Picture yourself on a white-sand beach, surrounded by palm trees. In the distance, surfers ride the breaking waves. Behind you rises a dense rainforest, where white-faced capuchin monkeys jump from branch to branch. Welcome to Costa Rica. I grew up in Costa Rica, and while I’ve lived all over the U.S., I’m always drawn back home. In the northwest, a dry tropical forest stretches down the Nicoya Peninsula. The laid-back beach towns that dot this part of the Pacific coast include Nosara, a mecca for surfing and yoga, and my favorite, the lesser-known San Juanillo, which still has the charm of a small fishing village. Farther south, Santa Teresa has an intriguing mix of cultures and superb international cuisine.
Venture inland and you’ll reach the Guanacaste pampas, with its sabaneros — Costa Rican cowboys — and rich pre-Columbian and colonial history. I love to walk through the town of Nicoya, one of the first Spanish settlements in the country and the home of the Chorotega people.
On the Caribbean side of the country, you’ll find the freshwater canals and serene rivers that meander through the rainforest of Barra del Colorado National Wildlife Refuge and Tortuguero National Park. In Limón, the vibrant Afro-Caribbean culture includes the sounds of calypso and an aromatic cuisine built around strong spices and coconut milk.
If hiking is your passion, try the Camino de Costa Rica, a 174-mile trail that cuts across the country: starting in Barra del Pacuare on the Atlantic coast and eventually winding into the Dota Mountains — the place where I grew up. Off the Osa Peninsula, in southern Costa Rica, is the Golfo Dulce, a sanctuary for Pacific humpback whales. The region is defined by mangrove swamps and Corcovado National Park, which protects one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world — and where it is possible to see a jaguar strolling along a white-sand beach.I could go on and on. There is no single recipe for enjoying Costa Rica. Any road you take will likely bring the same result: a sense of wonder and a desire to return. We Costa Ricans are relatively few — the population barely exceeds 5 million. But we’re proud of our shared idea that things will always turn out fine and that life is, above all, beautiful.