Living the Pure Life in Costa Rica
By Julie Bruce
The name Costa Rica conjures images of cloud forests and white beaches; its climate has been named the world’s best by National Geographic and it lays claim to 5% of the world’s biodiversity while having only 0.3% of the world’s landmass. In short, it is very close to paradise on Earth in terms of its natural splendors. Costa Rica disbanded its military in the 1960s and has enjoyed relative peace and prosperity since. While neighboring Nicaragua is the second poorest country in the western hemisphere behind Haiti, Costa Ricans live a life comparable in comfort to many residents of the US. All of this combined means that Costa Rica is an oasis of calm in an otherwise unsettled part of the world. The Costa Ricans are proud hosts, though if you compliment their beautiful country you are likely to get a fairly enigmatic response - pura vida. Pura vida - pure life - is a true mantra for the way of life in Costa Rica, the concept is deep-rooted in the country’s psyche, as a greeting, a stand-in for goodbye, and an acknowledgement of thanks. With many companies offering the ability to rent a Costa Rica vacation house in some characterful corner of the country, there’s really no excuse not to make the trip and sample your own taste of pura vida.
Many people find themselves visiting Costa Rica as part of a cruise - its wealth of wildlife and astonishingly beautiful countryside makes it a must-see for most good-quality cruise operators. If this is how you first come to Costa Rica then consider extending your stay by renting a house to really sink into the local culture and see a side of Costs Rican life that not every tourist gets to see. Costs Ricans are proud of their slice of paradise and are very welcoming to guests. Be ready to slow down and relax - don’t be put off if your local host views an appointment as more of a ballpark suggestion for when to meet - the pace of life is slower here than you may be used to. Costa Ricans are friendly, but also be aware that personal space is slightly less acknowledged than in the US or Europe! The upside of this friendliness is that it’s a rare occurrence for travelers of any sex, race, or creed to experience prejudice in Costa Rica. With such a large ex-pat population and close links with the US Government, Americans in particular are sure to find Costa Rica a tropical home from home.
With a lack of conflict, long life expectancy, and a relatively strong economy, Costa Ricans enjoy the highest standards of living in Central America. Like many countries in Latin America, family life is very dominant, and a positive force in daily life. Families socialize together and extended families live near-by. Celebrations, vacations, and weddings are all opportunities for vibrant parties to keep social bonds close, and family members often turn to one another for help. Perhaps these close-knit bonds are the reason life expectancy is so exceptional in Costa Rica, where people are more likely to die of heart disease or cancer than of childhood diseases that trouble other developing nations. Costa Rica benefits from social health-care, proper sanitation (though the plumbing does often consist of alarmingly narrow pipes which unwary tourists frequently block), a good infrastructure, and easy access to a healthy diet - these are all key ingredients to a stress-free puravida.
Costa Rica also stands out among its neighbors for its progressive stance on women’s issues with strict laws ensuring the proper treatment of women, as well as having many female politicians; Costa Rica has had a female president since 2010.
All of this is to say that, aside from the tropical and verdant images of Costa Rica famous the world over and dreamed about by innumerable commuters, the Costa Rica that waits for you to explore is a progressive, positive, exciting, and forward-thinking place to visit. You’ll be welcomed warmly, and surely will find the local way of life attractive. So rent a place for a week or two, and settle in. You might find yourself returning the following year with a view to buying a coffee plantation!
Costa Rica, A Country Like No Other
By Elvio Bettencourt Rodrigues
There is a country in the heart of Central America where we can enjoy the real beauty of our planet. Costa Rica is considered to be one of the best travel destinations in the world. There are certainly many reasons why people choose Costa Rica as a perfect place to go on vacation year after year.
What makes it so special? It is a country rich in natural surroundings. Its breathtaking landscapes, the wonderful crystal blue water off the beaches on the Caribbean coast, as well as the Pacific, and its friendly people make Costa Rica a unique country.
Meanwhile, this paradise in Central America has much more to offer to its visitors. Every day is an adventure. There are several national parks, such as Manuel Antonio, and protected areas where people can observe and feel the nature as it is. Across the country, it is plain to see that Costa Rica is also one of the countries with the highest concentration of biodiversity in the word.
While enjoying the beauty of natural treasures, there are many other activities in which Costa Rica travelers can participate. Volcano watching, hiking in the rainforest, golfing, and water sports are some of them. In addition, people can soak in fantastic hot springs, or enjoy a relaxing massage on the beach. Costa Rica has a large number of spas and health clubs.
After the sun sets, there are amazing sites--such as Jaco Beach, Tamarindo, and Escazu--for entertainment with dozens of bars and live music. The capital city San José is one of the best cities for fun with casinos, discos, plenty of bars, and mariachi bands. In this marvelous city can also be found refined restaurants with specialized gourmet food from around the world, where you can enjoy a meal in a stunning environment.
Getting to Costa Rica couldn’t be easier, Juan Santamaria international airport, near San Jose, receives flights from all over the world. However, if you prefer going by yacht, the world-class marina at Los Suenos Resort will receive you. Amenities there include many restaurants, Cuban cigar shop, fine French bakery, casino, two spas, championship golf course, Marriott Hotel, as well as private villas and condominiums to rent for your stay.
For an unforgettable vacation, this wonderland offers luxurious accommodations and personal services. Mead Brown is a renowned full-service vacation rentals, which can supply all you need for a luxury vacation. Recognized by Condé Nast Traveler magazine as the only villa rental specialist in Costa Rica, Mead Brown has a range of superb villas, condominiums and sophisticated services to offer its guests an exceptional vacation.
This gorgeous country has everything to give you a unique and luxury experience. Feel the nature around you, enjoy Costa Rica!
Vacation Rental Stays on the Rise in 2012
TripAdvisor announced the results of its third annual vacation rentals survey of more than 1,200 U.S. TripAdvisor travelers, revealing an increased interest in rental properties this year. According to the survey, 46 percent of respondents are planning a vacation rental stay in 2012, while 40 percent said they stayed in one last year.
More Vacation for Less Money
Travelers say the chance to save money makes vacation rentals especially appealing. According to the survey, 82 percent of respondents said they'd book a last-minute rental stay if they found a great deal. Additionally, 85 percent said they'd choose a vacation rental over a hotel if it meant saving money.
It's All About Space
One in four respondents say that having more space is the main draw of vacation rentals. In addition, one in five say vacation rentals offer a better vacation experience, while almost one in five (19 percent) like having access to a full kitchen in a vacation rental.
Vacation Rentals vs. Hotels: Biggest Benefits
Travelers say vacation rentals have benefits the hotels can't always match. Nearly one in three respondents (32 percent) like the greater amount of privacy a vacation rental affords. More than one in four (27 percent) say it's easier to spend time with family and friends in a vacation rental. And one in five say a vacation rental just feels more like home.
Top 3 Vacations for Renting a Home
What types of vacations are best suited to a vacation rental? Travelers list family vacations first (87 percent of respondents), followed by mountain getaways (80 percent) and beach vacations (73 percent).
Hottest Rental Regions and Seasons for 2012
- Among those planning a rental stay in 2012, the most popular U.S. region is the Southeast (33 percent), followed by the Southwest (15 percent) and Northeast (11 percent).
- Thirty-one percent plan to stay in a rental outside the U.S., with Europe (54 percent) the top pick, followed by the Caribbean (17 percent) and Mexico (14 percent).
- Summer will see the greatest volume of vacation rental stays (47 percent), while the spring (30 percent) and fall (30 percent) also project to be busy seasons.
Purposeful Planning: Tips from Travelers Who Rent
- Book in advance to land the best properties. Among survey respondents, 34 percent usually book their rental between three and six months out, while a further 22 percent generally confirm arrangements more than six months out.
- Try a new place each time. Variety reigns supreme when it comes to vacation rentals: 29 percent of travelers never stay in the same vacation rental year after year, while a further 40 percent rarely do so.
"The survey shows vacation rental stays continue to grow in popularity among TripAdvisor's U.S. travelers, as more people turn to rentals for the comforts of home, additional living space, and overall value they have to offer," said Dermot Halpin, president of vacation rentals at TripAdvisor.
Making the Most of Vacation Rentals: Expert Tips
Halpin offers the following expert answers to travelers' three most common concerns about making a vacation rental booking:
- Will the property be as advertised? (39 percent): "There's no substitute for fellow travelers' first-hand experiences, so take advantage of the wealth of information in reviews and photos before you book. And don't forget to share your thoughts with the community once you're home."
- Is it okay to send money for a property I'm unfamiliar with? (19 percent): "Payment requirements may differ according to the property, and a nonrefundable deposit can be part of the deal. Make sure you understand the payment conditions before you book."
- Will the property have the amenities I'm accustomed to? (6 percent): "Make a checklist of the criteria you value the most – whether it's Wi-Fi or a gas grill – and if you're unsure whether any of the amenities will fit the bill, ask the owner or manager."
Mark Mead of Mead Brown Costa Rica is 1 of only 40 villa rental agents in the world named to the prestigious Conde Nast Traveler villa rental agent list for 2012. His agency, Mead Brown Costa Rica Vacation Rentals, is looking for more beachfront villas to add to their rental portfolio.
Mark Mead, president of Mead Brown Costa Rica Vacation Rentals, has again been named the 2012 "villa rental specialist" for Costa Rica by Conde Nast Traveler magazine. He is the only person to earn the distinction for Costa Rica. This is the second year in a row that he's earned the title, which is even more remarkable given that the list names merely 40 people from around the globe; this is four fewer people than were named to the 2011 list.Mark Mead said, "We work really hard to provide our guests with the best experience possible. It's so gratifying when they tell us it was their best vacation ever; and it's the ultimate compliment when they refer friends and family to us. This Condé Nast Traveler award is icing on the cake." The April issue of the magazine, available on newsstands now and online, details how the villa experts are selected. Wendy Perrin, director of consumer news and digital community for Condé Nast Traveler and keeper of the Condé Nast Traveler villa rental agent list explains, "Let's face it: Renting a villa can seem like a riskier proposition than booking a hotel room - but it doesn't have to be. For the past seven years, we've been rigorously vetting villa rental agents around the world, renting from them, accompanying them on villa inspections, interviewing them extensively, and hearing feedback from readers."
Perrin continues, "Getting on our list of top villa specialists means filling out a 47-question application and sending documents that include sample house books, driving directions, checklists used to evaluate properties, and at least one client reference. Staying on the list is even tougher: It requires proving user-friendliness, conscientiousness, and honesty time and again. Forty agents made this year's cut. Each has visited every home he or she represents, has slept in many of them, and re-inspects them at least annually. They have cultivated local connections and use these on behalf of Condé Nast Traveler readers."
As a result of being among this elite group, Mark Mead is looking to add villas to the Mead Brown portfolio. Those who own a professionally-managed, staffed villa that has a strong sense of place (reflected in its architecture and/or furnishings) on the beach in Costa Rica should contact Michael Brown of Mead Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org. The agency is particularly interested in homes on the beach in Guanacaste.
All Mead Brown Costa Rica vacation rentals include daily housekeeping, wifi, and concierge services; all at no additional cost. Their concierge services include arranging Costa Rica fishing, tours and other activities. Additionally, Mead Brown can arrange for private airport transfers in Costa Rica, as well as ground transportation in Costa Rica.
Live, streaming video webcam of Jaco Beach
Today we launched an exclusive, live streaming video webcam of the pool at Vista Las Palmas and Jaco Beach. It's available for viewing during daylight hours (roughly 5:00 AM until 5:30 PM) on the Jaco Beach page of www.MeadBrown.com. Click Jaco Beach live streaming video and then scroll down the page to see it.
Costa Rica Fishing Photo Wins Mead Brown Contest
Spencer Heintz submitted the winning photo for Mead Brown Costa Rica's Facebook photo contest! Past guests were invited to post their Costa Rica vacation photos to Mead Brown's Facebook page. Spencer wins a three-night stay in one of Mead Brown's vacation condo rentals at Vista Las Palmas on Jaco Beach. The 3-bedroom, 3.5 bathroom beachfront condo includes daily housekeeping, wifi, VOIP for free calls to North America, and on-site concierge services. Vista Las Palmas has a beachfront swimming pool, Jacuzzi and gymnasium; covered parking and 24/7 security are also included.
Last Minute Holiday Villa Vacation Rental: Villa Firenze
Photo Contest: Win 4 Days, 3 Nights in a Beachfront, 3 Bedroom Condo! Enter Now
Mead Brown Costa Rica says, "Hey, let's put on a photo contest!" The winner will win 3 nights in a 3 bedroom, 3.5 bathroom luxurious beachfront condo!
We love seeing pics of our guests relaxing in their Mead Brown vacation rental; experiencing Costa Rica's beaches and rain forests, zipline canopy tours, sea kayaking, fishing, snorkeling, surfing, reading a book; we love photos of the scenery they saw; and the memories they made.
If you have stayed with us before, submit your photos! Go to our Mead Brown Facebook page, click "Like" at the very top of the page and then submit your photos (enter as many photos as you'd like). See other entries there, too!
The contest closes at midnight on December 31, 2011. The winner will be announced on January 6, 2012.
Vacationing on a Budget
Every dollar of the family budget counts, and those planning a vacation are keen to realize excellent value for the money spent. As one of the most economical options for families, groups and couples traveling together, vacation rentals afford travelers the opportunity to enjoy the spaciousness and amenities of a multi-bedroom accommodation, allowing everyone to stay under one roof for a fraction of the cost of multiple hotel rooms, without jeopardizing privacy or quality.
Additionally, while staying in a condominium, house or villa rental, guests will not only save on their overall cost of accommodations, but they can choose to cook meals in the fully-equipped kitchen, bring home leftovers from restaurants or store snacks, leaving more money in their pocket to spend on excursions, outings, adventures and shopping!
With airline fees for checked baggage, another advantage of a Mead Brown vacation rental is the washer and dryer. All of our rentals include a washer and dryer. They even include laundry detergent! Even for a week-long (or longer!) stay, you can pack just a carryon. With your own private laundry, you can toss a load in the washer whenever you’d like, at your convenience and at no additional cost to you!
All Mead Brown rentals also include daily housekeeping (except Sundays) and full concierge services. Again, these hotel-like amenities are at no additional cost to our guests. Click here to start your planning for the perfect Costa Rica vacation. Don't settle for a room when you can enjoy a luxurious condo or even a private villa for less!
Costa Rica: Why Go Now? Read the Mark Mead Interview in Luxury Travel Magazine
Read the Mark Mead interview in Luxury Travel Magazine about luxury travel to Costa Rica.
Surfing in Costa Rica
Costa Rica is sometimes called "the Hawaii of Latin American surfing" with its thousands of beach breaks and many miles of oceanfront. The scores of rivers offer many river mouth breaks, particularly on the Pacific side. On the Caribbean side you will find great reef breaks.
You wont see many monster waves. You are likely to find good-sized kilometer breaks that are consistent year-round.
Because Costa Rica is so small, you can switch to another break rather easily if one isn't working for you, or if the break gets crowded (which is not a common problem).
Another big reason to surf Costa Rica is for the culture. The Costa Rican culture supports surfers, with surf shops, board rentals, bars, restaurants, hotels. You will definitely find a strong vibe down here for surfing.
If you are looking for a luxurious surfing experience, including fine accommodations, visit Costa Rica surfing.
Why Choose a Vacation Rental Over a Hotel Room?
Vacation Rentals vs. Hotels
Traveling to Costa Rica and trying to decide on the best accommodations for you? What are the differences between a Costa Rica vacation rental and a hotel room, and which is better?
Length of stay: If you are just passing through and need a place for a night, get a hotel room – (one night with us is not even an option; we have a three night minimum). However, if you are planning to stay for a few days or more, wouldn't it be nice to settle in to a "home away from home"? Vacation rentals are fully equipped with all the conveniences of home, including a full kitchen equipped with a coffeemaker, blender, toaster and everything required to prepare a great meal (or we can arrange for a chef to cook it for you; he can even serve it and then do the dishes), washer and dryer (we even supply your laundry detergent), beach towels plus all bed and bath linens. In short, a house or condo vacation rental will give you anything and everything you would ever need to "live" while not at home. The purpose of a vacation home is just that, it is to act as your very own private vacation home, a getaway that you could eventually return to year after year.
Save Money: Stay in a vacation rental to save a lot of money. Because you are paying for a home, and not on a per room or per person basis, the accommodations are very likely a lot less than an equivalent four or five star hotel. A basic hotel room at the Marriott Los Suenos is about $350 per night in high season. For the same amount, you can rent a 3-bedroom condominium in Los Suenos Ocean & Golf Resort from Mead Brown.
Also, think of the money you save on the cost of eating out; when staying in a hotel you are forced to eat out for every meal. Stay in a vacation home, and you have a fully equipped kitchen at your fingertips. Even if you eat dinners out, the amount saved on breakfast, snacks, lunch, drinks, etc. can add up to a lot of money. Wouldn't you rather spend your money on a Costa Rica tour or adventure, such as a zipline canopy tour, an ATV adventure, surfing lessons, fishing for marlin, day trip to Manuel Antonio National Park, rounds of championship golf, spa treatments and massages, or handmade souvenirs?
Number of People in group: This is what vacation rentals are best for: families and groups! Are you going on vacation with your immediate or extended family, or another family, or a group of friends? Rather than pay for several hotel rooms all separate from each other, rent a home, where everyone can still have their individual bedrooms and bathrooms. At the same time, everyone is in the same location and can be together in the common areas. If you need even more space, rent two or more homes or condos next to each other.
Comfort and Amenities: You will not find vacation rentals 'sterile' like many hotel rooms; each one is professionally decorated to give you that feeling of comfort and luxury. Also, the amenities that come standard provided a higher level of luxury than a comparable hotel room. As mentioned, every kitchen is fully equipped to prepare anything from a snack to a Thanksgiving feast. Every rental has its own laundry; this saves on packing and saves on work to be done when you return from vacation! Since you can do laundry daily if you wish, you won’t need to bring that second suitcase and pay the airline for excess baggage!
All of our house rentals have their own private swimming pool. Many have a private Jacuzzi. Our condominium vacation rentals have swimming pools and Jacuzzis, too. Wifi and VOIP (such as Vonage) are included as well. Unless you are going to Las Vegas or some world class resort, a hotel is typically not the "destination," rather it is just an accommodation.
Vacation rentals are a "destination" in themselves. You really never have to leave if you prefer not to - the ocean is your living room, you have a fully equipped kitchen, and if you want to eat out, there are plenty of restaurants you can walk to. You can even opt for grocery delivery or a private chef. Hire a massage therapist to come in, or perhaps a photographer to take family photos. If you do decide you want to see more of Costa Rica than its beaches (which you should), access to attractions is convenient and easy.
Service: Find the same customer service you would at a hotel. All Mead Brown vacation rentals include daily housekeeping (except Sundays). All include paper towels, toilet paper, facial tissue, bath soap, shampoo, hair conditioner, shower gel, dish soap, dishwasher detergent and even laundry detergent. Full concierge services are included, too. Would you like to arrange for a surprise flower delivery? How about a bartender? Personalized birthday cake? We are always willing to help you make your vacation the vacation of your dreams!
Space: Vacation rentals offer considerably more space than you will find in most hotel rooms. Now the whole family can breathe and have space to themselves. People can nap or read in one room, or gather together in another to play a game or watch a movie.
Flexibility: If you want to stay in and cook, great; if you feel like going out, great. If you want to be lazy and just soak in the rain forest or ocean views, perfect; if you want to get out and see attractions or experience one of the many nearby adventures, go ahead. When staying at an oceanfront vacation villa or condo rental, there is no pressure to get out of the hotel room and "do something."
Vacation rentals offer a "relaxing" vacation, an idea that doesn’t seem to exist anymore. What happened to going on vacation to re-energize and relax? An oceanfront rental offers a more relaxing vacation experience. Relax. Leave the rest to us.
Escape to luxury and live like the rich and famous (at least for a few days). Come stay in one of our gorgeous beachfront vacation homes! You may never go back to a hotel again. Play hard. Sleep well.
Not all vacation rentals are created equal -- Some are professionally managed. Some are not. Of course, all Mead Brown homes, condos and villas are professionally managed and our properties are maintained to North American standards. This is not a minor detail! For example, who do you call if a pipe bursts in the middle of the night? If you lock yourself out? If your child becomes ill? These and other matters can be particularly challenging in a foreign country. At Mead Brown, we answer the phones 24/7/365. We'll help our guests with anything and everything. You may save a few dollars renting direct from an owner, but who will help you when life happens?
The bottom line: Vacation rentals offer more space, more amenities, and more flexibility than a hotel room. And vacation rentals are cheaper than hotel rooms, and are therefore a better value.
Air fares to Costa Rica starting at $9 on Spirit
Spirit Airlines has cheap flights from $9 each-way to Costa Rica! Check their web site at Spirit Airlines. Plan your beach getaway now.
Costa Rica for Thanksgiving: Leave the Cooking to Us!
(Playa Herradura, Costa Rica) They say there's no such thing as a free lunch, but Mead Brown will provide guests with a traditional Thanksgiving dinner for stays of 5 or more nights at one of their professionally managed luxury villas or condominiums in Costa Rica.
With the stress of family life, work, the economy and the upcoming holidays, one can take time to relax with a getaway in the rain forests and beaches of Costa Rica, and reflect on the many things for which one can be grateful.
Mark Mead, CEO of Mead Brown Costa Rica and the 2011 Conde Nast Traveler magazine’s villa rental specialist, said, "Preparing the Thanksgiving feast is time consuming and tedious. So, too, is clean up. Leave all that to the professionals. Come to Costa Rica for a holiday vacation; just give thanks and enjoy a memorable experience with family and friends."
Roasted Butterball turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, vegetables and rolls are included in the feast. It's not Thanksgiving dinner without pie for dessert. The selection is pumpkin, peach-blackberry, or apple; all baked personally by Chef Richard Lemon.
The offer is good for any stay of five or more nights, when one of those nights is Thursday, 24 November 2011. The meal can be taken at Lemon Zest Restaurant on Jaco Beach, or delivered to your villa or condo. Click here to book your Costa Rica vacation rental accommodations.
Costa Rica is a wonderland of exotic flora, fauna, and adventure. One can fish for sail fish, marlin, tuna and snapper; and experience other activities, such as: Zipline canopy tour, sea kayaking, river rafting, ATV adventure, surfing, sailing, hiking, snorkeling, championship golf, massage, spa, Yoga or just laying on one of the many beautiful beaches. For an overview, check out Costa Rica Tours and Adventures.
About Lemon Zest
Lemon Zest serves fusion cuisine with an international menu. Richard Lemon, the master chef, grew up in the Bahamas where his grandmother let him cook with her, beginning his culinary infusion process. He was graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in New York; served a three year apprenticeship at the renowned La Vielle Maison restaurant in Boca Raton, Florida; and in 1994, along with wife Nellie, opened his own successful restaurant in Del Ray Beach, Florida, Splendid Blendeds Café. They opened Lemon Zest on Jaco Beach in 2008.
Golf Tournament at La Iguana in Los Suenos Resort, Costa Rica
Open Golf Tournament at La Iguana, the championship course in Los Suenos Resort, Costa Rica on November 26, 2011.
Financial Times rates Costa Rica Best for Foreign Direct Investment
The Financial Times delivered great news; its FDI Intelligence unit named Costa Rica the “Best Country of the Future for Foreign Direct Investment in Central America & the Caribbean, 2011 – 2012.” Costa Rica climbed from the second position to be ranked the most attractive country in the Caribbean and Central America for investment. We dominated the rankings, topping the Best Human Resources category, as well as ranking in the top two for Best Economic Potential, Best for Business Friendliness and Best FDI Strategy.
Start your planning for a real estate scouting trip with Mead Brown. We can introduce you to the country's most-informed real estate agents, all of whom share our high standards for integrity and business ethics. Click here Costa Rica Vacation Rentals to get started, or call us toll free from the U.S. at 1 888 744 6599.
Sarchí, the Carreta Capital of Costa Rica
By Paige R. Penland
One of Costa Rica's most recognizable images, and the official "Symbol of the Costa Rican Worker," is the humble carreta, or ox cart.
Prominently displayed at tourist destinations around the country, and still used daily in the countryside, these sturdy vehicles have long hauled groceries, firewood, milk, and coffee into the least developed corners of Costa Rica. The most beautiful are brightly painted with elaborate designs, including intricate mandalas on the big wooden wheels. The result is so striking that they've become coveted collectables, their unique style recognized as a UNESCO Masterpiece of Humanity's Intangible Heritage.
This photogenic tradition is certainly played up for travelers, but dates back to the 1840s, at least. The different colors and ornamentation both protected the wooden carts from the elements, and immediately identified the driver's place of origin. If you spend much time in rural regions without paved roads, you'll still see boyeros (oxcart divers) atop working carretas, the faded original artwork still visible beneath years of use.
For generations, Costa Rica's best carretas have been built in Sarchí, a picturesque little town just above the Central Valley. Though you're here for the oxcarts, Sarchí is better known among Costa Ricans for producing high quality furniture, displayed at scores of family workshops interspersed among the emerald green coffee plants. Families will often spend a weekend here, perusing the 200+ shops to find the perfect piece for their homes.
Most tourists visit only for an hour or so, often on multiple-destination day trips that also take in Zarcero's fantastic topiary, Grecia's metal church, and Arenal Volcano. If this is you, you'll probably be dropped at one of the handicrafts shops specializing in Sarchí's more portable treasures, including rocking chairs, bowls and cutlery made from polished tropical hardwoods, and even fine art.
Even with an hour, however, you'll have time to check out one of the fábricas (factories), where you can watch men paint the decorative carretas. Ask your guide, or just head to either Fábrica de Carretas Chaverri, building top-quality oxcarts since 1903, or Fábrica de Carretas Eloy Alfaro which constructed the "World's Largest Oxcart", on display in Sarchí's pretty Central Park.
While few foreign travelers think of Sarchí as a destination in itself, its quiet streets, attractive shops, and lovely gardens make the village an appealing spot to spend the night. There is inexpensive lodging right in town, mostly geared to Costa Rican families. Ensconced in the misty mountains above, however, El Silencio Lodge and Spa offers luxurious private villas and cultural tours into town; Mead Brown can help arrange your stay. Close by, Catarata del Toro offers lodging and adventure next to a 100-meter (328-foot) waterfall.
While Sarchí may be the most famous place to see Costa Rica's famous oxcarts, you'll find them all over the country, usually on careful display. Though they may look entirely decorative, most can be spiffed up at a moment's notice to participate in oxcart parades, held all over the country. The most famous take place on the second Sunday in March, Día de los Boyeros (Day of the Oxcart Driver), and the last weekend in November, with events in Atenas, San José, and around the country.
The Orchids of Costa Rica
By Paige R. Penland
Delicate cascades of gently tinted blossoms pour through the misty Costa Rican highlands, fascinating onlookers with an allure perfected over 20 million years. The family orchidaceae is one of our planet's most successful, boasting some 28,000 species in nature, and more than 100,000 fanciful hybrids created with help from humankind. They are also among the Earth's truly exquisite beauties, beloved by collectors, brides, and travelers who roam the world for a just glimpse of the rarest blooms.
Costa Rica is home to at least 7% of the world's orchids - more than 1400 species—and more are discovered regularly. Already this year, ten new species have been found in the densely forested Cordillera de Talamanca, straddling the Costa Rica-Panama border. The delightful flowers can be found throughout the country, however, most often in the trees.
Even the national flower is an orchid, the bountiful Guaria Morada, or Purple Girl, believed for centuries to impart luck, love, and peace to those who grew it around their households. These and many, many other orchids are cultivated throughout Costs Rica, and often hotels, restaurants, and private homes maintain special gardens where you can enjoy their exotic appeal. But be sure to check out one of several dedicated orchid gardens designed to display the precious plants.
Botanical Orchid Garden Costa Rica: This shady spot, close to Alajuela and the international airport, is one of Costa Rica's oldest orchid gardens, offering pretty, paved trails and a nursery where you can learn all about this ancient flower.
Casa Orquideas Botanica Garden: Accessible only by boat on the Golfo Dulce in Southern Costa Rica, this lovingly maintained orchid garden is the work of Ron and Trudy MacAllister, who offer tours most mornings at 8am sharp.
Lankester Botanical Gardens: Just south of San José, en route to Orosí, Turialba, and the Osa Peninsula, this is a massive (26-acre) production facility operated by the University of Costa Rica and boasting more than 3000 species of plant, including more than 1000 orchids. It can get crowded when the cruise ships come in, so call ahead if you'd rather avoid that scene.
Monteverde Orchid Garden: High in chilly cloud forests of this popular vacation destination, this small but lovely orchid garden offers guided tours of local species, including what was, until 2009, the world's smallest orchid.
Orchimex: Another production facility, this Thai-owned orchid greenhouse offers tours by appointment only.
Right now, at the beginning of rainy season, is the very best time for orchid lovers of to visit Costa Rica, as the majority of orchid species are just coming into full bloom. However, the annual Exposición Nacional de Orquídeas takes place every March, presented by the Asociación Costarricense de Orquideología; don't miss it if you want to see Costa Rica's finest gardeners showing off their prize blooms.