There must be something behind the fact that tourism brings in the most foreign exchange for Costa Rica – Rich Coast in Spanish! The words of a local song provide the clue; the Virgin Mary came down from heaven to visit Costa Rica ….. and did not return, so beautiful was the place!
With over 2 million visitors in 2008, Costa Rica has become a must go destination for vacationers from such diverse regions as the North American countries of USA, Canada and Mexico, to the Central and South American states of Nicaragua, Panama, El Salvador and Guatemala and further on to EU member states like Spain and Germany. The tourism surge started in the 1980s when the extremely well maintained nature reserves, both public and privately owned, caught the attention of nature travelers. The country has the highest percentage of land covered by these reserves in the world as compared to total territory – almost 25% and almost 5% of world biodiversity! Other than these, the imposing volcanoes, of which there are at least 6 and the more than 12 beaches open to the public attract their own band of devotees. Cocos Island, nominated for the ‘New 7 Wonders of Nature’ is located in Costa Rica and there are at least 9 other well known nature reserves vying for the naturalist’s visit. Some of the rivers are also big tourist draws.
Costa Rica is one of the countries which pioneered ecotourism and is credited with being one of the few which follow it in both letter and spirit. To achieve this level, Costa Rica tweaked the European model for its ‘Ecological Blue Flag’ program which aims to bring about a balance between the ravages caused by tourism as well as various commercial developmental activities and sustainable ecological development by involving the community. This, together with their voluntary ‘Certification Program’ has worked well to bring about a marked change in the ecological status of the country from what it was 20 years back.
Other than the stunning natural attractions, vacationers, depending on their inclinations, can look forward to visiting the National Theatre in San Jose, a number of churches and basilicas, museums at various locations, the zoo, ports and some archaeological sites open to the public. Sex tourism is also popular, especially since prostitution is not illegal. Tourists also have the option of going in for adventure sports like rafting, surfing, trekking, bungee jumping, sky diving and snorkelling.
Tourist infrastructure is generally good to excellent, with options to fit all budgets. Provided you are careful how you conduct yourself and take the normally prudent actions a vacationer should take in any new location, vacations in Costa Rica can be a once in a lifetime experience. The most complaints are usually about the indifferent-to-bad road conditions all over Costa Rica. Driving can also be a challenge, especially for those used to following strict laws in their home countries, but these can only be considered excuses for not visiting such a beautiful destination on your next vacations. So here’s to the place which for many is heaven on earth …. Costa Rica!