For the past two weeks I've been in Costa Rica, which was a last-minute sorta thing where one minute I was unpacking from a road trip in Eastern Europe, and the next minute I was on a plane to Central America.
As Costa Rica is one of the most traveled to countries per capita, evidence of the tourism industry was extraordinary; national parks abound (nearly 25% of the country is protected), roadside restaurants flocked with tourbuses in every corner of the country, hotels packed, hostels in every town imaginable, and therefore, a respectably thriving economy. Of any country in Latin America I've been to before, I found that Costa Rica was the easiest to get around simply because of the amount of connections and resources available for travelers, such as tour companies for any budget or lifestyle, buses going steadily between every major tourist town, and a copious amount of other travelers. Honestly, often times it felt like you had to go far out of your way to interact with locals and find a town that wasn't flooded with tour groups and bars geared solely for the Western backpacker.
That being said, what I found uniquely special about Costa Rica was the friendliness of the locals themselves. I know it's a cliche to say how "nice" and "welcoming" locals are when talking about a country, I really, really want to point it out here. It's been a long time since I've traveled to a country where I was this pleasantly surprised to see how proud, hospitable, welcoming, and friendly Costa Ricans seemed to be. The country is doing enormously well for itself (tourism has risen 18% in the past four years, it's on the road to being the first carbon-neutral country in the world, it has 4% of the world's biodiversity, and the population has a 98% literacy rate), and Costa Ricans are obviously proud; as they should be. The joy they had and pride for their country made for an especially positive experience.
As for my personal trip, the visit was a whirlwind, but it was wonderful; skirting through jungle rivers to catch the sunrise, standing before waterfalls and smoke-capped volcanos, endless plates of pineapple and papaya and gallo pinto (the local dish, consisting of rice and beans mixed with various herbs, spices, and fried plantains), hours upon hours of cramped vans snaking through mountain roads, waking up at 4 AM too many times to count (sometimes on purpose, sometimes because of the howler monkeys screeching from the canopy just outside the cabin door), the kind of heat that’s so heavy you can feel every hair on your body, oceanside walks under stormy skies, waiting two hours just for a minute of witnessing a sea turtle make her nest and wade back into the ocean under a heavy full moon, afternoons and mornings of rainstorms on tin roofs, the taste of warm cacao sipped out of a coconut while sitting around a fire in a small village’s home, learning about the medicinal trees of the rainforest from a shaman himself, evenings of belly-aching laughter and tables scattered with imperials and caipirinhas, watching a wild sloth climb through the roof of a restaurant (twice), plenty of “local stuff,” coffee upon coffee upon coffee, leafing through the pages of books sticky with salty ocean air as we made our way across lakes and canals to the next horizon.
I only wish I had more time there, but I guess that's an excuse to someday come back.