More About Costa Rica
Wedged between the Pacific and Caribbean in the heart of Central America, Costa Rica boasts idyllic beaches, lush rainforests and one of the most progressive governments in Latin America. It’s renowned for its sustainable environmental policies and eco-tourism initiatives and those who choose to volunteer in Costa Rica will get a first-hand insight into its “green” leadership and stunning natural beauty.
Top tourist destinations near San Jose
Orosi River Valley
Located just 35 kilometers southeast of San Jose, the Orosi River Valley is a lush landscape dotted with villages and home to one of the country’s oldest churches. The Iglesia de San Jose de Orosi dates back to 1639 and draws pilgrims from near and far to pay homage to its sacred black Madonna, La Negrita.
The River Reventazo carves it’s way through this picturesque rural setting, with plenty of walking trails to discover, while the Tapanti National Park covers several thousand hectares of rainforest. It’s home to numerous endangered species, with tapirs, wildcats and white-faced monkeys among its most sought-after viewings. You can follow one of the walking trails along the fast-flowing river or follow a steep trail to its waterfall viewpoint.
Chirripo National Park
Named after the highest mountain in Costa Rica, Cerro Chirripo (3820 meters), this national park lies in the Talamanca mountains to the southeast of San Jose. It’s ideal for avid hikers who are up for a challenge, with a multi-day trek taking you to its breathtaking summit.
A 16.5-kilometer trail leads from the small town of San Gerardo de Rivas to the refuge of Los Crestones, before continuing on to the mountain’s peak. It takes you through lush lowland tropical forests, montane forests and subalpine wet forests, before changing to wet desert at its highest reaches.
Around 50 kilometers north of San Jose and one of its most popular day trips is Poas Volcano. Its sulfuric, turquoise crater lake is surrounded by steaming fumaroles, with geysers occasionally spurting high into the air. It’s one of the largest active craters in the world, with its surrounding vegetation stunted and blackened by the effects of acid rain.
A modern visitors’ center and museum explains the geothermal forces at work in the park, while a viewing platform is situated a short walk away. There are also longer walking trails leading through the surrounding cloud forest where hummingbirds, flycatchers, toucanets and the magnificent quetzal can all be spotted.
Nestled on the fertile slopes of Poas Volcano is Doka Estate, a huge working coffee plantation where visitors can learn every step of the coffee-making process. Visit the seedling station where you will discover the history of the estate and how seeds are germinated, before heading into the plantation for a better understanding of coffee fruit characteristics and harvesting techniques.
Explore the oldest wet mill in Costa Rica which has been in operation for more than 120 years, then take in the intoxicating smells of the roasting room. You can also sample a range of different coffees in their Casa Doka and purchase beans to take home with you.
La Paz Waterfall Gardens
To the east of Poas Volcano are La Paz Waterfall Gardens, one of San Jose’s most popular eco parks and a good introduction to the country’s ecosystems and wildlife. It’s home to not only waterfalls but also an aviary, hummingbird and butterfly gardens, reptile displays and big cat enclosures.
You can explore its cloud forest walking trails to reach one of five waterfalls, get up close to jaguars, pumas and ocelots, or witness a variety of snakes in its serpentarium. There are also capuchin monkeys and black-handed spider monkeys and exhibits showcasing Costa Rica’s beautiful orchids and heliconias.
Costa Rican traditions
Costa Rican cultural traditions combine indigenous elements with those of the Spanish colonizers and, more recently, North American influences. Ticos (Costa Ricans) are renowned for their friendly and hospitable nature, with Catholicism the dominant faith and many festivals intertwined with the religion. The Caribbean province of Limón shows a distinct influence from Jamaican immigrants, while the Cordillera de Talamanca in the mountains to the south of San Jose has strong indigenous cultural elements.
Costa Rican cuisine
Costa Rican cuisine draws on the country’s abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables, with rice and black beans traditionally the staple of most meals. It is heavily influenced by the Spanish occupation of the country, but also incorporates a lot of corn which was a staple of Costa Rica’s indigenous people.
Tamales made from cornmeal and stuffed with meat, rice and vegetables before being wrapped in banana leaves are a popular dish, while plantains are fried to make patacones which are served with bean or guacamole dips. Along the Caribbean coast, there are distinct Afro-Caribbean influences, with coconut milk and fish featuring in many dishes.
Gallo pinto (“spotted chicken”) is the national dish, consisting of rice and beans stir-fried with spices, and is often served alongside meats, eggs and fried plantains. Casado is a popular lunchtime meal, with the rice and beans separated alongside some form of meat, while arroz con pollo (chicken with rice) is another staple dish. If you volunteer in Costa Rica’s coastal regions, look for ceviche, a dish of raw fish and seafood “cooked” in lemon juice and seasoned with coriander, garlic and onion, or rondon – a spicy coconut soup consisting of whatever the cook has at hand that day.
When exploring the streets of San Jose, you can always grab a fresh naturales juice made from cas (sour green mango), pineapple, banana or horchata (rice, cinnamon and milk), and don’t miss the opportunity to try cacao fresco, with the tender white flesh contrasting dramatically from what you know as chocolate.
Airlines which fly to Costa Rica from Europe, North America and Australia
Juan Santa Maria International Airport (SJO) is the main entrance point for most who volunteer in Costa Rica, located in the province of Alajuela to the northwest of the city center. There are daily flights with American Airlines, United, Continental and Delta Airlines to the United States, as well as Air Canada and WestJet to Canada.
British Airways flies direct to London, while Air France connects with Paris, Iberia flies direct to Madrid and Condor to Frankfurt. For those traveling to Australia, flights from San Jose connecting through Los Angeles are the most convenient.