Costa Rica is famous for its bird watching opportunities. It’s hundreds of species unique to Central America and has taken great steps to protect them through establishing a number of national parks. For tourists like you, this provides unrivalled views of some of the most colourful creatures in the world. Spot jabiru storks, scarlet macaws, and the blue-crowned motmot.
Before embarking on your trip, you need to make sure you’re properly prepared. The birds in Costa Rica might be wonders to behold, but the hot and humid climate isn’t.
Where are You Going?
There’s no designated bird watching location in Costa Rica. They’re everywhere because the San Jose government has taken many steps to preserve their habitats in the best way it can. Determine where you’re going.
The environment of this country varies wildly. It is all well and good sneaking through the jungles, but your attire here won’t suit a trip into the mountains. Carefully plan your route and any safe places should you need to shelter from high winds or sudden heavy rainfall.
Consider a local guide if you’ve never been to this country before. There are plenty of them around. Many of them work with conservation societies. The fee you pay them actively funds the preservation of these rare birds. Look for online reviews on specific guides and see which one suits you.
We all have our preferences. Some prefer to stick to well-travelled dirt tracks, whereas others will have you crawling through the undergrowth searching out some of the more ‘hard to spot’ creatures.
Birds in Costa Rica come in all shapes and sizes. Often, it’s a matter of spotting a different coloured wingtip or a slightly different belly which segregates one species from another. Unless you’re a walking encyclopaedia, grab a field guide from Amazon before you go or from a book store in Costa Rica.
If you’re only visiting a certain area, you can normally find little guides for specific national parks. These are less bulky to carry around and are easy to replace. Some travellers are wary about carrying around a ‘trophy’ bird book.
Birds in Costa Rica find it easy to stay cool because there’s so much humidity. You will have to confront this on most trips. Wear a poncho or light waterproof jacket to keep your clothing as dry as possible. In the forests, keep as little skin exposed as possible to make sure you don’t attract insect bites.
Mosquitoes do live in these forests, so do everything you can to avoid attracting them. Wear repellent on your skin and don’t use deodorants or perfumes. The strong scents attract them from far away. More Costa Rica Packing Tips
Make sure you leave enough time for you to get back to base before night falls. You don’t want to be lumbering around in a forest at dusk. If you’re trapped outside at night, it’s a lot more difficult to find your way back. People who get stranded often have no choice but to stay outside.
A professional guide will always ensure you leave your bird watching position with enough time to spare.
National parks in Costa Rica are all teeming with wildlife and cover 25 per cent of its total landmass. This is a country which takes pride in having such a diverse ecological system. It’s also the backbone of its behemoth tourism industry. During your trip to Central America, you’ll experience some of your most treasured memories in one or more national parks. If you’re unsure which of the 26 national parks you want to visit, here are our favourites.
Caño Negro National Wildlife Refuge
This 10,000-hectare refuge is a regular migration site for waterfowl. Throughout the year, you’ll spot wood storks, anhinga, blue-winged teal, and glossy ibis. It’s a regular haunt for birdwatchers. During the rainy season, a shallow lake fills up to create an area where people can sail on. After the rainy season ends, the lake dries up again and it turns into a path people use.
Arenal National Park
The Arenal National Park is the most well-known of Costa Rica’s national parks. The active Arenal Volcano constantly pumps out gases and steam from its almost perfectly cone-shaped peak. Since being declared a national park in 1994, millions of visitors have travelled to the volcano and gone to the maximum 600-metre elevation point to watch the lava.
It’s also the country’s largest source of hydroelectric power as the underground heat warms up nearby Lake Arenal.
Manuel Antonio National Park
This small park on the Pacific Coast is just south of Quepos city and close to the capital of San Jose. It was established in 1972 and covers less than 2,000 hectares of land, which makes it the smallest park in Costa Rica. 150,000 people visit each year.
It’s known for its spectacular beaches and warm Pacific waters. Park rangers regularly tend the miles and miles of hiking trails weaving through the forest and along the beaches. Forbes recently named it as one of the world’s 12 most beautiful parks.
Tortuguero National Park
This national park is one of the most remote national parks in Costa Rica. It’s in the Limon province and falls within the boundaries of the Tortuguero Conservation Area. You must book a visit to the park in advance if you want to go as it’s unreachable by land. The only way to get here is through boat or plane.
Despite its highly isolated location, it’s the third most popular park in the country. It’s well-known for its biological richness. There are a total of eleven different habitats in the Tortuguero National Park. These include lagoons, swamps, rainforest, mangrove, and beaches.
Make sure you bring a local guide with you to these parks. They can show you some of Costa Rica’s most coveted birds and plants, whilst also making sure you can’t get lost. Going on a guided tour of a park is another great way to build camaraderie with other travellers from all over the world.
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Costa Rica is a country known for its laidback attitude and friendly locals. ‘Pura vida’ is the unofficial motto of this country, and it’s why they’ll take any opportunity to celebrate. During your stay, you might want to visit some of the festivals in Costa Rica. Here’s a brief insight into a number of major and minor festivals and celebrations.
Costa Rica is mainly a Christian country. At Christmas, you’ll see lots of celebrations, which is why a lot of visitors from Europe choose to travel at this time of year to get away from cold winters. Semana Santa during Easter Holy Week around San Jose involves a lot of different events, mainly with religious undertones.
Costa Rica celebrates the patron saints. Each town and city has its own saint. The main saint’s day is for the patron saint of the country on March 19. This is known as Virgin of Los Angeles Day. Other days in celebration of specific figures include Juan Santa Maria’s Day on August 2 and Columbus Day on October 12.
Costa Rica has its fair share of unconventional events. There’s a tennis tournament called the Copa del Café which draws amateur teenagers from across the globe to compete in a week of tennis.
There’s the Carrera de la Paz footrace held in March. Thousands of runners start at the National Gymnasium in San Jose and race to the University for Peace campus.
For visitors interested in nature, they should visit the National Orchid Show in the Colegio de Medicos y Cirujanos in March. It’s the only festival in Costa Rica which showcases over 500 rare orchids.
Going on an Adventure
March is the main month for festivals all over Costa Rica. You can usually find events even if you aren’t situated close to the capital of San Jose.
On the second Sunday or March, San Antonio de Escazu celebrates National Oxcart Day. This unique event features 500 different types of oxcart driver and cart. The cattlemen from around the country descend upon the Bonanza Fairgrounds for the Bonanza Cattle Show just after this event. You’ll find horse races, bullfights, prize bulls, and mechanical bull machines (good luck with that!).
In April you should visit the Plaza de la Democracia in San Jose. In this plaza is the annual Festival of Native American Handicrafts. It lasts for three days and gives you ample opportunity to pick up an elegant souvenir.
Costa Rica is a country known for its animals. The Zapote Bullfights, or Toros a la Tica, is the most prominent animal event in the country. It’s where amateurs without professional assistance become matadors for the day. They compete with the bulls in the same way as a Spanish bullfight. The difference is they’re never hurt or killed.
These are the main events you’ll find around Costa Rica. Many towns and villages also hold their own unofficial events. Ask around or speak to a tour guide to see if there are any events in your area.
Contact us if you would like to time your trip to Costa Rica to match a particular festival.
It’s not hard to find animals in Costa Rica. It’s awash with birds, marine life, and howler monkeys hiding in the foliage. There are some animals which stick in the mind and which you’ll remember for a lifetime, though. We have compiled five of the weirdest animals to be found in this tropical nation. See if you can spot these beauties during your stay at Shaka.
Preparing for a trip to Costa Rica? Here’s some great reasons not to forget your camera!
The kinkajou is perhaps the shyest animal on this list. It’s found in the middle of Costa Rica’s jungles, usually in the darkness and out of sight of the sun. Believe it or not, it actually hates the sun and tends to hide beneath tree branches to stay out of its gaze. It won’t leave until it’s dark and safe. The tail is longer than its body. It uses it to climb trees and find food. If you find one, get the camera out quickly and stay as quiet as possible.
You can tell you’ve found an agouti by its size. It’s just larger than a guinea pig and you’ll find it in the picturesque Nicoya Peninsula. They used to be quite common, but they’ve since become quite rare as wild animals, which are being conserved more, use them as prey. They’re easily frightened and tend to hide in the forests. You’ll likely hear it before you see it as it has a very high pitched bark it uses to startle predators.
The blue morpho is one of the most famous animals in Costa Rica. This butterfly has a large wingspan of up to 20 centimetres. It’s beautiful neon coloured wings. The royal blue makes it noticeable from a distance. At one time, hunters killed them and used their wings for making jewellery.
You can tell a male from a female by looking at the wings. The males have little ridges which make the wings look metallic. This look happens due to the way the ridges reflect sunlight.
Rosy Lipped Bat Fish
The rosy lipped bat fish is the cousin of the red lipped bat fish found in the Galapagos. It’s found near Cocos Island under the water. You’ll only see these if you go on a diving trip. Despite their harmlessness to humans, they’re actually some of the most feared predators for smaller fish.
They’re found deep in the ocean and have evolved to the point where their fins help them to stick to the ground so they can jump up and attack their targets before they have a chance to react.
This strange cross between a crab and a large scorpion is something of an anomaly. It looks threatening but it’s completely harmless. It’s unique because both males and females tend to die soon after breeding. You can usually find them clinging to leaves in the trees all over the country.
The Nicoya Peninsula is one of the most important tourist destinations in Costa Rica. Of all the tourist destinations in Costa Rica, this is probably the favourite for visitors who prefer to explore the hidden underbelly of this country. If you’re planning on visiting this part of the country, here are some interesting facts.
The Nicoya Peninsula has been a point of contention over the years. Up until the 19th century, it was under Spanish rule, along with the rest of Central America. Originally, it was part of Nicaragua. In 1824 it voted to secede from the country and join Costa Rica. It’s still a hot topic of discussion today.
Why Less Travelled?
When people witness the natural beauty of this region, they often wonder why more people don’t come here. It’s simple. Up until recently, the Costa Rican government in San Jose didn’t see the area as a priority. As a result, they didn’t bother upgrading the roads or improving the infrastructure in the area.
It’s one of the few major holiday destinations which has been left almost completely untouched. Its virgin beauty is why you often find hippie beach towns in this part of the world.
It’s not just a favourite place for tourists to visit. A lot of people choose to live here. It’s located on the pristine Costa Rican Pacific Coast where it sits on a transitional zone. This transitional zone is a cross between the tropical zone towards the south of the country and the more barren Northern Guancaste area to the north.
World bodies have declared the Nicoya Peninsula one of four world blue zones. A blue zone is where people can live for over one hundred years without any major complaints. It’s partly due to the lifestyle and partly due to the pleasurable living conditions.
There are three ways to visit the Peninsula. You can travel from Puntarenas via ferry and arrive in Naranjo or Paquera. You can travel from Liberia and enter from the north by crossing the Tempisque Bridge. Alternatively, fly into Tambor or Nosara Airport using one of the daily flights.
There are too many different attractions here, so these are the main things you’ll discover in the Nicoya Peninsula:
- Almost 80 miles of beach along the Pacific Coast.
- Near permanent sunshine.
- A diverse eco system.
- Plenty of resorts and lots of activities, such as yoga and surfing, for guests.
- National parks and nature reserves preserving some of the rarest animals in the world.
It’s clear why this is one of the best tourist destinations in Costa Rica to visit. It’s constantly becoming more developed. You’ll find high-speed WiFi in a lot of towns and places like Montezuma have growing expat communities. Come and visit the Nicoya Peninsula and experience the sights and sounds it has to offer. We’d love to hear from you, stop by and say hi on Facebook, or Contact us for more information.
Come to Costa Rica and this is the first question most people ask when they attend their first Spanish lesson. When you’re not splashing about in the water at our surf retreat or enjoying a relaxing massage, you might be sitting on a beach learning to speak the language of this Central American paradise.
You know it’s important and fun to learn a new language, but you still have some butterflies floating around in the pit of your stomach. We have everything you need to know about learning Spanish at our surf camp, though.
Every language has a certain level of difficulty. You’ll find a lot of websites which attempt to rank languages in order of difficulty. Whilst we won’t discuss the various drawbacks of such ranking systems, the consensus is Spanish is one of the ideal languages to learn for novice language learners.
There are a minimal number of tenses and pronouncing the words is simple for an English speaker. The most difficult part is learning to roll some of the words off your tongue.
This is why we always get people at our surf camp who claim they can’t speak a word and within a few sessions they’re forming coherent sentences.
Languages are difficult mainly because of the various tenses and conjugations. In the case of the Oriental languages, you’ll also have to deal with difficult symbols on top of this. Spanish is easier to learn than English. One of the reasons why people find it so hard is due to their own fears of failure.
It’s no secret the US and the UK rarely put much stock in learning languages. Once you leave school, these language skills tend to fade away. Be confident in your abilities and you’ll find learning Spanish enjoyable.
If you’re going to try learning from a textbook without any immersion, you will find it difficult. It’s tough to stay motivated in this sort of environment. At our surf retreat, we seek to immerse you in the language. For a start, you’re in Costa Rica where the national language is Spanish.
During your excursions, you’ll encounter local people who speak fluent Spanish and English. Try your skills on them and get acquainted with the language in the real world.
It’s still important to use textbooks and so-called traditional learning materials, but they shouldn’t be the only things you use. Studies have shown students who’re immersed and integrated into a language will learn it much faster than someone who has no real world contact with it.
Learning a language should be fun. You’re on holiday in a delightful corner of the world and there’s no time for boredom. Boredom is when learning Spanish becomes hard because you don’t really want to be there. At the Shaka surf camp, we introduce games, fun conversations, and things which are actually beneficial to you.
In some cases, visitors to our surf camp have even sat under a thatched roof with a Spanish notebook and a cold beer in their hands. Now that’s the best way to learn to speak a new language!
Contact us for help organizing your Costa Rica surf camp adventure.
Costa Rica has a reputation for being one of the prime surfing spots in the world today. Only Hawaii and Australia can realistically compete with the diversity and beauty of this exotic destination. For new surfers, or those who have only surfed domestically, they often wonder what all the fuss is about and why people keep coming back to this Central American country year after year.
We answer why staying at a surf school in Costa Rica is such a fantastic way to enjoy the sport you love.
Surfing Surfing Everywhere
Costa Rica is almost entirely a coastal nation. If you trace the entire coastline of the country, it’s longer than both the land length and width. It borders the two largest oceans in the world (the Atlantic and Pacific), which allows for so many options in when and where you surf. If you think a beach is too full, it’s not a problem because you can easily find another one.
Many of these beaches are also deserted, so you can have the waves to yourself.
If you learn to surf in Costa Rica you’ll be struck by how many sorts of waves and surfers there are. You can find people like you who are tackling their first waves. You can also find people who’re surfing along huge waves with massive amounts of power. Many of these areas are mere minutes away from each other.
It’s what’s led many surfers to make permanent homes here. You’ll find lots of these enthusiasts in hippie towns like Montezuma on the Nicoya Peninsula.
Bring the Family
Bring the whole family along with you. It caters to a family surf vacation just like it caters to backpackers traversing the various forests and jungle rivers. It’s a country which is safe and where everyone is welcomed. Not many people know Costa Rica’s main problem with crime is pickpocketing. Murder and other violent crimes are almost unheard of outside of the major cities.
You won’t have any problems finding a surf school in Costa Rica. Wherever there’s a popular surfing location you’ll find a camp nearby. Some will teach you some new moves, whereas others just offer a place for you to stay before you head out again. It’s this diversity which makes it a surfing destination for everyone.
Stay at our surf camp. We know how important a family surf vacation is and can teach even the most inexperienced surf lover how to start riding the waves through professional and qualified tutors.
Costa Rica has developed a surfing culture outside of the major cities. You’ll find surf shops in almost every small town because of the immense number of people who visit each year. You’ll find beach bars, surfing experts, and Costa Ricans who just love to surf with a smile and an utterance of ‘Pura Vida’.
Whilst you learn to surf here at Shaka, you’ll become immersed in one of the biggest and brightest surfing cultures in the world.
Costa Rica is an exotic nation in Central America. It’s bordered by both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, with only a 50-mile gap between the two at its widest point. It’s a hotbed for volunteering. If you don’t want to have the conventional surf and yoga holiday and want something a bit different, consider volunteering. There are so many things you can get involved with.
What Can I Do?
Costa Rica is a diverse nation with lots of things to do. This makes it one of the richest places for volunteering. You can join up with a wildlife sanctuary and care for the animals, teach English, or even work in a beachfront bar. As long as you can prove you’ll be an asset, there’s no reason why you can’t volunteer to fund your surf vacation.
Here at Shaka Beach resort we offer two choices for volunteers, you can choose to get involved as an adaptive camp volunteer, or become a live in assistant. Click here for further details on our volunteer programs.
The first port of call for finding volunteering opportunities is Google. Type in ‘volunteering Costa Rica’ and you’ll soon find hundreds of organisations offering some sort of volunteering role. Generally, it’s best to stick with the larger companies for your own safety. Costa Rica is one of the safest holiday destinations in the world, but this is no excuse for letting your guard down, especially if travelling alone.
The Central Valley
The Central Valley provides an ideal place to volunteer. You’re never far from the beaches and you can feel good about bringing real positive change. The San Ramon-based Community Action Alliance runs things here. It’s a joint venture between Costa Ricans and foreigners, so expect lots of form filling and waivers.
Participants teach English, host job fairs, promote economic development, and run little sales to raise money for local charities and for the poorest in the community. In short, you could be doing something entirely different each day. It depends on what tasks are available at the time.
If you can’t afford to stay in a gorgeous surf retreat on the southern Caribbean coast, all is not lost. On this coast there are two main animal rescue centres in desperate need of volunteers. The Sloth Sanctuary protects injured two and three-toed sloths, whereas the Jaguar Rescue Center protects animals ranging from big cats to howler monkeys and parrots.
The Osa Peninsula
The Osa Peninsula is on the southern Pacific coast and organisations here protect the endangered marine life of Costa Rica. The Osa Conservation Group is one of the main ones and actively defends Pacific Green and Olive Ridley turtles from harm. You don’t necessarily have to be a strong swimmer to volunteer here.
How Much Does it Cost?
Fees vary depending on where you’re volunteering. Some will ask you pay for everything from accommodation to food and travel. Others will supply you with basic accommodation and some foods. If you’re lucky enough, you might even nab one of those volunteer roles where the organisation pays for everything apart from your flights.
Most volunteer roles last anywhere from a few days to a few months. If you want to stay for longer, you should set up multiple volunteer positions before you go. You’ll struggle if you just intend on showing up and hoping they’ll accept you.
Contact us for more details on our volunteer programs.
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