By Roy Heale
Could it possibly be the Garden of Eden? You don't have to be an expert horticulturist or even an avid gardener to enjoy the vibrant colours of the unique flora and fauna that envelops the countryside and urban gardens in Costa Rica. Anyone who enjoys untouched forests and the scents and sights of beautiful flowers---and what gay person doesn't?---will agree that Costa Rica is the garden of Central America. It's a small country with just over fifty thousand square kilometers---approximately two thirds the size of New Brunswick---with a population of about 4.5 million Ticos as Costa Ricans are affectionately nick-named (derived from their affinity for ending words with the Spanish suffix “tico” or “tica” meaning 'little'). One learns very quickly about the Tico's great pride concerning their environmental preservation and conservation. As you travel around this country you will appreciate for yourself the untouched tropical rain forests, beautiful natural sandy beaches, earthy landscape and villages which are being kept unspoiled for the Costa Rican citizens plus the enjoyment of eco-tourists and outdoor enthusiasts.
With the Caribbean Sea to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west, a mountainous interior with approximately 280 volcanoes---seven of which are currently active---Costa Rica offers a veritable feast of outdoor activities in spectacular surroundings. The rain forests with their misty waterfalls and pristine lagoons are abundant with indigenous wildlife including humming birds, parrots, toucans, and other exotic birds, monkeys, butterflies and more. From wind-surfing, sea kayaking, para-sailing, and surf boarding on the oceans to horse back trail rides, white water rafting and the renowned tree-top canopy tours or back-packing through the forests, enjoying the volcanic hot springs, and simply relaxing on the sun drenched beaches---Costa Rica offers an adventure with nature. No wonder the venturesome gay tourist is discovering this tropical paradise and enjoying the gay coastal resorts and smaller urban gay hotels.
Arriving in Costa Rica you will probably land at the San Jose International Airport after a fairly lengthy journey. Although everything is close to this central capital city the roads are not speedy highways and the other smaller airports in the outlying districts are served with intermittent flight schedules. So it is very practical to make a short stop-over in San Jose for a more comfortable journey to your holiday resort, hotel or mountain lodge and again at the end of your vacation. The city has much to offer in local markets for shopping, historic buildings like the National Theatre and National Museum or Government Buildings, pedestrian shopping streets, gay nightlife, restaurants, sightseeing, local culture and more.
Although Costa Rica passed legislation in 1999 making discrimination against sexual and other minorities illegal, the Ticos are very religious so the gay culture is tolerated with a policy rather like the United States Military “Don't Ask-Don't Tell” and overtly public gay acts are frowned upon. The legal age of consent is eighteen and homosexual acts are legal but walking down the street holding your partner's hand might cause some raised eyebrows and would be better kept for inside a gay establishment of which there are many throughout Costa Rica. Having said that, you will find the Ticos to be very gay-friendly.
Driving to the Pacific Coast from San Jose is about a four to five hour journey allowing for relaxing stops along the way, or time to observe the crocodiles along the banks of the Rio Tarcoles near the Carara Wildlife Refuge, or watching the surfers at the Playo Jaco where international surfing competitions are held and lunch at one of the attractive small-town restaurants along the route. The roads are narrow, winding and go from sea to sky in a very short distance making for a memorable and sometimes hair-raising journey with great photo opportunities at every turn in the road. The Playa Hermosa---Beautiful Beach--- is one of the longest white sand beaches you will probably ever see and is also very popular amongst the surfer crowd at certain times of the year when the waves are cresting perfectly.
The small Pacific coastal towns of Quepos and Manuel Antonio have become the largest gay haven in Costa Rica with several gay resort complexes, bars and cafes. The main beach at Manuel Antonio is extremely long, with coral-white sand, a gentle crystal blue ocean, rocky islands just a short distance from shore and at the entrance to the Manuel Antonio National Park. Skirting the beach is a wide variety of cafes, shops and restaurants for your daytime pleasure and every kind of beach activity is available with equipment rentals. A hike in the national park will bring rich rewards for bird watchers, wildlife observers or those seeking an undeveloped more private beach experience. Nearby is La Playita---Little Beach---which has attracted a large gay population since the 1970's but recently a condominium development along the shoreline has made this beach more public. However, the local gay community and gay visitors have staked a claim and the majority of beach-goers are still gay, but the illegal practice of nude sun-bathing has been subdued by local police patrols. The gay beach aura still exists and can be enjoyed after a short walk along the rocks from the main beach. All beaches in Costa Rica are public domain by law and no-one can claim a beach as totally private even if they own the land adjacent to the beach so the rainbow flag will continue to fly as long as the community shows up.
In the village of Manuel Antonio there are several gay resorts and the town is situated high up on the cliffs overlooking the ocean bay and National Park with spectacular views especially for those romantic sunsets. The Casa Blanca Hotel is a reasonably priced gay-owned and operated resort with lush tropical gardens, two swimming pools, sundeck, self-service poolside bar and much more. They offer discounts for stays of one week or longer and breakfast can be added for a nominal seven dollars per day. The rooms are large and comfortable with free local phone service and air conditioning---not a standard hotel feature in Costa Rica. This is the perfect get-away for a quiet or romantic vacation with plenty of gay amenities and sports nearby. The best place to watch the sunset and then dine under the stars is the nearby gay-friendly Barba Roja Restaurant where the views are spectacular and the food is equal in delight to the sunset.
When there are so many volcanoes to see in one country it's important to select the one most likely to put on a show if you are looking for a little excitement and in Costa Rica that would be Aranel volcano renowned as the most active in the Americas. You might even feel the ground tremble and see the night sky explode with ash and lava in a natural fireworks display. Or you might just get to enjoy the volcano's hot-springs at Bali Hot Springs Hotel, Resort and Spa. Either way it will be another memorable experience in this amazing vacation playground of biodiversity. Here you can also stay overnight or for a few days---from approximately eighty dollars per night---at the new gay Palo Verde Resort with ten awesome cabins, lagoon swimming pool with wet bar and cascading waterfalls, jacuzzi, party center and an amazing view of the volcano.
Whether you're a nature lover or adventure junkie the tree-top canopy tours are a must-do activity during your stay. Canopy in this instance refers to the sky and a canopy tour of the forests is one of the most well-known attractions of Costa Rica. See the forest as the monkeys do---high above the tree-line---swinging from the tree tops on a zip-line, from platform to platform, for a once-in-a-lifetime experience!
More sedate activities include plantation tours featuring coffee, banana, sugar cane, papaya, yucca, avocado or giant African Palm plants or jungle tours visiting waterfalls and lagoons. Expediciones Nationales offers a wide range of tours throughout Costa Rica ranging from four hour trips to day tours or overnight adventures plus weekend trips to Nicaragua. They can even customise a tour to travel at your own pace.
On your last night in San Jose before heading home you might want to enjoy dinner in the tropical gardens at The Gardens Restaurant in the historic olde town Barrio Aman. They specialise in fresh seafood and local steaks in a Rancho-style bar and grill. You may not believe you're on this earth during this one last chance to enjoy the Garden of Eden a la Costa Rica before returning to your routine lifestyle.
So this is the vacation where you will definitely have time to stop and smell the flowers! A paradise where 852 species of birds and thousands of varieties of orchids thrive in harmony together and the locals are determined to keep it that way for generations to come.
The Ticos have a widely used expression Pura Vida which loosely translated means “everything's good” and on your vacation you will soon discover how this phrase evolved into a Costa Rican traditional everyday expression.
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Roy HealeI was born, raised and educated in London, England but have spent the past forty years living in Canada. My work experience has been in all levels of advertising, marketing, public relations and publishing. I was the Founder and Publisher of Outlooks Magazine in Canada for over eleven years and owned a marketing agency called SuperMarketing for twenty-five years. I also spent four years as the Promotion Manager of an independent television station in Canada. I am now semi-retired and occupy myself as a freelance travel journalist and divide my time between Calgary, Canada and Buenos Aires. I am an active member of the Travel Media Association of Canada , IGLTA and Travelwriters.com with my stories published around the globe. I am also a Director of the Argentina Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. I truly enjoy traveling South America, sharing my experiences with readers and the time spent in my new home city of Buenos Aires.
Located: Buenos Aires Argentina
Likes: LGBT Travel