Costa Rica travel guide

Steaming rainforest, iridescent hummingbirds, smouldering volcanoes, tumbling rivers, and miles of palm-fringed sandy beaches: if Mother Nature can ever be accused of showing off, it is in Costa Rica. Sat just north of the equator, this verdant chunk of the Central American isthmus is one of the most bio-diverse spots on the planet. Added to this, as the only country in the region with no standing army, Costa Rica is a beacon of peace and democracy.

A world pioneer in eco-tourism, Costa Rica has set aside more than a quarter of its territory as a protected natural area. Its 28 national parks are its greatest glory, comprising a stunning variety of landscapes, microclimates, flora and fauna. The forest canopy at Los Quetzales National Park is the haunt of the colourful resplendent quetzal (Pharomachrus mocinno), the sacred bird of the ancient Mayans and Aztecs. The Las Baulas National Marine Park is home to the world's largest nesting ground of leatherback turtles. The Rincón de la Vieja Volcano National Park is alive with bubbling fumaroles and commanding waterfalls, making it a fantastic place to enjoy hiking, horseback riding, or simply having a soak in hot springs to soothe body aches.

Alternatively, if you are looking for an adrenalin kick, diving, surfing, rock climbing, whitewater rafting and tree-top ziplining are just a few of the extreme activities on offer. You can also hike around the country – choose from easy countryside rambles to epic coast-to-coast hike that takes you from the Caribbean side to the Pacific coast.

Costa Rica's cities may not win many architectural awards but they do offer a rich insight into the urban lives of Ticos, as the citizens call themselves. The capital, San José, has superb museums, specialty coffee shops and craft beer bars, while Puerto Limón, overlooking the Caribbean Sea, has a multi-ethnic flavour. Limón is also a popular stopover with surfers en-route to the big waves at Salsa Brava.

All in all, for those in search of an ethical adventure, Costa Rica's charms will have you under its spell all too quickly.