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Experiencing Costa Rica’s wildlife and cocktails for a similar price as a visit to Spain’s Costas

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Night-time within the forest and I’m surrounded by the squawks, rattles and chirrups of the jungle.

My heart is pumping as my torchlight scans the mass of foliage, then the beam descends on the red and purple sheen of the strawberry poison-dart frog.

So toxic are its skin secretions that it could kill a human — yet here it’s, only a yard away.

Walk on the wild side: Sian Boyle goes on a tour of Costa Rica, a rustic that is ‘stuffed with waterfalls, some of the spectacular of which is Catarata del Toro (pictured)’

This adventure is made all of the more thrilling because that is my second attempt at being in Costa Rica. Back in December 2020, amid the hell of the pandemic, I used to be tantalised by this Central American country between the Caribbean and the Pacific, home to six per cent of the world’s biodiversity. That is the nation which, because of its dedication to wildlife, recently won the inaugural Earthshot Prize — essentially the most prestigious global environment prize — launched by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. I eagerly booked what I believed could be the trip of a lifetime.

But in the previous few days of 2020, the Delta variant surged and in quick succession 40 countries closed their borders to the UK, the portals to those faraway destinations slamming down like guillotines. My Costa Rican oasis was nothing greater than a mirage.

Within the event, Costa Rica was badly hit by coronavirus, but now it’s welcoming back tourists with open arms and there are not any Covid-related entry restrictions.

And sunning myself at Tui’s all-inclusive Hotel Riu Palace, giddily day-drunk on daiquiris within the 35c heat, I realise I’m not the just one who has chosen this destination for his or her post-pandemic holiday debut.

Sian stays at Tui’s all-inclusive Hotel Riu Palace (pictured), where she finds that she gets 'giddily day-drunk on daiquiris in the 35c heat'

Sian stays at Tui’s all-inclusive Hotel Riu Palace (pictured), where she finds that she gets ‘giddily day-drunk on daiquiris within the 35c heat’ 

Hotel Riu Palace, a 40-minute drive from Liberia airport, is in Guanacaste province on the Pacific coast

Hotel Riu Palace, a 40-minute drive from Liberia airport, is in Guanacaste province on the Pacific coast

During her stay at Hotel Riu Palace, Sian encounters 'several canny Britons who’ve all had the same idea about which Costa to visit: Why choose the Costa del Sol when for the same price you can experience Costa Rica?'

During her stay at Hotel Riu Palace, Sian encounters ‘several canny Britons who’ve all had the identical idea about which Costa to go to: Why select the Costa del Sol when for a similar price you possibly can experience Costa Rica?’ 

Local: Model Gisele Bundchen (above) has chosen to have her luxury second home in Costa Rica

Local: Model Gisele Bundchen (above) has chosen to have her luxury second home in Costa Rica 

Out listed below are several canny Britons who’ve all had the identical idea about which Costa to go to: Why select the Costa del Sol when for a similar price you possibly can experience Costa Rica?

In spite of everything, that is where supermodel Gisele Bundchen (pictured) has chosen to have her luxury second home, on the coast in Santa Teresa. And if it’s ok for Gisele, it’s ok for me.

Our resort, a 40-minute drive from Liberia airport, is in Guanacaste province on the Pacific coast, with the volcanoes of neighbouring Nicaragua looming in the space. It’s dry season and this area is cowboy country; its arid plains pockmarked by roadside stalls selling thirst-quenching juices squeezed from piles of bulbous melons and the sweetest organic pineapples, double the scale of those in Sainsbury’s.

We’re guided by Adrian, a big, bombastic 38-year-old grandfather whose every day litre of coffee rolls around his van in a keg, and whose innumerable friends of their cars are continually honking their horns by the use of hello as we tour his home province.

He goes by the nickname ‘Chino’ (which suits him much better) and tells me that ‘everyone in Costa Rica has a nickname’ before awarding me the moniker ‘Miss Dimples’.

Above is Playa Conchal, one of the picturesque beaches that lies along the coast of Guanacaste province

Above is Playa Conchal, one in all the picturesque beaches that lies along the coast of Guanacaste province 

During a rainforest walk Sian spots a strawberry poison-dart frog (stock image above). They are so toxic their skin secretions can kill a human

During a rainforest walk Sian spots a strawberry poison-dart frog (stock image above). They’re so toxic their skin secretions can kill a human

To get our jungle juices flowing, we drive for 3 hours to Alajuela province, home of the lively Arenal volcano, which spews threatening columns of water vapour into the air.

On the night tour at Danaus Biological Reserve, I’m treated to greater than just the poison-dart frog. ‘These animals are stuffed with stories,’ says our guide Elias, an earnest young biologist-turned-wildlife photographer, as he caws the ‘ha ha — haw haw’ of the boat-billed heron, which only comes out after sundown.

We see the venomous cat-eye snake, the Jesus Christ lizard (so called due to its ability to run on water), fireflies with neon green derrieres and twilight bats which scoff 6,000 mosquitos an hour. I come head to head with the acid-green red-eyed tree frog and am captivated by its huge goggly eyes and large, splodgy red hands and feet to match. ‘Finding it requires an excellent pair of ears,’ says Elias, whose double-squelch call sounds are duly replied to.

Natural wonders: Sian gets a close look at the active Arenal volcano, pictured, 'which spews threatening columns of water vapour into the air'

Natural wonders: Sian gets an in depth have a look at the lively Arenal volcano, pictured, ‘which spews threatening columns of water vapour into the air’

The three-toed sloth, one of the official national symbols of Costa Rica. The position of sloths in the trees at night can indicate the next day’s weather, Sian reveals. Apparently, if they're high up, it'll be cool and wet the next day

The three-toed sloth, one in all the official national symbols of Costa Rica. The position of sloths within the trees at night can indicate the subsequent day’s weather, Sian reveals. Apparently, in the event that they’re high up, it’ll be cool and wet the subsequent day

Then there’s the star attraction, the three-toed sloth, one in all the official national symbols of Costa Rica. But she is hidden and predictably sedentary at the highest of a tree, aware of her VIP status and an excessive amount of of a diva to provide us an excellent show.

The position of sloths within the trees at night can indicate the subsequent day’s weather — her high place today means tomorrow will probably be cool and wet. ‘People here trust the birds and animals greater than they trust weather forecasters on TV,’ says Elias.

I’m told the shiny marble across the water is the attention of a lurking cayman, while other beasts that frequent the reserve include anteaters, boa constrictor snakes and even wild cats, as ‘it’s like a fast-food takeaway for them here’.

But don’t worry about having to hack through perilous jungle to see the wildlife: this half-mile trail is tame and accessible enough for an experience wherein you’re less like Steve Irwin and more like David Attenborough.

Prior to now five years, Costa Rica has develop into a mecca for bird-watchers worldwide. And it’s not hard to see why — it is a twitchers’ utopia.

They arrive for the caracara raptors soaring overhead and the sprightly red-breasted meadowlarks, for flamboyant macaws, iridescent kingfishers and banana-beaked toucans.

During a lazy boat cruise along the Playas del Coco, pictured, Sian sees 'dolphins traverse the bows'

During a lazy boat cruise along the Playas del Coco, pictured, Sian sees ‘dolphins traverse the bows’

Sian pays a visit to Monteverde Cloud Forest, a mystical forest where 140ft trees are swathed in primordial vines and mosses

According to Sian, walking across Monteverde Cloud Forest's hanging bridges is a 'serene experience' - until she spots a tarantula

In accordance with Sian, walking across Monteverde Cloud Forest’s hanging bridges is a ‘serene experience’ – until she spots a tarantula 

COSTA RICA’S ‘PURA VIDA’ 

The country, which has the Caribbean Sea to the east and the Pacific to the west, has a population of about five million. 

Nicoya, on its west coast, is a Blue Zone, which implies its inhabitants commonly live past the age of 100.

Christopher Columbus discovered Costa Rica in 1502 and gave it its name, meaning ‘wealthy coast’. 

A purple-throated hummingbird in Costa Rica - the country is home to 50 different species of the bird

A purple-throated hummingbird in Costa Rica – the country is home to 50 different species of the bird 

It accommodates 6 per cent of the world’s biodiversity, with 50 species of hummingbird and 18 per cent of the world’s butterflies. And it generates greater than 99 per cent of its electricity from renewable sources. 

There hasn’t been a military here since 1948 — it was abolished following a civil war. 

And it’s one in all the happiest countries on the planet. Perhaps that’s all the way down to the reassuringly optimistic motto, pura vida, ‘the pure life’.

As I’m quad biking on the beach, huge brown pelicans dive for tuna in the ocean. And on a lazy boat cruise along the Playas del Coco we’re chaperoned by effortlessly hovering frigate birds as dolphins traverse the bows — all against the backdrop of a flaming sunset torching the sky from burnt ochre to neon pink.

The flora here is just as impressive because the fauna. We visit the Monteverde Cloud Forest where the climates of the Caribbean and Pacific sides of the country coalesce, creating hanging clouds in a mystical forest where 140ft trees are swathed in primordial vines and mosses.

Costa Rican trees haven’t any rings of their trunks — because of the country’s unique rotating microclimates as an alternative of seasons — so it’s not possible to inform their true ages.

Walking across the forests’ hanging bridges is a serene experience — until we spot an orange-kneed tarantula in its burrow. Only one glimpse of its thorax and an enormous bristly leg is enough for this lifelong arachnophobe to make a mighty quick dash for it.

This country is filled with waterfalls, some of the spectacular of which is Catarata del Toro. But we head to Celeste River, where I see water so phantasmagorically blue it’s like something from a Disney princess film. It’s not magic but it surely is alchemy: the convergence of two rivers has created rare mineral deposits that are reflected within the sun’s light to create the river’s mesmerising electric hue.

You possibly can’t swim here, so we head to the Baldi Hot Springs, where 25 hot mineral pools are heated by the Arenal volcano.

The one problem with Costa Rica is that it’s such a well-oiled tourism machine, it may well veer from authenticity to a sort of Truman Show façade of what it believes visitors want. I used to be expecting to soak in bubbling volcanic water so tranquil that it could be like bathing in a crater of the Moon. As an alternative, I’m greeted by polystyrene ‘waterfalls’, disco lights and even a sports bar.

But I can’t hold an excessive amount of against ‘The Wealthy Coast’. That is the infectious country where the faith is ‘soccer’, the music is merengue, the cocktails zing with jalapeños and ‘when you cut us, we bleed coffee’.

It is definitely illegal here to supply any kind of coffee except 100 per cent Arabica — the highest-quality coffee beans — and on the Don Juan coffee farm in Monteverde we learn the way it’s produced from fruit to steaming cup, known on this area for its floral notes.

Sian heads to Celeste River, where she sees water 'so phantasmagorically blue it’s like something from a Disney princess film'. Above is the Rio Celeste Waterfall

Sian heads to Celeste River, where she sees water ‘so phantasmagorically blue it’s like something from a Disney princess film’. Above is the Rio Celeste Waterfall

Later, after a raucous day spent zip-lining, laughing and eating fish tacos, I learn that Costa Rica is one in all the few countries on the planet with no military.

I feel guilty for occurring holiday when there are such atrocities going down elsewhere on the planet, and ask Chino how Costa Rica views the Ukraine invasion. He jogs my memory of pura vida, this country’s inescapable catchphrase, which implies ‘the pure life’.

‘Not only pure life however the positive life,’ says Chino. ‘Looking up, looking forward. The world will at all times have problems, but what’s your attitude to them? That’s what makes an excellent life, being positive.’

I depart Costa Rica grateful for the charm of those people and their warm, optimistic and exhilarating country.

TRAVEL FACTS

TUI offers seven nights on the 5T Riu Palace Costa Rica on an all-inclusive basis from £1,089pp (tui.co.uk). Excursions comparable to the Danaus Biological Reserve night walk, Hanging Bridges Monteverde Tour and Don Juan Coffee Tour can be found from £29 pp.

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