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Articles Blog

Filtering by Tag: Costa Rica

Puerto Limón, Costa Rica

Karyn Planett

Caribbean Costa Rica

“Costa Rica is considered unique in Central America; prosperity has made it dull … What is remarkable is its secularity. I was not prepared for this … The Cost Rican’s dislike of dictators had made him intolerant of priests. Luck and ingenuity had made the country prosperous, and it was small and self-contained enough to remain so.” –Paul Theroux, The Old Patagonian Express, 1979.

Well, in addition to luck and ingenuity, the people of Costa Rica are blessed with a country that is flanked by both the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean. In addition, there are some very productive commodities that find their way from Costa Rica to nations around the world, but more on that later. Just for now, let’s look at just one page of history about the port we’re soon to visit.

Columbus Slept Here

With a history dating back some 500 years, you knew Christopher Columbus had to stop on by. It’s claimed by historians that, yes, the Great Navigator made landfall in what’s now Costa Rica and he was the first European to do so. That was on September 18th, 1502. Local Carib Indians, donning their golden jewelry, greeted Columbus and his men by paddling out to their anchored vessel. Subsequent to this time, the name “Costa Rica” was born in honor of the golden bands adorning the Indians’ ears and noses. The translation means, of course, Rich Coast.

The indigenous people never numbered more than a few hundred thousand. Then, with the Spanish introduction of certain diseases such as smallpox, the population was nearly wiped out. True to practice, the Spaniards introduced slaves from Africa. According to authorities, there are approximately 70,000 descendants from these slaves living in Costa Rica today. On the other hand, a mere 1% can trace their heritage to the indigenous people. Virtually everyone else is identified as “white” and the descendants of the Spanish settlers who are called Ticos.

“What’s A Sloth, Mommy?”

“Well, Bree, it’s rather like a …, hmm, well sort of a …., hmm. Ask your father.” Little Bree dashes off to Dadipedia who himself is stumped by the question. In order to avoid like embarrassment, just continue reading. A sloth is a sort of monkey-looking, slow-as-molasses hairball that hangs upside all day for some unknown reason. And, he lives in Costa Rica as well as other Central and South American jungles. But here’s an interesting fact. His metabolism is so slow it can take up to 30 days for him to simply digest his dinner of, what, leaves. It screams Metamucil. You’d think he’d be getting enough roughage with his vegetarian diet. Sloths also have weird hair that’s grooved so water is directed away from his furry body. The strangest thing of all, though, is that they’re so slow moving that an algae grows in their groovy fur to further enhance their camouflage. You actually could probably say that moss does grow on their backsides. Isn’t that odd?

More Of Mother Nature’s Curiosities

Toucans. Costa Rica has toucans. They’re the ones that look like you could change a tire with their beaks, or bills as they prefer to call them. Some bills can reach more than seven inches in length. Evidently it’s pretty popular with the ladies. A toucan’s call sounds just like a frog so if you think you hear a frog, look up and maybe you’ll see a toucan.   

Costa Rica is also home to scarlet macaws. They’re supersized parrots, in fact the world’s largest measuring a whopping 33 inches beak to tail. You should not try to measure one because they’re beaks are so strong they can crack a hard nut.

And, then, there’s the howler monkey. He’s the New World’s biggest monkey. These fellows are so loud, hence the name, that when they give it a good go they can be heard three miles away. Thankfully they have prehensile tail that allows them to hang around because they prefer staying in the treetops and come down from their perch quite rarely. They live in “troops” so keep an eye and ear open for a troop of howlers. They sound like a car with bad breaks in a sandstorm.

Where to find some of these creatures? Well, if you’re lucky you might see a sloth up a tree in town. They’re hard to spot because of their algae camo get-up.

A Page From The History Books

At one time, coffee was an important product grown in Costa Rica. It developed as a major export with shipments headed toward Europe. The problem was the port for Europe was on the Pacific Ocean and the coffee was grown in the Central Plateau. Oxcarts were used to transport the aromatic beans. But, a decision was made to develop a port on the Atlantic coast, for obvious reasons, and that required a pool of laborers. The government engaged Minor C. Keith, an America entrepreneur, to build the railroad to Limón, thus the Caribbean. This railroad was finished in 1890 and the labor pool was comprised of Chinese, Jamaicans, Italians, and prisoners from the US.

Well, now you can write your own chapter in your personal history book after your visit to Costa Rica and Puerto Limón. Give it a go.

Gulfo do Papagayo, Costa Rica

Karyn Planett

Sounds like a little ditty we learned in school, but no! It’s not. It’s the Spanish word for “parrot.” Well, at least the “pa-pa-ga-yo” part is. And, “Gulfo do Papagayo” is, yes, the “Gulf of the Parrot”. But, as any tourism rep will tell you, this pretty little town is also known as the “Gulf of Sunsets”, “The Gulf of Beaches”, and “The Gulf of Relaxation.” So, take your pick. What’s it gonna be for your day in the sun?

Oh, for the record, “papagayo” also means “red fish full of venomous prickles, a large kite, or a bedpan”. Just thought you should know.

So Where Are We?

Costa Rica. The Rich Coast. Go north to Nicaragua, southeast to Panama, west to fabulous beaches with clear waters perfect for a swim. Golfo do Papagayo is only 10.7 degrees north of the Equator so there’s a lazy, no-wild-swings-in-temperature pace to the day. In fact, it rarely dips below 82 degrees or soars above 90. All this sealed the decision by the Costa Rican government to earmark Gulfo do Papagayo the ideal spot for tourism in 1974. But development projects were a bit too ambitious to be sustained by a fragile ecological environment so plans were put on the back burner until 1997. With a more viable plan in place and full government approval, construction began in earnest without compromising the setting.

What’s There To See?

Lots. Guanacaste Province is a nature-lover’s delight. Palo Verde National Park is 45,000 acres big, draped along the banks of the Tempisque River. With a puzzle of microhabitats, including everything from harsh salt ponds to swampy mangrove waters, it’s ideal for migrating waterfowl as well as those who refuse to leave. In fact, 300 plus bird species have been spotted in the park by avid birders and rangers. They claim there are more waterfowl and shorebirds here than in any other place in Central America with everything from ducks and storks to the more exotic toucans and parrots, even scarlet macaws.

They’re not the only creatures calling Palo Verde home. There are also some monkeys including the white-face and the howler, plus armadillos and something called a coatimundi that looks like a raccoon with a long tail and lots of little ones. Oh, do try not to disturb the American crocodiles inhabiting the park. You probably won’t trip over them because they can grow to a length of 15 feet! But, for a little bit of comfort, just know their diet is mainly wee frogs, unsuspecting crabs, and already-dead animals. They’re best seen from a riverboat anyway.

And, speaking of enjoying the Costa Rican waters, you can actually float along the Corobici River, go river rafting if you’re so inclined, jet ski along the beach, sail on catamaran at sunset, or get your block and tackle ready for some challenging deep-sea fishing. These waters are known for their Pacific sailfish, marlin, and other game fish like wahoo and dorado.

If you want to simply sail above all this, strap yourself to the Witches Rock zip line and whizz right past. However, leave time to learn about William Walker, the North American fellow who invaded Costa Rica in 1856. The “President of the Republic of Nicaragua” at that time, Walker and his band of private military boys were sent packing back to Nicaragua by a group of locals not wanting to succumb to his bravado. Walker was ultimately executed in 1860. Do read his fascinating story.

Peaceful Times

Gulfo do Papagayo today is home to waterfront resorts that welcome guests for frosty beverages with paper umbrellas and a day at their pools. Simply pick one that suits your fancy and permits day visitors. But if it’s history and sightseeing you seek, visit the colonial town of Liberia. Modest by most standards, it’s rather formidable for Costa Rica. Just about 500 feet above sea level, Liberia enjoys a drier climate than other parts of the country. In fact, it is often so dry winds bring with them a fine layer of dust. Some claim that’s why Liberia is called the “White City.” Most acknowledge, however, it’s due to the whitewashed buildings that can be blinding on a hot summer day. That’s all due to the bahareque clay.

Dating back to 1769, Liberia is home today to approximately 30,000 residents and is the provincial capital. Occasionally, a mounted horseman will ride through town en route to one of the surrounding estancias to work cattle or visit other caballeros. He’ll simply add interest to your photos of this tile-roofed colonial town that is quintessentially Costa Rican.

Finally, as the sun sinks toward the horizon, sample some comida tipica including coffee-wood roasted pork, shrimp or lobster, a beef stew called olla de carne, sopa negra black bean soup, or corn stew known as guiso de maiz. Finish with horchata, a spicy beverage Ticos enjoy made of cinnamon and roasted ground rice.