My Favorite Destinations: Costa Rica
by Diana M. Hechler
(June 10, 2006) Have you noticed how many Larchmont families have visited Costa Rica in the past few years? It seems that virtually everyone I know has a friend who just got back from Costa Rica. What is the big attraction down there?
First, is it dangerous? How about violence? Revolutions? Death Squads? Not at all. Unlike most of its neighbors, Costa Rica has had a functioning, stable democracy for over 50 years.
Costa Rica does, however, boast 6 active volcanoes, of which the most widely visited is Arenal, in the center of this small country. Although the last eruption was many years ago, there is a certain thrill is checking in at the base and seeing the smoke spiraling out of the crater.
My favorite moment was reading the sign clearly stating that the hotel will absolve itself of any responsibility in case of your volcanic demise. The warnings don’t seem to dissuade anyone from visiting, enjoying hikes up to the observatory or frolicking in the lush, tropical hot springs at adjacent Tabacon. Prepare to become a wet noodle.
You can also park the family at some very nice beaches in Costa Rica. Everything from the Four Seasons to rustic cold-water-only jungle havens dot the Pacific coast, offering all tastes and budgets beautiful water, sandy beaches, and a jaguar or two – depending on which establishment you’ve chosen. If you’re seeking the wild and tropical, you’ll probably need to hop on a puddle-jumper and perhaps even a boat afterwards; you will definitely feel like you’ve gotten away from Larchmont!
Those averse to puddle-jumpers can drive down to the mid-Pacific region and the national park at Manuel Antonio. Be sure to scan the trees along the way; they’re probably full of monkeys. And no drive south would be complete with a stop at the Tarcoles River to watch the happy crocodiles sunning on the mud banks below.
Manuel Antonio, about 3 hours south of San José, perches high above the ocean with myriad hotels nestled in and among the jungle. Lizards and iguanas abound and you might even cross paths with one on the way to breakfast. The truly intrepid can sign up for a nighttime jungle walk to get up close and personal with all manners of reptiles and fauna. (My son declined to go, noting that “everything I would see would be trying to kill me.” Made sense to me.)
We opted instead for the 4-hour day-time excursion into the national park and encounters with black-faced monkeys, a sleepy snake, 2- and 3-toed sloths, myriad birds, iguanas, lizards, and even an agouti. For more encounters with monkeys, try the boat trip into the primordial Damas estuary and mangroves. We saw birds whose markings should have been painted on by an artist.
If all of this still seems a bit tame, there’s always the Arenal Skytrek Canopy Tour. Not exactly the leisurely saunter through the top level of the rainforest that I had imagined, the canopy tour found me strapped into a harness, launched along a cable, and zipping through the open space between the mountains at speeds up to 50 m.p.h. Not bad for a Westchester soccer mom.