The large mountains of the Cordillera de Talamanca and the volcanic peaks of the Cordillera Central essentially split Costa Rica in two with the Pacific on one side and the Caribbean on the other. In recent years the Pacific side of Costa Rica especially the fashionable beach area of Tamarindo has seen the majority of investment, development and tourist activity. The Caribbean side or as it is sometimes called, ‘the other Costa Rica’ is extremely different in terms of culture, history, climate and activities however, this region can be wrongly overlooked by tourists visiting Costa Rica.
The vibrant Caribbean Coastline
As successive waves of immigrants came to the Costa Rican Caribbean coast from Panama, China, Jamaica and more recently, Europe and North America, this part of the country is by far its most ethnically diverse. The influence from the melting pot of the population has brought with it a lively, energetic and rich culture which is one of the most attractive elements of the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. With the beautiful and vibrant jungle meeting the sea separated only by the stretches of pristine sandy beaches, the Caribbean coastline certainly does not disappoint. More than a quarter of the coast that runs from the border with Nicaragua to the Panamanian border is protected and includes Costa Rica’s last living coral reefs. Although this is the wettest part of Costa Rica, the rain results in a lively and dynamic ecosystem with the river-crossed wetlands in the north of the Caribbean coast and the lush rain forest in the South.
The province of Limón that hugs the Caribbean coastline is full of exotic nature reserves and beckons adventurous travelers looking to discover the ‘real’ Costa Rica and it’s often overlooked beauty and wildlife. Limón’s diversity can be seen in the popular and renowned surfing town of Puerto Viejo and to the north of the province the colorful town and fascinating National Park of Tortuguero. One of the wettest areas of Costa Rica, Tortuguero has an annual rainfall of up to 250 inches and if searching for a word to describe its dryness, at best the word ‘humid’ could be loosely used. The wet season runs from mid-December to May with January and February being the wettest months of the year. Although it rains throughout the year, the driest months are usually September and October where the area experiences weeklong periods without rain. However, it is this wet and humid climate that makes this area extremely beautiful, green all year round and is home to some of Costa Rica’s most ecologically diverse parks. This laid-back coastal village offers a relaxed atmosphere typical of any Caribbean town and has a notable Caribbean inspired cuisine that offers all the delicious and exotic flavors.
Tortuguero and the Caribbean Coast
Covering 311 square kilometers on land and a further 5200 square kilometers of marine habitat, this protected area is one of the highlights in the whole of Costa Rica. The Tortuguero National park is one of the most diverse parks boasting high rainforests home to sloths and monkeys as well as, marshlands and wide canals perfect for crocodile spotting. The long stretches of Caribbean beaches also make Tortuguero one of the most important turtle breeding grounds in the world. As its name suggests, Tortuguero, which can be translated to the ‘Land of Turtles’, attracts four of the world’s eight species of sea turtle. When visiting the area during turtle season (July-September), you will be fortunate enough to see green sea turtles, leatherback turtles, hawksbill turtles and loggerhead turtles in their natural habitat. One of the biggest attractions to Tortuguero is to visit the nesting beaches at night with a guide to watch the turtles lay their eggs or if you are lucky enough, see the eggs hatch. Due to its diverse environment, Tortuguero also has a wide range of other activities such as exploring the various canals where you’ll be able to spot caimans, exotic birds and crocodiles. The National Park also has a number of trails which are great for wildlife and bird watching.
The Caribbean side of Costa Rica, although less developed, less touristy the bustling village of Tortuguero and the Tortuguero National Park offers an exciting, exotic and authentic experience in Costa Rica. When looking to plan your vacation in Costa Rica, make sure not to overlook the ‘other side of Costa Rica’.