Steaming rainforest, iridescent hummingbirds, smouldering volcanoes, tumbling rivers, and miles of palm-fringed sandy beaches: if Mother Nature can ever be accused of showing off, it is in Costa Rica. Sat just north of the equator, this verdant chunk of the Central American isthmus is one of the most bio-diverse spots on the planet. Added to which, as the only country in the region with no standing army, it’s a beacon of peace and democracy.
A world pioneer in eco-tourism, Costa Rica has set aside more than a quarter of its territory as a protected natural area, more than any other country on Earth. Its national parks are its greatest glory, comprising a stunning variety of landscapes, microclimates, flora and fauna. The cloud forests of Monteverde are the haunt of the resplendent quetzal, sacred national bird. Corcovado’s coastal rainforest is home to all four native monkey species. The northwestern Nicoya Peninsula is teeming with birds, wild cats, whales and dolphins. The canals, beaches and mangroves of Tortuguero are alive with wildlife, including nesting green and leatherback turtles.
Alternatively, if you are looking for an adrenalin kick, whitewater rafting, tree-top zip wires, surfing and quad biking are just a few of the extreme activities on offer. You can hike around the many volcanoes studded along the country’s spine; tread carefully on grumpy Arenal Volcano, or wallow in the hot lagoons and mud baths of the more placid Poas and Irazú.
Costa Rica’s cities may not win many architectural awards but they’re worth a visit, if only for an insight into the urban lives of Ticos, as the citizens call themselves. Downtown San Jose has superb museums and excellent cafés. Or head to sleepy Puerto Limón on the Caribbean coast; a popular stop-off with surfers en route to the big waves off Isla Uvita. For anyone in search of an ethical adventure, Costa Rica’s charms will have you under their spell all too quickly.