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Lysa Allman-Baldwin and friend on a Costa Rica beach with dramatic rock formations




by Lysa Allman-Badwin of SoulOfAmerica

Costa Rica is, without question, one of the most stunningly beautiful countries in the world.

Situated in Central America between Nicaragua to the north, Panama to the south, the Pacific Ocean to the west, and the Caribbean Sea to the east, the population is approximately 4.7 million people. With a land area encompassing 20,000 square miles that make it roughly the size of Vermont and New Hampshire combined.

Getting here is fast and easy - only a short 3-1/2 hour plane ride from Houston, five hours from New York City, six hours from Los Angeles, and seven hours from Seattle. And visitors come from all over the world.

Costa Rica’s greatest national treasure is its plethora of natural diversity, most of it found in its national parks, biological reserves and wildlife refuges. In fact, Costa Rica boasts two distinct coastal regions, three major mountain ranges, dense rainforests and 12 micro-climates from the sea, to the lowlands, to the mountains.

Family of monkeys relaxing in a wildlife refuge

Although Costa Rica lies in close proximity to the equator where it would generally be classified as having tropical weather, its distinctive micro-climates cover the gamut from hot and humid, to cool and breezy, to misty and foggy. And then there’s the rain—“wet” at 100 inches of annual rainfall, and “super wet” with 25 feet of annual rainfall. Yet despite these extremes, the hottest hot hovers around 85 degrees and the lows dropping to only about 55 degrees.

So it’s no wonder that this inimitable, mystical, beautiful landscape is home to 500-plus species of flora and fauna, 10,000 species of plants and trees, an estimated 3.5 percent of the world’s marine life, and almost five percent of the world’s biodiversity.

You Can See the Forest … and the Trees

The dense forests found in Costa Rica are primarily classified into three groups—Rainforests, Cloud Forests and Tropical Dry Forests.

The Rainforests are located in the lowland regions not far above sea level and where it is generally warmer. Cloud Forests are found in the high elevations, typically above 5,000 feet, where, yes, there are lots of clouds due to the cooler mountain temperatures, but still a very humid climate.

Tropical dry forests are also found in lowland regions, however these areas are subject to long periods of low precipitation and moisture and are not as green as their sister forests. In fact, you will find that most of the trees here are deciduous, and a plethora of exotic grasses suitable for this type of climate.

Costa Rica is also home to several Humid-Tropical Forests – those sandwiched between the mountain ranges and the plains which take on the characteristics of both of its “bookends.”

In each, the topography, amount of rainfall, waterways, plant life, and other factors all play into what type of forests they have become over time and how they flourish today.

Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio includes a popular beach

Located in the Puntarenas region on the western side of the country bordering the Pacific Ocean, Manuel Antonio National Park is one of the smallest, yet one of the most highly visited national parks in Costa Rica. The park possesses a vast diversity of wildlife including sloths, bats, iguanas, squirrel monkeys, crabs, and other distinctive animals and insects, unique natural habitats, breathtaking beaches and lush rainforest canopies, that together make it one of the most beautiful and bio-diverse places in the world.

The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, located 140 miles northwest of the capital of San José, is widely recognized as the home, and one of the few remaining habits, of all six species of the cat family: pumas, jaguars, jaguarondis, margays, ocelots and oncillas. Perched atop the Continental Divide and possessing an amazing eight life zones, its spans over 35,000 acres with some 1,200 amphibian and reptile species, 100 mammal species and 400 bird species.

Then there’s Corcovado National Park in the southwestern region of the country on the Oso Peninsula. As one of Costa Rica's most remote parks, access is only by boat, light aircraft, horseback or on foot – no interior roads! Yet thousands of people a year are drawn to this little over 165 square mile area with more than 13 distinct types of vegetation, and an unbelievable assortment of animal species which National Geographic reportedly called "the most biologically intense place on the planet."

Surprisingly, the best way to explore Tortuguero National Park (tortuguero means turtle catcher”) on the northeast side of Costa Rica is via boat—where the confluence of freshwater and that of the Caribbean Sea have created a plethora of fascinating lagoons, beaches, wetlands and canals. It is here that people come in droves to witness the nesting (and if you’re lucky, the hatching) of the Green Sea, Hawksbill and Leatherback turtles which takes place all along the beach areas.

Enjoying the beach in Costa Rica

Costa Rica’s Biological Reserve is home to four types of forest due, to its location between the dry and humid areas of the Pacific Coast, where the topography encompasses rivers, limestone rocks and rolling terrain. In addition to possessing close to 750 plant species, the primary “denizens” here are an estimated 300 macaws, many saved here from extinction. And it’s probably a good thing that they live in the trees, because down below some of the waterways are populated with massive crocodiles that make their home here.

Natural Beauty at Every Turn

This is just the beginning of the wealth of parks, reserves and refuges dotted all around Costa Rica. Each of these jewels has survived so well, in large part because of their natural characteristics. But equally, if not more credit should be bestowed upon the Costa Rican people’s steadfast efforts to maintain and preserve these national treasures for generations to follow. This passionate undertaking has earned Costa Rica a well-deserved distinction as one of global the leaders in eco- and wildlife preservation and sustainable tourism initiatives.

Lysa's tour guide



Parador Resort & Spa

A wonderful host for my trip


Carara’s Biological Reserve

Corcovado National Park

Costa Rica Tourism Board
PHONE: 011-506-2299-5800

Go Visit Costa Rica
PHONE: 800-807-6475, 858-581-9209

Manuel Antonio National Park

Monteverde Cloud Forest


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