Discover a country where you can snorkel off pristine beaches, hike into the rainforest, and spot everything from whales to sloths, all under the watchful gaze of volcanoes that tower over verdant rainforests. Travel writer Sarah Gordon shares her favourite things to see and do
It is hard to pick the exact moment that I fell in love with Costa Rica. Was it hiking up a volcano or spotting colourful hummingbirds flitting through the cloud forest? Was it surfing on the Pacific coast, or seeing a turtle lay its eggs on a white-sand beach under the cover of darkness?
For a country that only takes up a third of 1 per cent of the Earth’s surface, Costa Rica contains 5 per cent of the world’s animal and plant species. Here are eight reasons why the Rich Coast should be your next holiday destination…
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Nature and wildlife
This Eden-like nation is a nature lover’s dream. Humpback whales migrate along Costa Rica’s Pacific coastline each year, while four species of turtles lay their eggs on the beaches of the tiny town of Tortuguero. In the rainforests you can spot sloths, capuchin monkeys, toucans, parrots and the tiny resplendent quetzal bird. The best way to see them is by walking along the hanging bridges, rigged high up in the forest canopy.
One day you could be hiking up an active volcano, the next plunging down a river on a white-water raft or catching the perfect wave on the Pacific coast. If you’re looking for adventure, you will find it here. In the rainforests, opt to stay in a jungle lodge – many have treehouses and canopy suites. And if you’re only there for a day, don’t miss the zipline experience – the concept was born in Costa Rica and the country still offers the best choice when it comes to thrills.
Sitting on the Pacific volcanic belt – known as the Ring of Fire – tiny Costa Rica has about 120 volcanoes, six of which are active. You can peer into vast crater lakes, hike and explore the area’s verdant vegetation and stark lava flows, or simply relax in the hot springs warmed by all that geothermic activity.
There is a reason Costa Rica translates as the “rich coast”. On its Caribbean side you can dive and explore the country’s largest coral reefs at Cahuita national park, while the Osa peninsula, on the Pacific side, is home to stingrays and snapper. The Catalina Islands, off the coast off Guanacaste, are famed for Pacific giant manta rays.
Whether you want pristine white sands backed by lush rainforest, sweeping bays with perfect surf, hidden coves or volcanic black sands, there is a beach for you. The Nicoya peninsula on the Pacific side of the country is dotted with charming surf towns, while hiking routes through Manuel Antonio national park will lead you to beaches of the softest white sand. On the Caribbean side, Manzanillo is a charming beach town edged by spectacular coral reefs, while laid-back Cahuita has a hiking route that takes you to the hidden beach of Puerto Vargas.
Blissed out: Costa Rica is known as one of the happiest countries in the world – “pure life"
The one phrase you will hear time and again is “pura vida”, which translates as “pure life” and describes perfectly an attitude and way of life unique to Costa Rica. After all, this is a country consistently nominated as one of the happiest in the world, and which hasn’t even had an army since 1948. It is home to one of five Blue Zones in the world – where locals have the longest life expectancies on Earth – and aims to be completely carbon-neutral by 2021.
Coffee and chocolate
The fertile volcanic soils of the highlands have made Costa Rica one of the great coffee-producing nations, and beautiful haciendas open their doors to tourists to show how the estates cultivate and process the precious beans. Chocolate was also once central to the Costa Rican economy – the cacao bean was even used as currency. However, in 1979 the harvest was almost wiped out by blight. The chocolate industry is slowly coming back, with boutique farms offering tours and the chance to sample their high-end produce.
There are direct flights from London to Costa Rica, with British Airways flying into the capital San José and Thomson flying to Liberia, the “white city” of Guanacaste province on the Pacific coast. Air France, KLM, United Airlines and Delta offer indirect flights. Costa Rica’s compact size makes it ideal for road trips, with easy routes linking mountains and beaches, coffee plantations and rainforests.
To discover more on what makes Costa Rica unique, go to Visit Costa Rica