Tourists are loving Costa Rica to death. Smaller than South Carolina by more than 10,000 square miles, millions of people come here each year from all of over the world to experience what Lonely Planet supposes, “If marketing experts could draw up an ideal destination, Costa Rica might be it.” One of the world’s most biodiverse countries, Costa Rica is increasingly overwhelmed by so many visitors. However, tourism is its #1 moneymaker.
Costa Rica has 28 national parks, and 3 of them are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Parque Nacional Corcovado, according to costaricaexperts.com, is one of the most biologically intense places on earth. When the 2018 Lonely Planet lists this country’s Top 21 things to do, it ranks Corcovado #4. Only one other national park gets a higher rating, Parque Nacional Tortuguero, #2. Ruth and I were determined to see this turtle haven on the Caribbean Sea, and it took us a day to travel there from San José and back. It was magical. Our host was Al, or at least that’s what he asked us to call him. A devoted Costa Rican (locals call each other Ticos), Al loves Tortuguero and now only goes there as a guide. On the way to it, Al was a sensational host and the trip was as interesting as the park. Returning, Al slept most of the way. This didn’t surprise me because we had stopped to see sloths, Chinese bamboo, the poor man’s umbrella, etc. A poor man’s umbrella is a giant leaf that people traveling with coffee wagons to the capital used to cover their heads with to avoid too much sun.
Because San José has a high altitude, our day began with Cassava Chips, which Al passed out, and a coffee plantation that we did not see. Our first stop was to observe Costa Rico’s micro-climate in Parque Nacional Braulio Carillo, which has several rainforest adventures available. From a high vantage point, we were able to see this cloudy, seasonally cold environment and take photos. 25% of this country has been set aside for environmental protection and restriction. Soon we were passing through a tunnel under the Continental Divide and entering the flat plains that take travelers to the Caribbean. We journeyed through 3 provinces to get to Tortuguero.
Once we got to the coastal flatlands covered by many banana plantations, a lot of Al’s patter was about the Chinese, which are in the process of investing lots of money in Costa Rica’s economy. Al said that the busses without license plates were Chinese, that they like to gather and eat local dogs, and he mentioned that a lot of land we were seeing was now covered with cattle whose destiny was shipment to China. A lot of the land along the coast was also home to many pygmy coconut trees. Al stopped often to gather and show us bamboo orchids, bring us papayas from a huge plantation while giving us a papaya shake recipe, bring us cocoa seeds to suck on, etc. The landscape was increasingly populated with small homes for plantation workers and ramshackle buildings that needed demolition all the way to Tortuguero.
ps Returning to San José, Al showed us the new, giant soccer stadium that has been built with Chinese labor and materials for its 2nd biggest trading partner after the USA. A game was in progress and the stadium was filled because soccer is like the national religion of Costa Rica.
pps Ruth’s favorite demonstration was the banana pod in the first picture above.