Costa Rica: holidays on the wild side
The people of Costa Rica talk about ‘pura vida’ – the good life. And it’s not hard to see why. Lying between Nicaragua and Panama, this Central American country is a breathtaking, natural beauty between two coasts – the wild Pacific on one side and gentle Caribbean on the other – with half its coastline given over to marine sanctuaries and a quarter of all its land protected through national parks and reserves.
Costa Rica is known as a sustainability pioneer – 98 percent of electricity is powered by renewable energy – and for being one of the most biodiverse places on the planet. The wildlife is extraordinary, from sloths to toucans, humpback whales to howler monkeys. Keep eyes peeled for the elusive jaguars that live in the lush jungle of the Corcovado National Park on the southern Osa Peninsula, also home to renowned luxury eco lodge Lapa Rios, one of a great many sustainable hotels in Costa Rica. Spot birds such as powder-blue herons and velvety green and orange pygmy kingfishers among the reeds on a boat trip along the northern Frio River, part of the Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge (not far from the Arenal volcano).
The Nicoya Peninsula on the Pacific Coast is a magnet for surfers and yogis, drawn to pocket-size seaside towns such as hippy-chic Santa Teresa and low-key Nosara for world-class swells, wellness retreats and health-kick cafes; while Papagayo is fast becoming a bolthole for luxury Lat Am beach holidays, with its Four Seasons and Andaz resorts, and a Six Senses and Waldorf Astoria in the offing.
Besides wildlife, the national parks and protected reserves harbour thrills for adrenaline junkies too. There’s white-water rafting and kayaking on the Pacuare River, zip-lining through the treetop canopy of the Monteverde Extremo Park, and diving alongside manta rays and white-tipped reef sharks. On the Caribbean coast, must-visit beaches include Tortuguero where hawksbill turtles nest, and peaceful, palm tree-lined Punta Uva.
And although many visitors bypass the capital completely, San Jose has plenty to appeal: cool art galleries and concept stores in the historic Barrio Amón, buzzing nightlife in La Cali, hyperlocal restaurants in Barrio Escalante.
A pristine, nature-first paradise setting the benchmark for ecotourism.