Costa Rica is the most unique country in Central America. This small country, covering 51,100 square kilometers or 19,700 square miles has a central plateau bounded by mountains on both its eastern and western coasts, which are tropical with a hot, humid rainforest environment. The mountains and central plateau have a tropical upland climate that has made it conducive to settlement and is thus the core of the nation.
Many cruise ships embracing the route between Florida and California via the Panama Canal spend at least one day in Costa Rica, usually in Puntarenas or Limon. If your itinerary includes a stop in Puntarenas, plan to spend the day on an excursion to go beyond this sleepy little port twon.
There are three major options open to you, but with variations depending upon your cruise:
The culture of Costa Rica differs from its Central American neighbors. When the Spanish explorers arrived in the 16th century, they found few if any native tribes had settled, thus the land was available for colonization without the normal conflicts that occurred elsewhere throughout Latin America.
Spanish and other European colonists established themselves, and as Costa Rica evolved, it became essentially a middle class society. This is a peaceful country and the only nation in the Western Hemisphere that does not have an army. The literacy rate is the highest in Latin America, comparable to that of Canada and the United States. Government health care is excellent and there is a high standard of education.
Costa Rica is not an industrial country. It has depended upon it agriculture, raising fine quality coffee, bananas, tropical fruits and both cattle and sheep. But tourism has come to play a major role along with retirement from both Canada and the United States. This is the country where ecotourism has been developed to an art, some claiming that Costa Rica was the creator of this sustainable form of tourism.
The tropical rainforest and cloud forest parks are well visited. Several of the country’s volcanoes, though potentially destructive, are popular destinations. One in particular named Arenal erupts so regularly that there are guesthouses within safe distances where visitors can watch the eruptions in perfect safety, especially enjoying the nighttime performances.
When your ship docks in Puntarenas, here are the three most popular day tours that will help you see what this beautiful country truly has to offer.
Located on the western slope of the west coast mountains, this tropical forest is often bathed in morning fog. Warm air is forced to rise by the mountains, creating fog and mist that helps nourish this beautiful forest. A miniature train takes you on a journey through what is called the cloud forest, enabling you to view the landscape with a minimal amount of walking.
This massive crater complex located in the interior plateau is about a two-hour drive over the west coast mountains, through the lush farmland of the plateau and then up the slopes of the massive caldera.
Poas does not erupt with any great degree of violence, but its craters boil and steam and on occasion overflow, a sight that speaks to the primeval forces deep within the planet. This is a very awe-inspiring visit. But given the high altitude it is often shrouded in fog or mist, thus you are not always guaranteed a good view once arriving at the overlook.
Costa Rica’s capital city has around 500,000 residents. It is easy to get around with a well planned grid pattern, so your tour can visit all of the major highlights and include lunch with ease. San José has far less poverty than any other city in Central America. It is quite safe, very clean, but also very traditional.
There is a beautiful central plaza, a small opera house, impressive government buildings, a baroque cathedral, an interesting historical museum and an overall colonial ambiance. The outer suburb of Escazu is where many expatriate Canadian and American retirees live. It’s both traditional and ultra modern, sprouting many new high-rise condos, which stand in contrast to the rest of the city.
En route to San José or on return, you will stop in Sarchi, which is the arts and crafts capital of Costa Rica. Here you will find a variety of very colorful products all produced by local artists.
There are other tours offered by the various cruise lines that stay closer to Puntarenas which include adventure rafting on a local river, tours where you simply relax on a beautiful sun drenched beach and other rainforest tours depending upon the ship’s arrangements.
Regardless of where you go, you’ll find Costa Rica to be a delightful country that has a more sophisticated environment with a people who are friendly and welcoming.