One of the fastest-growing destinations for UK travellers is Costa Rica and with direct flights, luxury lodges and a world leading nature and eco-tourism industry, it is easy to see why.
To those travellers who might not yet be enticed by the allure of this fabulous country then they would do well to also consider the central tenet of Costa Rican society: ‘Pura Vida’, which translates as ‘pure life’. This is a greeting and also a goodbye and is generally considered to underpin the nation’s beliefs. It is this which also makes it different from other destinations in the Americas – a generalized thrust towards living and the continuance of a pure life for the country’s nature, people and biodiversity as a whole.
Couple this attitude with several factors: solid national infrastructure, enlightened political leadership, a well-educated population and the fact that Costa Rica is regularly ranked by the New Economics Foundation (NEF) as the happiest nation in the world, and also the ‘greenest’ country in the world – one can see why it outranks its neighbours (the less-stable Nicaragua to the north and Panama to the south) in terms of tourism-attractiveness.
Business is also bustling in Costa Rica, as the country is home to headquarter offices for numerous multinational corporations in the global marketplace. Business and group travelers will find a plethora of hotel and meeting space options, as the country hosts a sophisticated infrastructure of hotels and international brands.
Yet, for holidaying or budget-conscious travellers, Costa Rica is generally the most expensive country in the entirety of Latin America for goods, services and accommodation. Although eating out can be reasonably priced, local produce such as coffee, chocolate or even local wine and beer can be expensive when compared to European prices but, perhaps unsurprisingly, locally grown and harvested organic Costa Rican coffee is in a different league to what you might find in your local Waitrose and it’s highly recommended that you bring some home with you.
Tourism, and particularly in latter years eco-tourism, is Costa Rica’s largest section of the economy in terms of foreign exchange, bringing in more than its exports of coffee, pineapples and bananas combined. Since the first fledgling boom of its tourism industry in the mid to late-1980s, tourist numbers have increased over 710% with business information organisation, Central American Data (centralamericandata.com), stating that 2,925,128 international arrivals to the country were reported in 2016, with over 70% arriving by air and, for the first time, the UK becoming the main source of tourists from Europe – mostly thanks to the new British Airways direct flights into the capital city, San José.
With a territory divided into 29 national parks, 19 wildlife refuges, eight biological reserves, and a series of protected areas, Costa Rica’s fecund biodiversity is a huge asset towards ecotourism, with the country often being credited as one of the first pioneers in this particular type of tourism, with the main thrust of the county’s tourist promotion involving its wildlife, nature and conservation aspects, including recycling, carbon neutral biomass schemes, renewables and self-sufficiency as central pillars of many of the larger tourism businesses who seek to provide beautiful natural experiences for visitors and to educate them about the importance of protecting natural resources.
This commitment to eco-tourism has seen several businesses winning world-recognised awards for their efforts, with Costa Rica’s Nature Air (natureair.com) becoming a Tourism for Tomorrow Award (wttc.org) winner as well becoming the world’s first carbon neutral airline, and the Lapa Rios Ecolodge (laparios.com) winning the Rainforest Alliance Sustainable Standard-Setter award (rainforest-alliance.org).
Finca Rosa Blanca Coffee Plantation Resort is set in the highlands of the beautiful Central Valley and located just 20 minutes from the San José International Airport. At 4,000 feet above sea level, this stunning lodge offers acres of tropical gardens and winding paths and a thriving, 30-acre organic coffee plantation.
Over thirty years ago the Jampol family envisioned the creation of an exclusive boutique inn that would become one of the world’s leading personalised hotels, combining luxurious accommodations and amenities, cultural authenticity, environmental respect and sustainable tourism. Today the resort is recognised as one of the globe’s top destinations, demonstrating it’s both possible and necessary to combine luxury with sustainability.
The resort offers 14 uniquely designed rooms, each featuring private verandas, sweeping valley and volcano views and unique décor. Their eight acres of tropical gardens and paths play host to a swimming pool and waterfall and a large hot tub located under a canopy of bougainvillea flowers. Finca Rosa Blanca was the first hotel to achieve and maintain a perfect 100% score under Costa Rica’s prestigious Certification for Sustainable Tourism (CST) program.
Prices at Finca Rosa Blanca start from around £219 per room, per night, based on double occupancy, which includes a full a la carte breakfast, eco-tours and snacks.
Tel: +1 305-395-3042
Due to its unique location, based on the site of an old rainforest farm on the banks of the remote Pacuare river, Pacuare Lodge allows guests one of two ways to access it, either over the winding rocky roads via 4×4, or by whitewater rafting in down the river itself, to be greeted by friendly, waving staff, offering exhilarated guests refreshing fruit cocktails. Obviously the latter method proves the most popular.
A simple and sophisticated ecolodge, Pacuare offers both adventure and luxury comfort in harmony with its surroundings, their ethos commits them to full sustainability and the fact they have been regularly included in numerous ‘top ecolodges of the world’ listings for the past ten years should tell you all you need to know.
A two-day/one-night adventure in one of the lodge’s River Suites starts from around £360 per person and includes transportation to and from the capital, San José. You will have your own bilingual guide, typical Costa Rican breakfast en route, Pacuare River rafting tour or ground transportation to the lodge (depending on preference), professional river guides and equipment. At the lodge you will receive three exquisite daily meals, hot beverages and non-mixed drinks, a one-hour Pacuare Reserve hike, and lunch overlooking the glorious turquoise river.
Tel: 0800 051 6420
On the southern edge of the Osa Peninsula, on the Pacific coast, lies one of the most biodiverse regions in the world and amongst this haven for wildlife lies the Lapa Rios luxury ecolodge.
The Osa Peninsula is home to 2.5% of the world’s biodiversity and has many endangered species, many of which can be spotted from the lodge’s jungle walkways and elevated viewing platforms. Toucans, howler monkeys and jaguars can all be seen from the lodge and Lapa Rios has trails throughout the property where you can take hikes with one of their four experienced nature guides to really ensure you make the most out of this jungle experience
Prices at Lapa Rios start from around £564 per room, per night, based on double occupancy. This price includes lodging in an ocean-view bungalow sited atop a forest ridge with housekeeping service twice a day, three gourmet meals per day plus arrival and departure day transfers to the local airstrip, there are also numerous guided tour options such as dawn and sunset bird tours, wild waterfall hike, local medicine hike, rain forest ridge walk, an exciting night walk where you can spot jaguars on the prowl and tarantulas in their burrows and also Lapa’s ‘twigs, pigs and garbage’ sustainability tour.
Tel: 011 506 2735 5130
Alternative Eco tourist ideas for Central/South America
Sandoval Lake Lodge, Amazon Rainforest, Peru
On the Sandoval Lake Lodge Amazon tour, you will enjoy guided excursions of the Sandoval Lake. From the comfortable Sandoval Lake Lodge, enjoy tours to see many different Amazon Rainforest animals. Animals to spot include different monkeys, parrots, toucans, sloths, and giant river otters.
Around £240 for two nights.
Tel: +261 3705609
Pacaya Samiria Lodge, Iquitos, Peru
Pacaya Samiria Amazon Lodge boasts pristine rainforest and unrivalled wildlife in Peru’s northern Amazon region. It is the only rainforest lodge located within Pacaya Samiria national park, near Iquitos, and offers a fantastic quantity and diversity of animals and plants.
Only 120 kilometres from the bustling city of Iquitos, the lodge is easily accessed and perfectly located on the Maranon River. The national park was created in 1973 and protects over 2,000,000 hectares of rainforest around the lodge, which was built in 2008. Prices for 4 days and 3 nights: £579 per person.
Tel: 0131 467 7086 / 554 6025
Aqua Wellness Resort, Nicaragua
Situated in a lush tropical forest within a private cove on Nicaragua’s Pacific coast on just north of Costa Rica is the Aqua Wellness Resort, a secluded and peaceful natural setting – ideal for a relaxing beach holiday, yoga classes, meditation, and spa treatments.
Aqua is only two-hours from Nicaragua’s international airport by car, or 20 minutes by helicopter. Prices start from £460 per person for a 4 day / 3 night package.
Tel: +505 7530 7979 / +505 8739 2426
Waku Lodge, Inicio, Venezuela
Situated in Laguna de Canaima, Canaima National Park, Venezuela, Waku Lodge is an enclave of excellence stands in the heathlands of the Angel Falls with a small number of conditioned bungalows, whose feathered beds make the intense expeditions to the jungle a pleasant, uplifting walk. We offer packages that allow you to experience the Canaima National Park, in fullness and with appreciated amenities for recreation and relaxation. We have specialized guides to know the Angel Falls, the largest waterfall on the planet, as well as the other wonders of the Canaima National Park, a world heritage site.
Prices start from £380 for two nights, three days stay.
Tel: +58 286 9620559 / 9625560
Comarca de Guna Yala, Panama
Stay in luxury in Panama City at the Westin Hotel (starwoodhotels.com / £125 per night) and from there why not arrange a once-in-a-lifetime excursion to the turquoise tropical archipelago that is the Comarca groups of islands, home to the Guna, the first group in Latin America to gain indigenous autonomy.
Landing fees apply to some of the smaller islands but local, accredited guides can be arranged at low cost through local operators.
Prices for a guided tour start at around £140 per person for a full day.
Tel: 0800 614 7214
Mashpi Lodge, Ecuador
One of National Geographic’s Unique Lodges of the World, Mashpi lodge is a luxury forest hideaway located on a scenic plateau with breathtaking views of the surrounding forested mountains. This unexpected oasis of urban comfort allows for just 47 guests, keeping the service levels extremely high. Its truly unique location, within a mega-biodiverse private forest reserve located within the metropolitan district of Quito, means this is an experience to remember.
Prices begin at around £900 per night, per person.
Tel: +593 2 400 4100
Direct flights to Costa Rica are operated by British Airways from Gatwick airport, flying up to three times per week. Economy seats can be found for as little as £500 return, with Business Class starting at around £2300.
Remember when booking, seasonality is opposite to that of the UK and the Caribbean side on the east coast is generally warmer and drier than the variable west coast. Summertime temperatures are around 30c with high humidity making it feel warmer. For full details ensure you visit visitcostarica.com.
As a tip make sure you pack silica gel sachets with you to place in with any electronics you might be taking, to protect against the humidity. Ensure you have gadget insurance included on your policy.
At time of writing the Sterling was trading to Costa Rican Colons at 1:750, but American dollars are widely accepted. Banks and cash machines accept UK credit cards. As a tip, to save on ATM and transaction fees, apply for an online Monzo card by downloading the app at monzo.com