Costa Rica lays claim as the greenest country on earth. And it wears the title – conferred on it by the Happy Planet Index, a measure devised by the new Economics Foundation –with enormous pride. Its varied terrain is blanketed in lush rainforest, towering mountains, sizzling volcanoes, and pristine plains and coastlines. This small country (just a quarter of a percent of the earth’s surface, a bit larger than Vermont and New Hampshire combined) boasts a full 5% of the planet’s biodiversity. This is not a natural phenomenon alone; it is the result of the efforts of local ticos to keep their country unspoiled. Consider that 25% of Costa Rica’s land is protected as national parks and conservation areas, and you’ll quickly understand why this tiny country is indeed a model for a happy planet. And Gate 1 Travel introduces you to its most magnificently preserved corners.
San Jose: Gateway to Breathtaking Beauty
All journeys in Costa Rica begin in San Jose, the capital built by coffee barons. As their wealth grew, they imported the talent of European architects and artisans to create a graceful cityscape of plazas and stately buildings. Affectionately called “Chepe” by locals (after the nickname for “Jose”), San Jose boasts a lovely mountain setting. La Sabana Park makes for delightful strolls along green pathways. The city’s finest historic buildings are the National Museum, housed in a butter-yellow 19th-century fortress, and the neo-baroque National Theater.
Into the Highlands: A Magical Forest and a Soaring Volcano
North of San Jose, emerald hillsides undulate over soaring mountains and fertile plateaus fed by rivers and streams. Living is simple here, as a stop in the village of Sarchi shows. In this artisan town set among coffee fields, workshops produce wooden furniture and ox carts (carretas) painted with colorful floral scenes or geometric designs. Sarchi’s pastel-hued church in the town square is a sight to behold.
In these highlands, it’s easy to get a sense of how fully Costa Ricans respect their land. Endless sugarcane nurtured by rich volcanic soil covers the countryside as farmers tend their fields. The pace is slow and patient and tuned to the cycle of crops. And in the Monteverde Cloud Forest, a soft mist casts a mystical aura. These hills are often engulfed in clouds, the result of humid trade winds rolling up from the Caribbean Sea. The moisture supports a huge array of flora – more than 3,000 species! – and more than 500 species of birds, including the elusive resplendent quetzal. Over 130 mammals, like the booming howler monkey, also roam the forest. We stop at a local finca, or coffee farm, we meet a farmer who makes a living from the ubiquitous bean that’s so central to Costa Rica’s economy. Optional walkway tours amidst the forest canopy and along hanging bridges let you peer into a world you never knew existed – the thriving life in the treetops.
North of Monteverde, a wonderland of lakes, forest, thermal-fed springs, and lunar landscapes awaits in the beautiful Arenal region. This outdoor lover’s paradise has been sculpted over thousands of years by the Arenal Volcano, whose towering conical form seems to stand watch over the eponymous lake, dense forest, and lava-strewn terrain. Hiking opportunities abound here, and Gate 1 travelers can explore along the Las Coladas trail whose route snakes around the volcano’s base and passes otherworldly lava flows from past eruptions. You’ll also have the option to soak in some of the region’s famed hot springs and explore the shores of Lake Arenal on a boat tour.
Comb Costa Rica’s Caribbean & Pacific Coasts
Some of the most rewarding explorations of Costa Rica’s natural world unfold closer to its coasts. This is certainly true in Tortuguero National Park on the Caribbean Sea. The park was established to protect the nesting ground of the green turtle and covers 14 miles of tropical shores. The only roads here are canals and inlets, so we explore this watery wonderland by boat, stopping along the way for up-close views of caimans, otters, and white-faced monkeys. We meet some locals at a Tortuguero village and learn more about turtles – greens, leatherbacks, and loggerheads.
On the northern Pacific coast, Guanacaste Province is home to more diversity. Volcanoes reach to the skies, rivers course through valleys, dramatic beaches with pounding waves draw a surfing culture, and lush rainforests share the stage with arid woodlands and plains. It’s a region ripe for exploring, and Gate 1 helps you do just that with options for sailing and snorkeling along Costa Rica’s Gold Coast, or just relaxing on the beach.
Farther south, Manuel Antonio National Park unfurls its rainforest splendor along the Pacific. Though it only comprises about six square miles, it boasts an amazing biodiversity of flora and wildlife. Sightings of macaws, sloths, monkeys, and others are virtually guaranteed here; we’ll keep our eyes peeled along its trails. Our option to explore by horseback promises even more of a thrill. En route to Manuel Antonio, we discover that there’s more to the breathtaking coast than its natural beauty as we visit the small town of Jaco, a national surfing center.
Explore Costa Rica Your Way with Gate 1 Travel
Costa Rica is such a diverse country, it calls for a diversity of travel styles. That’s why Gate 1 Travel offers so many ways to explore its natural wonders. If some destinations interest you more than others, you’re sure to find the perfect combination among our fully escorted itineraries, lasting as little as 7 days or as long as 15. Each trip includes accommodations, many meals, services of a Tour Manager, and a full array of tours and features.
If you prefer the flexibility of arranging your own itinerary but still want to take advantage of Gate 1’s buying power, then choose one of our Fly & Drive options, lasting from 5 to 12 days. These unregimented trips include airfare and car rental. Then you’re free to explore independently and reserve your own accommodations.
No matter which trip you choose, you can reserve our land-only option or allow Gate 1 Travel to arrange your flights for you.
Explore More of Central America
A visit to Central America isn’t complete without an exploration of Panama. The famed canal shaped much of 20th century history in the region. Gate 1 travelers will visit the remarkable Miraflores Locks and take in the “three cities” of Panama City: Old Panama, where the original city was founded; Casco Antiguo, with its rich mix of architectural styles from Caribbean to Art Deco to Colonial; and Modern Panama, a pulsing district of waterside skyscrapers and commerce.
If Guatemala is on your travel to-do list, you can combine your Costa Rica adventure with an exploration of its rich colonial culture and breathtaking beauty. Tour the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Antigua. In Chichicastenango, browse the colorful crafts and wares at the Indian Market and visit the beautiful Church of Santo Tomas. And see the deepest lake in Central America, Lake Atitlan.
We Invite You to Gate 1’s Costa Rica
With so much spellbinding beauty to explore, and so many ways to explore it at the most affordable price you’ll find anywhere, Gate 1 Travel’s Costa Rica is your clear choice! Join us!