Q&A: How to maximise your trip ... to Costa Rica
Considering a trip to Costa Rica? We find out how to make the absolute most of your trip from Costa Rica expert, Nick Wilkins.
Q: When is the best time to visit Costa Rica, and does this vary depending on which part of the country you visit?
A: In general, the best time is December through to April inclusive. In some places the rainfall starts again in earnest in April, in other places it'll hold off until May. December, January, February are probably the peak season across the majority of the country. There are certain areas, such as the Caribbean coast, where it's varying degrees of wet or wetter. The key thing to bear in mind, though, even during what is known as the green or rainy season, it that it is tropical rain. So, it may be that it will rain hard, but this will only be for a few hours. Due to the higher temperatures you get in the summer period, when it stops raining it'll be dry within an hour or so.
That said, you can never really tell about the weather. It is possible to travel in December and to see quite a lot of rain, and to visit in September when it should in theory be rainier, and enjoy glorious sunshine. But in general, our winter's the best time to go.
Q: How long would you recommend travellers stay in Costa Rica for in order to have the best experience?
A: For a highlights trip, a week and a half to two weeks is the minimum amount of time needed to give you a good introduction to the country. Certainly approximately ten or 11 days would offer you the opportunity to visit enough places that you will see jungle, tropical rainforest, cloud forest and wetlands, and that's the reason you're going to Costa Rica - to see that variety in a small geographic space. However much more time you can spare will give you the opportunity to explore the country in more depth.
Q: What would you say the top experiences to have in Costa Rica are?
A: The main advantage of it over other destinations is that it's a relatively small country. And it packs into that small geographic area a lot of different habitats, which gives rise to a lot of different flora and fauna, and those are the things you go to Costa Rica for - the nature, wildlife, animals and scenery.
While it is possible to get the same breadth of experience in a destination such as Brazil, you would be travelling for hours between locations to do so. In Costa Rica, you will not have to spend all your time in airports and on planes to get between the various areas.
Q: And what are the top destinations to visit?
A: Tortuguero on the Caribbean side is a highlight. This part of the country does tend to be wetter, but seeing a lot of rain should not impinge your enjoyment. You can still expect to see a lot of wildlife, as well as have the chance to discover the jungle areas, where there are natural waters, canals, abundant marine life and even turtles, which nest here at certain times of year.
Tortuguero national park
Another top destination is Arenal, which is famous for its volcano. The volcano used to be very active; once, you could to see lava trails running down the side, but it's not been as active for a number of years now. What Arenal is, though, is a good base to visit one of the best wildlife destinations in the country - the wetlands of Cano Negro. Wetlands are always a good place to see wildlife. Forest is brilliant, but there tend to be a lot of trees in the way, and the animals can hide quite well within them, which is a problem you do not have in the wetlands.
Q: What's the best way to incorporate all the different kinds of experiences you can have in Costa Rica into your travels? Is it practical to do all the main experiences in one trip, or is it better to do several? If, as you've said, the main experiences are just seeing the landscapes and wildlife, does the former suffice?
A: The enquiries we tend to get are usually fully focused on seeing the landscape and wildlife, though we do get people asking for beach stays at the end as well. Our kind of holidays are more active - you are seeing either the cultural aspect or wildlife or scenery, so you're doing things pretty much every day, but then people want a little downtime - it is a holiday after all. Costa Rica has good beaches all along its coast. Logistically, you can easily fit in the areas that I've suggested in one trip.
Q: So how would you say having a tour guide changes the overall holiday experience?
A: Travel in Costa Rica is enjoyable both with and without a guide, but you will get so much out of the former.
If you're on your own, you will still enjoy the experience, but having a guide who knows the area, especially in the wetlands, is great - these people will spot wildlife far before anyone else does. Often, some creatures could be literally almost metres away from you, but because a lot of them have camouflage and the like, you could easily go straight past them and never know they were there. A guide can point these things out and tell you all about them, as well as inform you of places of interest, which means you can get much more out of your trip. You're there for the wildlife, really, and you can miss so much if you don't have a guide.
Q: And in terms of extra activities you can book, are there any that would enhance your trip to Costa Rica?
A: Something that people may not associate with Costa Rica - they have a whale watching season, which runs from December to April, and then August to October.
Q: Do you have any other tips for people travelling to Costa Rica?
A: While we have said that it's good to have a guide, you can have an excellent self-drive experience in Costa Rica. The country has a very good tourist infrastructure, which is of course a huge benefit to travellers. Self-drive also boasts a variety of other benefits, including giving you the flexibility to go virtually anywhere you please.
Another tip is that, as there are various altitudes that can be visited, it is advisable to always pack with layers. While it may be hot and humid down on the Caribbean coast, in places such as Arenal, Monteverde and the higher areas, it can be be quite cool.
Finally, it is worth being aware that, while domestic flights are often unnecessary, from time to time they are unavoidable - and you need to keep in mind there are baggage limits, which can be as little as 12kg. So, just bear this in mind when you are packing.
For more information, see the Cox & Kings website, or call 020 7873 5000 to speak to a Latin America expert.
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