The Caribbean Lowlands, Costa Rica - Stein Travel

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Welcome to The Caribbean Lowlands

The Caribbean has a cultural diversity that is different from the rest of the country. With its beautiful beaches, great surfing conditions and pristine national parks it is becoming one of the top attractions for the adventurous traveller. It is less developed than the Pacific side with fewer roads and smaller settlements and about half the area is set apart and protected in parks and wildlife refuges.

The capital of the region is the seedy port of Limon, which is generally avoided by tourists and used only as a transport hub, but is regaining popularity as a cruise port. Cahuita is a relaxed village neighbouring the Cahuita National Park, the Creole culture particularly evident in the food and music. Further south is the even more tranquil hamlet of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca popular for its surfing and splendid coastline. In the north the coastal National Park of Tortuguero is one of the most important breeding and nesting sites of the green sea turtle.

The villages are laid back with an unhurried atmosphere common throughout the region. The majority of the people are extremely friendly, live close to the coast and speak a lively form of English. The people of the Caribbean delight in showing visitors the natural beauty of the area and are eager to share their culture with anyone willing to 'hang out' for a while. There is plenty to see and do, but things are relaxed so take time to experience this rewarding side of Costa Rica.

Spanish is the official language, but English is widely spoken.

The Costa Rican Colón (CRC) is divided into 100 céntimos and is the official currency, although US Dollars are also widely accepted. US Dollars and travellers cheques can be exchanged in banks and many hotels. Banks charge a service fee for cashing travellers cheques and currency other than US$ is difficult to exchange. Using black market exchange options is risky as they have been known to pass on counterfeit bills printed in Colombia. Banks close anywhere from 3pm to 6pm. Major credit cards are widely accepted, although American Express and Diners Club might be more limited. ATMs are available in major towns throughout the country, but it is advisable to always have some local cash handy.

Local time is GMT -6.

The only coral reef on the Costa Rican Caribbean coastline is found within this national park, and with 500 species of fish it affords excellent opportunities for snorkelling. While the land area of Cahuita National Park is small, it has stunning beaches and is good for both land and water activities making it one of the most visited parks on the Caribbean coast. A well-defined trail runs through the coastal rainforest and howler monkeys and sloths are among the wildlife attractions.

Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, simply known as Puerto Viejo, is a dusty little village lying between the forested mountains of Talamanca and the sea and features excellent surfing, an interesting mix of Afro-Caribbean and Bribri indigenous cultures, and delicious local food. The seven miles (12km) of coastline between Puerto Viejo and Manzanillo further east is one of the most stunning stretches in Costa Rica, and features popular beaches such as Playa Cocles, Playa Chiquita and Punta Uva. There are many other activities in the area including fishing and horse riding, cultural tours and home stays, as well as excursions to the nearby Cahuita National Park.

Despite its isolation on the northern part of the Caribbean coast, Tortuguero National Park is an extremely popular destination and one of the most important nesting sites of the green sea turtle, which lays its eggs here between July and October. Three other turtle species also use the beach as a nesting ground, namely the giant leatherback, hawksbill and loggerhead turtles. The park covers an area of over 120 square miles (189 sq km), protecting not only the turtle beach, but also wetlands and swamps, forests and one of the most developed reefs in the country. Nature trails in the park offer opportunities for wildlife viewing and birding and a network of waterways serves as an alternative method of transportation and exploration.

Approximately 50 percent of Costa Rica's bird and reptile species are found in the park along with a diversity of flora and fauna, including some of the endangered mammals like the jaguar, sloth, tapir and manatee. Most visitors come to watch the spectacular sight of thousands of marine turtles laying their eggs or to observe the hatching. Guided tours are recommended to control the amount of disturbance caused by the increasing numbers of tourists, and guides provide a wealth of information about the area. Beaches are beautiful but not suitable for swimming as the surf is rough and sharks are present. The area also receives a large amount of rain and insect repellent is necessary to keep the mosquitoes at bay.

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