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Three Perfect Days: Costa Rica

This eco-paradise is the perfect place to embark on a Central American safari, and if you plan well, you can even have the monkeys mostly to yourself

Author Jacqueline Detwiler Photography Al Argueta

A guestroom at Lapa Rios

Picture 2 of 12


Population: 4.7 million

Miles of coastline: 801

Appearances in The Endless Summer II: 1

Tons of bananas exported in 2011: 1.8 million (10 percent of the world total)

Active volcanoes: 5

Species of monkey: 4

Percent of the world’s biodiversity that can be found in the country: 5

Price for a small cup of Costa Rican Tarrazú Geisha, the most expensive coffee at Starbucks: $6

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In Costa Rican rodeos, spectators can get a little too close to the action

If you’ve always wanted to watch the running of the bulls but can’t quite make it to Pamplona, you might want to visit a Costa Rican rodeo. Often held at festivals in Liberia, Guanacaste and San José, Costa Rican rodeos feature the usual bull rides, but with the addition of daredevil improvisados, who dance around the ring ahead of the bucking animals to distract them from their purpose of goring fallen riders. “Oh, so, like rodeo clowns?” you say. Not exactly. Here, there are dozens of people in the ring during each ride, many of whom are inexperienced future cowboys and some of whom are, basically, spectators. They can earn money by winning games in which they try to tap the bull’s head or retrieve a handkerchief tied to its tail without getting injured, but many just swarm toward and away from the bull just for the fun of it.

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You don’t have to wait for UNESCO to put its stamp on Costa Rica’s mysterious stone globes; they’re waiting for visitors now

At the beginning of Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones narrowly escapes being crushed by a giant stone booby trap at a temple somewhere in “South America, 1936.” It would probably be more accurate to say that he was in southwest Costa Rica, which is where mysterious ancient spheres, some more than 8 feet in diameter, have been found in the delta region of the Diquís River. Archaeologists believe the spheres were created between 600 and 1000 AD, but their original purpose is unclear, in large part because many of the specimens have been moved or even blown up on the suspicion that they contained gold (they didn’t).

These days, UNESCO is considering the spheres for World Heritage status and even sent a team of experts to assess their suitability for the official list in 2010. The Museo Nacional de Costa Rica in San José displays a few in its pre-Columbian exhibit, but the best place to see them in the wild is at Finca 6, an archaeological site near Palmar Sur at the base of the Osa Peninsula.

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The inside scoop from those in the know

Alexandre Kamierzac

Concierge, Villas Dominicalito

“There are many ways to get closer to nature here. First, visit Marino Ballena National Park, taking a boat to snorkel at Cano Island. It’s beautiful; there are fish, sharks and turtles. After that, come back to the land and explore the mangrove forests. I recommend going by kayak so you can get in among the trees.”

Rafael Sánchez

Sales and Reservations, Bahía Adventures

“Whale-watching is something everybody should do when they’re in Costa Rica. We have two seasons, one when humpbacks come south from North America, and one when they come north from South America. They come because the water is warm; they want to escape the cold.”

Masial Elizondo

Tour Guide, Rainforest Adventures

“I love volcanoes; I’m a volcano person. I like to hike near them and relax in the hot springs. One of the most famous in Costa Rica is Arenal, but in the north side of the country we have Rincon de la Vieja.  It has a beautiful hike and natural pools with hot spring water. It’s one of my favorites.”

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4 Responses to “Three Perfect Days: Costa Rica”

  1. Costa Rica Curious Says:
    December 1st, 2013 at 7:59 am

    Thanks for the great 3 day tour. I love reading about all of the beach areas. I retired early with my wife to the hills of Grecia, a small coffee farming community, in June of this year and other than Jaco have not ventured too far out. Your descriptions are motivating.

  2. jay friedman Says:
    December 8th, 2013 at 9:20 pm

    great article. we have owned our home in ojochal since 2007. very well written and researched. just scratched the surface of the costa ballena. you should have eaten with marcella at citrus! anyway, our little 25 mile stretch from Dominical to Ojochal, is, as the author suggests “magico”!

    pura vida.


  3. Nikki Whelan Says:
    January 13th, 2014 at 1:44 pm

    Great article about our area! Keep it coming! Check out more about our area: http://www.ballenatales.com. The local news and travel guide magazine!

  4. sibbald doan Says:
    February 12th, 2014 at 8:38 pm

    So great to read an accurate promotion of the central Pacific. It is such a glorious lace with the best people in the world

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