Many of you moved to Florida seeking a warm place in the tropics. Our state meets that description, most of the time. But when I woke up Monday morning to 42 degrees, I couldn’t help but think of someplace else that is warm and tropical all the time — one of the few other places in this world where I could see myself someday putting down roots.
I have visited Costa Rica nearly a dozen times, and I plan to go back again every year if I can swing it. With so many cool places on our little planet where I could go, why that one tiny country in Central America? Well, there are lots of reasons. It’s got everything I’m passionate about.
Most of Costa Rica is jungle, with dense growth and lots of life. The plant life alone is enough to blow me away. Enormous trees with buttressed roots as high as a three-story building. Bizarre flowers in every color, and strange fruits that seem to be drawn by Dr. Seuss. Orchids, philodendrons, ten thousand more that I don’t know the names of, all in riotous growth.
But then there are the animals. Waking up to the sound of howler monkeys calling through the trees is pretty cool. There are sloths, gemlike poison dart frogs (don’t touch!), an incredible variety of snakes (a negative for many, but a huge positive in my book), toucans, macaws, jaguars (which you won’t see, but they’re there), and many other iconic species.
Even in the hotel gardens, there’s enough wildlife that you could film a documentary. But actually going out in to the wilds is just incredible. You can just dip a toe with a short guided trip, or you can go all out and explore on your own for days or weeks.
There are a lot of opportunities here, but not a lot happens from land. Guided boat trips are the usual situation, and some lodges specialize in catering to anglers. If you’re not going to one of those, your hotel will probably be able to set you up with fishing guides. Billfish and mahi are caught year-round on the Pacific coast, but abundance is somewhat seasonal. Roosterfish and sailfish are available all year. On the Caribbean coast, the rainy season puts a damper on things due to heavy river flow, but the tarpon and snook fishing is legendary. They have black snook here, which are larger than our common snook and can reach more than 50 pounds.
It’s the tropics, so the baseline is warm and humid. But it’s also a mountainous country, so you can go up in elevation and find cooler weather. Cloud forest is cool and moist, with highs around 80 and lows in the mid 60s. At sea level, it’s a lot more like a Florida summer, including the 90 percent humidity. The rainy season is about June to November on the Pacific side and November to June on the Caribbean side. The weirdest thing is dawn and dusk. Both are very short, almost like someone flipping a switch: On at 5:30 a.m., off at 5:30 p.m. Year round.
Every place has good people and jerks. It’s the ratio that makes the difference. Too many jerks ruin it. In Costa Rica, I’ve found that most of the people I meet are pretty cool. Their economy is a little like ours here in Florida in that it’s based largely on tourism, so service is a major industry. When I compare how genuine and how helpful folks are there with how they act here— well, really, there is no comparison.
Here I’m surprised when I run across “service staff” that are cheerful and don’t seem resentful of having to do their jobs. There, it’s the normal situation. I get that everybody has a bad day now and then, no matter what country they live in. But being in the service industry myself, I know that you have to push that down and help your customers to the best of your ability and with a smile on your face.
Even on the street, when the veneer of paid friendliness comes down, there’s still a general good-natured aura. Sure, in the bigger cities, there are the usual dangers — muggers and pickpockets can be problems. But smaller towns and villages seem a little like Mayberry brought to life, if Opie had been named Carlos and spoke Spanish.
Speaking of the language gap — because English is my only language and most people there speak little of that — I’ve found them to be very patient with me. They’ve even gone so far as to go grab a friend who speaks some English to help out. In larger cities, finding English speakers is easier. But if you speak at least some Spanish, you’ll be better off.
Americans aren’t welcome in a lot of countries, and there are many that are dangerous due to unstable political conditions. Costa Rica is pretty safe, though. They seem happy to see us and our dollars. On the northern border with Nicaragua, hinky things can happen. Nicaragua is in political turmoil, and military patrols sometimes cross the border. But it’s easy to avoid the questionable areas, and folks will tell you where to not go. Police here are professional and I have never felt unsafe when stopped, which happens frequently due to checkpoints. Bribes are not needed, which is not true in some other countries.
Not all beer and skittles
Costa Rica does not have some of the conveniences that we take for granted. Next-day Amazon deliveries? Not gonna happen (actually, forget about Amazon completely). Air-conditioning? In some places, but certainly not everywhere. Petty thefts are common, so lock your stuff up. Some brands are unobtainable. If you drink Coke, you’re fine. Mountain Dew, you’re out of luck. Restrooms can be … crude. Hot water is a luxury.
Travel is difficult, as many roads are very rough. Some smaller roads are really just jungle tracks, and even main thoroughfares are often iffy. Many of your fellow drivers appear to have gotten their driver’s licenses from Cracker Jack boxes (which is weird, since there’s no Cracker Jacks).
And yet, despite these minor problems, I could still see myself living in Costa Rica. The positives outweigh the negatives by far. It’s a country that’s easy to fall in love with, it’s relatively affordable, and it’s just a 2.5-hour flight away. If you’re looking to escape our tropical paradise for a tropical paradise vacation, give it a try.
Robert Lugiewicz is the manager of Fishin’ Frank’s Bait & Tackle, located at 4425-D Tamiami Trail in Charlotte Harbor. Call 941-625-3888 for more information about the shop or for local fishing info, or visit them online at FishinFranks.com.