees (another 23 of stinging bees), and 5000 species of grasshoppers.

And then there are the ants. According to INBio, one hectare of rainforest contains an average of nine million ants. I haven’t been able to discover how many species of ants there are, but they are over 500 species in La Selva including 150 species of army ants alone. Most of the ants are harmless and fascinating to see. But a word of warning, watch out for those living on the Acacia tree, they have a powerful sting. We frequently take time to watch the leaf cutter ants at work, and have been amazed at how the army ants can turn a snake carcass into a snake skeleton in under an hour.

Also be aware, you might not see ‘um, but there are an estimated 332 species of No See ‘um in Costa Rica. Ceratopogonidae, also knwon as biting midges, no-see-ums or punkies, purrujas, jejenes, polvorines or manta blanca are common through out Costa Rica. According to Art Borkent, there is some good news, despite the large number of species found in Costa Rica, only 12 have been recorded as feeding on humans. Generally you need to fear the Costa Rican no see ‘um if you are at the beach or in the mangroves.

Although some people might find all this talk about bugs off-putting it is important to point out that most of the bugs of Costa Rica are both harmless and fascinating (and even some of the harmful ones are fascinating from a distance). Some of my favorite Costa Rican bugs are of course butterflies. I also love the giagantic grasshoppers, and the walking sticks that look like foot long pieces of rose bush. The rhinoceros beatle is a big hit with the kids as are the huge cicadas.

When you visit Costa Rica, be open to experiencing nature. Come prepared to see flora and fauna of immense beauty and diversity. Keep your eyes and ears open and you will see and hear wondrous creatures. Also, be prepared for a few bug bites. I highly recommend traveling with Afterbite. If you are planning on canopy tours or mangrove tours pack an insect repellent wipes that contains DEET.

Remember that the Costa Rican sunsets are beautiful, but dusk is prime time for mosquitos, no see’ums and biting flies. If you are planning on watching sunset in a beachside restaurant, don’t forget to wipe a little repellent on your ankles before heading out.

Yes, there are a lot of bugs in Costa Rica, but that is a good thing. The bugs are part of the biodiversity that you are traveling to see. The bugs also are an important part of each of the ecosystems found in Costa Rica. Enjoy the beauty and diversity of the bugs.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

What Rainy Season Means- Rainbows

Many people hear the words Rainy Season and are afraid to Vacation in Costa Rica during the North American Summer. Have no fear. The Green Season (a much more tourist friendly term for rainy season) offers many advantages for North American travelers.

Generally speaking there are fewer crowds, lower prices for tours and accommodations, and great airfare specials during the green season. Along the Pacific Coast the green season is truly green. The hillside regain the bright greens that tourists expect during a tropical vacation.

Although when it comes to weather there are no guarantees, generally speaking, even in the green season much of every day is sunny on the Pacific Coast until early afternoon. In the mountains a rainy morning gives way to a sunny afternoon and evening. Frequently the rain showers are short and light providing a nice break from the heat. Some of my best beach days have included short periods of light rain.

I almost forgot about the rainbows. The light showers bring the most beautiful rainbows. Rainbows in the mountains, rainbows at the beach, rainbows over the marina. The rainbows of Costa Rica are definitely a sight to see.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

What Rainy Season Means- White Water Rafting!

It is June and Costa Rica's rainy season, or green season has officially been in effect for 1 month. What this means weatherwise is that each day there is a pretty good chance you will experience a rain shower wherever you are visiting in Costa Rica. Occasionally these rain showers will be heavy, and sometimes there may be lightening involved. Don't let this scare you away from all the activities Costa Rica has to offer. Most tours will run despite a little rain shower. These showers can definitely be a positive. Nothing breaks up the tropical heat like a little cloud cover or getting caught in a brief downpour.

I could continue to extol the positives of the green season, but will save that for another post. This article is about what the rains do for whitewater rafting. With evening showers throughout the country the rivers become much more exciting from June through November. The Rio Narnajo is an excellent choice for whitewater rafting in Costa Rica. The river is slow and lazy during the dry season, but picks up speed and excitement as the rains arrive. The rapids in the Rio Narnajo range from Class II to Class IV. Sections of the trip have continous raging water that require skill to navigate.

If you are traveling to Costa Rica during the green season, whitewater rafting is an activity you do not want to miss.

My family and I (and our visitors) have rafted with three different companies in the Manuel Antonio Area. All provided a great experience for the kids. I can only so great things about each experience. The rafting is exciting for every level of rafter. My husband, who has much more whitewater experience than I do agrees that they trip was a great adrenaline rush. I think the best all round experience was offered by Quepoa Expeditions. This group was very knowledgeable and providing lots of great information and incredible rafting action. This tour package included transportation and delicious fruits and snacks.

If you have a Costa Rica Whitewater rafting suggestion or comment, feel free to post. Having expereinced the Naranjo and the Savengre, our next Whitewater Rafting Adventure will be in another region of Costa Rica.

Lonely Planet Costa Rica: "River running companies are not regulated in Costa Rica so, for your own safety, go with an outfitter with experienced guides

Monday, May 25, 2009

101 Things to Do in Costa Rica

Living in Costa Rica I frequently receive email from friends, friends of friends, and long lost relatives who are planning a trip and are looking for some advice. Below is a list of 101 things to do in Costa Rica. Some of the things are specific to a town, time of year, or tour company others are general tips for things to do while visiting this incredible country. If you are planning a trip to Costa Rica, use the list as inspiration, research specific activities, or drop me a note for more details.

1. Assist marine biologists and staff members collect data, photos and video of the dolphins, whales, and sea turtles off the coast of Drake Bay
2. Attend a Concert to Raise money for the Rainforest
3. Be ahead of the cool drink curve in the U.S., drink Guaro Sours, “the New Mojito”.
4. Break an International Game Fish Association record
5. Bungee Jump into a 265 foot river gorge
6. Buy a handpainted ox cart at the Sarchi Oxcart Factory.
7. Catch Guapote in one of Costa Rica’s many mountain streams.
8. Celebrate the Mayan New Year with a fire ceremony.
9. Cross the Continental Divide
10. Dance the Cumbia until the sunrises
11. Discover pieces of Costa Rican culture with a visit to the Museo de Oro
12. Drink Sangria while watching the sunset over the Pacific.
13. Eat at a 5 Star Restaurant
14. Eat Ceviche and Patacones
15. Eat fresh mangoes, papaya, pineapples, and mandarinas
16. Eat Pintos y Gallos
17. Experience incredible Pacific Sunsets
18. Find the local Saturday Market
19. Find birds with a local guide.
20. Fish from a beach
21. Fish from a Kayak
22. Fish from a panga
23. Fish Inshore on bay boats
24. Fish Offshore on yachts
25. Float the CorobicĂ­ River viewing birds, monkeys, iguanas, and the Jesus Christ Lizard.
26. Get Married on the Beach
27. Go humpity bumpity on a banana boat
28. Golf
29. Hang out with the locals watching mule races, bull fighting, or a local rodeo
30. Have cosmetic surgery
31. Hear a symphony of Humpback whales meeting in Costa Rica from both the Southern and the Northern Hemisphere.
32. Help maintain trails, protect animals, endangered plants and flowers while volunteering in a National Park
33. Hike to the summit of Cerro Chirripo
34. Honor the Black Christ of Esquipulas during a February festival.
35. Jet Ski
36. Kite Surf
37. Learn about Costa Rica’s biological diversity and the importance of conserving it at INBioparque.
38. Learn about Costa Rican agriculture at Panaca
39. Learn Latin dances like the Salsa, Meringue and Cumbia
40. Learn Spanish
41. Listen to the roaring surf.
42. Listen to the sounds of the rainforest
43. Lounge on a black sand beach
44. Lounge on a pink sand beach
45. Lounge on a white sand beach
46. Make an appointment for cosmetic dentistry
47. Mountain Bike
48. Navigate through the mangroves on a nocturnal kayak tour.
49. Pan for Gold
50. Parasail
51. Plant trees as you volunteer to save the rainforest
52. Purchase Café Rica and chocolate covered coffee beans in the airport duty free shop.
53. Rappel through a waterfall
54. Relax in Lava heated hot springs
55. Ride a Gondola (Aerial Tram) through the rainforest.
56. Ride horses on the beach
57. Ride horses to a waterfall
58. Ride in a Hot Air Balloon
59. Sail into the sunset.
60. Save money and have a great meal by ordering the Casado plate at the local Soda.
61. Schedule a tummy tuck, liposuction, or rhinoplasty
62. Scuba Dive in Isla de Cano
63. See 426 types of Orchids in one garden!
64. See a church made entirely of metal when you visit the a the Lady of Mercy church in Grecia.
65. See Crocodiles while crossing the Tarcoles bridge.
66. See frogs, insects, small mammals, and sleeping birds by moonlight (and flashlight beam) while walking through the rainforest across hanging bridges
67. See iguanas big and small
68. See 3 species of monkeys
69. See six species of toucans
70. Sip excellent coffee while the sunrises over the mountains
71. Sleep in a Safari Tent
72. Snorkel
73. Spear Fish
74. Spelunk in the “Land of the Lost” caverns.
75. Spend the night in a back country hut in the cloud forest.
76. Spend the night in a tree house in a hammock.
77. Surf
78. Surf at Night
79. Take a cooking class
80. Take a night tour of the cloud forest
81. Teach English
82. Tour a Chocolate Farm
83. Tour a Coffee Plantation
84. Tour Manuel Antonio Park with a nature guide.
85. Travel to destinations only reached by boat.
86. Unwind, slow down, breath lots of fresh air while you practice yoga in an open air studio.
87. View Lava Flows at Night
88. View the Caribbean
89. View the Pacific
90. View the Pacific and the Caribbean at the same time
91. Visit a butterfly garden
92. Visit a serpenatario
93. Visit an underwater park
94. Visit the “most biologically diverse place on earth”.
95. Visit the bat jungle
96. Volunteer to save turtles
97. Watch lava flow from an active volcano.
98. Whitewater raft
99. Windsurf on Lake Arenal
100. Zipline through the Rainforest Canopy
101. Experience Pura Vida!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Educational Vacation

Every parent knows that there is much more to a child’s education than the time he or she spends in the classroom. Research has shown that real world experiences are the key to learning. As a parent, to enrich your child’s education, you must take advantage of teachable moments.

Costa Rica is the perfect vacation destination for families. It is also the perfect place for parents to find teachable moments in which to enrich their children’s educations. There is no place on the planet that compares to the biodiversity of the little country of Costa Rica. There are opportunities to discuss ecology, biology, geology, climate change, oceanography and countless other –ologies at every turn. In addition, this small Spanish speaking country is rich in culture provide the chance to expose your children to cultural and language differences.

You don’t need to be an expert in ecology to embrace the teachable moments in a Costa Rica vacation. The guides on various excursions in Costa Rica are some of the most knowledgeable people of I ever met. Ticos are very proud of their country and very knowledgeable about the plants and animals that they share it with. Many of the guides in the national parks have grown up in the area in which they now work. They have been educated about the ecology, survival skills, history and geology of the area and they are happy to share this information with visitors.

I would recommend a trip planned around visits to one or more of the national parks. The national park system of Costa Rica provides you an opportunity to expose your children to what National Geographic called “the most biologically intense place on earth.

In 1970, the government of Costa Rica recognized that agriculture, and development were threatening the biodiversity of the country. In order to preserve this resource, the government began setting aside land for national parks, wildlife preserves and buffer zones. Today more than 25% of Costa Rica is protected from development.

Popular National Parks in Costa Rica

Arenal Volcano National Park – The most active volcano in Costa Rica

Braulio Carrillo National Park – home to volcanoes, rainforest, cloud forest, water falls, and a variety of flora and fauna

Corcovado National Park – Not to be missed, this park is home to threatened plant and animal species. Incredibly diverse home to bats, birds, crocodiles, sea turtules, monkey, slothes, jaguar, ocelots, and otters just to name a few.

Guanacaste National Park – Protected tropical dry forest, water research facilities, and artifacts from indigenous civilizations.

Manuel Antonio National Park – home to beautiful beaches, varied wildlife, hiking, snorkeling, and guided park tours. A tour of Costa Rica is not complete without a trip to Manuel Antonio.

Poas Volcano National Park - the most visited park in Costa Rica is for good reason. With active geysers and a well developed visitor center, this is a must see for a fantastic lesson in geology.

Cultural Activities and Museums

Panaca is a park that celebrates the agrarian culture of Costa Rica. With over 2000 domesticated animals and a variety of shows and exhibits this park provides a full day of educational fun.

Children’s Museum of Costa Rica located in San Jose is home to 32 permanent exhibits including an earthquake simulation.

The National Museum and Costa Rican Art Museum are also located in San Jose.

INBioparque A theme park whose theme is conservation.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Manuel Antonio Park

A trip to Costa Rica is not complete without a tour of Manuel Antonio Park. This park is home to 109 species of mammals and 184 species of birds in addition to many reptiles and sea creatures. With the help of a nature guide you can spot many of these species on your hike through the park.

Without a guide the park is well worth the $10 entrance fee. The park contains a hiking trails through rain forest to beaches and coral reefs. With 3 of the most beautiful beaches in the country and excellent snorkeling it is a must see destination.

Although the park is a fantastic destination without a guide I recommend that visitors who want the complete Costa Rica experience contact a naturalist for a park tour. Your guide will bring immense knowledge, an eye (and ear) for spotting the parks many creature, as well as a spotting scope. With visitors in town, I have taken 2 tours in the past month and have been thrilled with the knowledge of Paul Gonsalves and his associate Edgar Espinoza from Manuel Antonio Expeditions. Each trip we were able to see sloths, bats, Toucans, Owls, deer, iguanas and more. The guys are knowledgeable and fun to spend the day with. The guys shared vast knowledge about plants, birds, mammals, and reptiles. They were able to entertain the kids while teaching the adults a little Tico History and science.