The rainforest lodge is only accessible by water, so I approach by rowing boat, gliding across Costa Rica’s Golfo Dulce from the former banana port of Golfito. My guide Diego gesticulates wildly with his free hand at a family of capuchin monkeys on land who are watching us arrive. Days later I encounter a mother whale with her baby playing in the same Gulf on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast. Little wonder this is called the ‘world’s happiest country’.
Above: Costa Rican frog
Little Costa Rica has five per cent of the world’s total biodiversity and three quarters of its landmass is national parkland. It can offer the best of both worlds combining beach and jungle adventures, as well as mountains, magical cloud forests and miles of open spaces for horse-riding and hiking .
1. HEAD IN THE CLOUDS. Guided natural history walks take you through the Monteverde Reserve which is home to jaguars and pumas. There’s also a zip-line tour of the reserve where you look down on mammals such as the fuzzy martilla. But the best way to see the lush cloud forest and its inhabitants is by walking on hanging bridges which take you alongside the canopy of trees www.forestalive.com
2. SNAPPY CROCODILE TOURS. Cruise down the river and mangrove swamp at Jaco to see huge crocodiles. The brave guide will even feed the creatures giving you a close-up of their teeth and gums www.crocodilemantour.com
3 THERMAL DIP. Paint yourself in mud before jumping in the thermal waters surrounded by lush forest at the Rio Negro, Guanacaste www.guanacastetours.com
4 COWBOYS FOR A DAY
The cattle ranching region of Guanacaste is also home to the Rincon de la Vieja volcano, a thermally active area. Adventure junkies will thrive on the activities on offer here from zip wires, Tarzan swings, white water rafting and horseback riding www.guanacastetours.com
5 GET SOME CARIBBEAN CULTURE. Costa Rica’s province of Limon has a multiculturalism that's unique to the region. Approximately one-third of the population is of Jamaican descent, and many indigenous Bribri and Cabecar people live among the Talamanca areas. www.puertolimon.net
6 KAYAKING WITH SLOTHS Cruise through the canals of Tortuguero in search of monkeys and sloths, and then head to Lake Arenal, the centre of adventure sports like paddle boarding www.kayakjaco.com
7 SURFS UP – HEAD TO THE BEACH
The Pacific Coast has some beautiful beaches with conditions that offer some of the best surfing in this part of the world. Towns such as Nosara are packed with bright driftwood signs pointing to surf shacks and sunset bars. Beaches have an abandoned Robinson-Crusoe feel with rickety shelters constructed from wood and sticks with covers of dried palm leaves. www.safarisurfschool.com
8 CITY BREAK. Most visitors to Costa Rica enter via the capital San Jose, which has some old world charm and has several points of interest such as the imposing St Joseph’s cathedral and The Teatro Nacional built in the style of the Paris Opera from money raised by the coffee tax. Although tickets to see top shows can cost hundreds of dollars, on Wednesdays you can see a half hour taster performance of music, theatre or some other performance for just one dollar. Afterwards have a cocktail or coffee at the lovely Waldorf Hotel, the first hotel in the city to be built exclusively for tourists in the 1920s.www.rainforesttours.com
9 COSTA COFFEE. Costa Rica makes some of the best coffee in the world. A Coffee Lover’s Tour starting in the capital San Jose will take you through a working coffee plantation and to a roaster, with lots of sampling on the way. www.coffeetour.com
10 FOR THE BIRDS. There are some fabulous birds in Costa Rica, and even if you are not a devoted twitcher its worth visiting the Parque del Este: this San José park rambles through a collection of lawns, planted gardens, and harvested forest, Oropendola and blue-crowned motmot are common species here. Or take an organised tour into the rainforest to see quetzal, macaws, kingfishers and many other colourful birds. www.costaricabirdingtours.com