Costa Rica - the ideal destination for solo travellers too

"The peaceful rainforest"

Central America can be tricky: most countries there, or at least large parts of them, are seen as problematic, even if there is currently no travel warning. Costa Rica, on the other hand, is the innocent lamb with the lowest crime rate of all Central American countries.

But we aquarists rarely stay in the tourist metropolises and cities, because our destinations are in places where nobody actually wants to go. Only when entering and leaving the country by plane do we have to take good care of our luggage until we get to the peaceful rainforest.

If you need some excitement try coming during the hurricane season from May to the end of November and getting close to the five active volcanoes. You never know when one of them will erupt!

Finding the perfect area to travel!

Costa Rica consists roughly of three parts: The Caribbean coastline (250 km), the Pacific coastline (100 km) and the part between the two coasts. At its narrowest point, it is only 100 km from ocean to ocean! As aquarists, we are happy anywhere once we have clear fresh waters with beautiful and interesting fish, so we recommend you consider other factors when planning your travel area. If you want to go to Nicaragua (Lake Nicaragua), we recommend the northern part. If you want to go diving or snorkelling, you will be spoilt for choice between the Caribbean and the Pacific. The number of search hits on Google shows twice as many for "diving Caribbean coast" as for "diving Pacific coast" in Costa Rica. If you want to go on to Panama, the southern part of the country is the right choice. From the capital San Jose, Nicaragua and Panama are about the same distance apart. The fauna of the fresh waters is much the same as in the neighbouring countries, so you won’t gain much - aquaristically speaking - from travelling long distances. It’s better to spend less time on the road and more time snorkelling the individual bodies of water to explore the streams, rivers and lakes. The only exception is Lake Nicaragua, which has some endemic species. Unfortunately, the water there is so murky that it’s not worth snorkelling there at all!

Don't forget your water tests! It is worthwhile measuring the different bodies of water. Low hardness levels but greatly changing pH values are always exciting.

Take a rental car, find out what’s worth seeing in the national parks and then plan your route. In a fortnight you can have a really beautiful round trip in Costa Rica and still have enough time at the individual stops to observe fish and shrimp at your leisure.

“Jumping cold water”

Most streams and smaller rivers have very clear water, 22-26 °C cool! This is always amazing when the air temperature is between 26 and 30 °C. We always expect the water temperature to be about the same as the air temperatures, but this is only the case with stagnant waters and lakes, such as Lake Nicaragua with its 28 °C. The smaller streams rise from cold springs and flow in the shade of trees where there isn’t enough heat to warm them up to 30 °C. Snorkelling in this waters is such a cold experience that I definitely recommend a thin wetsuit. A weight belt with pockets is also very helpful. You can load it with stones on the spot to reduce buoyancy in the water. (Who wants to carry lead weights on a plane?) After all, for beautiful photos it’s better to be at "eye level" with our models rather than shooting them from above. Another tip: Breathe out completely before you let yourself sink to the bottom of the stream! You still have so much residual oxygen available that you really don't need the massive buoyancy of a "filled lung”! It may sound strange - but make sure you try it out. You will be surprised how long you can stay under water with "empty" lungs.

Later, when you’re sitting shivering at the edge of the stream, keep your eyes open: Poison dart frogs may be hopping around, beautiful snakes may be looking for prey in the trees and, if you are very lucky, a "Jesus lizard" (common basilisk) may be running across the water. When encountering venomous snakes, we should never forget that playing around with the animals and getting bitten can be dangerous. especially if the venom takes lethal effect within 30 minutes and the nearest doctor (who may or may not have an antidote) is an hour away.

A word about caimans: Yes, a lot of the waters do have caimans. But these thick-skinned reptiles are absolutely peaceful and do NOT attack humans! In Central America, there is only the spectacled caiman, which grows up to 3 m long. Even in absolutely murky water, the animals left me completely unmolested, although they clearly outnumbered me.

Costa Rica actually has much more to offer than the under water fauna. It would be a pity if you missed the great animals above the water surface...

Travel tips

The ideal travel time (dry season) is between December and April. Christmas and New Year's Eve with livebearers and hummingbirds instead of Christmas trees and firecrackers - that’s half the cost of the trip saved already! For the Caribbean coast the best time is February-April and September-October. The Pacific coast is at its best between December and April, like most of Costa Rica. Of course, if you want to look for animals in the rainforest, the rainy season is better as you will find significantly more animals. The best time for this is May to November. Direct flights to San Jose are available from around €700,-. A rental car costs about €25 per day. A four-wheel drive vehicle is recommended, as we aquarists often need to get through muddy terrain to reach a body of water. Don't forget your international driving licence! German nationals do not need visas. Hotels and food are roughly on a par with German prices. No vaccinations are required for entry from Germany. Nevertheless, vaccinations such as hepatitis A/B, tetanus and typhoid are always recommended.

All water values and a comprehensive report on the JBL Expedition Central America & Galapagos can be found here:

Spedizione 2012 America Centrale & Galapagos

© 06.05.2022

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Heiko Blessin
Heiko Blessin
Dipl.-Biologe

Tauchen, Fotografie, Aquaristik, Haie, Motorrad

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