Costa Rica: Expectations vs. First Impressions

Despite the fact that we landed in Costa Rica during the dark of the early evening, I was still easily able to recognize that one of my favorite parts of this entire trip would be the stunning views that the country provides. Last night, as my fellow Pitt students and I rode the bus from the San Jose airport to Heredia, I got my first glimpse of the magnificent scenery. The hundreds of lights from buildings in the central valley highlighted the bottom of the enormous mountains behind them, similar to how lights around and nearby the incline in Pittsburgh sparkle the land in the evening, but on a much grander scale. Today, simply by walking around the friendly neighborhood of Heredia, I caught brilliant glimpses of the tall mountains overlooking the civilization below. Additionally, hearing that the Monteverde National Park provides even more striking surroundings, I am excited to take in the multitude of sights that Costa Rica has to offer.

Interestingly, although the amazing views of the Costa Rican landscape are unlike anything that I have ever seen, there were a few familiar sights: American stores and retail locations. Though the number of Costa Rican stores far outweighs the number of American stores in Costa Rica, I still did a double-take when I first saw an Office Depot and a Taco Bell during that same initial bus ride from the airport. I did not expect to see these American stores in Costa Rica, but after thinking about the extensive influence that American businesses have on the rest of the world—particularly North America—I came to terms with the fact that it is possible to buy an authentic Costa Rican meal not far from where it is possible to buy a Papa John’s pizza. Regardless, I was surprised by the substantial presence of American stores in Costa Rica.

Though I did not expect to see much American influence in Costa Rica, I did expect—based on word from prior travelers—to meet many friendly Ticos. With the interactions I have had so far, I can personally confirm that this is the case. My host “Abuela” is one of the most kind and friendly people I have ever met, always energetic and particularly encouraging when I attempt to speak in Spanish. Also, though it may have been a daunting task to purchase items at the local convenience store from a Spanish cashier using the unfamiliar Costa Rican colons, I managed to accomplish this thanks to the affable employee who worked with me to interpret the prices and currency of the products that I bought.

Overall, my first impressions of Costa Rica are slightly different than what I had expected prior to arriving here. I knew that Costa Rica would offer spectacular scenery, but seeing the views for myself was completely different than simply hearing about them from others. With the prevalence of certain American businesses around the world such as McDonald’s and Subway, I should have predicted that I would see them in Costa Rica, a country with a thriving tourism industry. Although I had heard that Costa Rican people were friendly, I am happy that I decided to travel here and meet them myself.

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