It’s no secret that Costa Rica is a popular destination, particularly for nature enthusiasts and first-time visitors to Central America. But what is Costa Rica all about? Who are the people? And what are the highlights and must-sees?
In this interview with Gabriel Quiros (aka, “Gabo”), a G Adventures Chief Experience Officer (CEO) from Costa Rica, we get an inside look from a native Costa Rican who not only loves his country, but wishes to give visitors a personal, honest, and in-depth look in order that others can experience his country and culture at their best.
UM. We hear a lot about Costa Rica’s nature and environment, but we don’t often hear as much about its people. How would you describe Costa Ricans in three words? What makes them different from other cultures and people you’ve met in your travels?
GQ. I would like to use these three words: loud, laidback, and lazy. The true Costa Rican is a nice person. If you meet one, in matter of minutes, he will consider you his friend. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never seen him before.
UM. “Pura vida.” We hear this phrase quite often in connection with Costa Rica. What does it really mean? How do you use the phrase in ordinary conversations with other Costa Ricans?
GQ. “Pura vida” means exactly as it reads: “Pure life.” It is our favorite slang phrase in Costa Rica, and we love using it. The main reasons we say “pura vida” are to say hello, goodbye, to ask, and to answer “How is everything?“ We use it instead of okay, thank you, and when something is really good. As you can see we use it for everything.
Here’s my advice. Always say “Pura vida” to a Costa Rican because he will always come back to you with a smile, even more if you find him on the streets of another country.
UM. For the first time visitor to Costa Rica, where are three places they absolutely must visit to begin to feel Costa Rica? And what should they do in those places to best experience them?
1. A canoe trip in Tortuguero National Park.
2.Whitewater rafting on the Pacuare River.
3. See the pacific sunset from Monteverde.
(Editor’s note: The key phrase here is canoe. There are many motorized boats going around Tortuguero National Park – this is the norm in the area. But if you choose to take a canoe, you can get into the small canals that the bigger boats can’t enter. And you will be silent so that you don’t scare the animals.)
UM. How can travellers best prepare themselves to make the most of a visit to Costa Rica? What are some things about the country they should know before their visit to help them better understand what they are experiencing?
GQ. My first recommendation is about expectations, because they can ruin a trip. Many people think that they will see all the animals from the jungle at once on their first visit to Costa Rica.
Even though Costa Rica is one the most biodiverse places in the world, seeing a jaguar will always be extremely hard. If you acknowledge that Costa Rica is not a zoo, you will enjoy the beauties of my country.
Second recommendation: Bring a good sunscreen, over 50 SPF. People think that when it’s cloudy, you will not get burned. Well, Costa Rica is really close to the equator and sunlight hits our country almost perpendicular, so it will be stronger.
UM. What is your ideal Costa Rica adventure? Dream big.
GQ. I would first like to mention three activities that you can’t pass up if you visit Costa Rica.
1.Take one of the most spectacular rides in a boat to Tortuguero National Park.
2.Go up to Monteverde and jump on the 1.5km-long (0.9 mi) zipline with the opportunity of seeing the quetzal, a mythical bird for some pre-Hispanic civilizations.
3.Go surfing at Santa Teresa beach.
My ideal Costa Rica vacation – you will not be able do it in one go. Here is the adventure I have come up with:
I would start in San José by going to Corridas de Toros a la Tica in the Zapote district. Those are bullfights in which the bull doesn’t get killed, but you and 100 crazy men have the chance of being face-to-face with an 800kg (1,764 lb) bull that will chase you around the rodeo.
If we survive the bullfights – and in order not to bring down the adrenaline – I would head to the Pacuare River for a three-day adventure. National Geographic named this river as one of the best in the world for whitewater rafting. Here, we will enjoy three or four water levels and sleep halfway in front of the river at our campsite.
Costa Rica is famous for its rainforest, so crossing from coast to coast, the Cordillera de Talamanca are a must. Reaching 3,821m (12,530 ft) at their highest point, they provide some of the most spectacular views in the country.
Being in the south of the country gives us the opportunity to visit the Osa Peninsula. This is where we’ll want to get a kayak and get close to the migratory species of whale that visit. Osa Peninsula also has a spectacular national park named Corcovado, where hikes to reach the park give us opportunities to see abundant wildlife. There are many entrances to the park, the most common of which is 20km (12 mi) through beach and forest.
From there, I would head north towards Guanacaste Province for a stop at Ostional Beach and Las Baulas National Marine Park to see the big marine turtles – some weighing more than 500kg (1,102 lbs) and reaching sizes over 2m (6.6 ft) long. The moment when they lay their eggs is a true miracle.
I will finish by camping on a desolate beach in Bahia Jobo at Rajada Beach where there are not even bathrooms. No accommodation – just you, the ocean, and nature.
Note: Responses have been edited from the original for grammar and readability.
Costa Rica is on many a bucket list as an adventure travel destination but did you know that its culture is also a huge draw? G Adventures has tours of all shapes and sizes to this wonderful country. Start here to see which one speaks to you.