The Central American country of Costa Rica was recently declared the happiest in the world. And this small nation of 4.5 million people is fast becoming a must-visit destination because of its unspoiled natural beauty.
I spoke to Hans Pfister, the president of Costa Rican eco-retreat operator Cayuga, about why people are flocking to the country. “It’s definitely the wilderness,” he told me. “The flora, the fauna, the rainforest, the volcanoes, the mountains and the beaches are the main attractions. And all of those places are quite easily accessible. In other nature destinations they are harder to reach. In Costa Rica it’s pretty easy.”
The country is a birdwatcher’s paradise with 800 native species. But even if you have some wildlife knowledge, Hans says it’s best to visit with an expert. “If you go with a guide into the rainforest he will point out things that you just wouldn’t see or notice. I always say going without a nature guide is like going to a library without knowing how to read.”
Costa Rica is well-known for its conservation and eco measures. Hans explained: “There were some pioneers who realised its really important to set aside part of the country into national parks, to protect the incredible biodiversity.” The country is spearheading eco-tourism and 30% of its land is being conserved. 93% of its electricity is renewable.
Cayuga operates seven resorts in Costa Rica and they’ve all embraced sustainable practices “What our properties have in common is that they’re small,” said Hans. “They have a strong focus on sustainability. It’s basically in our DNA. They are also luxurious but it’s not your traditional Dubai-style gold taps. It’s more intelligent. You’ll have amazing experiences without having to give up the creature comforts you are used to. Even if you spend the day trekking in the rainforest with rubber boots on and you’re sweaty and up to your ankles in mud, you’ll return to a cold towel and a cold drink. You’ll enjoy a meal made from fresh local ingredients with a nice bottle of wine from a wine list that you would be surprised to find in such a remote location.”
If you’re looking for wildlife in the rainforest, Hans says you need to go to the very south of the Pacific coast, on the Osa peninsula. His company has a property there – the Lapa Rios eco-lodge. In fact, most of Cayuga’s resorts are on the Pacific coast. “Both coasts are amazing but they’re completely different,” explained Hans. “The Pacific is easier to reach and is more developed. The Caribbean coast is harder to get to and is little rougher around the edges, which makes it really attractive to some people.”
Costa Rica is famous for its coffee and just 25 minutes drive from the international airport you can stay on a coffee plantation built on the slopes of a volcano. “The Coffee Tour takes you around the organic plantation and once you’ve learned about the process you have a cupping. It’s like a wine-tasting but with coffee and you can learn how to taste what makes that coffee so special,” said Hans.
Cayuga also has a property in the centre of the capital, San Jose. It’s an old Victorian mansion with a fantastic restaurant. Hans says it offers a good transition from Europe to Latin America, but although the city has a ‘good energy’ you might not want to spend too much time there, says Hans. “The city has a Gold Museum and a Jade Museum and a visit to the markets would be great. Two days is definitely enough for a transition.”
You can learn more about Costa Rica at Cayuga Online.