Located in the center of Central America, Costa Rica, small in size – less than twice the area of the Poitou-Charentes region – is nonetheless huge in terms of its ecological ambitions.
Its extraordinary natural capital ranks third in the world in terms of biodiversity, being the home to 6% the planet’s animal and plant species.
It is the country of the Quetzal, a mystical bird, rare and fragile, that millions of birdwatchers come to attempt to observe each year.
Last February, the country decided to eliminate all of its CO2 emissions by 2050.
The country also strives to become a global model in terms of green revolution.
By Françoise SPIEKERMEIER
KEY DATES: The Costa Rican territory becomes occupied by Amerindians as of Prehistory, before being discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1502. Colonized by the Spanish from the sixteenth century to the nineteenth century, Costa Rica finally gained independence in 1821. – December 1st, 1948: Costa Rica becomes a neutral country and the first nation in the world to have constitutionally suppressed its army. Since 2009, Costa Rica, ranks first in the world Happy Planet Index In 2012, Costa Rica ranked fifth in the environmental performance index thanks to its active renewable energy development policy.
Capital: San José Population: 5 millions d’habitants Area: 51 100 km2 Currencies: Le colón costaricien (CRC): 1 EUR = 678,270 CRC US dollars (USD) are also accepted in Costa Rica: 1 EUR = 1,13 USD The majority of credit cards (American Express, Diners Club, MasterCard and Visa) are accepted at most hotels and restaurants. Official language: Spanish Minority language recognized: Bribri Climate: The dry season extends from December to May. The green period extends from May to November and is characterized by some rains on the reliefs. The climate is favorable on the coasts throughout the year with a sea water which is around 28/29 °.
Important: 110 volts, US plugs – provide US adapter
He’s dreaming. He projects himself into the future with a pronounced taste for utopia. His driver? Faith. The love of life, inextinguishable, summarized in this national expression that illuminates the eyes as soon as it is pronounced: “Pura Vida!” The equivalent could be “Viva Revolution … Green!” From one government to the next, Costa Rica dreams of a global model of respect for nature. In 1948, it suppressed its army to give priority to health, education and the protection of the environment. At this moment, the forest covered 75% of its territory. Since 1985, when this number fell to 26%, the country has reforested intensively, primarily through the purchase of land from farmers. Today, the forest covers half of its territory. Twenty-eight national parks and multiple private reserves cover one quarter of the country’s total area. Since 2015, almost all of the country’s electrical energy comes from renewable sources such as hydro, wind and geothermal. Within its strategy of “decarbonisation”, Costa Rica wants to put every effort into promoting economic growth by completely eliminating the use of fossil fuels by 2050. This revolution will be done through transport: if everything goes as planned, all individual and collective vehicles will run on electricity. Definitely a challenge. Perhaps even a utopia?
Departing from San José, the capital, it is possible to get a glimpse of the diversity of the landscapes and the power of nature by drawing a loop from the southern slopes of the central Cordillera to the south Pacific coast. The distances are not huge. The roads encircling the primary forest, overlook grandiose panoramas. However, it takes time to go from one stage to another. Each stage is a five, sometimes six-hour drive away. Each stage is a new Eldorado.
THE IRAZU VOLCANO Heading straight to the Central Cordillera! Five million years ago, volcanoes erupted, gradually connecting the North and South Americas. Emerging outside of the waters, the spit of land that was created caused an indraught in which rushed numerous animal species from both continents. This “biological bridge” explains the current abundance of life found there and the presence of species that were not destined to coexist. The Irazu volcano reveals its crater after a few-minute-walk on a gray sandy beach. Suddenly, the green acid lake appears in its mineral setting. At 3432 m above sea level, we land in an ecosystem living on borrowed time. Irazu, one of the five active volcanoes in the country, last erupted in March 1963, when John Fitzgerald Kennedy visited the Central American Presidents’ Summit. An hour and a half drive to the city of Turrialba, we must visit Guayabo, the remains of a mysterious pre-Columbian city built around 800 BC that lies in the heart of the jungle. The city of Turrialba is a major hot spot for rafting on the Rio Reventazon and is surrounded by coffee plantations. One can visit the CATIE Botanical Garden, where hybrid species resistant to diseases are being developed.
San Gerardo de Dota They are everywhere! Nine hundred and eighteen species of birds live on this strip of land. Their singing attracts a good part of Costa Rica’s three million annual visitors. Most of them leave the capital, San José, just after landing to get lost in the forest in a lodge or CST-government-certified Sustainable Tourism Hotel, which encourage the development of ecotourism. 918 bird species and, at first sight, almost as many verbs to define their cries! Among them, a star: the Quetzal of which remain between 2800 and 4000 individuals. If there is one spot from which it is an utter privilege to observe these birds, it is in San Gerardo de Dota, a valley that the first settlers invested in in the 50s. The latter planted orchards of peach, fig, apricot, apples, along the Rio Savègre. Here grows a little wild avocado, the aguacatillo. This fruit is practically the only food that the Quetzal eats. This can be observed at the end of its breeding season, when it feeds its young, from February to April. At the edge of the road, groups of birdwatchers hurry behind the spyglass focused on the hole that a woodpecker has dug into a dead tree. This is where the Quetzal couple laid their eggs. The bird does not build its nest, it must find it. Symbol of freedom, the bird adapts badly to captivity, which is in fact fatal to him. In his ballet between his nest and the fruit, the bird lands on the edge of the stream, a few meters from the road: what a gift! The Japanese, the Lebanese, the French who have traveled thousands of kilometers just for him are over the moon: the bird shows off its fluorescent green feathers that contrast with his silky red chest. What a pretty head he has! Back at the hotel, at the Dantica Forest Lodge, we continue to enjoy the forest panorama and the birds’ ballet until the night falls, through the large bay windows of the room. Do you can? Yes, I toucan!
Playa Ballena. Descent from 3000 m of altitude to 0, alongside the Pacific … It appears, a majestic, vast greying expanse with its smashing rollers which raise an eternal smoke of ocean spray. The forest also plummets down towards the edges of the ocean. The coastal preservation policy initiated here in 1990 restored the wildness of the coast close to the Ballena Marine National Park. Since time immemorial, whales of various species from the northern and southern hemispheres come into the warm waters around Piedra Ballena, three islets around which the sea is less agitated, to give birth to and educate their calves at low depth (thirty meters). They can be seen between July and October, alongside several species of dolphins. A mystery of nature: a tombolo connects the beach to a strip of rocks at sea, imitating exactly the shape of a whale’s tail …
Rainmaker, private reserve. Going back along the coast to the North thanks to the N ° 34 road, until the Herradura Beach, we return deeper into the lands. Over a distance of 7 km, the dirt track runs along agricultural properties that have nibbled at the forest. The latter occupies only the bottom of small valleys, along rivers and streams. The villages, that spread out along the road, consist of modest houses belonging to agricultural workers. At the turn of a bend, the trail descends towards a wooded area and dives deeper under the vegetation cover. We come here as part of the CST-labeled-establishment network, on the route of lodges specifically intended for bird watching. It is just before the sun wakes, at dawn, that the symphony of birds is the most polyphonic. The toads that we hear in the evening are silent in the morning. This is the time to go hiking on the trails that surround this property of 600 hectares created in 2011, that brings together a reserve (Macaw Lodge Private Forest Reserve) and a farm that has allowed the reforestation of a quantity of land recovered from agricultural land.
Back to San José The Tarcoles river is the cherished habitat for crocodiles and caimans. Boats like to approach the predators to the nearest centimeter as they sleep, their mouths resting on a bank. Imperturbable throughout their nap, we have plenty of time to photograph them! A few hundred meters from the river mouth, the “bridge of mothers-in-law” allows us to observe them from above, without disturbing them. The American crocodile can reach a length of 7 meters. The spectacled caiman crocodile reaches a length of 2.50 meters. This is the last step before returning to the capital. The National Theater Square, built in 1897, is surrounded by the magnificent Gran Hotel Costa Rica, restored and modernized to house one of the most beautiful places to stay in the city center. Glass elevators rise to the 5th and last floor where the restaurant with its birds-eye view of the city is located. It is neighbor to the Avenida Central, where you can roam freely to get a feel of the wonderful capital. To end the trip on a high note, an essential experience: the Sikwa restaurant, opened a year and a half ago by three young associates, where you get the chance to discover the Amerindian gastronomy. “We interpret the culinary wealth of the indigenous populations of Costa Rica through our creations” says Pablo Bonilla who, with each dish served, explains the origin of the ingredients produced by the Bri Bri Indians on their Costa Rican reserve, and invites us to meet them, through our interposed taste buds.
FLIGHTS FLIGHTS Air France offers three flights per week Paris-San Jose. Flight time: 11h20. www.airfrance.fr
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