Costa Rica: a nature lover’s paradise
Lush jungle, deserted beaches and extraordinary wildlife (oh, and year-round sunshine)... For a small country, Costa Rica certainly packs an ecological punch. Here’s why it needs to be on your tropical holiday hit list
Naturally, a spell away from the cold weather and dreary skies sounds enticing but Costa Rica, a Central American country that stretches between the Pacific and Caribbean coasts, has more to offer than a good tan. Its year-round warm, tropical climate makes rainforest hikes, white-water rafting and surfing adventures just as pleasurable in low season as they are in high.
The even warmer welcome
Costa Ricans – known as Ticos – often cite the pura vida mantra, which, simply translated, means simple or pure life. But it’s more than just a saying... it is a way of life. Consequently, Costa Rica has been recognised as one of the most positive and peaceful countries in the world – there’s been no army here since 1948. It is welcoming, safe and thoughtful (the nation has long been celebrated for its leadership in environmental policy). What more could you wish for?
It’s not surprising everyone’s smiling – you would be, too, if you lived in such a bio-diverse hotspot. Costa Rica is swathed in protected rainforests, mangrove swamps, verdant plains and reserves, all bursting with natural wonders – indeed, more than half a million species consider the country their home (that’s around four per cent of all plant, insect and wildlife species on Earth). The 28 National Parks are where to head for a wildlife fix, especially those off the tourist track: try Corcovado for rarer species (jaguars, scarlet macaws, red-backed squirrel monkeys, hummingbirds and the like), while Cocos Island is the most extraordinary spot in the world for diving.
The coast is clear
Once you’ve had your fill of high-octane adventuring, Costa Rica’s 800-mile-shoreline offers a mellow antidote. Costa Rica means the ‘rich coast’ and it certainly lives up to its name: sun-drenched beaches on both the Caribbean and Pacific sides are a magnet for surfers, who appreciate the warm waters and excellent surf breaks – Witch’s Rock (or Roca Bruja) in the Santa Rosa National Park is one of the more famous. Coral reefs offer superlative snorkelling, while seeing the olive ridley sea turtles arrive on the soft, white sands to lay their eggs is a memory maker.
Don’t just stick to the tourist trail - the true beauty of Costa Rica lies in its small, off-the-beaten-track secrets. Hire a car and plan a road trip – whether you’re into mountains or beach, coffee plantations or cloud forests, the path less travelled couldn’t be easier, and it can be excellent value for money. Especially if you opt for a campsite in one of the National Parks (it’s thrilling to be there after dark) or one of the many locally owned B&B style properties. And there’s no shortage of boutique lodges and five-star properties, many of them sustainable, for a little slice of eco-luxe.
Food for thought
All that outdoor beauty making you hungry? Breakfast on tropical fruit and the ever-popular gallo pinto, a dish of rice and beans, or, for something more substantial, casado has every base covered – rice, beans, salad, tortillas, fried platano maduro and meat; though eating ceviche (aka marinated seafood) on the beach with an ice-cold beer is hard to beat (though tap water is safe to drink throughout the country). And, of course, where better to get the perfect cup of coffee than Costa Rica? After all, its beans are some of the best in the world.
Take off to San José. While a hire car gives you the most freedom, the public bus system is affordable and reliable, even in remote regions. Private and shared shuttle buses are also an excellent option, while taxis offer good value for groups. Private tour guides have outstanding local knowledge and can provide a more in-depth experience; book through BA Holidays or your travel agent.
For more information and to plan itineraries, go to Visit Costa Rica