Costa Rica

My heart was pounding as I climbed to the platform perched high above the tall trees in the verdant Costa Rican rain forest. I never thought I was afraid of heights, but then again, who knew trees could grow this high?

As my guide attaches my harness to a zip line (a combination of pulleys, cables and suspension bridges stretching hundreds of yards), I begin to wonder if I said the word “adventure” a few too many times to my travel agent. Before I have time for another thought, the guide gives me a slight push, and sends me hurtling through space across the forest treetops.  Any visible signs of wildlife run for cover from my adrenalin-fueled howl.

If you’re looking for an adventurous vacation, Costa Rica delivers. Besides the zip lines which Costa Rica is now famous for, there are ample opportunities for white water rafting, hiking to the edge of live volcanoes, horseback riding (on the beach!), sailing and much more — all in an unspoiled environment that will take your breath away.

Costa Rica is situated on the land bridge that joins North and South America, between the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, giving it a privileged location. This small country covers just 20,000 square miles (about the size of West Virginia) with high, rugged mountains in the center and south set apart by a thin line of hills. Pristine beaches on both coasts complement this wonderful setting.

Thanks to marketing and the popularity of nature shows, Costa Rica has emerged in recent years as a well-known eco-tourism destination. Environmentally sensitive lodge owners have built resorts with recycled materials, and taught tourists and locals alike about preserving the country’s natural wonders. In all my travels, I have never seen anyone do it better. Renown worldwide for its national parks, diverse forests and active volcanoes, you will often feel like you are in the middle of one gigantic wildlife preserve.

Nearly all the hotels take the environment into great consideration, some using it as the ultimate backdrop for their architecture and design. My favorite places include the Hotel Punta Islita, nestled in the heavenly forested hills of the Guanacaste Province, overlooking the Pacific Ocean.   Sitting in splendid isolation, it was voted one of the Best Small Luxury Hotels of the world, (I am not alone in my enthusiasm). You can feel your urban cares slipping away as you relax in luxurious seclusion and reconnect with mother nature, your eyes feasting on the Earthly grandeur of  monkeys, toucans, exotic forest flora and brilliant sunsets – all without a billboard in sight.

Another delight to the senses is the Peace Lodge, which is one of the most delightfully creative hotels I’ve ever stayed in with its natural, environmentally blended décor. Its  nature park is also home to the world’s largest butterfly observatory . Spanning the length of a regulation football field and reaching a height of 50 feet, the enclosed housing allows butterflies to live and fly naturally. The Hummingbird Garden at the Peace Lodge adds new meaning to “bird-watching.” These normally skittish creatures are so tame they often feed inches from your face.  It’s all about an  hour’s ride from the capitol city’s San Jose airport.

Many would wager that no trip to Costa Rica is complete without a stop in the Arenal Volcano area, nestled amidst the northern region of Costa Rica.   I stayed at Tabacon Hot Springs Resort and Spa, near the base of the magnificent Arenal Volcano. The whole town felt a bit more touristy than our earlier stops, but I’m glad I went. A private guide led us on an exhilarating (if not exhausting) eight-hour hike up the side of the volcano which was promptly followed by an evening soak in the Tabacon River mineral hot springs.

I felt liberated during my visit to Costa Rica. I had never seen such glorious natural life, nor participated in so many nature-based  activities (well, except for the zip lines and, though I maintain height is only natural for monkeys, everyone should try it once).

The tourism slogan for Costa Rica is, “No Artificial Ingredients.”  After a visit to Costa Rica, I think you’ll agree: it doesn’t need any.

Getting there:

American, Delta, and Continental have regular flights from Los Angeles, Houston, Miami, Atlanta and Charlotte, respectively.

When to go:

Costa Rica has two seasons – Wet and Dry.  The temperature is constant (in the 80s). The dry season runs from December through April, the wet season consists mainly of afternoon showers and late night downpours.

Additional Info:

Hotel Punta Islita: www.hotelpuntaislita.com
The Peace Lodge: www.waterfallgardens.com
Tabacon Hot Springs Resort and Spa: www.tabacon.com