Educational aspects of Costa Rica


EXTRA CURRICULAR AT ITS MOST EXQUISITE

If Costa Rica which wasn’t so much fun, it would have “pedagogical” as its marketing strapline. In case you need any encouragement to take your family to Costa Rica, here you go.

Geography

Costa Rica is a favourite for sixth form school trips. If you want to avoid feeling green with envy and get your kids there first so that you can share in their joy, rest assured that this is the best geography lesson they will get. In terms of physical geography, this is an amazing place to visit because you can cover Caribbean and Pacific coasts, elevated cloud forest, wetlands and rainforest all in a two-week trip.
For human geography, Tico culture is multidimensional with influences that range from European to Afro Caribbean and eight indigenous communities. And there is no better country to learn about people and how they interact with their landscapes, with cocoa and coffee plantations to visit, community tourism initiatives and private wildlife reserves. As well as national parks, of course, with 25 percent of the country being protected.

Wildlife & marine conservation

The Sea Turtle Conservancy was founded in Costa Rica and is now protects turtles the world over.

We could practically write a dissertation on this, as wildlife is the main reason why most people flock to Costa Rica. This is not surprising as this tiny country provides habitats for four percent of the earth’s biodiversity, and one quarter of its precious landscapes are protected. Seeing Costa Rica’s creatures will always make more sense in the wild, rather than a classroom or book. You can watch sloths, monkeys, iguanas, caiman and ocelots in an Attenborough documentary, but it’s only when you get a chance to glimpse something as magical in the wild that you really understand our place and their place on the planet. And, indeed, what an extraordinary place this planet is. For more details see our Wildlife guide to Costa Rica.
If you religiously feed your garden birds, just wait until you get your head around 800 species of them here, some of the favourites being blue-crowned motmots, great green and scarlet macaws, toucans and resplendent quetzals. Head turners, all of them.

Nothing turns a head or stops you in your tracks more than a sea turtle, however. And if you time your trip between July and October you will be in luck, because that’s when Tortuguero National Park is one big nest for thousands of green turtles. A healthy turtle will lay up to 700 eggs over the course of seven sessions which take place every couple of weeks during the nesting season. Eggs hatch two to three months later. You can also go on a family volunteering trip to contribute to conservation projects to protect them.

For dolphins and whales, Costa Rica is a carnival. Drake Bay on the Osa Peninsula , for example, is one of the best places on the planet to spot humpback whales migrating 18,500km from Antarctica to breed in warmer waters from August to October.

History

Historically, Costa Rica was the meeting point of Andean South Americans, Aztecs from the north and seafaring Caribs from the east. But all of these people fell under the rule of Spain when the country joined this mighty empire in 1524. The Spanish governor in 1719 described Costa Rica as the “poorest and most miserable Spanish colony in all America”. Today, few would recognise this country – one of the wealthiest in the region – from his description. Indeed, “Costa Rica” means “rich coast” – a far more accurate name for this tiny gem of a nation. So, there are a lot of stories to be told, and imagine hearing them as you canoe through Tortuguero National Park with a local guide, or swing in a hammock overlooking the Caribbean as a local Creole guide shares coastal anecdotes. Classrooms are so last century.

Politics & human rights


Costa Rica has achieved so many successes economically, environmentally and politically. One of the most striking took place following the 1948 civil war, when the national army was abolished and a peace loving policy was enshrined in the Constitution. Military spending was redirected into social programmes, health and education. Costa Rica now has some of the highest living standards in the region and, compared with many other countries in the Americas, has an astoundingly peaceful record.
The country’s commitment to conservation has not been without controversy, however, one being the lack of preservation of indigenous cultures, with 60,000 people of indigenous heritage here, many of whom still live in traditional communities in isolated, rural areas. They depend on the forests and rivers in their daily lives – gathering fruit, fishing, and using forest materials for traditional medicines and in the construction of their homes. Yet they were only given the right to vote in 1994, and much of their land has been reallocated to ranchers and farmers of non indigenous heritage. Read more on our Costa Rica responsible tourism page and on the Minority Rights website.
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If you'd like to chat about Costa Rica families or need help finding a holiday to suit you we're very happy to help.
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Educational tips from those in the know


TIPS FROM OUR HEAD TRAVEL TEACHERS

Daniel Pawlyn from our supplier, Intrepid Travel: “Learning about wildlife and conservation is amazing. Especially somewhere like Tortuguero National Park, because you stay in the park, and around 50 percent of the time is spent on boats looking at the wildlife in the backwaters. You also spend time at a conservation centre learning about how they protect the beaches for green turtles which come here and lay eggs… We also went to chocolate and coffee plantations, so learned a lot about agriculture and the economy. But really, a lot of the trip was just life affirming stuff. And adventure!”
Natasha Preston, from our supplier Exodus, shares her Costa Rica travel advice: “The sheer diversity of species in Costa Rica is just staggering: over 100 species of hummingbird, various toucans, at one point we must have seen over 30 scarlet macaws displaying mating behaviour in a tree overhead. Amazing... crocodiles, caimans, howler monkeys. The first morning we woke up in Tortuguero, we got an alarm call from the howler monkeys at about 5am. That’s quite an eerie sound! They’re the world’s loudest land animal, their calls can carry through the jungle for over a couple of miles, so that’s quite an experience. It’s just amazing, even when you’re not seeing things, just to listen to the sound of the jungle.”
Photo credits: [Intro: Everjean] [Geography: Everjean] [Wildlife and marine conservation: Max Goldberg] [History: Marina Kuperman Villatoro] [Politics and human rights: Greg Gilbert] [Tip Daniel: cireremarc] [Tip Natasha: thejaan]
Written by Catherine Mack
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