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You’d never believe Costa Rica was just one country. Two separate coastlines, mountains, rainforests and wildlife would already make it the perfect destination, but the warm hospitality of the Costa Rican people, the tasty fresh fish and fruits and the laid-back `pura vida` lifestyle make this place almost impossible to leave. Get a romantic bungalow in the jungle or embrace the national parks and adventure sports – whatever it is, your first trip as a married couple will be a memorable one without limits.
[divider]Lay of the Land[/divider]
Costa Rica is a geographical wonderland. It’s a relatively small country sitting between two distinct coasts with mountains and jungle in between, so it’s a unique place where it’s possible to do all types of travel in a short period of time. The West Coast is the Pacific side, with higher waves that, while they draw some of the world’s top surfers, is also the perfect place to test your board abilities for the first time. It also boasts other types of water sports like paragliding, windsurfing, whitewater rafting and some of the world’s best snorkeling and diving. The east coast is the Caribbean side, with calmer beaches in some areas and a more laid-back island vibe. In between, you’ve got mountains and jungles, so there’s opportunities to take a volcano trek, swim in waterfalls, hike in cloud forests atop mountains and of course you can’t leave the country without experiencing a trip to a national park to see thousands of types of wildlife and plant species. Since it’s a small country with a reliable transportation system, it’s possible to do it all within a week, if need be, but take all the time you can to experience all Costa Rica has to offer!
[divider]Top Must See’s, Must Do’s[/divider]
Costa Rica has an incredible wealth of ecosystems, wildlife and natural resources to preserve, and luckily for us, they take great pride in doing so. National parks full of exotic animals, birds and plants take up the majority of the country and are essential to visit while in Costa Rica. Parque Nacional Corcovado in the southwest of the country is the most popular, famously labeled ‘The Most Biologically Intense Place on Earth.’ Head to this sprawling park to see eight different habitats, including coastline and cloud forests, endangered species, and incredible biodiversity. To see the meeting point between dry and wetland, huge crocs, mystical types of trees and ancient burial grounds, head to Parque Nacional Carara, just south of the capital city San Jose. Parque Nacional Chirripo is a lofty mountain destination for a trekking getaway to escape the heat and Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio is your place if you love monkeys and coconuts. Whatever you’re looking for, Costa Rica has it in a national park. Unless you’re a biology specialist, go on a guided tour in the parks to get the most out of your experience.
If you’re an adventurous underwater couple, or one who is up for tackling learning how to dive or surf, Costa Rica is your place. The crystal clear waters of both coasts, the waves of the Pacific, the biodiversity and the friendly attitudes of instructors and guides make it the ideal aqua destination. For surfing, one of the most popular destinations are the beaches near Tamarindo and scuba divers find their paradise Playa Conchal or Cocos Island, both on the Pacific side. Wherever you are near beach in Costa Rica, check out opportunities to kayak, go rafting, go sport fishing, see dolphins and whales, visit hot springs or canoe.
For a one-stop destination inland, check out La Fortuna, home of Volcan Arenal, hot springs, an enormous waterfall and a wildlife refuge. The majestic Arenal Volcano sits about 20 km outside of bustling La Fortuna, and you can arrange for a day trip to the volcano, hike it, or rent a bike to ride to the national park surrounding the active volcano. While you’re there, take in the natural hot springs, especially wonderful at night when they’re lit by hot lava. A different day, rent a bike or get a tour to the local rushing waterfall and check out wildlife at the local reserve. Other adventure sports like ziplining and rafting are available here, too, making it the spot to spend a couple days inland.
If you’re looking for a beach destination where you can also be near to town, great restaurants and opportunities outside of working on your tan, Tamarindo is a great Pacific destination. Water sports of all types are available here, and it’s a particularly great place for divers and surfers (or travelers hoping to become divers and surfers!) to crash. Three distinct beaches, Playa Tamarindo, Playa Grande and Playa Langosta are all nearby, and if you get sick of the beach the town of tamarindo is a great place to do some shopping and eat delicious meals. If you’re there from January to March, it’s even possible to see the giant leatherback turtles that make the near-impossible trek to the island to nest each year. Get a guide and scour the beach at night, but don’t be too disappointed if you don’t see one – hunting and dying ecosystems unfortunately make the number of leatherbacks each year fewer and fewer.
[dividerWhere to Stay[/divider]
This is your best bet if you’re staying in Tamarindo. In addition to sitting on an expansive white-sand beach, the resort offers multiple pools, seaside views, a mouth-watering breakfast buffet, great service and access to guided tours and scuba or surf lessons. If you’re planning a wedding in Costa Rica, this is also a beautiful place to go, with the beach or lovely gardens as backdrop and an efficient wedding planner to help you customize every detail over e-mail or phone. If you get antsy lounging around the pool, it’s location right in the center of town make it a great place to be based.
If you’re going to La Fortuna, look no further than Arenal Paraiso. Accurately named Arenal Paradise, this tranquil resort is nestled between the town and volcano, which means it’s just far enough from the bustling town to be relaxing while still offering beautiful views of the volcano amidst mystical clouds. The hotel boasts two restaurants, 14 pools and incredible trails through the forest that borders the hotel. You can also book tours of the area by horseback or zipline offered by the hotel. If nothing else, the world class spa and natural hot springs should be enough to make you book your stay today.
If you’re staying on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica, Puerto Viejo de Limon is a popular destination, and Cariblue is the best place to stay there. Rent a private thatched-roof bungalow and hibernate in the jungle or venture out to the calm, crystal-blue watered beaches or tranquil pools of the resort. With a restaurant and top-notch accommodations, you’ll never have to leave your bungalow!
[divider]What to Eat[/divider]
If you’re a seafood lover, book your trip to Costa Rica today. The two coasts make it a prime destination to try every type of fish possible, fried or boiled and often served whole (head and all!). You can order fish or another type of meat (usually chicken or thin steak) as a casado, which means it comes as a meal with sides that are usually rice, beans, tortillas and plantains, tasty sweet fried bananas that are a staple in Central America. Don’t leave the country without trying ceviche, a refreshing mix of tomato, chili pepper, onions, cilantro and sometimes raw fish, usually served with plantain chips or tortillas. It’s a national specialty and perfect with a cold beer under the hot sun. And don’t forget to get a rich cup of freshly brewed coffee in the morning. The beans are homegrown and deliciously strong. No matter where you travel in Costa Rica, you’ll find a variety of options to eat the local specialties cheaply in addition to more upscale places that serve more familiar foods. Ask around to get the best options in your area.