Reading about a new place before and during your travels to a new destination is an excellent way to gain an insider’s perspective of an unknown land. Reading fictional books about a country reveals a softer, more approachable side as opposed to guidebooks and some rigid, nonfiction finds. While guide books are often very informative, visiting new countries through the eyes of characters, whether fictional or not, can help create a richer experience.
Below is a list of books that is sure to please any first-time traveler to Costa Rica or someone who comes back time and time again. The list is a nice blend of both fiction and nonfiction, and the nonfiction suggested is never too heavy.
It’s Every Monkey for Themselves: A True Story of Sex, Love and Lies in the Jungle – Vanessa Woods
Set in the jungles of Costa Rica, Vanessa Woods leaves her cushy life in Australia and dives head first into the wild jungles of Costa Rica. While this is a true story, the experiences that she has are pretty unreal. The book is quite funny at times but can also be a bit self-indulgent. Not sure if Woods will be your favorite character in the book, but she does have a raw, edgy tone to her writing. Nonetheless, her memoir is a fun, quick read that explores monkeys in a mature and intelligent way.
Oro – Cizia Zykë
Oro is another personal account that playfully weaves sex, drugs and adventure in the green paradise of Costa Rica’s Osa peninsula. Driven by gold and greed, Zykë dabbles in a life of crime and uses grit, gore and racy imagery to depict his misdemeanors and adventures. His story offers the reader good details to the imagery of Osa peninsula and gives you the inspiration you might need to explore some of the rugged jungles of Costa Rica.
Green Phoenix: Restoring the Tropical Forests of Guanacaste – William Allen
This is an extremely refreshing and positive look at the ways in which humans can restore the world’s tropical forests. There’s so much literature out there that casts a gloomy cloud over the destruction of the world’s rainforests and open spaces. While it’s important to be informed of the matters at hand, it can also get a bit pessimistic. Here, William Allen shares his experience of saving the tropical forests of Guanacaste, which were ravaged by fires. The writing is vivid and inspiring and a must-read for anyone interested in biodiversity.
Monkeys Are Made Of Chocolate: Exotic and Unseen Costa Rica – Jack Ewing
Nonfiction, Short Stories
If you want an in-depth look at exotic animals and resurrected ecosystems, then look no further. This is an excellent collection of Jack Ewing’s experiences of living in Costa Rica. The book is a compilation of guest columns for publications in Costa Rica. They are beautifully written and laced with careful observations about nature and the myriad of worlds that exist within the jungle.
And while this is a superb book that gets the reader excited about the natural world, it is the way that it’s written that is most captivating. Ewing is an excellent storyteller, grabbing the attention of his readers. It’s a fascinating look at Costa Rica’s wildlife that touches on evolution, conservation and environmentalism.
Costa Rica: A Traveler’s Literary Companion – Barbara Ras, Oscar Arias
Nonfiction, Short Stories
This is a superb collection of short stories from all over Costa Rica. Having the book broken down into geographical regions is an extremely clever way to organize the stories, even though it might have upset the fluidity of the collection. It really impresses the importance of nature in life, and especially here in Costa Rica. There’s also an incredible range of stories. Instead of it solely focused on just the environment, it also incorporates a wide variety of situations pertinent to Costa Rica.
The Devil’s Deep – Michael Wallace
This isn’t going to give you the best overview of life in Costa Rica, but half of the book is set in the country, giving the reader a glossy look at vacationing there. It really is difficult to find fictional books set in Costa Rica, but this one has a nice mix of the exotic locale with a generous dash of mystery. It’s very readable and the first of its series, so if you’re wanting more after you read this, there are more to follow.
The Scent of Jade – Dee DeTarsio
After accidentally stealing an ancient artifact, the heroine of Dee DeTarsio’s story, Julie, hits the ground running through the rainforests of Costa Rica. The premise of this book is sexy and fun with a heavy dose of adventure. The situations that Julie gets herself into are definitely a bit unreal, but it is fiction after all. Isn’t that why book lovers read fiction, to escape the realities of their world? Overall, the novel is quite funny at times with an original plot. Definitely a good option if you need something to read away the hours on the flight over.
Jurassic Park & The Lost World – Michael Crichton
Did you know these two gems are set in Costa Rica? Granted, it is a fictional island OFF of Costa Rica, but Michael Crichton spent a lot of time in Costa Rica and, thus, made it the backdrop for his novels. He was fascinated by the land and culture and wanted to honor it, in what became a literary sensation soon-turned blockbuster hit. The premise of these two novels are known to most, but it’s worth a re-read (or a first-read) if you plan on spending some time in Costa Rica. The imagery is something that Crichton does well when sharing his fondness for the country.
The Year of Fog – Michelle Richmond
Set in two places, San Francisco and Costa Rica, the reader literally takes a walk down memory lane as the main character, Abby, tries to piece together clues to find a missing child. It is a thriller; however, the author also manages to interlace some rudimentary lessons in photography, memory, psychology and philosophy. A fun mystery with two very different landscapes for the setting, the reader is sure to walk away satiated after reading this book.
Whether short stories, salaciously wild memoirs or a thrilling mystery, this list is sure to inspire travel to Costa Rica, for everyone. Giving an array of different perspectives through the lens of writers, TV producers, biologists and travelers, these books are sure to offer an excellent glimpse into the wildly, beautiful world of Costa Rica.