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Costa Rica

For many people, Costa Rica represents the truest example of an idyllic rainforest paradise. Packed full of jungle waterfalls, honey-coloured beaches and almost-unreal blue seas, this natural paradise is home to an ecosystem so diverse, it boasts over 10,000 species of plant and around 850 species. Along with these diverse inhabitants, Costa Rica is home to nearly 100 hundred titanic volcanoes, of which only 5 are thought to be active. Many of these can be found in the national parks which dot the Costa Rica Isthmus.

Living alongside this natural beauty is a friendly and welcoming human population with a history tracking back through the height of Spanish colonialism and further into the age of indigenous tribes such as the Nahuatl and Chibcha. These civilisations have left an indelible mark on this beautiful country in the shape of the Costa Rican capital, where tower blocks scrape shoulders with repurposed colonial mansions, and the beach is never too far away.

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Discovering Costa Rica with Great Rail Journeys

Found in the heart of Central America, Costa Rica borders Nicaragua to the north and Panama in the south, with a Pacific coast on the western side and a Caribbean coast on the eastern side. The capital city is San José with a population of just under 300,000. The country boasts a wide range of climates, from the hot and dry Pacific coast, to the humid heat of the jungles and the highland mists. Average temperatures range from 21 to 29°c.

The story of Costa Rica follows a similar pattern to many other Central American countries. Inhabited by a variety of different Mesoamerican tribes, the indigenous populace of Costa Rica was almost entirely wiped out by the arrival of Spanish conquistadors in their exploration of the New World, bringing as they did, diseases which had never been seen before on the continent. The first European to arrive on Costa Rica was none other than Christopher Columbus himself. The consequent colonisation was not as dramatic as that of other Central American countries owing mostly to the lack of gold and silver deposits in the country, leading to Costa Rica becoming one of the poorest of the American countries. Independence from Spain was achieved in 1821

An interesting aspect of the Costa Rican cultural identity is the concept of 'Pura Vida'. Translated as 'real living', this saying comes from a popular Mexican film from the 1950s which featured a character who, despite messing most things up, always managed to maintain his positive outlook. Since then, 'Pura Vida' has been something which most Costa Ricans strive towards and the phrase crops up in everyday as a greeting and a farewell, making its way into both everyday lexicon and the national dictionary.

Costa Rican cuisine has developed its own gastronomic identity, possibly due to the tropical nature of the country which yields many exotic fruits and vegetables. Usually these are fresh produce, and many national dishes have been created, often featuring rice and corn as staples. Gallo Pinto is the national dish in Costa Rica and is a rice stir fry, often combined with local spices and served with egg and cheese as a breakfast dish. Another popular choice is the Casado which is rice or beans combine with a type of meat or fish.