Costa Rica feels like paradise because of its lush jungles, spectacular beaches, abundant wildlife, and varied landscape – all for less than you’d pay for a trip anywhere in Europe. But for gay and lesbian travelers in particular, Costa Rica has gained a well-earned reputation as a comfortable place to visit. True, its discos won’t rival those of New York or London, and its gay scene isn’t as big as the one in Amsterdam or Sydney. But where else can you climb a volcano with your partner during the day, then kick the dust off your boots and find a place to watch a drag queen lip-synch at night?
You could spend years here and not see everything, but there’s a great itinerary that’s popular with first-time visitors. It’ll give you a taste of several different parts of the country – a bit of urban life, a bit of jungle, and a spell on the beach. You’ll have opportunities to flex your muscles if you’re the athletic type, or time to take it easy if you’re not – or if you’re traveling with kids. Tour operators offer all-gay tours, but it’s easy enough to set one up on your own, and you’ll meet plenty of gay people along the way. Most importantly, nobody will bother you in Costa Rica; the local motto is “pura vida,” which means “pure life” but loosely translates as “life is good, so don’t sweat it.”
When you come, fly into San Jose, the temperate capital. It’s got some charming architecture downtown, a lively gay scene by night, and a couple of worthwhile museums by day. Next, rent a car and drive a couple hours to Lake Arenal, high in the rainforests of central Costa Rica, with easy wildlife-viewing opportunities. It’s cooler here, but there are natural hot springs to warm you up at night. Next, drive four or five hours to the Pacific Coast to Manuel Antonio, where it’s hot and sunny during the dry season. Here there are sandy beaches, easy hikes through the national parks, and a hundred different tours that bring you face to face with monkey, sloths, butterflies, frogs and any number of insects you never wanted to meet. There’s a bit of gay life here, and a gay beach, too, so you’ll have plenty to do when the animals are asleep. When you’re done on the coast, you can drive or fly back to San Jose and head home.
But be sure, San Jose is worth a day or two of your time. Earthquakes knocked down most of Costa Rica’s oldest buildings here, but the National Theater is a surviving gem, just off the busy pedestrian mall downtown. The Gold Museum and Jade Museum are worth a visit, too, if the weather isn’t cooperating. Sign up for an organized day tour to check out a nearby coffee plantation, visit a colonial town (Sarchi is notable for its artists’ markets), or drive right up to the crater of Poas Volcano (no need to hike this one). Then kiss the capital good-bye and head for Lake Arenal.