7 things to know before you go to Costa Rica
Squeezed in between the Pacific Ocean and Atlantic Ocean, wedged in between Nicaragua and Panama, the tiny republic of Costa Rica is a destination that should be towards the top of every traveler's bucket list. A land of almost unrivalled wildlife, volcanic scenery, adrenaline-fueled adventure and pristine white beaches, the Costa Rican saying of "pura vida," or “pure life," could not be more fitting.
Comparable in size to West Virginia, it's possible to see almost everything Costa Rica has to offer in a single visit – although one visit will never be enough. To help you get your bearings, here are seven key things to know before you arrive.
1. A tale of two cities
Costa Rica's big cities are small in number and population. Most travelers fly into the capital, San José, with a population of more than 330,000, and venture on from there. Located at the heart of the country, 'Chepe,' as the capital is affectionately known, appears unremarkable at first glance — a sprawl of concrete and noisy traffic. Stay a couple of days, however, and you'll find a city of historic neighborhoods full of contemporary art galleries, museums and fine cafés, restaurants and bars.
Your other option is to fly into the new Daniel Oduber Quiros International Airport in Liberia, with a population of around 60,000. This once-sleepy cowboy town has been reinvented as a modern-day tourism hub, but it's less a destination in which to dwell and more a jump-off point for exploring the Parque Nacional Rincon de la Vieja and the beaches of the Peninsula de Nicoya, both of which are highly recommended.
2. Get closer to nature
Most visitors flock to Costa Rica for its natural habitat. Nowhere in the world will you find so much diversity squeezed into such a tiny space. As much as 25 percent of the country is now protected by national reserves, with dense rainforests and dramatic cloud forests home to thousands of creatures both large and small. Of the many options, we suggest you prioritize the two below.
For lush tropical rainforests, head for Manuel Antonio National Park on the Pacific coast, taking trails through the forest to pristine beaches, past capuchin monkeys, iguanas and sloths. And for Costa Rica's best cloud forest, head further up the coast to Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. Under constant cloud cover and across more than 35,000 acres, it's home to more than 100 species of mammals, 400 species of birds and 1,200 species of amphibians and reptiles. More impressive still, it's one of the few remaining habitats that support all six species of the cat family – jaguar, ocelot, margay, jaguarundi, puma and oncilla.
3. Eco-friendly accommodations
Costa Rica has been at the forefront of the sustainable tourism movement for many years, and its best accommodations come in the form of eco lodges – designed to have minimum impact on the natural environment in which they're located. This means the best places to stay are well away from the concrete cities. Of the many options dotted throughout the country, the five-star Lapa Rios is arguably the best. Set within a 1,000-acre private nature reserve in the Osa Peninsula, it boasts 17 bungalows with breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean and the rainforest. Luna Nueva, La Cusinga and Finca Rosa Blanca Country Inn are just three other excellent alternatives among many.
4. Go with the flow
Another of Costa Rica's biggest attractions are its volcanoes. More than 60 dot the landscape, most in the northern part of the country and in the Central Highlands, but only a handful of them remain active. Most tourists are drawn to Arenal Volcano, less than three hours north of San José. Arenal's conical peak rumbles and smokes, but since 2010 its explosions and lava flows have decreased significantly – it's considered to be alive but currently sleeping.
Even idle, Arenal is a sight to behold, and with its numerous hiking trails, hot springs, canopy walks and zip-lines through the treetops around it, its popularity is easily understood. Indeed, with 90 percent of the country's wildlife and 50 percent of its plant species living in the upper levels of the trees, taking a zip-line through the forest canopy is an essential experience.
5. Action and adventure
Blessed with two coasts, white-water rivers and the aforementioned volcanoes, Costa Rica offers rich pickings for adventure seekers. Zip-lining down the slopes of Arenal Volcano will have your heart beating faster, while the mountainous terrain and heavy rainfall combine to create perfect white-water rafting conditions – La Fortuna is just one standout stretch among many.
For a more sedate alternative, Arenal river tubing takes you through the heart of the North Central region's jungles, past a cast of crocodiles and caiman, kingfishers and iguanas. If you want to explore the deep blue depths, head across to the Caribbean coast to scuba dive and snorkel among the manta rays, manatees and whitetip sharks or surf the legendary Salsa Brava, translated as 'angry sauce'. As the name suggests, approach with great caution.
6. Sunshine and sand
Life shuffles by at a more leisurely pace on Costa Rica's two coasts, home to a seemingly endless array of breathtaking beaches. On the Pacific coast, Manuel Antonio is one of Costa Rica's most celebrated — with a rocky headland shielding the beach from powerful waves, making it a very family-friendly option. The same can be said about the soft sand that slopes gently into the ocean at Playa Flamingo.
For a livelier alternative, follow the crowds to Tamarindo in the northwestern province of Guanacaste, where surfers seek out the swells and the parties stretch long into the night. Playa Conchal, with its white sand and turquoise water, is a snorkeler's paradise and beautiful secret to all those in the know. Likewise, if you know to follow the unmarked dirt roads to Punta Uva on the Caribbean Coast, you'll be rewarded with pristine water, coral reefs, palm trees and a sense of supreme, smug solitude.
7. Party on
The fastest way to understand a new culture is by observing people in their natural habitat. Smaller festivals take place across Costa Rica throughout the year and offer a window into Los Ticos (an affectionate name for the people of Costa Rica). But, to truly immerse yourself, consider one of the main events. Fiestas Zapote takes place in December in San José and features rodeos, fair rides and bull fighting.
Limón Carnival takes place in October in the port city of Limón and is a smaller-scale version of Rio's Carnival — a riot of costumes, floats and flamboyance. Fiestas Palmares, in the town of the same name, is Costa Rica's biggest cowboy party, with a two-week celebration of rodeos, carnival rides and beer.
And Fiestas de los Diablitos takes place in two indigenous communities, Boruca and Rey Curre, in December and February, respectively. There, the villagers don masks and costumes symbolizing ancestral spirits and reenact victory over the Spanish conquistadors.
Right now, around the world, brave members of America's armed forces are on duty, defending our freedom and upholding our values.
When not laser-focused on the mission at hand, they're looking forward to the day when their service to our nation is fulfilled and they can reunite with their families.
They are also imagining how they can use their hard-earned skills to build an exciting, rewarding and important career when they return home.
I want them to look no further than United Airlines.
That's why we are focused on recruiting, developing and championing veterans across our company, demonstrating to our returning women and men in uniform that United is the best possible place for them to put their training, knowledge, discipline and character to the noblest use.
They've developed their knowledge and skills in some of the worst of times. We hope they will use those skills to keep United performing at our best, all of the time.
That's why we are accelerating our efforts to onboard the best and the brightest, and substantially increasing our overall recruitment numbers each year.
We recently launched a new sponsorship program to support onboarding veterans into United and a new care package program to support deployed employees. It's one more reason why United continues to rank high - and rise higher - as a top workplace for veterans. In fact, we jumped 21 spots this year on Indeed.com's list of the top U.S workplaces for veterans. This is a testament to our increased recruiting efforts, as well as our efforts to create a culture where veterans feel valued and supported.
We use the special reach and resources of our global operations to partner with outstanding organizations. This is our way of stepping up and going the extra mile for all those who've stepped forward to answer our nation's call.
We do this year-round, and the month of November is no exception; however, it is exceptional, especially as we mark Veterans Day.
As we pay tribute to all Americans who have served in uniform and carried our flag into battle throughout our history, let's also keep our thoughts with the women and men who are serving around the world, now. They belong to a generation of post-9/11 veterans who've taken part in the longest sustained period of conflict in our history.
Never has so much been asked by so many of so few.... for so long. These heroes represent every color and creed. They are drawn from across the country and many immigrated to our shores.
They then freely choose to serve in the most distant and dangerous regions of the world, to protect democracy in its moments of maximum danger.
Wherever they serve - however they serve - whether they put on a uniform each day, or serve in ways which may never be fully known, these Americans wake up each morning willing to offer the "last full measure of devotion" on our behalf.
Every time they do so, they provide a stunning rebuke to the kinds of voices around the world who doubt freedom and democracy's ability to defend itself.
Unfortunately, we know there are those who seem to not understand – or say they do not - what it is that inspires a free people to step forward, willing to lay down their lives so that their country and fellow citizens might live.
But, we – who are both the wards and stewards of the democracy which has been preserved and handed down to us by veterans throughout our history – do understand.
We know that inciting fear and hatred of others is a source of weakness, not strength. And such divisive rhetoric can never inspire solidarity or sacrifice like love for others and love of country can.
It is this quality of devotion that we most honor in our veterans - those who have served, do serve and will serve.
On behalf of a grateful family of 96,000, thank you for your service.
Each year around Veterans Day, Indeed, one of the world's largest job search engines, rates companies based on actual employee reviews to identify which ones offer the best opportunities and benefits for current and former U.S. military members. Our dramatic improvement in the rankings this year reflects a stronger commitment than ever before to actively recruiting, developing and nurturing veteran talent.
"We've spent a lot of time over the past 12 months looking for ways to better connect with our employees who served and attract new employees from the military ranks," said Global Catering Operations and Logistics Managing Director Ryan Melby, a U.S. Army veteran and the president of our United for Veterans business resource group.
"Our group is launching a mentorship program, for instance, where we'll assign existing employee-veterans to work with new hires who come to us from the armed forces. Having a friend and an ally like that, someone who can help you translate the skills you picked up in the military to what we do as a civilian company, is invaluable. That initiative is still in its infancy, but I'm really optimistic about what it can do for United and for our veteran population here."
Impressively, we were the only one of our industry peers to move up on the list, further evidence that we're on a good track as a company.
The question of where David Ferrari was had haunted retired U.S. Army Sergeant Major Vincent Salceto for the better part of 66 years.
Rarely did a week go by that Salceto didn't think about his old friend. Often, he relived their last moments together in a recurring nightmare. In it, it's once again 1953 and Salceto and Ferrari are patrolling a valley in what is now North Korea. Suddenly, explosions shatter the silence and flares light up the night sky.
Crouching under a barrage of bullets, Salceto, the squad's leader, drags two of his men to safety, then he sees Ferrari lying face down on the ground. He runs out to help him, but he's too late. And that's when he always wakes up.
Italian Americans from opposite coasts – Salceto from Philadelphia, Ferrari from San Francisco – the two became close, almost like brothers, after being assigned to the same unit during the Korean War. When Ferrari died, it hit Salceto hard.
"After that, I never let anyone get close to me like I did with Dave," he says. "I couldn't; I didn't want to go through that again."
When the war ended, Salceto wanted to tell Ferrari's family how brave their son and brother had been in battle. Most of all, he wanted to salute his friend at his gravesite and give him a proper farewell.
For decades, though, Salceto had no luck finding his final resting place or locating any of his relatives. Then, in June of this year, he uncovered a clue that led him to the Italian Cemetary in Colma, California, where Ferrari is buried.
Within days, Salceto, who lives in Franklinville, New Jersey, was packed and sitting aboard United Flight 731 from Philadelphia to San Francisco with his wife, Amy, and daughter, Donna Decker, on his way to Colma. For such a meaningful trip, he even wore his Army dress uniform.
That's how San Francisco-based flight attendant Noreen Baldwin spotted him as he walked down the jet bridge to get on the plane.
"I saw him and said to the other crew members, 'Oh my goodness, look at this guy,'" she says. "I knew there had to be a story."
The two struck up a conversation and Salceto told Baldwin why he was traveling. She got emotional listening to him talk and made a point of fussing over him, making sure he and his family had everything they needed.
About halfway through the flight, Baldwin had an idea. She and her fellow crew members would write messages of encouragement to Salceto and invite his fellow passengers to do the same.
"We did it discreetly," says Baldwin. "I asked the customers if they saw the man in uniform, which most had, and asked them if they wanted to write a few words for him on a cocktail napkin. A lot of people did; families did it together, parents got their kids to write something. After the first few rows, I was so choked up that I could barely talk."
When Baldwin surprised Salceto with dozens of hand-written notes, he, too, was speechless. He laid the stack on his lap and read each one. At the same time, the pilots made an announcement about the veteran over the loud speaker, after which the customers on board burst into applause.
"It seems contrived, and I hate using the word organic, but that's what it was; it just happened," Baldwin says. "Mr. Salceto was so loveable and humble, and what he was doing was so incredible, it felt like the right thing to do. And you could tell he was touched."
On June 27, Salceto finally stood before Ferrari's grave and said that long-awaited goodbye. As a trumpeter played "Taps," he unpinned a medal from his jacket and laid it reverently on the headstone.
"I had gotten a Bronze Star for my actions [the night Ferrari died] with a 'V' for valor, and that was the medal I put on Dave's grave," says Salceto, pausing to fight back tears. "I thought he was more deserving of it than I was."
For the first time in years, Salceto felt at peace. His mission was accomplished.