Costa Rica: Back To Nature

Sloth, between trees.

If the intensity of cycling through northern Central America has left you feeling a little on edge, Costa Rica is where you can relax again. You feel the calm returning the moment you cross the border.

Detractors criticize Costa Rica for its lack of pre-Colombian culture and surplus of tourists. They cite real estate signs written in English and shops that stock North American goods. They may be right, but really, this is travel snobbery; backpackers trying to distinguish themselves for having “survived” the real Central America.

As a cyclist, you’ll simply appreciate Costa Rica’s excess of natural beauty and absence of chaos.

The Resplendent Quetzal, with its iridescent green feathers may be the national bird of Guatemala, but Costa Rica is where I finally saw a Quetzal in the wild. Costa Rica is the only place I’ve seen a sloth on the ground, creeping to a new tree; a very vulnerable time for this painfully slow creature. Iguanas, anteaters, howler monkeys, tree frogs – animals found throughout Central America, but much easier to encounter in Costa Rica.

Costa Rica will seem a bit expensive if you’ve been riding south through Central America. On my second tour, however, I discovered something that saved me a lot of money on accommodation. I’d just arrived in La Cruz from Nicaragua, when a friendly off-duty bombero (fireman) told me that bicycle travellers could stay at fire halls for free anywhere in the country.

Staying with the bomberos in Liberia.

What an amazing tip! Not only do they put you up at the firehall, but they’ll also feed you and let you use the shower and give you somewhere to wash your clothes, your gear, your bike; anything you need.

Riding in and around the capital, San José, is the only slightly problematic area in Costa Rica. If you can, ride these streets in the early morning before the congestion and mayhem begins. In fact, you’d be forgiven for skipping San José altogether as it contains little of interest for travellers.

If you decide to ride the Pan-American Highway south of San José, you’ll find yourself riding an infamous section known as “Cerro de la Muerte” (Hill of Death), so named for the frequency and severity of traffic accidents that occur there. When I last rode this section, a dense fog had increased the carnage and eventually I decided it was safer to hitch a ride on a truck until the road became less dangerous. When the fog lifted, however, the views revealed a very lush and beautiful part of the country.


Official Name: La República de Costa Rica

Area: 51,100 km² (19,730 sq. mi.)

Population: 4.5 million

Capital: San Jose

National Official Language: Spanish

Other Languages: Bribri, Limón Creole English

Currency: colón (CRC)

Highest point: Cerro Chirripó 3,819 m (12,530 ft.)

Lowest point: Pacific Ocean 0 m


Puerto Viejo, on Costa Rica's Caribbean coast.


Feature image (top of page): La Cruz, not far from the Nicaraguan border.


© El Pedalero, 2012.



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