In Costa Rica every road seems to lead to another waterfall, a coffee plantation, a volcano, a lush rainforest or a stunning tropical beach. Everywhere you look, you are greeted by smiling faces who are immensely proud to live in a country whose happy motto is ‘pura vida’ - pure life!
Costa Rica was named as the ‘rich coast’ by Spanish conquistadors who, as always, hoped to find gold and silver. Ironically, the opposite was true – not only were there no precious metals of any description, but the impenetrable jungles and lack of local inhabitants made it virtually impossible to farm the land. This why Costa Rica is not superbly endowed with the huge cathedrals, grand architecture and all the trappings of colonial administration. The Costa Ricans, or Ticos, were not conquered like the Aztecs to the north or the Incas in Peru and the Spanish ruled in a more benevolent manner till 1821 when the country gained its independence. The long hoped-for riches finally came to pass when the country became the first one to export coffee directly to Europe and was also the first to farm and export bananas on a large scale. Nowadays, Costa Rica is one of the few counties in the world not to have any armed forces and is rated one of the happiest countries on the planet.
Costa Rica has realised that its real riches come from its immensely fertile volcanic soils which have created a biodiversity of incredible range, variety and complexity – a veritable natural paradise! With more than 25% of the country designated as protected reserves or national parks, what can you expect to see here? One of its most well-known and likeable inhabitants is the three-toed sloth, but this is not even close to the tip of the iceberg. There are green iguanas, hundreds of varieties of brightly-coloured tree frogs, howler and capuchin monkeys, tapirs, elusive jaguars, toucans, scarlet macaws, hummingbirds a-plenty, crocodiles, leatherback turtles, whales – the list just goes on and on! One particularly extraordinary animal is the quetzal, the most breathtakingly stunning bird in Central America.
Our tour starts from the country's capital of San José before striking out for the Tortuguero National Park on Costa Rica’s eastern Caribbean coast, a labyrinth of canals, rivers and lagoons covered in thick forest and mangroves. Tortuguero means ‘turtle catcher’ and the many species of turtles which lay their eggs on these beaches came close to extinction until the area was declared a national park. You can also expect to see caimans, several types of monkeys and a huge number of endemic and migratory bird species, including toucans, macaws and raptors. More rarely seen inhabitants include tapirs, jaguars and manatees.
We continue cross-country towards the Arenal volcano. With a perfect cone, numerous hot springs and surrounded by its own national park, roughly half the species of Costa Rica can be found here. We'll take an easy walk along one of the many trails nearby and see some attractive views of the peak. From our comfortable base we will also visit the Caño Negro reserve, close to the border with Nicaragua. The main access route here is along the Rio Frio and the best way to spot wildlife is our boat safari which gives you uninterrupted views along its banks. More than 300 bird species have been identified here, including kingfishers, ibis, toucans, storks and even a type of vulture, plus you are also likely to see caimans and monkeys.
Our next port of call is the renowned Monteverde Cloud Forest, a unique ecosystem created by the warm Pacific winds being pushed up and condensing on the mountain slopes. The trees here are covered in mist and mossy vines, bromeliads, ferns and the greatest diversity of orchids on the planet. We explore via system of hanging bridges so as to look down on the thick vegetation below. There's plenty of hummingbirds here and you may be lucky enough to spot a quetzal. You may also choose to experience the incredible thrill of zip-wiring through the forest - this is one of the best places in the country to try this (at extra charge).
Our final stay for three nights is at a five-star resort in Guanacaste on the Pacific coast. Known for its beautiful palm-fringed beaches, this is the perfect spot to take some time off, relax, find a nice restaurant or bar and watch the sun slowly sink into the mighty Pacific Ocean.
With the new direct flights from London Gatwick to San José, we are sure you will come back from this surprising, amazing country with a real burning desire to go back. Pura vida!