Living the Pura vida

A world leader in generating renewable energy and protecting its natural wonders, Costa Rica’s eco-friendly approach is making it easy for responsible visitors to travel light, says Lauren Jarvis

We’re driving from San José, Costa Rica’s capital city, to the country’s adventure and wellness capital, La Fortuna, when our driver stops on a vertiginous suspension bridge and shouts the word I’m most hoping to hear during my visit to this lush Central American country: “Sloth!”

Parking up safely across the bridge, we hastily hike back to scour the trees that soar up from the banks of the rumbling river below. High in the branches of a cashew tree, a three-toed sloth is nonchalantly feeding on leaves, oblivious to the feverish furore it’s causing on the bridge.

We haven’t yet reached the natural sanctuary of Tabacón Thermal Resort & Spa, La Fortuna’s first ecolodge and known for its bubbling hot springs, thermally heated by the Arenal Volcano – but already the country’s legendary biodiversity is putting on a display.

A national symbol of Costa Rica’s commitment to protecting biodiversity, the sloth may be slow but it’s a paragon of progress, showing how far the country has come in its conservation journey. Let’s hope it can inspire the rest of the world to keep up.

Preserve and protect

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costa beach

Recognised as a global leader in sustainability and conservation, this small Central American country is home to an incredible five per cent of the world’s known biodiversity. Responsible tourism has become the rule here rather than the exception, with the tourism board, operators and ecolodges helping international guests to leave a lighter footprint on the land.

“Costa Rica has a true commitment to the environment and climate change,” says Ireth Rodriguez, Chief of Promotion Department at the Costa Rica Tourism Board (ICT). “The country has a pioneering model in sustainable tourism: the Certification for Tourism Sustainability (CST), which categorises companies based on their adherence to sustainable practices; improvement of the quality of life of neighbouring communities; and economic success, which contributes to other national development programmes.”

In late 2020, ICT launched the Pura Vida Pledge in the UK to educate visitors about responsible tourism. The phrase pura vida is a mantra for Costa Ricans, meaning “pure life” or “full of life”, reflecting the local positive mindset.

“Costa Rica’s rigorous certification system, combined with a plethora of environmentally friendly activities, electric car rentals and organic, locally sourced cuisine all add up to make it a great eco destination,” says Christopher Hill, Founder of Hands Up Holidays, which offers luxury family volunteer escapes.

What’s new

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Tours: New for 2023, Exodus Travels’ 14-day Pura Vida Costa Rica Premium Adventure explores the wildlife-rich coastline of the Osa Peninsula and waterways of Tortuguero, with opportunities to see scarlet macaws, sloths, green turtles, toucans and humpback whales.

The tour follows the company’s sustainable travel commitment, which pledges its trips are Nature Net Positive, giving back more than they take.

Pura Aventura has introduced a new 17-night Classic Costa Rica Away From The Crowds tour, which takes in lesser-visited destinations in the Nicoya Peninsula, the cloud forests of San Gerardo de Dota, and along the southern Caribbean coast. Pura Aventura was one of the first UK travel companies to certify as a B Corp, a public and legally binding commitment to balance Profit with People and the Planet.

Hands Up Holidays has introduced two new sustainable family volunteer vacations in Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula, staying in eco-luxury resorts. The Hammerhead Shark Conservation tour sees guests taking part in vital marine research to protect hammerhead sharks in the Golfo Dulce, while the Sea Turtle Conservation tour offers opportunities to gather data on sea turtles and protect their nesting sites.

A new Fungi Trail opened in summer 2022, designed to introduce locals and visitors to the country’s vast array of mushrooms, and support local rural communities along the trail. It runs from May to November.

Campaigns: The Costa Rica Tourism Board has partnered with adventurer Levison Wood on its Costa Rica Sanctuary Campaign, to promote the country as the ultimate natural escape. The website features five key themes: culture, adventure, wellness, nature and wildlife, and sustainability.

Travellers to Costa Rica can calculate the carbon emissions from their flight and make a voluntary donation to Costa Rica’s National Forestry Financing Fund (Fonafifo), which supports environmental projects.

British Airways flies direct from London Gatwick to San Jose three times a week (Tuesday,Thursday and Saturday) between November and April, from £598pp.

Top active experiences

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costa park

Zip the rainforest: Explore La Fortuna’s lush rainforest region with a horse ride – which offers amazing views of the Arenal Volcano and Lake Arenal – and zipline through the treetops at speeds of up to 35mph on the Arenal Canopy Adventure.

Dive a UNESCO World Heritage Site: One of four UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Cocos Island National Park is home to marine superstars including hammerhead sharks, manta rays and dolphins. Other popular dive sites include Murcielago Island, Caño Island and Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge.

Catch a wave: The laid-back town of Santa Teresa on the tip of the Nicoya Peninsula is the perfect spot for a surfing lesson. Join a group class, have a session one-on-one, or watch the sunset on a paddleboarding tour.

Hike the national parks: With 28% of the country conserved by a strong network of protected areas, Costa Rica is a nature-lover’s dream. Seek out the dazzling blue waters of Rio Celeste and its waterfall in Tenorio Volcano National Park, or head to Corcovado National Park, home to sloths, jaguars and howler monkeys.

Where to book it

RED SAVANNAH – 01242 787800
Red Savannah offers a seven-night private journey in Costa Rica from £2,995pp, including accommodation at Tabacón Thermal Resort & Spa and Nantipa: A Tico Beach Experience, plus return flights with BA and all transfers.