Costa Rica's natural beauty and accessibility appeal to a broad range of visitors. Some are "soft adventure" types looking to explore the wildlife reserves within the country's extensive system of national parks. The beaches might also be the stomping ground of more serious adventurers on a mission to surf some of North Americas best waters. Whichever type you are, and whether you visit the tropical jungles of the Caribbean coast or the modern cities of the Central Valley, or both, it's apparent that from nearly every angle the country is downright gorgeous.
The strife that rocked Central America during much of the past two decades painted a less-than-rosy picture of the area in the minds of most North Americans and Europeans. In the midst of political unrest, Costa Rica managed to remain an island of stability and peace. The country has no army -- it was abolished in 1949. Costa Rica is also the region's most sturdy democracy, and the country has a deep-rooted respect for human rights. Ticos -- or Costa Ricans -- love to quote oft-repeated expressions about the country's achievements, such as "Costa Rica has more teachers than policemen" and "Why have tractors without violins?," among others. In education, Costa Rica ranks with many developed countries (the literacy rate is about 93%). Its telecommunications system, although quirky by North American standards, is probably the best in the region, as is its health-care system.
The country's most impressive quality, however, is its biological diversity, seen in the variety of flora, fauna, landscapes, and microclimates. National parks and preserves cover about 15% of the country and are home to 850 species of birds, 205 species of mammals, 376 types of reptiles and amphibians, and more than 9,000 different species of flowering plants, among them 1,200 varieties of orchids. Landscapes include cool mountain valleys and massive volcanoes, hilly coffee fincas (farms) and flat banana groves, and sultry mangrove forests and palm-strewn beaches.
The many rivers that wind down the country's valleys churn through steep stretches that are popular white-water-rafting routes, and some end up as languid jungle waterways appropriate for both animal-watching and sportfishing. With mile upon mile of beaches backdropped by coconut palms and thick forest, the Caribbean and Pacific coasts are ideal for swimming and sunbathing, and when the sun goes down, many beaches are visited by nesting sea turtles. The oceans that hug those coasts hold intricate coral formations, rugged islands, colorful schools of fish, and plentiful waves, enticing anglers, surfers, and sea kayakers. What more could you want?
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