Upon stepping out of the airport, I walked into a sea of taxi drivers, scrambling to get the attention of tourists. I thought I should save a few bucks and commute by public transportation, but a similar group of drivers were enshrouding the bus stop.
I told them I was going to look around the surrounding shops and did not need a ride immediately. “Make sure you come find me later, remember to find me,” said a driver with a desperate look in his eye.
I ended up forgetting to find that same driver, but the driver I did leave with was not any wealthier. He was not a licensed taxi driver, working from a beat up, grayish-blue Toyota that had no meter.
It must be hard to make ends meet when your pay check is determined by how many tourists come by as you wait by sweltering bus stops day in and day out.
Yet, as we stopped at a red light, the driver rolled down his window and handed money to a beggar! It was the first, but not the last time that I was taken back by the kindness and sincerity of the locals.
Costa Rica is one of the few countries in this world that has managed to escape the plague of war over the centuries. Perhaps a peaceful history shapes altruistic traits in people.
Although Costa Rica is technically a third-world country, it is has one of the richest bucolic landscapes and well-preserved wild life.
The downside for most beautiful destinations, such as Honolulu or Cancun, is that they are heavily commercialized. Commercialization not only renders it difficult for visitors to experience anything authentic, but the native cultures and lifestyles also end up changing to meet the preference of tourists.
Certainly many parts of Costa Rica are commercialized, yet this small country the size of Delaware nurtures an initiative that most vacation spots do not—community-based rural tourism. This type of tourism allows visitors to adapt to the local lifestyle rather than the other way around.
Since it can be difficult to earn money in Costa Rica, community-based tourism allows you to not only take from a local experience but also give back to local economies and farmers.
There is an abundance of rural communities, natural reserves, and indigenous territories in Costa Rica that have not altered their way of life despite mass tourism. Instead of chain tourism companies, these tours are run by the locals.
Instead of the routine picture snapping stops at tourist sites, I went hiking with a local guide who showed me native greenery such as the sleeping mimosa, a plant that shrinks into a fold when it is touched.
The Two Playa Hermosa
The Playa Hermosa, which means “beautiful beaches” in Spanish, certainly lives up to their name. Although they are both lovely beaches, be careful not to confuse the northern Playa Hermosa in Guanacaste from the Playa Hermosa in Central Pacific Coast of Costa Rica.
Costa Rica has put tremendous efforts into preserving its natural habitats. More than 25 percent of the country is under protection, either as national parks, indigenous reserves, forest reserves, or wildlife refuges.
The National Wildlife Refuge is very close to the Playa Hermosa in central Costa Rica. Green Turtles hatch eggs there from July to December.
Although there is no wildlife refuge at the northern Playa Hermosa, I still caught sight of a fair amount of animals that you would not typically see at beaches. At the far end of the beach, where there are less people, I watched a wild white crane hunting for fish by the shore as dusk was setting in.
The northern Playa Hermosa is a quiet, quaint beach, where the local restaurants close by 10 p.m. But its neighboring beach, Playas del Coco, is packed with souvenir markets and a lively nightlife.
Although Playas del Coco is flooded with tourists, again, at the far end of the beach, I got to swim next to sea pelicans as they bobbled in the waves, scooping fish.
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