Sunday, September 6, 2009

Free Time in Costa Rica? So much to choose from...

Ten degrees north of the equator, Costa Rica is a tropical paradise, world-famous for its stunning diversity – both in landscape and wildlife – and a commitment to sustainability and conservation. Around a quarter of its territories are classified under the Protected Areas System giving a home to jaguars, four species of monkeys, over 800 species of birds, some of the world’s most important nesting grounds for marine turtles and much, much more. The New Economics Foundation (NEF) recently declared Costa Rica the greenest country in the world and placed it top of their Happy Planet Index.

In 1948, Costa Rica became the first country to formally abolish its military forces, choosing instead to invest in its people through social services such as healthcare and education. This mindset is fundamental to the Costa Rican way of life – the national expression, ¡Pura Vida!, means so much more than its literal translation of “pure life”; it sums up the desire to live the best and most hassle free life possible.

Costa Rica really does have something for everyone, and to suit any budget. A country boasting 300 miles of Pacific and Caribbean coastlines, over 200 identifiable volcanic formations, extensive dry, rain and cloud forests, beautiful areas to relax and unwind - like natural hot springs - or experience the adventure of a lifetime on the whitewater rivers or by zip-lining through the treetops.

Local Area
(Activities for an afternoon or day off whilst at the project)

The program is situated amongst the beautiful waterways and rainforest of Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast. There are plenty of opportunities to take advantage of during your time off, both locally and further a field. Staff and volunteers have been enjoying the wonders of Costa Rica for many years and have made many recommendations for future visitors, some examples are listed below:

The typical Caribbean village of Parismina is around a 20-minute water-taxi ride away from the program and costs around $6 by public transport. The larger village of Tortuguero is around 1-hour by boat. There you can book wildlife tours with qualified nature guides for the National Park canals or hire kayaks and canoes to explore on your own or with friends. There are also two canopy tours just across the canal from the village. You can visit the National Park Rangers Station or the museum of the world-famous Caribbean Conservation Corporation, who work with the turtles that Tortuguero is named after.

Alternatively, just kickback and relax on the beach or around town. Sample authentic banana bread and other delicious treats of the bakery, catch up on news from home (if the lines are working!) at an internet café, or hang out in one of the sleepy cafés or restaurants sampling traditional local food or some tastes from home!

Long Weekend Volunteer Recommendations
(Trips that can be undertaken in two/three days whilst at the project)

Arenal, together with the Monteverde cloud forest reserve, is probably the most popular volcano visit among our volunteers for the beautiful hikes nearby, the quiet town of La Fortuna, some of the longest and most spectacular zip-lines in the country, the natural hot springs and waterfalls and the wonderful views of lava flow that can be seen at night. Arenal is around three hours travel from San José by land or 25 minutes by air. Past volunteers have highly recommend La Fortuna and Arenal for a trip on a long-weekend. Nearby, Monteverde offers stunning cloud forest, activities and sights. Enjoy the hummingbird gallery, locally made ice cream and other fresh dairy products or walk among the treetops on the hanging bridges.

Turrialba, in the central province of Cartago, is home an indigenous reserve, primary cloud and rain forests and a top-five world ranked whitewater river – the Rio Pacuare. Around four hours from San José , the town itself is typically “Tico”, receives comparatively very few tourists and is a great base for various adventure activities, such as canyon exploring and rappelling, horse-trekking, mountain-biking and, of course, rafting the level III and IV rapids of the Pacuare. GVI has links with tour operators in the area that are able to offer reduced rates for our volunteers – including the opportunity to tackle the river with the Costa Rican National Rafting Team – ranked second in the world! Rafting the Pacuare can be completed in a one-day tour or camping overnight in the reserve and experience the beautiful scenery and biodiversity of the area in more depth. Turrialba also offers great places to hike, birdwatch or simply relax and unwind.

Cahuita National Park and Puerto Viejo de Talamanca on the southeastern coast are where you will find typical Afro-Caribbean culture, Rastas, reggae, great food and cocktails a-plenty! The area is home to the 600-hectares of coral reef where you can go snorkeling, beautiful white-sand beaches, some of the top surf spots in the country and a whole host of wildlife and activities. Past volunteers have enjoyed this area for its relaxed atmosphere and diversity of culture and activities. The travel time is around six hours from the project by boat and bus, five hours from San José or around 30 minutes from Limón.

Other potential trips:

• Visit Irazu Volcano where you can see both coasts of the country on a clear day and discover coffee farms on the way back to San José
• Spot migratory raptor birds in the Talamanca Mountains and visit indigenous villages to learn more about their amazing culture
• Go deep sea fishing in the Caribbean Sea
• Enjoy the organised wildlife tours of Braulio Carrillo National Park
• Travel across the country to discover the beautiful Pacific Coast with its sunny beaches
• Visit the largely unspoilt Osa peninsula
• Spend a relaxing weekend in the capital San Jose, while visiting the Gold Museum or the Jade Museum or attending a play in one of the numerous theatres
• Travel on to see the sights of neighboring Nicaragua or Panama

Further travel information

Domestic flights are a relatively quick and easy way to travel and Costa Rica is home to the world’s first carbon neutral airline. Due to Costa Rica’s small size, flights to all airports inside the country are generally between just 20 – 40 minutes and cost from as little as $50 if you book early.



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