Costa Rica
land of superlatives

Beach on Caño Island, a haven for diving and ecotourism.
Mouth of the Río Agujitas, Drake Bay, Osa Peninsula.

Du goût poétique du Nord premier exemple chant du repiquage

The changeable sky Of the northern districts Prevented me from seeing The full moon of autumn.


Bénis ces lieux où le vent parfume la neige vallée du Sud

Blessed indeed Is this South Valley,Where the gentle wind breathes The faint aroma of snow.

The otherworldly undergrowth in Corcovado.
Ocher-red soil in Los Quetzales National Park, which has 14 different ecosystems.
drake bay
The Punta Río Claro Wildlife Refuge, Drake Bay.
Bird watching in Corcovado National Park.
footsteps of the guide
Following in the footsteps of the guide, an indispensable companion in the lush Corcovado National Park.

A ribbon of land sandwiched between two oceans, this country boasts an impressive biodiversity. It’s a living laboratory bathed in the warmth of the tropics.

Peace. Is there a better word for this country, which abolished its army in 1948? The money saved since then has helped turn this nation, located on the Central American isthmus, into an eden whose citizens enjoy high-quality education and health careand, moreover, into a land where nature is cherished and respected. It might all seem preordained: isn’t this patch of land bordered to the west by an ocean named the Pacific? Perhaps. But the waves and tornadoes, hurricanes and torrential rains, blazing sun and wild animals all sing another tune.

Cardinal emotions

The pacific nature of Costa Rica is an illusion. Beneath its gentle exterior, its graciousness, the kindness of its residents and its sumptuous settings, this nation is a crucible of telluric forces. The stifling expanse of its deep blue sky and turquoise seas, the green of its forests bursting with sap and the red ocher of the iron-rich soil challenge the postcard images we had in our minds. Costa Rica is a concentrate of energies. Everything grows here, everything thrives. On this generous land, one splendor follows another in the valleys and on the plains in a sequence of stunningly diverse ecosystems.

To the east, on its Caribbean side, the country languishes in a luscious atmosphere. English and Spanish mingle in conversations. Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica lie not far away, and the bars of Cahuita and Puerto Viejo shake to the sounds of salsa and reggae. With its rasta vibe, easy living, pristine beaches and candy-colored sunsets, this is a place where harmony reigns. Farther north, the Tortuguero National Park is a hothouse of emotions. At nightfall, under the gleam of flashlights, you can watch giant green turtles laying eggs. Violent rainstorms every day turn nature into a breeding ground. The powerful colors along the meanders of a silt-colored river strike you with near-physical force. Animalsshadowy, clawed apparitions suddenly appear. Monkeys, toucans and parrots skitter about in the trees. Fluorescent-hued vipers wrap around leaves; iguanas, open-mouthed, seem to be holding their breath; while giant butterflies, too large to be caught in standard nets, festoon the stormy anthracite sky with their lacy wings.

Is the heartland any more serene? Not really, for the central valleys are riddled with volcanoes. The Arenal, a Mount Fuji look-alike, rattled the entire province with its demonic rumblings up until 2010. Fumaroles spewed forth, merging with the clouds, clinging to the sky. The air smelled of sulfur. Since then, it has been dormant. But for how long? Farther west, athletic surfers fresh from California ride the Pacific waves. At Playa Tamarindo, sunsets veer from gold to blood red.

An inventory of the world

As a pioneer of environmental conservation, this multifaceted country covering 51,000 km2 is home to nearly 6 percent of the world’s biodiversity. More than 12,000 plant species thrive in this biological corridor. Add to that the 220 types of reptiles, 850 bird species and tens of thousands of different kinds of insects and numerous other natural wonders, and you can understand why this nation-sized Noah’s Ark is so fascinating. Indeed, 26 percent of the country is made up of protected areas, including 27 national parks. If there’s a country where green is gold, it’s certainly Costa Rica. The local mantra is pura vida. This expression, which translates literally as “pure life” and has different meaningsincluding “no worries,” “how are you?” and “complete happiness”crops up constantly as if to underscore the obvious.

While the country’s relatively small size makes it easy to discover its countless facets, sometimes you have to choose a destination. So let’s go for Corcovado National Park. Shining like a pearl in a string of exceptional sites, it covers one-third of the total surface area of the Osa Peninsula, which juts out into the sea in the south. Created in 1975 and accessible by roadbut even more so by boatit has been described as the most biologically intense place on earth. The virgin forest is home to 13 different vegetation types, from montane forest to cloud forest, as well as all the variations generated by a tropical climate. Here, tree lovers can explore their passion to the full, with more than 500 species interlocking trunks and branches. To reach the park, head for the small town of Palmar Sur, then continue on to tiny Sierpe, where a very few restaurant-cafés overlook the mangroves. The souls of smugglers, pirates and riverboat adventurers seep from the docks.

A sign warns visitors passing through not to feed the crocodiles. The words make us smile. We take a photograph, but no sooner have we stepped into the boat taking us to the hotels and lodges hidden amid the lush greenery than a steely-jawed specimen of the reptile appears. Nestling in a swamp, motionless yet powerful, it seems to be striking a pose. A terrifying vision? Not at all, because 10 meters farther on, a relaxed local is enjoying a siesta in his hammock. Living intelligently with nature means being good-natured oneself.

Call of the jungle

All the hotels hidden within the park offer their guests excursions into the primary forest of Corcovado National Park. To reach it, and also enjoy a relaxing excursion to the small island of Caño with its 26 highly protected natural springs, you’ll jump into a small boat. Wearing a life jacket, caressed by the warm wind, we have to cross the bar and weave through the mangroves to the ocean, then debark, hit or miss, between waves. Wearing solid shoes and covered in mosquito repellent cream, we are finally ready for the great leap into the emerald forest. We make slow progress, keeping a sharp eye out as we go, mindful of the indisputable presence of a few reptiles that are best not disturbed. There’s a sudden rush of fear when a twisted vine looks to us just like a fer-de-lance viper. We laugh at the scare, aware that we are also in the midst of the forest for just this type of thrill, to spend three hours experiencing the hellish paradise of lost explorers. It’s hot. It’s muggy.

How did the sweat stream under the steel armor of the conquistadors? They forged on much as we are moving forward. The same steps, the same steamy heat, the same astonishment. The guide stops: he has spotted something. He sets up his telescope, and in the lens, among the tangled leaves and spiderwebs, submerged in a swampy spit, is another set of armora crocodile with an enigmatic eye, at home in its element. We stopand then set off again, as white-headed capuchin monkeys decide to bombard us with coconuts. Fortunately, they have a bad aim.

Hypnotic blues and greens

In this land of superlatives, where extravagance is the local finery, where magazine advertisements extol the proud shapes of curvaceous Costa Rican women, everything is a conquest, and an animal vitality percolates through the laid-back daily life. Life is throbbing and seething, in the air, on land and beneath the surface of the water. What lives above also thrives below. In counterpoint to the tapirs, turtles and boas, and sloths nestled in trees are the shoals of fish, their convulsive movements churning up a foam of fins and scales. Blues, yellow-green, lemon yellow and bright silver: fish every possible color and size flick by, skimming and grazing divers as they go. In these swirling waters, a torpedo sometimes joins the party: a shark nearly slips between our legs, causing hearts to race.

From the coastline of the Osa Peninsula, the horizon line is broken by a pod of pelicans in flight, the ocean’s surface spattered by the twirling dolphins and the misty plumes of whales. The mirrored expanse of the sea, suddenly gray from the cumulus clouds gathering overhead, remains immaculate. The immensity of this skating rink of warm water is heightened by the fragility of an island that cuts through it, stunning in its splendor. We are awestruck.

Costa Rica, a land of gentleness and danger, filled with the whooping laughter of howler monkeys, the yowling of jaguars and the rooting of tapirs, is never off target, never disappoints. And you grasp the extent of the revolution that occurred here. If indeed a conquest took place, it’s not the one you think, not the victory of those Europeans who claimed possession of this sublime place, but rather that of an idyllic land, capturing in its snare the foreigners that we are. And conquered we remain. Pura vida? Pure truth.

A pioneer of environmental conservation, this country is home to 6% of the world’s biodiversity.

Grano de Oro

Most trips to Costa Rica start with a stopover in the capital San José. The Grano de Oro hotel is a gem. Located just outside the city center (but less than a ten-minute walk away) and its pedestrian zone, this large colonial-style house built in 1991 offers 40 rooms. In addition to its comfortable accommodation, it has a restaurant helmed by an excellent (French) chef. The menu is extraordinary, as are the bar and the patio, where breakfast is served in the balmy air. This distinguished haven, a far cry from the international chains, is an ideal spot to begin or end your trip.

Grano de Oro

Calle 30, Avenida 2 y 4, San José. Tél. +506 2255 3322.

Arenas Del Mar

A huge complex overlooking a magnificent bay, this hotel lodge has two private beaches, succulent cuisine and a few very comfortable rooms and suites. Although some may find the concrete buildings a little intrusive, this luxury hotel boasts an outstanding location. Small electric vehicles are available for getting about and there’s a large selection of activities to try. It is set in an eco-friendly environment, with a wealth of lively bars and restaurants nearby.

Arenas Del Mar Beachfront & Rainforest Resort

Manuel Antonio. Tél. +506 2777 2777.

La Paloma Lodge

Situated on the Osa Peninusla, accessible by boat from Sierpe, La Paloma Lodge immerses you in the efflorescent nature of Corcovado National Park. The varnished-wood houses are hidden away in the vegetation. Here you are awakened not by crowing roosters but by white-headed capuchin monkeys. Be warned though: these adorable animals have a fondness for toothpaste tubes, which they like to chew on before tossing them away. The sounds of parrots, sloths, birds and butterflies can be heard at all times of the day and night. The large communal room open on all sides, with its deep couches, library and cozy colonial vibe, is a pleasant place to meet other travelers. Seclusion is conducive to friendship. The daily program includes swimming, forest hikes, whale watching and other tropical amusements.

La Paloma Lodge

Drake Bay, Puntarenas. Tél. +506 2293 7502 (après 16h +506 2775 1684).


Winter lights

Carnet d’adresses

Grano de Oro

Calle 30, Avenida 2 y 4, San José. Tél. +506 2255 3322.

Arenas Del Mar Beachfront & Rainforest Resort

Manuel Antonio. Tél. +506 2777 2777.

La Paloma Lodge

Drake Bay, Puntarenas. Tél. +506 2293 7502 (après 16h +506 2775 1684).
Address Book

Going There

Flight Frequency

Air France has two weekly flights from Paris-CDG to San José.

Arrival airport

Aéroport international Juan-Santamaría.
À 17 km.
Tél. +506 2437 2400.


À l’aéroport.


— Depuis la France : tél. 3654.
— Depuis l’étranger :
Tél. +33 (0)892 70 26 54.

Car rental

Hertz, à l'aéroport

Tél. +506 2221 1818.

Planning you trip

La Maison des Amériques Latines est LE spécialiste du voyage au Costa Rica, avec une équipe ayant une connaissance pointue de la destination pour mieux vous conseiller. Elle propose de nombreux circuits, dont «Tout le Costa Rica», 13 jours / 11 nuits en hôtels de charme, à la découverte du pays, et notamment la confidentielle péninsule d’Osa. 3, rue Cassette, Paris. Tél. +33 (0)1 53 63 13 40.

Further Reading

Costa Rica
Gallimard, coll. Bibliothèque du voyageur.

Costa Rica
Lonely Planet.

L’Essentiel du Costa Rica
Lonely Planet.

Costa Rica
National Geographic.

© Parko Polo / Central Illustration Agency. Carte illustrative, non contractuelle.