Costa Rica is a natural wonder. From smouldering volcanoes and soft-smudged cloud forests to coffee plantations that roll to the rainforest-fringed beaches, this small country has verdant varied landscapes in abundance. And that’s to say nothing of the incredible biodiversity Costa Rica supports: with thousands of plant species, the earth and air teem with hundreds of colourful butterflies, birds and mammals. James Innes Williams captures some of the regional highlights.
Rising in a classic cone, the Arenal volcano is one of Costa Rica’s most impressive sights. Plumes of smoke billow from the top during the day and, by night, fierce red trails of lava ooze down its slopes. Here, and at the less-visited Rincon de la Vieja further north, geothermal hot springs and mud pools abound.
Winding unpaved roads snake up into the mist-shrouded Monteverde cloud forest and Santa Elena reserve, home to a profusion of flora and fauna – including the iconic resplendent quetzal. Explore the clearly marked hiking trails or, better yet, up high on the canopy walkways.
The Frio river and wetlands around Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge support a myriad of exotic birdlife, including the Nicaraguan grackle and the jabirus, the largest bird in Central America.
Meanwhile the Palo Verde wetlands have both fresh and saltwater lagoons particularly popular with colourful waterfowl from January to March.
Jutting out between the Pacific Ocean and Golfo Dulce in the south-west, the Corcovado National Park set on the Osa peninsula, is a sweltering, untamed tangle of virgin rainforest. Remote, magnificent and dense, the incredible concentration of plantlife includes 70-metre-high ceiba trees, while spider monkeys, sloths, ocelots and anteaters call it home. The scarlet macaw is just one of 350 bird species in the area.
So dense is the region’s jungle, the network of waterways in Tortuguero National Park on the north Caribbean coast, is only accessible by boat or plane. This has created a pristine eco-system, in which green turtles lay eggs on the powder white sands of the untouched beaches between July and September, and leatherbacks swim up between March and June.
The Nicoya peninsula, on the northern Pacific coast, is home to some of Costa Rica’s finest beaches. Tamarindo is the laid-back beach town that has undergone some development and provides an excellent base for turtle watching and exploring the nearby mangroves and sandy beaches. Further south, the land becomes more dramatic, remote and secluded.