August 10, 2006
National Geographic Traveler
1145 17th Street,
Has Costa Rica lost some of its nature- and eco-destination clout to up-and-comers Nicaragua and Panama? Senior editor Norie Quintos, accompanied by her two sons, headed south to find out:
"There's a disturbing rise in 'Land for Sale' signs along the coastal and mountain roads, along with ads in tourist magazines for resort condo developments. That unfortunately is a consequence of this Central American country's stability, relative prosperity, and increasing tourist arrivals (which interestingly have upticked as a result of the Lebanon crisis, as travelers head for places considered 'safe').
"Still, if you're looking for monkeys, sloths, sea turtles, crocs , birds, frogs, and bugs, this West Virginia-size country has them in abundanceif you know where to look. The popular North Pacific beaches are stunners, but can disappoint in the wildlife department. Better to tack on the beach at the end of your trip.
"In the tree-forest canopies of the Monteverde Cloud Forest in the central highlands, we found the resplendent quetzal, a green bird with an impossibly long tail and a spiky, punk-rocker mane of feathers on its head. At Tortuguero National Park on the Caribbean coast, we caught a 300-pound Atlantic green sea turtle in the act of laying ping-pong ball-size eggs and watched it waddle back to the sea. In the Osa Peninsula, spider monkeys bombarded us with leaves and sticks just outside the grounds of our sumptuous ecolodge, Lapa Rios.
"Despite the number of poisonous snake species in the country (17), the only thing you really need worry about is getting into a car accident. Roads, though well marked, can be rutted and pot-holed; mountain roads and many bridges over streams lack guardrails. We left the driving and logistical worries to Costa Rica Expeditions, a longtime local tour operator known for its excellent guides and its adherence to sustainable tourism practices.
"Bottom line: At this time, the increase in mainstream tourism to Costa Rica doesn't prevent travelers with a nature or eco bent from finding their bliss."