Writer and photographer James Kaiser, originally from Bangor, Maine, first visited Costa Rica five years ago – and liked it so much he moved there. Kaiser, 35, is author of the just-published “Costa Rica: The Complete Guide” (Destination Press; $22.95)
Q: Where is home these days?
San Jose, Costa Rica’s capital and biggest city, is up in the mountains – at about 4,000 feet – and has a cooler weather the temperature is around 71 degrees year-round. People refer to the climate as “eternal spring.”
Although San Jose can be messy and congested, it’s in the center of a country filled with stunning national parks. More than 25 percent of Costa Rica has been protected as parks or reserves. From San Jose you can get just about anywhere in Costa Rica in a matter of hours, so it makes a great base.
Q: Is San Jose worth much time?
If you’re in the country for a week, there’s no need to spend much time in San Jose. But if you find yourself in the city for an afternoon, there are some nice museums and parks. That said, most visitors should focus their time on Costa Rica’s stunning natural beauty.
Q: Which park is the best?
I love Corcovado National Park, on the Osa Peninsula. It’s one of the last remaining tracts of primary rainforest on the Pacific coast of Central America. When you think “rainforest,” this is what you imagine. National Geographic once called it the most “biologically intense place on Earth.”
From San Jose, you can fly to Drake Bay or Puerto Jimenez, two small towns just outside the park. The flight along the coast is spectacular. You can also drive there or take an all-day bus ride.
Q: Your No. 2 park choice for first-timers?
Tortuguero, on the northern Caribbean coast, is also terrific. You can’t get there by road; visitors arrive by plane or by boat. By boat, it’s a one-hour ride through a jungle filled with monkeys and sloths. Some people have even seen jaguars on the banks of the river. Tortuguero is extremely rainy – it gets about 16 feet of rain per year – so it’s incredibly lush. People call it the “Amazon of Costa Rica.”
“Tortuguero” means “Place of Turtles,” and July through October thousands of green turtles lay eggs on the beach each night. You can take turtle tours where you go out with a guide and watch the turtles lay their eggs.
Q: How are the beaches?
Costa Rica has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. One of my favorites is Playa Conchal, on the northern Pacific coast. It has beautiful white sand and turquoise waters. Manuel Antonio National Park, on the central Pacific coast, also has amazing beaches.
Q: Best season to go?
Two answers. The classic “best season” to visit Costa Rica is December through April, which is the dry season for much of the Pacific coast. Along the northern Pacific coast, you can go several months without a drop of rain.
Although September and October are the rainiest months on the Pacific coast, they’re the driest, sunniest months on the Caribbean coast. That’s also when the turtles lay their eggs in Tortuguero. The Caribbean coast is beautiful, with ecological diversity in the north and great beaches in the south.