Costa Rica

The beach at Manuel Antonio National Park

Lush green rain forests, golden sandy beaches and active, lava-spewing volcanoes are just some of the many diverse landscapes in Costa Rica. The small Central American country, which is nestled between Nicaragua and Panama, and is flanked by the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, is home to some 4.9 million people, as well as an abundance of extraordinary wildlife.

A teeny frog sits in between two leaves

The country is one of the most biodiverse in the world and around four per cent of all the species on Earth call it home, which means it’s nigh on impossible to go anywhere without coming across a spectacular bird, mammal, reptile, amphibian or insect.

A capuchin monkey in a tree in Manuel Antonio National Park

I spent nine days in Costa Rica, travelling around the country, and “oohing” and “aahing” at its natural wonders. My trip was ostensibly an activities-based tour as I was keen to have an active holiday, but while the zip lining, white water rafting and snorkelling were great fun, my companions and I soon turned into budding naturalists more concerned with spotting and photographing the local wildlife than thrill seeking.

A raccoon strolls across a beach in Manuel Antonio National Park

It helped that our guide, Pedro, was a walking encyclopaedia of the wildlife and an expert at spotting animals that were hiding in plain sight. I felt incredibly privileged to see so many fascinating creatures in their natural environments, including frogs, monkeys, crocodiles, tarantulas, sloths and macaws, to name but a few.

Arenal Volcano

My journey began on the outskirts of the capital San Jose, and from there, I headed north to the town of La Fortuna, which lies just below the country’s most famous (and active!) volcano Arenal (above). I spent two days in the region, exploring Arenal Volcano National Park, meeting the local wildlife, relaxing in the volcanic hot springs, and horse riding and mountain biking through the countryside.

The lush, dense cloud forest at Monteverde

From Arenal I travelled south-west to Monteverde, high in the mountains and home to the rare cloud forest (above). The climate is perfect for growing coffee, sugar cane and chocolate, and in between numerous hikes through the forest, I joined a tour of a local farm that grew all three. I also tried my hand at zip lining, which was fun and terrifying in equal measure, taking place in the 100m-high tree canopy.

One of the idyllic golden sandy beaches in Manuel Antonio National Park

After two days in Monteverde, I continued travelling south-west to the Pacific coast and the beach town of Manuel Antonio (above). The small, relaxed town boasts stunning sandy beaches and a national park that’s home to sloths, monkeys, lizards, crabs, raccoons and more. I spent my time exploring the national park and snorkelling in the Pacific where I was stung all over by microscopic jelly fish.

Voted the happiest country in the world in 2016, the Costa Rican people, or Ticos as they’re known, are exceptionally warm, friendly and full of life. Everywhere I went I was greeted by two little words: “Pura Vida!”. Meaning “pure life”, the motto represents the laid back way of life in Costa Rica and it’s a fitting saying for a country that’s so committed to being a peaceful nation, it has no army.

A howler monkey perches on a tree branch

Costa Rica is a diverse, friendly and fascinating country, and I loved every second I spent there. The wildlife is exceptional, and I was surprised by how awed and excited I was by the remarkable flora and fauna I encountered. Add to that the warm people, exhilarating activities and great food (lots of tacos and ceviche), and I ended up having the most fun I’ve ever had travelling. It was the trip of a lifetime and an unforgettable experience.

Pura vida!

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