The Real Costa Rica?

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OK. So we returned from our Costa Rica trip five weeks ago and, FINALLY, I’ve found some time to share both the disappointments and gems we encountered down there.

The Real Costa Rica?

Costa Rica is a beautiful country hailed for its eco-friendly attributes — lush rain forests, mountains, and pristine beaches. But it is equally ridiculed for its boring, even awful, food. In both cases, we encountered major disillusionment, but luckily that led to discovering lots of friendly people and off the beaten track experiences.

The first disappointment was that while Costa Rica certainly had beautiful rain forests, dramatic mountains an gorgeous beaches (particularly the one where we stayed), it was far from environmentally conscious in so many ways. First of all, darn near everything is packaged in plastic. I understand that Costa Rica is a poor country. So fine, there is no opportunity to recycle all that plastic, but burning it by the side of the road? Well, that was the view driving along the highway every night after sundown — men standing over burning garbage (plastic and all) pushing it around with a stick. It smelled awful! And I don’t even want to think about the estrogens and other endocrine disruptors that were in the fumes these poor people were inhaling.

Now, maybe it’s just me, but I didn’t expect the country that kicked Starbucks out and is at least sort of embracing sustainable energy to be completely overrun with European hotels, ugly condos and Wal-Mart! Some of this expansion seems to be relatively new in the Jaco area, but nonetheless, it was a shame. While these places seemed to provide some jobs, in many (if not, most) cases, the development left many natives homeless. To boot, prices were totally jacked up! I’m from New York City and would never pay their inflated prices there, which made it a little difficult to get totally comfortable with paying their often ridiculous prices for simple services. But as much as possible, we tried to at least patronize the mom and pop establishments which often still were “overcharging”. Seeing as they were living in such an expensive area, it was easier to know that they would get 100% of profits instead of seeing it shipped back to the US or Europe.

We were also shocked to learn that it was really difficult to find native handcrafts — at least where we were. In fact, the Canadian woman who stayed in the apartment upstairs from us has been visiting Costa Rica every year for seven years and learned from friends who own a souvenir shop down there that most of the so-called Costa Rican handcrafts come from Thailand! Yes. And the Thai artisans who manufacture these goods are so in tune the Costa Rican fauna that they’ve sent wood carvings of bears with salmon down there bearing a “made in Costa Rica” sticker. So we never ran into the limited edition bear with salmon carving, but this piece of information explained why I thought the wooden products looked distinctly Asian.

This lack of reasonably priced and authentic Costa Rican souvenirs made gift shopping really difficult. It was further complicated by the fact that there was a virtual absence of nice food or toiletry items in any of the stores. That brings me to Costa Rican food, which I’ll continue with later.

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