Home

Explore. Experience. Engage.

Home Travel Tips Travel Deals Destinations Trip Reviews Blog
The IndependentTraveler.com Blog

Imagine Costa Rica, and you probably picture lush rain forests, smoking volcanos and exotic birds flitting through the trees. But while this image isn’t inaccurate, a local expert named Maricruz Pereira knows that there’s much more to this friendly Central American country.

maricruz pereira


Pereira is the general manager and co-owner of Unique Adventures, which specializes in customized experiences and tailor-made itineraries for visitors to Costa Rica. The company can arrange activities such as bird watching, kayaking, visiting a coffee plantation or learning to make tortillas.

We asked Pereira to reveal her favorite less-discovered spots in Costa Rica, offer advice for first-time visitors and more.

IndependentTraveler.com: Most people considering a trip to Costa Rica probably picture wildlife and natural beauty, but what interesting cultural experiences can travelers have there?
Maricruz Pereira:
Even though Costa Rica is mostly known for its beautiful nature, I think our best asset is our people. Tourists will find that Costa Ricans are very proud of our country and love to share it with our visitors. The best cultural experience would be to hang out with the locals whenever possible. You can do this by going on a pub/beer crawl in San Jose, going to the local fiestas in any village, stopping in a farmers’ market and even joining a mejenga (impromptu soccer game) in the local plaza! Talk to the locals; ask questions; don’t be afraid to approach them. You will go back home with a nice tan and a bunch of new friends!

IT: What are your favorite places in Costa Rica, and why?
MP:
There are so many places to love in Costa Rica! I enjoy the majesty of our several active volcanoes. Some of them, like the Poas and the Irazu, are safe and relatively easy to explore; you can walk right up to the rim of the crater and gaze inside. The beaches in the south Caribbean are wild and beautiful, with the lush forest coming all the way down to the beach, and the laid-back, colorful Caribbean culture that makes you slow down and enjoy the moment. They are perfect for relaxing and getting away from the crowds.

Of course, Corcovado National Park, which is my favorite rain forest, is so remote and secluded; it is a real adventure just getting there. And then you find yourself immersed in the rain forest, with the ocean at your feet, and the howler monkeys and scarlet macaws “singing” just a few meters away.

IT: What advice would you give first-time visitors before they come to Costa Rica?
MP:
Different latitude, different attitude. Don’t plan on being locked up in an all-inclusive for several days in a row. As much as I like our beaches, Costa Rica has a different vibe to it. It’s not all about sun and sea (although that’s a nice part too), but about traveling around, going on our roads, seeing the sights, exploring. And if you are renting a car, ask for a GPS!

rio celeste tenorio volcano national park waterfall


IT: Which part of Costa Rica is most overlooked, and why should travelers check it out?
MP:
The area of Rio Celeste in the northern area is a jewel that is yet to be discovered. Inside Tenorio Volcano National Park there is this magnificent river and waterfall that are bright blue (hence the name Rio Celeste). It’s a moderately difficult hike within the forest with quite a few steep steps to get there, but the view and the energy of the area are worth it!

IT: What’s one food every traveler should try in Costa Rica?
MP:
Chifrijo! It’s a delicious concoction of rice, beans, avocado, pico de gallo and small pieces of fried pork, served with toasted tortillas in a medium-sized bowl. Don’t be fooled by the small size. It’s a full meal!

IT: Outside of Costa Rica, what are your favorite travel destinations?
MP:
I enjoy England very much. I have always loved everything related to its history and tradition. I especially like visiting the old, magical places like Stonehenge, Glastonbury, Avebury… I find all the tales and stories around these sites fascinating, and the scenery is just breathtaking!

Check out more travel interviews!

12 Best Costa Rica Experiences
Where to Stay in Costa Rica

–interview conducted by Sarah Schlichter

Grenada, Micronesia, Tuvalu and Samoa are among the most forward-thinking and ethical travel destinations in the world, according to a California-based tourism nonprofit. In fact, seven out of the top 10 destinations making the biggest strides in environmental protection, social welfare, human rights and animal welfare are islands.

Each year, an all-volunteer cast from an organization called Ethical Traveler does a deep dive into the policies and practices of countries in the developing world. The team then selects the nations that are making the most progress in protecting their environment and their people. The winners must also be attractive travel destinations, offering “unspoiled natural beauty, great outdoor activities and the opportunity to interact with local people and cultures in a meaningful, mutually enriching way.”

apia samoa beach boats


The full list of 2016 winners, in alphabetical order:

– Cabo Verde
Dominica
– Grenada
– Micronesia
– Mongolia
Panama
– Samoa
– Tonga
– Tuvalu
Uruguay

Why so many islands? “Climate change affects islands dramatically, so they tend to be very aware of the importance of effective environmental policies,” the report said.

Green Travel Tips

Panama was praised for escalating its reforestation efforts and for low unemployment rates. Cabo Verde in Africa is seeing more women holding high-ranking leadership positions. The Caribbean island of Dominica provides widespread free healthcare to its citizens and works to protect the marine life along its coast.

mongolia herder eagle


Uruguay gets 90 percent of its energy from renewable sources and has made education of children a priority. And in Mongolia, a half-million people — including 70 percent of all herders — use solar energy.

Acknowledging that “no country is perfect,” Ethical Traveler notes nonetheless that visiting the winning countries allows travelers to use economic leverage to reward good practices.

Slideshow: Which Caribbean Island Is Right for You?
Find Your Ideal Island Escape

— written by Elissa Leibowitz Poma

Each month, we’ll highlight one new trip review submitted by an IndependentTraveler.com reader. If your review is featured, you’ll win an IndependentTraveler.com logo item!

crocodiles costa ricaIn this month’s featured review, reader Jill Weinlein travels with her husband and 10-year-old daughter to look for wildlife and waterfalls in Costa Rica. “We stopped at a local touristy spot, Tarcoles River, on our way to Quepos to enjoy a refreshing cold coconut and fresh juice smoothies,” Jill writes. “Along the center of the bridge, people gathered to see at least twenty enormous crocodiles basking in the sun along the river bank.”

Read the rest of Jill’s review here: 10 Destinations to Visit in Costa Rica. This reader has won an IndependentTraveler.com duffel bag!

Feeling inspired? Write your own trip review — you could win a $50 Amazon gift card! Just be sure to submit your trip review by May 21.

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Every week in our “Spotlight on …” feature, we’ll highlight a different country around the world.

la fortuna costa rica


Population: 4.75 million

Currency: Costa Rican colon

Phrase to Know: Me llamo ____. (My name is ____.)

Fun Fact: More than 25 percent of Costa Rica’s total landmass is preserved in national parks and other protected areas — making this one of the world’s best places to explore the rain forest and scan for wildlife.

We Recommend: Take a nighttime hike to watch a volcano erupt from afar.

12 Best Costa Rica Experiences

Have you been to Costa Rica? What was your favorite spot?

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Today’s post is part of a weekly series called “Travel Toss-Up,” in which we ask you to take your pick between two amazing travel experiences.

This week’s toss-up offers a choice of two stunning lakes.

Would you rather…

… visit Lake Bled, a glacier lake in Slovenia, or …

lake bled slovenia



… check out Lake Atitlan, Guatemala, fringed with volcanoes?

lake atitlan guatemala


Slovenia’s Lake Bled is located in the Julian Alps. Aside from its natural beauty, the lake’s biggest draw is medieval Bled Castle, which dates back to the 11th century. Lake Atitlan is said to be the deepest in Central America and is surrounded by volcanoes and Mayan villages.

Photos: The World’s Coolest Lakes

Vote for your preference in the comments below!

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Today’s post is part of a weekly series called “Travel Toss-Up,” in which we ask you to take your pick between two amazing travel experiences.

This week’s toss-up offers a choice of two places with spiritual significance to their respective cultures.

Would you rather…

… trek to Lamayuru, a Buddhist monastery in the mountains of Ladakh, India, or …

lamayuru monastery india



… visit the ruins of Xunantunich in Belize?

xunantunich mayan ruins belize


India’s remote Lamayuru Monastery, once home to as many as 450 Buddhist monks, is best reached by a difficult but spectacular two-week trek through the mountains of Ladakh. (Banjara Camps & Retreats is one company that offers trips.) Easier to reach are the ruins of Xunantunich in Belize, accessible by car and various tours. The site includes the ruins of several temples dedicated to Mayan gods.

India Trip Reviews
Belize Trip Reviews

Vote for your preference in the comments below!

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Today’s post is part of a weekly series called “Travel Toss-Up,” in which we ask you to take your pick between two amazing travel experiences.

This week’s toss-up offers a choice of two glimpses into the past.

Would you rather…

… see the jaw-dropping Mayan temples of Tikal, Guatemala, or …

tikal mayan temple guatemala



… explore the ruins of ancient cultures in Tunisia?

ruins mahdia tunisia sunset


Mayan ruins are scattered throughout Mexico, Belize and Guatemala, and the ones at Tikal are some of the most spectacular. The tallest temple is more than 200 feet high. In Tunisia, you’ll find ruins from a number of ancient cultures, including the Phoenicians, Romans and Byzantines.

Explore More Destinations

Vote for your preference in the comments below!

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Today’s post is part of a weekly series called “Travel Toss-Up,” in which we ask you to take your pick between two amazing travel experiences.

This week’s toss-up offers a choice of two lush green landscapes.

Would you rather…

… soak in tropical hot springs in Costa Rica, or …

hot springs waterfall costa rica



… explore Bali’s verdant rice terraces?

rice field bali indonesia


As Elissa Leibowitz Poma writes in 12 Best Costa Rica Experiences, “Given its volcanic landscape, Costa Rica has quite a few natural hot springs and mud pools. Most are open to the public; independent travelers visiting small towns should ask around about hot springs on private property that you can get permission to access with a sweet smile and small ‘donation.'” In Bali, the rice terraces climbing the green hills make for striking photo ops. Some of the most beautiful are near the village of Tegallalang.

Vote for your preference in the comments below!

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Suffering from the Monday doldrums? For everyone out there facing the beginning of another work week, here’s a little jolt of wanderlust to brighten up your morning. Each Monday, we offer a photo of a spectacular place to spark ideas for your future travels.

This week’s shot was taken from the lookout point high above Semuc Champey, an out-of-the-way cluster of waterfalls and clear turquoise pools in Guatemala.

semuc champey guatemala


Photos: 9 Easy Hikes That Will Take Your Breath Away

Send us your best travel shot! E-mail your most beautiful or captivating travel photo to feedback@independenttraveler.com. (Please put Monday Inspiration in the subject line.)

Read Guatemala Trip Reviews

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Suffering from the Monday doldrums? For everyone out there facing the beginning of another work week, here’s a little jolt of wanderlust to brighten up your morning. Each Monday, we offer a photo of a spectacular place to spark ideas for your future travels.

This week’s shot of a colorful tree frog was taken near the border of Costa Rica and Panama.

tree frog costa rica panama rain forest


12 Best Costa Rica Experiences

Send us your best travel shot! E-mail your most beautiful or captivating travel photo to feedback@independenttraveler.com. (Please put Monday Inspiration in the subject line.)

Panama Trip Reviews

— written by Sarah Schlichter