Stuck between the ‘devils’ and the deep blue seas, Costa Rica, which translates from Spanish into ‘rich coast’, is a rare and lovely holiday destination that more travellers ought to contemplate. After all, in these days of eco-pressures, under which we are all being placed unwittingly and, on occasion, willingly, Costa Rica has a vital role to play.

London-based, The New Economics Foundation, which works to a model of increased prosperity, through equality, diversity and economic stability, has already awarded the country, in 2009, the ‘Greenest Country In The World’ status. The Costa Rican government had set a target, two years prior, to be the world’s first carbonneutral nation by 2021 and it is well on the way towards achieving its goal.

Although culturally rich, when the Spanish conquistadors arrived in the 16th century and misappropriated  their gold, it became a very poor country. Yet, while it never fought for independence, it sort of drifted into it,  following the defeat of the Spanish in the Mexican War of Independence (1810-21). The export of coffee was its first major cash-earner, followed by the banana trade.

Interestingly, the country has enjoyed far greater territorial and political stability than either of its nearest neighbours and, although it endured a very bloody civil war in 1948, Costa Rica has been peaceful ever since. The country’s politics are transparent and democratic, which makes its tourist industry even more popular, not least because of its
tropical climate, which ensures that rain is a predominant characteristic between May and November. The driest period is January to March, which makes it a tremendous Winter Sun destination.


Pacific Coast

On another article, you can read about ecotourism, yet Costa Rica was a pioneer of this type of holiday and it is worth around $2.2billion to its economy at present. Geographically, on the country’s west coast are two major Gulfs of Nicoya in th north and Sweet in the south. The Inter-American Highway runs directly through both of these stunningly beautiful and naturally diverse regions.

In the north of the country, the Monteverde and Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserves are a key attraction to lovers of natural history and the range of wild life that can be seen is exceptional. The area is renowned for its high altitude (over 4,600 feet above sea level), its cloud-shrouded forests, coffee plantations and the friendliest locals. Over 100 species of mammals, more than 400 species of birds and, of the 2,500 varieties of plants that co-exist, no less than 420 of them are listed as orchids.

There are innumerable trails, canopy tours and even trams that will take you into this verdant and mountainous region. Monteverde’s hotels range widely in style and price, from beachfront to eco-lodges and remote resorts to hilltop residences. They cater for all ages and sensitivities, from family and all-in accommodation to more exclusive and romantic settings, all with as much adventure injected, as you might wish to sample.

Moving down the coast from Puntarenas past Dominical is the Manuel Antonio National Park, which provides breathtaking natural beauty and spectacularly unpopulated white sandy beaches. Its hiking trails are exceedingly popular and Forbes Magazine rates it as one of the top beauty spots of the world.

Just offshore are some of the most beautiful coral reefs available to diving explorers, which contain outstanding biodiversity of marine life. Naturally, it is protected and monitored very strictly, to ensure that its beauty remains unsullied and a massive emphasis is placed on man’s harmony with nature. However, the instructions not to feed the animals should be adhered to and there are  several scientific programmes that operate in this outstanding area, in support of this well-founded park.

Just before reaching the Panamanian border in the south, is another National Park at Corcovado. If you want to experience Amazon-like jungle, then this is the best place away from that area to do so. If insect-life is of interest, every imaginable type from central America can be found within these tropical forests, which includes remarkable heights of trees and swathes of languorous lianas, let alone a broad mix of other vegetation. Poisonous tree frogs abound among forty different varieties and guided tours are strongly recommended, in order to spot some of the world’s shyest and rarest of wild and endangered creatures, not the least of which is the Jaguar, Baird’s Tapirs, Scarlet Macaws, Harpy Eagles, Redbacked Squirrel Monkeys and White-lipped Peccaries.

Crocodiles populate the Corcovado Lagoon and just off its 23 miles of sun-bleached sandy beaches, where sea turtles also nest, are the breeding grounds of the hammerhead shark. While there has never been a reported attack, adventurous swimmers do need to be aware of the potential dangers. Interestingly, as a backpackers’ and budget travellers’ haven, the ferry terminal town of Puerto Jiminez does offer a rich mix  of inexpensive cabinas, restaurants and travel services. As a gateway to the Park, transportation and
tours can be arranged with licensed operators and bicycles, sea kayaks and horses can also be rented for local exploration. Camping within the Park costs $7  entrance fee and $3 per night.

While the major US chains operate many of the larger hotels, plenty of smaller, boutique and private establishments can provide accommodation from as little as $24 per night. The Marriott Los Suenos is typical of the 5-Star giants and is located adjacent to the Playa Herradura, its private beach, and short break rooms here start from around $224 per night, although deals can be struck through various holiday companies, while many similar hotels offer third or fourth nights free.

At the popular resort of Quepos is Cocomar Residences and beachfront hotel. Located on Palo Seco beach, less than ten minutes from the pueblo-like town of Parrita, a host of outdoor activities is available, from fishing and wildlife watching to diving and trekking, from around $79 per night. Yet, a 3-Star hotel, such as Iguana Azul, located around 90 minutes north of Liberia International Airport (LIA) at Guanacaste charges around $45 per night, again adjacent to the beach. As you can see, the range is varied and amazing.

Caribbean Coast

Just eighty miles east of San Jose airport in the middle of Costa Rica is the Caribbean resort of Limon, which is also home to the Tortuguero National Park. Although not as heavily targeted at the travel industry, this area is no less attractive and its capital, Puerto Limon, is a brilliant stopping point for one of the most geographically diverse areas of Central America.

Nature-lovers will fall for the complexity of attractions, from the swamplands in the north, to the spectacular mountains in the west and south, or just lingering around the turtle-laden beaches. History fans will enjoy the fact that Columbus landed here in 1502,
although the tranquil waters lent themselves ideally to piracy over the following 400 years. There are many coves and hideaways to investigate. The city itself is enchanting in a timeless manner and joining in the local pastime of sloth watching, in the city’s Vargas Park, can prove highly rewarding.

Further up the Caribbean coast towards Nicaragua is the Tortuguero Park. As a fairly popular tours destination, you do need to be prepared to brave the elements, as it can be especially rainy within the prehistoric coastal jungle. Of course, it is quite remote and, while accommodation and transport will be taken care of, food is something else.

Access to the park is via the Tortuguero Canal, which tends to dissuade some of the larger cruising vessels from attempting to enter the area. Actually, reaching the protected site is best carried out by boat from Limon or Moin and it is possible to stay at Tortuguero Costa Rica, a primitive and secluded village, with no roads, no cars or banks, for the maximum jungle experience. Yet, there are plenty of lodges and hotels for visitors, as well as a beach and several exceptional restaurants, so comfort, or lack of it, is not an issue.

As a country of remarkable diversity, Costa Rica has many riches to offer tourists. It does help if you are more-than-slightly intrepid, as the wildest aspects of nature are here to behold in all of their Technicolor glory and possessing enough energy and get-up-andgo to explore and investigate is the key to enjoying the whole experience.


Costa Rica facts

By plane:

from Heathrow, it is best to do a flight and hotels deal and Expedia (www.expedia.com) offers San Jose return-flight economy packages from £736pp for 14 nights at the 3-Star Hotel Royal Dutch up to £949pp for 14 nights at the 4-Star San Jose Grand Tara hotel.
The Adventure Company (www.adventurecompany.co.uk) maximises the Costa Rica experience by using boat, bus and hiking trips, spending the first couple of days at Tortuguero National Park and two days at Sarapiqui, rafting in the foothills. Two days at Arenal volcano, two days at the Monteverde Cloud Forest reserve, followed by three days on the Pacific coast, culminating in another day at San Jose brings the fortnight to a close. The all-in price per person is £2,389 inc. directflights.

Intrepid Travel offers a 15 days’ Classic Costa Rica tour for just £895pp, tel: 0844 499 8487 (www.intrepidtravel.com). British citizens do not require a visa to enter Costa Rica.


National parks:

Monteverde & St Elena Cloud Forest reserves (www.monteverdeinfo.com), Manuel Antonio National Park (www.manuelantoniopark.com), Corcovado National Park (www.corcovadoguide.com), Tortuguero National Park (www.tortugueroinfo.com), Arenal Volcano (www.arenal.net)


All prices and details were correct when published in tlm - the travel & leisure magazine, please check before you visit Costa Rica.