Travelers choose Costa Rica not only for what they will see, but how they will feel. 

By Michael Kaye, CEO and Founder of Costa Rica Expeditions and Nicaragua Expeditions

Why do so many travelers choose to vacation in Costa Rica over all the other countries in the world that they might visit?

As I have made my living arranging vacations to Costa Rica for the last 35 years, I have spent considerable time pondering that question.

Costa Rica has warm weather when it is freezing in most of the United States and Europe, but so does Mexico which is closer to the U.S. and Canada and is much cheaper than Costa Rica.

Costa Rica has spectacular tropical rain forests with diverse and abundant wildlife, but so do places like Peru and Brazil. Ask the average American to name a tropical rain forest, what are they more likely to reply: “Tortuguero” or “Amazon”?

Costa Rica has one of the world 50 best white-water rafting rivers. Idaho has 3.

Beautiful beaches? No doubt. But how about the Caribbean?

So what’s the answer?

Here’s my friend of over 40 years, explorer and adventure travel pioneer, Richard Bangs writing in a February 2006 article in the New York Times:

“Though my job takes me around the world seeking adventure, the one place I return to for my own busman’s holiday is Costa Rica, not just for its well-known attributes of long-standing democracy, model conservation efforts, and panoply of adventures; but for the fact that most Costa Ricans genuinely like Norte Americanos.”

But wait a minute, does Richard really keep returning to Costa Rica because the people genuinely like Americans? Can’t he find enough people who genuinely like Americans at home in Los Angeles?

Richard was not satisfied with his answer either, so he returned to Costa Rica in 2011 to film an episode of his Emmy award winning PBS series, Adventures with Purpose, and explore this question further.

Here’s what he found:

“Costa Rica is a place of beaches, volcanoes and rainforests so rich in life the much of it is still to be discovered. It has more species of animals and plants than North America and Europe combined. An ethnically diverse democracy, Costa Rica has literacy rates and healthcare comparable to the most developed countries in the world. It’s abolished its military, and enjoyed greater peace and political stability than all of its neighbours. But what has brought me back to Costa Rica so many times over the years is a sense of well-being I’ve felt in few countries on earth.

How did Costa Rica become so different from neighboring countries and every other country in the world? Recently I was on vacation in Costa Rica with my family. As I waited in the airport, I heard one Tica say to another, “Pura Vida.” I realized I’d been hearing the phrase since I first came to Costa Rica years ago, but until that moment I had not really thought about it. Literally it means Pure Life; but is there something deeper? Could it be a clue to the roots of Costa Rica’s exceptionalism?

Here, endless natural wonders rouse the faculties and excite the soul. But what I find most remarkable is the sensitivity the people have to their surroundings. Costa Ricans have set aside one quarter of their land as national parks and protected areas. How did they manage this when so many people in other countries have stood by while their natural wonders were degraded or destroyed?   

Costa Rica is like the monkey who locked up the zookeeper… The very quintessence of nature preservation as policy was born in Costa Rica. And no place on earth glows warmer with the spirit of joy, hope, and inexhaustible promise, and the attendant feelings of a bright, unspotted life. Not only does Costa Rica have its home-grown heroes, the country itself has become a hero.


A river guide for many years, Michael Kaye was the first to run Costa Rica’s white water rivers. Michael and his wife, Yolanda started Costa Rica Expeditions as a white water rafting company in the fall of 1978. As well as continuing to actively manage Costa Rica Expeditions, his current passion is Real Travel Feedback, a web site and Facebook app dedicated to meaningful conversations about vacations. In October 2007 Michael was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Adventure Travel Trade Association.