Why Costa Rica

Costa Rica touches the heart and mind, not through elegant boulevards, towering cathedrals, or an imposing place in history, but through its incredible natural beauty and a gracious people disposed to peace, kindness, and a generosity of spirit. No one feels a stranger here for long.

It is one of the most biologically diverse countries in the world a treasure-house of flora and fauna unequaled in so small an area. Casual tourist and dedicated nature traveler alike come under the spell of a natural wonderland studded with tropical forests, rushing rivers, exotic animals, un crowded beaches, high mountains, and awesome volcanoes.

Struggling to explain why increasing numbers of people are making their way to this small Central American country, one observer finally said simply, "The greatest tourist attraction in Costa Rica is Costa Rica"

With more than 100 years of democracy under its belt in a region with a history of political strife, Costa Rica boasts "teachers, not soldiers." The country has had no army since 1948. It lays claim to one of the highest literacy rates in the world and a national health-care system that covers all its citizens. The people's inclination toward modesty, simplicity, and friendliness, along with the country's commitment to peace, create a climate of trust for travelers.

And what a place to travel! Visitors can walk among rain-forest giants, see green turtles nesting, get a ringside view of one of the most active volcanoes in the world, ogle the keel-billed toucan, and hear the howler monkey. Pristine beaches beckon on the Caribbean and Pacific. Trees alive with their own mini-forests of bromeliads, lichens, and mosses assume mysterious forms in the high cloud forests; orchids grow wild amid lush vegetation that tumbles down along road cuts.

greater metropolitan area contains half of the country's population Elevation: 3,809 feet (1, 161 m) Official language: Spanish Official religion: Roman Catholic (80 percent of the population) Government: Constitutional, democratic republic; elections every four years Currency: colon Time: Central standard, no daylight savings time Electric current: I 10 volts Telephone country code: 506 Highest point: Mount Chirrip6, 12,529 feet (3,819 m) Seasons: rainy, May-November; dry, December-April

Travelers can enjoy world-class white-water rafting, sunning on deserted beaches, bicycle touring, surfing, snorkeling, fishing, bird-watching, hiking, diving, climbing to the forest canopy, and kayaking or ballooning.

A small country, a little smaller than West Virginia or Nova Scotia, Costa Rica abounds with plant and animal species: North American, South American, and those endemic to the area. It is known around the world for its national park system, now protecting about 12 percent of the land. With the aid of other reserves, about 33 percent of its territory is protected-an enviable record for any country, remarkable for a developing one. That commitment to conservation makes it possible for resident and tourist alike to encounter the natural world in a special way. An agouti and I once surprised each other on a park trail; a paca (known locally by the marvelous name of tepezcuintle) amazed me by rushing from bushes to plunge into a pool at the base of a waterfall where I had been swimming. Giant blue morpho butterflies can turn any ordinary day into a mystical experience. There is the chance of coming face-to-face with a white-faced monkey or catching a glimpse of a scarlet macaw. Tropical trees towering to 150 feet (46 in) and delicate, tiny flowers blooming in a high Andean-like climate

Open us to not only the magnificence of' the universe but also the interrelationship of Al living things.

This guide is offered as a companion for your journey in Costa Rica, to help you touch and be touched by the land and people on paths that are most comfortable for you. It includes information about the national parks and privately owned nature reserves, beaches, volcanoes, and towns. It also tells what you will find at the end of the trail: a private room and bath with hot water, or a bunk in a dormitory atmosphere with a shared bath and cold water. It lets you know whether you can fly in or drive in, or whether access is by foot, boat, or horseback what to bring along and how to call home; where and when you might see a quetzal; and which beaches turtles choose for nesting.

I find your own adventure and sense the heartbeat of this special place, from ii the quiet rhythm of its rural landscape to busy San Jose. Your experience will be your own. just bring an open heart to contain it.

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