Costa Rica: a natural wonder

This active volcano at Arenal Volcano National Park is one of the most visited volcanoes in Costa Rica.

This active volcano at Arenal Volcano National Park is one of the most visited volcanoes in Costa Rica.

They say the best things come in small packages and Costa Rica is a real-life example of small-package delights. The Central American country sits between two oceans and helps bridge North and South America, a geographical position that has ensured natural riches and cultural diversity.
Costa Rica houses close to 5 percent of the world’s biodiversity within only 51,000 square kilometres. This natural treasure is protected by a system of national conservation areas, which comprise 26 percent of the country’s area. Moreover, the country was ranked fifth in environmental performance in 2012 according to the Environmental Performance Index (Canada came 37th).

Visitors will find this coral reef on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica.

Visitors will find this coral reef on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica.

It’s no surprise then that Costa Rica is a top destination, especially for ecotourism. As well, its political, social and economic evolution set it apart from the rest of the region. It is strongly committed to democracy and human rights. It has been one of the most stable democracies in the developing world, without dictatorships or coups since 1949, when Costa Rica made a voluntary decision that no other country had ever undertaken: to abolish its army and declare peace to the world.
Instead of spending resources on weapons or soldiers, it has invested in education, health care, infrastructure, roads, telecommunications, strengthening democracy and fundamental freedoms.

Tabacón Grand Spa Thermal Resort is a five-star hotel at the foot of Arenal Volcano in the heart of the tropical rainforest. The thermal springs emerge from the volcanic earth, cascading to form waterfalls.

Tabacón Grand Spa Thermal Resort is a five-star hotel at the foot of Arenal Volcano in the heart of the tropical rainforest. The thermal springs emerge from the volcanic earth, cascading to form waterfalls.

These investments have built a country that is educated, healthy, and green. It has one of the best human development ratings in the developing world, with universal health care and educational systems that are pillars of national stability. For more than 100 years, education has been mandatory and we invest 8 percent of our gross domestic product (GDP) on it. At the same time, we invest almost 11 percent of our GDP on health care.
Costa Rica is also one of the safest countries in Latin America and offers a high quality of life to its residents. So tourism, one of its largest industries, attracts more than two million visitors annually. Tourism contributed close to 12.3 percent of the GDP in 2012, generating more than 92,000 jobs. If we also consider jobs indirectly supported by the industry, the contribution was 11.4 percent of total employment last year.

Costa Rica is a bird-watcher’s paradise with almost 850 species, including hummingbirds.

Costa Rica is a bird-watcher’s paradise with almost 850 species, including hummingbirds.

The number of Canadian travellers who visited the country last year — 130,000 in all — made up more than 6 percent of Costa Rica’s total visitors. After the United States, Canada is the most important tourism revenue source, generating close to $140 million in U.S. funds annually. Many tourists decide to move to our beautiful country permanently, currently more than 13,000 of them Canadian. This community fosters investment, promotes tourism and enhances cultural relations.
In 2012, an open skies-type air travel agreement between Canada and Costa Rica came into force. It allows any airline from Canada or Costa Rica to fly as frequently as desired between our countries. Last year, WestJet started regular flights from Toronto to the Daniel Oduber Quiros International Airport in Liberia, the capital of Guanacaste province, about 200 kilometres northwest of the national capital, San José.

The La Paz Waterfall can be seen from the highway.

The La Paz Waterfall can be seen from the highway.

What to do when you get here
We have beaches on both coasts and they’re easy to reach, with warm water year-round almost everywhere. Each coast offers different shades and textures of sand, including white, yellow, gray and black. The Ecological Blue Flag, a pro-nature award given to several of our beaches, guarantees they are safe and clean.
Should you tire of sunbathing, the forests behind our beaches are teeming with natural diversity, while offshore coral reefs invite divers to explore. Visitors can hike to nearby mangroves, go sport fishing or horseback riding. If that’s not enough, Costa Rica has adrenaline aplenty for lovers of adventure. Thrill-seekers can go zip-lining, rafting, snorkeling, kayaking, and surfing.
According to TripAdvisor last year, Costa Rica is the most popular destination in the world for eco-friendly travellers. With no long distances to tire you out, you can enjoy a zoological and botanical variety found on volcanic slopes, mountain passes, Caribbean and Pacific beaches, dry and tropical rain forests ­— all within one tiny country. You can hike steep paths in cloud forests, follow expert guides on bird-watching tours and take excursions to hanging bridges.
The country has 20 natural parks, eight biological reserves and a series of protected areas. Among them is Coco Island National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site with a critical marine life habitat, especially for sharks.
Medical tourism has been officially recognized by our government. Impressive health statistics, quality medical services and competitive prices have made Costa Rica a top destination for this kind of tourism. We have first-class hospitals that cover all medical specialties, with legislated patient protection in place. Spas, resorts, recovery centres, plastic and esthetic surgical clinics and health centres are abundant. Many hotels specialize in medical tourism, facilitating a visitor’s recovery.
“Ticos” as Costa Ricans are known, are famous for their hospitality, and this is the foundation of our cultural attractions. Ticos know their land is special and try to make visits as pleasant as possible. Cultural diversity emerged as waves of immigrants added to the pre-Hispanic native populations, settling on this land and making it their home. Besides the Mestizo majority, ethnic groups — those of African descent, Chinese, Jews, Lebanese and Italians among others — are part of the mix.
And then there’s food. Costa Rican gastronomy is influenced by many cultures and takes advantage of seafood from two oceans, and fertile land supporting tropical fruit, vegetables and beef. Local specialities include gallo pinto (rice and black or red beans mixed with onions, red pepper, cilantro and spices), tamales (seasoned corn meal with rice, green beans, carrots, meat, chickpeas, plums and olives, covered with plantain leaves), and arroz con leche (rice with milk), among many others.
We look forward to welcoming you to Costa Rica and invite you to explore the embassy’s website (costaricaembassy.com) as well as the Costa Rican Tourism Board’s website (visitcostarica.com) to plan your trip of a lifetime.

Luis Carlos Delgado Murillo is ambassador of Costa Rica.

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Luis Carlos Delgado Murillo is ambassador of Costa Rica.

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