Getting to Costa Rica used to be somewhat gruelling, requiring a change of planes in Spain or North America.
Not any more: last spring British Airways began flying direct from Gatwick to the capital, San Jose, three times a week. I suspect that demand will soon increase this.
As I discovered last summer, Costa Rica is one of the most gorgeous and hospitable countries anywhere.
Watch the birdie: Mail on Sunday writer David Rose captured this shot of his wife Carolyn getting a very close look at a toucan while on holiday in Costa Rica
Only twice the size of Wales, it sits astride Central America between the Pacific and Caribbean and is astonishingly varied, with tropical beaches, 11,000ft volcanoes, lush forests, swamps and plantations that produce exceptional coffee.
Above all, there is wildlife. Costa Rica is said to possess the greatest biodiversity in the world, and its people are looking after it.
Since a low point in the 1970s, when much of the country had been cleared for agriculture, Costa Rica has increased its percentage of forest cover from 20 per cent to more than 60 per cent.
In this humid tropical climate, the new ‘second-growth’ forest grows quickly, creating habitats for a dizzying variety of animals and birds. Meanwhile, the rampant wildflowers are so ubiquitous that the place feels like a giant botanical garden.
Having abolished their army in 1948, successive democratic governments managed to avoid the turmoil and war that swept through the rest of Central America in the 1970s and 1980s. As a result, the country is far cleaner and more prosperous than its neighbours, and has built a high quality infrastructure to match.
Above: White-water rafting on Pacuare river in Costa Rica is just one of the many activities on offer
Adrenaline rush: David’s son Jacob zip lining down Arenal volcano
The British summer school holidays coincide with the first part of Costa Rica’s rainy season. In some ways this is an advantage: peak time for visitors is the northern hemisphere winter, when the country is especially popular with Americans.
My wife Carolyn and sons Jacob, 17, and Daniel, 12, and I spent three weeks there in August.
We did experience some afternoon downpours, but nothing like enough to spoil our trip. And although San Jose is only nine degrees north of the Equator, it was never unbearably hot.
In fact, at the Poas Volcano Lodge, a green and peaceful retreat an hour and a half from the airport where we spent our first three nights, we needed fleeces or jumpers in the evenings.
We did experience some afternoon downpours, but nothing like enough to spoil our trip
On our second morning, we strolled to the top of the 9,000ft volcano, which has erupted 39 times in the past 200 years, and peered into its gigantic crater. At the bottom, far below, an acidic, turquoise lake steamed.
It would be perfectly possible to put together your own trip, although speaking Spanish would be an advantage. We did it the easy way – via Last Frontiers, a bespoke agency that specialises in Latin America. It created an itinerary that meant we saw a bit of everything.
All our transport was pre-arranged – and worked smoothly throughout the trip. From Poas, we were driven back to the airport and flew on a single-engine 18-seater plane down from the mountainous central belt to Tortuguero, a national park to which there is no road, on the Caribbean coast. This was an absolute highlight.
Tortuga is the Spanish word for turtle, and throughout the summer nesting season, hundreds of these great animals emerge each night from the waves, most having swum hundreds of miles to get there.
Baby steps: Tortuga is the Spanish word for turtle, and throughout the summer nesting season, David says hundreds of these great animals emerge each night from the waves
Lunch time: The three-toed sloth David spied slowly enjoying a leaf meal at Tortuguero national park
They make their way up the sandy beach, use their flippers to dig deep pits, and then lay their eggs, more than 100 at a time – of which perhaps just one will survive to reach adulthood. Having deposited the eggs, the turtles bury them, then return to the water.
We saw all of this under moonlight, in the company of a local guide. He assured us that so long as we were quiet, the turtles would not be disturbed.
We were staying a short boat ride from the beach at Manatus Lodge, sharing its gardens with huge iguanas, capuchin monkeys, blue wild parrots and toucans. The lodge has kayaks and narrow boats.
We were staying a short boat ride from the beach, sharing gardens with huge iguanas, capuchin monkeys, blue wild parrots and toucans
Exploring the inland waterways of Tortuguero, we saw caimans, and, on a branch less than 10ft away, an adorable three-toed sloth, eating its lunch of leaves with the expected slowness.
Next up was another highlight, back in the highlands: the Pacuare Lodge. We got there via a rugged ride in a 4×4, followed by a hand-pulled cable gondola across the mighty Pacuare river. The only way out was by white-water raft. We’ve tried rafting in several countries, but this was the best: wild rapids, warm water, and stunning rainforest scenery.
The lodge is a marvel. In its cabins there is no electricity, though bio-gas, made from the waste from its organic farm, produces enough energy for limitless hot water. Power from solar panels lights the bar and restaurant – where the food is sensational: true fine dining, deep in the jungle, where (though we did not see them) jaguars roam.
There are several places in Britain where committed kidults like me can join their offspring zip-lining – sliding down a cable on a pulley attached to a harness. Some have lines more than 200ft long.
Arenal is an active volcano in north-western Costa Rica around 90 km northwest of San José
But from the top of another volcano at our next stop, Arenal, we made our way down again by a series of ten such zip-lines, some more than half a mile long, hundreds of feet above the ground, reaching 50mph. The adrenaline rush was intoxicating.
We spent eight nights in the western province of Guanacaste, where even in August the weather stays mostly hot and dry. Our first stop here was Rio Perdido, another isolated lodge with a view of the confluence of two jungle rivers – one cold, the other, thanks to thermal springs, like a hot bath.
In the cold river, we went ‘tubing’ – tumbling down rapids in inner tubes: another blast. The hot stream was for lazing, in pools of crystalline clarity, overhung by trees that are home to howler monkeys: a sybaritic paradise.
After that, it was time to enjoy the Pacific at Papagayo, a rocky spit where one side faces a sheltered lagoon, the other the ocean. There we sampled two resorts: the Andaz, which has the edge architecturally, and the Four Seasons, with beaches on both sides of the peninsula.
In Costa Rica, the phrase ‘pura vida’ – pure life – has become both greeting and national motto, seeming to express what many Costa Ricans see as their purpose. In this wonderful, beautiful country, eco-tourism means something real. It deserves to be experienced.
Last Frontiers offers a 12-day trip to Costa Rica including two nights at Poas Volcano Lodge, two nights on the canals of Tortuguero, two nights in Arenal, two nights in the cloudforests of Monteverde and two nights at Rio Perdido lodge.
Prices start from £2,294pp including return flights from Gatwick with British Airways, transfers and B&B accommodation with full board in Tortuguero.
Visit lastfrontiers.com/costa-rica or call 01296 653000.