Tag Archives: costa rica history

The Best Cultural Souvenirs that Just Scream COSTA RICA

Unforgettable memories are by far the most precious souvenir you could bring back from your Costa Rica vacation. But let’s face it…what’s a vacay without a little shopping spree? Add to that an enticing infusion of history and culture and what you’ll get is the perfect souvenir to bring home. Or several of them. Souvenirs that just screams ‘COSTA RICA!’ whenever you see them.

Whether useful or not, cultural or simply ‘pretty’, unique or edible, Costa Rica offers an array of fantastic souvenirs for the shopper, collector, or gift-giver. But if you’re looking for a one-of-a-kind work of art, that reflects the country’s indigenous cultures and history, then look no further than Costa Rica’s best cultural souvenirs to bring home.

But be warned: you may just want to pack an extra travel bag.

Miniature Painted Oxcarts

Painted Costa Rica ox cartUnsurprisingly, most of Costa Rica’s best souvenirs are hand-made, carved and stitched using natural and sustainable materials. Renowned for being an ecologically conscious nation, the country’s best souvenirs are made with love, both for the artwork and the land the materials derive from, and represent a taste of the culture and multi-colored landscapes.

So fine, bringing home a hand-painted oxcart may be a bit of a challenge, but the Ticos have you covered. Miniature wooden oxcarts are the ideal souvenir for visitors who want a unique and unmistakable keepsake of their trip to Costa Rica. For the best in the country, head to the city of Sarchi, just an hour’s drive north from the capital, San Jose. This immensely charming town is renowned for its intricately carved and painted artifacts, including not only oxcarts but also masks, furniture, and stunning jewellery.

Boruca Masks

Costa Rica boruca maskBoruca masks, which were used by indigenous Boruca warriors in their fights against the conquistadores, are arguably the second-most favoured Costa Rican souvenir and have become so ubiquitous they are literally found in just about every stall and souvenir shop in the country.

Many of the cheaper masks you’ll find are ‘imitations’, so if you’re in the market for an authentic piece, made by a Boruca tribesperson, then you ought to visit an upmarket art gallery or souvenir boutique instead. Traditionally, Boruca masks are multi-dimensional works of art, brightly painted with drawings depicting scenes and wildlife of Costa Rica. The more complex pieces can set you back $200, but if you’re after a truly special souvenir to hang on your wall, then this would certainly be it.

Chorotega Pottery

Costa rica chorotega potteryThe Chorotega people of north-western Costa Rica (they used to inhabit Honduras and Nicaragua as well) have lost much of their traditional language and way of life over the years, yet still retain their incredible pottery skills. In the small towns of San Vincente and Guaitil, beehive-shaped kiln ovens are a telltale sign that amazing workshops are around.

Chorotega pottery is about the last remnant of a tribe that was one of the strongest in the country by the time Europeans arrived. And it’s a stunning one at that. This incredible legacy is being kept alive through local workshops and organizations that promote the art, keep the indigenous history alive and promote the craftsmanship throughout the country. You’ll find everything from stunning plates, bowls, vases and animal sculptures for that utterly unique and historical souvenir-lover.

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Discover the Natural Beauty of Historical Costa Rica

Costa Rica museumCosta Rica may not be as archaeologically enriched as its neighbors and it is true that it is primarily renowned as the epitome destination for nature and wildlife lovers. Yet this doesn’t mean that you’ll find Costa Rica completely devoid of historical attractions.

While many artifacts and relics are housed within the walls of the country’s best museums, there are also plenty of landmarks to discover, all boasting fascinating stories. Want more on your Costa Rica adventure holiday than just volcanoes, tropical rain forests, pristine beaches and outstanding diving? Then include a few cultural attractions in your sightseeing itinerary and you’ll enjoy a much more comprehensive adventure.

Museo Nacional de Costa Rica, San Jose

Museum de NationaleThe country’s best museum is housed within the walls of a fortress which was built in 1917, and still bears the bullet-ridden marks of the 1948 civil war. It boasts a very detailed account of Costa Rica’s history, starting from the pre-Columbian relics – from stone tables to jewels – up to 18th colonial era and, most recently, a display dedicated to the Nobel Peace Prize awarded in 1987 to then-president Oscar Arias Sanchez.

Halls and rooms are chock-full of priceless art and artifacts and the chronological way in which displays are organized makes a visit here a phenomenal and educational walk through the major trials and achievements of the country. Geological and natural science displays complement the historical sections.

Cartago City

cartago-cityRight on the base of Irazu Volcano, about a half hour drive out of San Jose, is where you’ll find the city which was the capital of Costa Rica for almost 300 years. The city was originally founded in the mid-1500s in what the Spanish governor considered ‘the most beautiful valley he’s ever seen’.

In Cartago, a glorious city of innumerable attractions, you’ll find the Cathedral of the Virgin of the Angels, arguably the most stunning church in the entire country. Stroll the Playa Mayor and get lost in its charming alleyways. Cartago’s city centre is heritage listed and protected, and a local government initiative, to provide subtle lighting and restoration, is aimed at attracting visitors who may choose this as a travel base, rather than San Jose.

Guayabo National Monument

Guayabo National MonumentThe country’s largest archaeological site is also one of its most mysterious and there are still no clues as to which ancient tribe first built dwellings on this site. The mammoth ancient city was built in the second millennia BC over an area of 540 acres, but was hidden below a blanket of wilderness until the late 1960s.

There are still extensive areas which are yet to be excavated and archaeologists believe many dwellings date back over 3,000 years. The Lost City of Guayabo is 60 miles east of San Jose, past Cartago, and walking through a section of it is incredibly beautiful. Hike up to the mirador for spectacular views or take along some camping gear for an unforgettable night of tenting under the stars.

Museo de Arte Costarricense, San Jose

Museo de Arte CostarricenseThis is one of San Jose’s most gorgeous buildings which also happens to display the most comprehensive art collection for the country’s best artists, from the colonial era right up to the present day. The modern-day museum was the terminal of Costa Rica’s first international airport and is connected to the lovely La Sabana Park in the heart of the city. There are thousands of artworks on display permanently, with the Gold Room being an absolute highlight, and various temporary collections appear during the year. Admission is free.

Stone Spheres

Costa Rica spheresThe Stone Spheres are another Costa Rican archaeological mystery, and a collection of over 300 has been amassed by experts over the last seven decades. Ranging in size, shape and weight – from a hundred grams right up to 16 ton – the spheres appear to be ornamental and although the exact composition or use of them is unknown, experts agree that all were man-made.

Nowadays, very few remain in the area where they were first discovered (Palmar Sur and Palmar Norte) but you’ll actually find several of these Stone Spheres decorating the gardens of government buildings – a number are also on display in the garden of the National Museum in San Jose – and quite a few have been purchased by wealthy locals as a status symbol. As of 2014, the Stone Spheres of Costa Rica were awarded UNESCO World Heritage listing.

Isla San Lucas

Isla San LucasA jail in the heart of the Nicoya Gulf may not appear, at first, to be a very attractive landmark. But hear us out on this one! Isla San Lucas was indeed a prison for over a century yet now that it’s no longer in use, the historical and archaeological value of this wildlife-rich isle has come under intense scrutiny. There are dozens of ancient sites here, which both pre and post date Colonialism, as well as a plethora of endemic wildlife both on and off the shores. Due to this diversity, Isla San Lucas has gained a reputation as a very rewarding day-trip destination from Puntarenas.

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Kermit the Frog Part of Costa Rica’s Rich History

Scientists have recently discovered a new frog species in Costa Rica, which looks remarkably like every child’s favorite croaker. Kermit, or Hyalinobatrachium dianae as the scientists prefer to call him, is only about an inch long and now joins a dozen species of ‘glass frogs’ known to inhabit the country’s rainforests. Glass frogs are rare species which have translucent skin on their underbellies; so see-through in fact, that their internal organs are actually visible. Cost Rica is home to one-tenth of the world’s glass frog species.

This curious looking creature, with its bulging eyes, pointy mouth and skinny long legs, is undoubtedly one of the cutest new discoveries in the animal world. It really should come as no surprise that Kermit was discovered in Costa Rica, as the sheer diversity of wildlife makes this one of the most gratifying spots for researchers and scientists.

Which really begs the question…what else is out there?

How Kermit was discovered…

With this being the first new frog discovery in Costa Rica in over four decades, it’s being hailed as quite the feat. Three researchers are on the spotlight following Kermit’s discovery: Brian Kubicki, Stanley Salazaar and Robert Puschendorf. They’ve been studying amphibians for years and have now introduced Kermit to the world. H. dianae is said to differ in a few critical ways from his fellow glass-like-toads, including in genetics and, more poignantly, in its mating call. The Kermit-lookalike’s romantic whistle is so dramatically different from any used by other members of his species (it sounds more like an insect than a frog, according to Kubicki) that it managed to go undetected all these years. Moreover, incognito-Kermit was found in a dense forest near the Caribbean coastline, which is hard to access, has no roads and is one of the most impenetrable areas of the country.

Luckily, this means that chances of threat from humans will likely not be a problem for this adorable little guy and his buddies. In a country with such high regard for ecological welfare, his future looks bright as ever. Although six specimens from three different sites were taken by the researchers, they are confident that their numbers are plentiful.

Kubicki attested to CBS News to not being very surprised at the media’s comparing Hyalinobatrachium dianae to Kermit, even though it was something he had never thought initially. He is also said to be pleased at all the attention Kermit has received, as “in doing so it is highlighting the amazing amphibians that are native to Costa Rica and the need to continue exploring and studying the country’s amazing tropical forests.”

Scientists have not yet confirmed whether H. dianae plays the banjo, although they can confirm that the hunt for other Muppet-like creatures continues in full force.

Best frog watching spots in Costa Rica

Costa Rica is one of the most amphibian-rich countries on earth. In total, 175 different species have been discovered here, which is astonishing considering just how small the country really is. The frogs of Costa Rica are among the most colorful and their enchanting calls have a way to reverberate through entire forests. Coming eye to eye with Blue Jeans Frogs, Red Eyed Leaf Frogs or one of the many Glass Frogs is just one of the many incredible wildlife experiences you can have in Costa Rica. It is imperative that no physical contact is made with any of the frogs found in Costa Rica, as many are toxic and, even nowadays, not much is known about their poisons.

By and large, amphibians are shy creatures and prefer to roam the lands at night. If you want to come discover all the amazing amphibians of this wonderful country, book a wildlife viewing trip with a naturalist guide who can point them out for you. Frogs, most especially, are absolute masters of disguise and your chances of spotting different species, on your own, are very slim.

All of the country’s national parks are home to various types of frogs, yet the most popular frog-watching excursions are in the Tortuguero, Rincon de la Vieja, Carara and Corcovado National Parks. Specialised and very popular tours are also offered in the Arenal Oasis Frog Sanctuary.