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Costa Rica - green land of two seas

Costa Rica

Costa Rica bills itself as one of the world's greenest destinations - it shelters 5% of the biodiversity in the entire world.. Huge tracts of unspoilt rainforest are a-buzz with exotic wildlife -- 850 species of birds, 200 mammals, umpteen spectacular trees and flowers. Miles of glorious, golden sand fringe two seas – the Pacific and Caribbean. This friendly Central American country has commited to “becoming the world's first carbon-neutral nation by 2021.”

Miracle of the rainforest.

Costa Rica''s president wants his country to be carbon-neutral by 2021. The extensive rainforest will play a vital part in counteracting global warming, serving as a vast bio-sink to soak up carbon dioxide. Tourists create CO2 by flying. But they are an important part of the solution. They provide the cash, and the incentive, to protect the trees. One of the greenest of the existing hotels is Parque del Lago in the capital St Jose, perfect for a first or last night stop. The plan is for all new holiday development to be built to tough environmental standards. At the Cacique resort, in Guanacaste on the Pacific Coast, the aim is to use 40% less energy than conventional hotels. They are planting a million new trees to repair land damaged when it was a cattle ranch.
One government scheme, the Environmental Services Payment program (PSA) pays landowners $64 per hectare per year to maintain forests.
The United Nations Development Programme regards the country as a good performer on environmental sustainability. Costa Rica ranks first in the Americas in the 2012 Environmental Performance Index.

Turtle Beach

It was one of my most thrilling, and humbling, experiences. I stood in the cool cream light of a full moon at 2 a.m on Playa Grande, a huge empty beach on the Pacific coast. At my feet three newly hatched leatherback turtles no bigger than my hand breaststroked along on tiny flippers over the hard sand at two yards a minute. We had released the late starters -- they earlier missed the mass exodus to the sea. They had to (and did) reach it or die. We were not allowed to help. They had to ''taste'' the beach so they could find it again. I spent a week with Earthwatch, working on turtle conservation. Another night we measured a massive mother leatherback turtle, back from the ocean to to lay her eggs. Guides lead tourists in nightly visits to this beach from nearby Tamarindo.
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Las Baulas National Marine Park protects the most important leatherback sea turtle nesting beaches in the entire Pacific Ocean, according to the Leatherback Trust. (This is one of the best examples of good practice in turtle hatchling conservation, so distressingly not demonstrated in the sequence shown in the final programme in Planet Earth II, December 2016.)

Measures are slowly being introduced to make turtles'' life in the open ocean less hazardous – the threats range from floating plastic bags, to turtle-unfriendly fishing methods. A number of organisations run volunteer conservation programs. Earth Watch is one.

Land of the jaguar

National Geographic magazine calls Corcovado National Park ‘the most biologically intense place on Earth.’ One of the more accessible parts is the Osa Peninsula, unspoilt tropical rainforest behind miles of empty beaches, where pelicans spear into the shining sea. You fly to a tiny airstrip, take a boat to Drakes Bay, where the Elizabethan explorer first saw the Pacific, and stay in simple but comfy lodges. Resident experts join you on forest walks: you may spot a jaguar, an ocelot, or a cougar. Vivid green tree frogs, the nation''s unofficial symbol, abound. The skies are dense with exotic birds. It’s a stop on a World Wildlife Fund-approved Costa Rica holiday (www.newmarket.travel). Or book online yourself: try Bosque del Cabo Rainforest Lodge, or Lookout Inn.

Fly through forest

Once the forest canopy was the private territory of cameramen in David Attenborough nature spectaculars. Now this thrilling habitat is open to anyone with a head for heights. Costa Rica was an early adopter of the nerve-tingling glide between observation platforms on a “zip” cable hundreds of feet up in the jungle, on eye level with howler monkeys, and (for the very lucky) the elusive quetzal, the spectacular bird revered by the Aztecs. The Monteverde Biological Cloud Forest Reserve, which stages the world’s most spectacular show of wild orchids, which smother the trees here, is one of the best places. The more cautious need only try the Skywalk, a combination of easy walking trails, and occasional footbridges spanning yawning gorges. The bungee jump-style rapel back to the ground is optional.

Take the coffee tour

This country offers more than outstanding nature. There’s an awful lot of coffee in Costa Rica. Consumers are increasingly concerned that their cup comes only from estates where workers are fairly paid, and the environment is respected. Tourists can judge for themselves on a number of “coffee tours” and learn more about the issues around this desirable bean. One of the best is at the Don Evelio farm on the slopes of the Talamanca Mountains. One of a cluster of family-run farms controlling their own destiny, it operates 'with an environmental conscience and respect for land and workers'. (They own 200 acres of pristine rainforest nearby). Coffee Lila''s farm is another. They show visitors the full process line, from plantations through to the sun drying patios and the roasting hall.

Nature's light show

With five active volcanoes, Costa Rica offers a night-time light performance to match the best fireworks display. While eruptions can't be accurately predicted (and are unlikely to light up your holiday), at Arenala there is a fair chance of sudden amazing pyrotechnics, such as a glowing river of lava, or a towering plume of smoke. This is one of the ten busiest volcanoes in the world. There are guided trips on foot or on horseback through the wildlife-rich mountain habitat to within a safe distance of this, and all of the volcanoes. Sabine''s Smiling Horses offers treks through farmland and cloud forest, with good views of Arenal. The pick of the trips is the Full Moon Ride.

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