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Costa Rica

1Costa Rica history, culture, climate, biodiversity, plants, birds, mammals, and national parks are covered on this page.

Costa Rica History and Culture

The national motto of this peaceful, safe, stable democracy, is Pura Vida, or pure life, and with good reason. According to the New Economics Foundations "Happy Planet Index," the people of Costa Rica are among the most cheerful and happy in the world. They rank number one or two! Costa Rica also ranks number one among 24 Latin American countries in the Inter-American Development Bank's life satisfaction index. Jaco is no exception, as you will discover when you arrive.

As a tourist, you are unlikely to encounter any of the guarded behavior, aggressive hustling, or unsubtle resentment that many travelers feel in other developing nations; the people here are genuinely friendly and helpful.

The roots of this attitude may lie in Costa Rica's unusual history. While all Latin American history is influenced by the Spanish conquest of the New World, Costa Rica's colonial history is unique. When the would-be conquistadores arrived on the Carribean coast, instead of the gold deposits they sought and the centralized societies of peasant corn farmers that provided an easy source of slave labor in other areas, they found swamps, mosquitos, and hunter gatherers. The swamps, dense jungle, and mountainous terrain had never produced a monumental society like the Aztecs or Incas for the Spanish to conquer. Thus the first Spaniards to arrive in Costa Rica left the swampy coast for the fertile central valley where they established farms and stayed out of touch with the imperial power. This flourishing self-reliant farm culture lasted for years with little interference with the Spanish crown.

While other Latin American countries have a legacy of slavery that created income disparity that still persists, Costa Rica has enjoyed a relatively egalitarian history that has produced a strong middle class that eventually declared independence from Spain in 1821. Having stayed out of conflicts for many years, Costa Rica took the unusual step of abolishing its army in 1949, dedicating additional resources to education. The people are justifiably proud of their peaceful history, and the historic actions of government act as a model for personal behavior. It is very rare to hear "ticos" raise their voices in anger. The local name for Costa Rican's, "ticos" comes from their playful habit of creating slang by reversing syllables. Hence cousin - "primo" becomes "mopri" and the suffix signifying small one "cito" (for instance pobrecito - poor little one) becomes "tico." Costa Rica ranks first in the Americas and fifth in the world for environmental protection according to Yale University's index.

While Costa Rica is considered a developing nation, access to education is good, income disparity and infant mortality are low, literacy is over 90%, and the country consistently ranks among the top Latin American countries in the United Nation human development index. Costa Rica's four and half million inhabitants have an average income of around $11,000 per year, which is the highest in the region.

Costa Rica Information Links

The University of Texas has Costa Rica Information. Here is a page of Costa Rica links from a college class, and here is a newspaper from Costa Rica in English.

Wikipedia also has an interesting Costa Rica page.


Season and Climate in Costa Rica

3Costa Rica 's very mild, Spring-like climate is ideal for travel year-round. Local conditions vary according to elevation, season and location. Expect average temperatures from 85-95 F and moderate humidity on the coast compared to cooler temperatures averaging 72 F in the mountains and Central Valley where you may need a light sweater at night. The peak travel period (Dec-Apr) and off-peak (May-Nov) generally coincide with Costa Rica's so-called'dry' and 'rainy' seasons. However, this is an inaccurate and simplistic description of climate and travel seasons. Costa Rica has more than a dozen climate zones which often contrast with each other; when rain falls in one region it tends to be drier in another. While the months of December through April tend to be almost rainless on the Pacific coast, this is when it rains the most on the Caribbean coast. On the other hand, the dry season on the Caribbean side is September and October, which is considered the so-called 'rainy season' in the rest of the country. Each year in July you can count on the annual veranito, or 'little summer' as the locals call it, when there is a predictable dry spell in the middle of the green season.
Most travelers visit Costa Rica to escape winter in North America when average rainfall throughout the country is low and migrant bird populations are highest. But others who prefer to travel during the off-peak 'green season' will appreciate natural areas more to themselves, lush vegetation, better choice of guides and accommodations, low season rates, greater variety of blooming orchids and flowers, and other benefits. During the green season rain usually falls for a few hours in the afternoon or at night and rarely disrupts travel, unless you are driving on secondary roads which can become impassable. It is impossible to predict climate for any specific place and time in the tropics. The increasing numbers of travelers visiting Costa Rica during the green season have made it a year round destination.

Costa Rica's biodiversity

In spite of its small size, Costa Rica features greater biodiversity than Europe or North America ! With only .05% of the world's landmass, Costa Rica hosts 6% of the world's biodiversity. This is due to a number of factors, among them:
•The country's location between North and South America, enabling plants and animals from both continents and the Antilles (Caribbean islands) to establish themselves there.
•Costa Rica's tropical climate and geographical makeup, that includes a range of habitats, from lowland rainforest to cloud forests, to tropical lakes and rivers.
•The nation's ecological policy, which has protected a 25% of its natural territory, with another 25% slated for future protection.


Costa Rica Plant Life

Costa Rica is home to over 9000 identified species of vascular plants, including over 900 different species of trees, and more are being described each year! From sub-alpine dwarf vegetation, rainforest flora from sea level to could forest to mangrove swamps and seasonal dry forest with its deciduous trees, there is an astounding range of floral habitats for a country so small. Costa Rica has roughly 1,500 species of orchids, almost all of them epiphytes. Costa Rica , in fact, provides much of the world's supply of orchids. Other epiphytes include bromeliads (over 200 species, much more commonly seen than the orchids.) The epiphytes, treetops and vines create a canopy that preserves the moisture within the forest, and also provides a home for many small animals and insects that live their whole lives in the canopy, never touching the ground. The cloud and rainforests of Costa Rica comprise some of the world's most complex ecosystems

4Orchid

The diversity inherent in tropical forests becomes clear when they are compared to the temperate forests in North America or Europe. In the temperate latitudes, forests tend to be dominated by a relatively small mix of species such as in a northern spruce forest. In a lowland tropical rainforest, one of the most diverse terrestrial habitats on earth, hundreds of tree species can be found, and virtually every tree you walk by will be a different species from its neighbors.



5Bromeliad

This same explosion of diversity in the tropics applies to other plants than trees; to orchids, bromeliads, other epiphytes and vines, for example. In the Pacific swampland, there are six different species of mangroves. They join the marine flora and fauna to form their own diverse ecosystem.


Costa Rica Birds

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Scarlet Macaw
Costa Rica is a favorite destination for many naturalists from all over the world, and its bird population is one of the main attractions. Over 850 species have been identified, far more than have been seen in North America, Europe or Australia ! These range from the resplendent quetzal, with its shimmering green plumage, scarlet belly, white tail feathers and green tail coverts that trail over 60 cm (2 ft) behind its body to the rare harpy eagle, which can snatch a monkey or a sloth right out of its branch in the treetops. There are over 50 species of hummingbirds, 15 parrots (including Scarlet Macaws), six toucan species, 75 different flycatchers, 45 tanagers, 29 ant birds and 19 cotingas.

For a complete list of birds, additional bird photos, and information on guided birding tours with the foremost expert on birding in Costa Rica, Richard Garrigue, the man who literally wrote the book on Tropical Birds of Costa Rica, click here.

Costa Rica Mammals

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Three-Toed Sloth
White-Faced Capuchin

Over 200 mammal species have been recorded in Costa Rica. Observant visitors to the national parks and other protected areas are almost certain to see one of the country's four types of monkeys -- howler, spider, white-faced capuchin and squirrel monkeys.
 
The country is also home to a wide assortment of other tropical mammals; two types of sloths, the often-viewed three-toed, a diurnal animal, and the rarely seen, nocturnal two-toed sloth. Three types of anteaters reside in Costa Rica; the tamandua is most commonly seen, while the others, the giant and silky anteaters are rarely glimpsed. Kinakajous, or Costa Rican bush babies, can be seen on the hotel grounds.




Costa Rica Butterflies, Insects & More

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Blue Morpho
Over 35,000 species of insects have been recorded in Costa Rica, with thousands more still undiscovered. Most noteworthy among these are the butterflies. It is estimated that 10% of the world's butterfly species reside in Costa Rica

One of the most breathtaking is the blue morpho, with its 15 cm (6-inch) wingspan and electric blue upper wings. Floating over the rivers, usually on sunny mornings, they are a stunning sight. When they land, only their brown underwings are visible; a camouflage to protect them from their enemies. Such camouflage is prominent in the butterfly community. Some species look just like the leaves and bark of the trees on which they rest. Yet others have wings with spots that resemble eyes. Predators occasionally attack their wings, leaving them with only minor injuries, their heads and bodies safe from harm.


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Basilisk
Green Tree Frog

Amphibians and Repitles

Costa Rica is home to roughly 150 species of amphibians, some of which are extremely colorful and exotic. There are tree frogs which spend their entire lives above the forest floor, breeding in the water of tank bromeliads or in holes in the trunks of trees. Others, the poison-arrow frogs, are exuberantly colored, ranging from bright red with blue or green legs to bright green with black markings. These frogs emit skin toxins that are distasteful of lethal to their potential predators, and their bright coloration serves to warn predators of their danger.

There are over 200 species of reptiles in Costa Rica, over half of them snakes. But snakes are rarely encountered, even by those looking for them. Often they are nocturnal or superbly camouflaged, and if they lie perfectly still on the forest floor, they can be virtually impossible to detect. Much more frequently seen are the country's lizards. The common Ameiva has a white stripe running down its back. Bright green basilisk lizards can reach a meter (3 ft) in length. Their huge crests run the length of their heads, giving them the appearance of a dinosaur. They are nicknamed 'Jesus Christ lizards' because when they are young they can run across the water when disturbed. Costa Rica is also home to crocodiles and turtles. The 14 turtle species include both marine and freshwater varieties. The largest of the marine turtles are leatherbacks. Their shells are up to a meter and a half (5 feet) and they weigh upwards of 360 kg (800 lb)! Marine turtles climb up sandy beaches to lay their eggs, a spectacular sight because it happens en masse. Olive ridleys nest synchronously -- tens of thousands of females sometimes emerge from the sea in a single night!

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Leatherback Turtle

Marine Life

Off the Pacific coast and around the offshore islands and coral reefs, snorkeling enthusiasts and scuba divers can find spectacular tropical fish, sea urchins, anemones, starfish rays, whales and porpoise .


Arenal National Park

8Undisputedly one of Costa Rica's foremost tourist attractions, the highly eruptive Arenal Volcano is the centerpiece of this new national park declared in October of 1994. In addition to including in the national park system what is currently one of the world's most active volcanoes, the area now under park service protection encompasses the watersheds of several rivers and streams that flow into Lake Arenal.

The imposing Arenal Volcano rises in nearly perfect conical form out of the western end of the San Carlos plains. Its periodic eruptions of ash and molten rock, accompanied by thundering sonic blasts, are an unforgettable experience anytime, but become extremely spectacular after dark. When the light of day has dimmed, the glowing red igneous rocks ejected with each eruption trace fiery arches in the night sky before crashing down on the steep slopes and finally extinguishing themselves.
Columns of lava also push their way down the sides of the volcano and pieces of the advancing sections continually break off under the weight of new flows bearing down from above. At night, these falling pieces are visible as chunks of rolling red rocks, adding to the natural fireworks display between the frequent eruptions.

9From the 600-meter elevation where visitors are allowed to approach atop a lava flow from the 1968 eruption, Arenal rises another 1000 meters to its 1,633-meter summit, and although the peak is still 3 kilometers away, it is definitely 'in your face!' There is little vegetation or wildlife to be seen in the immediate area of the main viewing site since the effects of the major devastating eruption of 1968 are only slowly being overcome. Nevertheless, this area offers a unique opportunity to witness the early stages of lava flow colonization by a handful of plant species adapted to the task. Farther away there are other areas which escaped direct damage and provide better wildlife viewing in the forested sections, however, as yet the park service does not maintain any well-marked trails in these areas, which include the dormant Volcano Chato to the southeast of Arenal.


Manuel Antonio National Park
3This wildlife area is located on the pacific coast of Costa Rica, in the province of Puntarenas. Located 157 km south of San José and 7 km south of Quepos City. The park was created by Law No. 5100 on November 15, 1972. The park is comprised of 682.7 hectares land and 55.000 hectares of coastal waters Manuel Antonio National Park is a small biological island. Manuel Antonio is one of the most beautiful national parks in all of C.R.. Another important attribute are the humid tropical forests, where flora and wildlife species, endanger of extinction, may be found.

A geomorphic characteristic of the park is the Punta Catedral. In the past this was an island. Because of sediment accumulation it has joined to the continental mass, forming a sandy band called Tombolo. The park is located in a region of great precipitation and high peaks. The annual precipitation averages 3.875 mm. Summer months are January, February and March; and the winter months are August, September and October. Manuel Antonio National Park is located in the humid tropical forest zone.

Protected areas include primary forest, secondary forest, beach vegetation and sea environments. Species of flora that are most commonly found in the primary forest are Guácimo Colorado, Pilón, Cedro María, Guapinol, Guapinol Negro, the endangered Arbol Maderable, Lechoso, Madrono, Cenizaro and Ceiba. In the secondary forest, you may find balsa, peine de mico, guarumo, guácimo, capulín blanco and garocho. Manglar covers approximate 18 hectares, is constituted by three species: mangle colorado, botoncillo and mariquita. Amongst the beach vegetation, you will notice the manzanillo tree, the milk and fruit of which is extremely poisonous. Other species of trees found along the beaches are the almendro, the roble sabana and the coco tree. A plethora of wildlife may be found in the park. You can find 109 species of mammals and over 184 of birds here. Among the most import, are the Raccoon, Porcupine, Guatusa, 2-Finger Sloth, 3-Finger Sloth, Capuchin Monkey, Congo Monkey and the Squirrel Monkey, endanger of extinction from the destruction of their habitats and pet trade.
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