Costa Rica: Happiest Place on Earth

Gaudy leaf tree frog‘Wow, look at the size of that!’ gasped Co, as we edged forward slowly in the pitch black, with only a red torchlight to guide us. ‘That’ was an enormous green female turtle, which was crawling majestically down the beach to return to the Caribbean Sea from where she had emerged 30 minutes earlier. This endangered creature hadn’t been able to find a suitable nesting place to lay her 100 or so eggs. ‘There was too much debris on the beach,’ said Alonso our turtle-watch guide. ‘But she’ll be back; green turtles normally return to the beach of their birth to lay their eggs.’

Co and I were at Tortuguero, north-east Costa Rica with the rest of our family, hoping for the holiday of a lifetime. It was still early days and, given that we had just spent the best part of our two-hour observation slot lying sleepily on an airstrip waiting for someone to prod us awake with a positive turtle sighting, it was going to take me a while to convince myself that the $250 we’d paid out for this brief encounter had been worth it.

white-water raftingIt was the children who decided that Costa Rica would be the perfect destination for all of us. With its beautiful beaches, Co was looking forward to a trip where she could relax on a sun lounger at the beach with a fruit cocktail in one hand and a novel in the other. However, her brothers were up for a bit more adventure – the Indiana Jones type, which meant wrestling a crocodile or two whilst hurtling down foamy, white-water rapids. I was happy to embrace anything just so long as the children could practise some Spanish, which they were all learning at school. I was also keen to visit the country that had recently been named the greenest and happiest place in the world.

Eddie, our guide and driver turned out to be everything we’d hoped for. His warm, laid-back manner won over the children immediately. He showed us ‘his’ Costa Rica: the place he loved and had grown up in.  We stayed in cosy lodges with swimming pools where Eddie recommended the non-alcoholic pina colada to Co.

Real life rhino beetle at banana plantationWe walked through rainforests where Eddie not only introduced us to the wildlife but, with some gentle coaxing, succeeded in getting our bug-phobic children to hold the creatures we saw: the adorable gaudy leaf tree frog, a giant rhino beetle (terrifying), morpho butterflies and more. At every opportunity, the boys would shine their torches into scary, dark holes in the hope of spotting a hairy tarantula.

We climbed part-way up the active Arenal volcano, which spluttered out larva continuously, swam in hot springs and waterfalls at La Fortuna, and the boys’ thirst for adventure was fuelled by white-water rafting and SkyTrek, a fantastic zip-wiring bonanza through the cloud forest at Monteverde.

Yes, it was the holiday of a lifetime – the ‘Pura Vida’ (or ‘Pure Life’) as the friendly Tico inhabitants would often say to us. And I will never forget the size and beauty of that turtle as she skated along the beach as fast as her heavy shell would let her. Worth it? Definitely.

20090727_IMG_0682Sources:
1. www.happyplanetindex.org
2. Lonely Planet Guide to Costa Rica.
3. We booked our trip through Footloose Travel, www.footloose.com. The Adventure Company offers the same trip www.adventurecompany.co.uk

Verdict:
A fantastic holiday destination for the whole family, especially those seeking to combine nature, adventure and relaxation.

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