It was Longfellow who once said “My soul is full of longing for the secret of the sea and the heart of the great ocean sends a thrilling pulse through me”. A constant reminder to me in Costa Rica that the country is squashed between two oceans.

Words: Adam Jacot de Boinod, Photography: Shutterstock and courtesy of the respective hotels

It was Longfellow who once said “My soul is full of longing for the secret of the sea and the heart of the great ocean sends a thrilling pulse through me”. A constant reminder to me in Costa Rica that the country is squashed between two oceans.

Words: Adam Jacot de Boinod, Photography: Shutterstock and courtesy of the respective hotels

It’s protected however by a ridge that has a unique calling upon the world’s wildlife. It’s a sensual feast with new animals offering up a daily surprise. “How do howler monkeys generate so much noise?”, I wondered. Well actually, I learnt, they are the second loudest animal in the world after the blue whale and release their voluminous, plangent magic by using the wind.
“How do hummingbirds keep enough fuel to stay in place? Well they hover in mid-air by flapping their wings (50 to 80 beats per second) and visit between 2000 and 5000 flowers every day.
How resourceful, cunning and wondrous are the forces of nature: the annona fruit changes from green to a darkish reddish-brown as it ripens; the Indian tree sheds its bark every three days while one local species of grass contracts with human touch. Whales mate above a beach shaped like a whale’s tail. Not to mention all the tricks of camouflage.

You have to keep your eyes open all the time. Every moment a branch snaps. What was that noise? Human or animal? It’s fascinating how much driftwood take on animal shapes. Is that a log or an iguana? Is that a rock out to sea or a whale? Was that the screech from a car or a primate?

A mix of chirps and tweets, trills and howls. This jungle orchestra was quite an introduction as I arrived late at night at my first place to stay, Arenas Del Mar ( and slept to the sounds of the pounding Pacific, to then awaken to witness from my balcony the long strand of Manuel Antonio beach.

Flourishing Eco-Tourism

Costa Rica is now a top destination for eco-tourism. Perfect for nature lovers and the very eco aware, is Arenas del Mar where I stayed. It’s a resort on a cliff top, set in eleven acres of jungle. Guests usually split their time between the beach and the hotel’s upper section, where the airy reception has an infinity pool alongside with a shape designed to blend with the length of the beach below. Buggies go up and down the steep slopes and one took me to my tropical fruit breakfast on a table on the sand of Playitas Beach in toe-touching reach of the ocean, where the staff, dressed in orange shirts and tan shorts, were attentive yet unobtrusive.

The architecture is respectful and harmonious with the environment. The décor is subdued. There are wooden floors, cream and green tiles in the bathroom and white linen on my king-sized bed. My ‘ocean view’ room had an indoor, outdoor feel with no pictures needed as it’s all on the outside, it’s all about the view.

There’s an elemental joy in picking up an almond nut from its tree and, as if from heaven, a leaf descends dancing, entertaining and poetically falling while pelicans swooped alongside into the water as all my senses were engaged, demonstrating the beauty that nature can provide. Iguanas hang out by the pool, halloween crabs scuttle through the gardens, sloths slumber in the treetops. In a sentence, the resort has delectable cuisine, exceptional levels of service and exemplary eco credentials.

The landscape of Costa Rica and her biodiversity is simply magical: thick, lush rainforests, with their dense foliage, uncrowded pristine beaches, steep mountains and majestic volcanoes and waterfalls, the perfect backdrop for the sheer wonder of the colourful birds and animals.

Dwell Into Nature

I walked for half an hour the length of the beach, at the end of which is the Manuel Antonio National Park. It cost me $16 to spend a day here and I could have taken any number of trails. Indeed I saw a caiman and a blue butterfly without the guides who with their binoculars only charged if I saw what they pointed out. But the privacy of the beach, right by Cathedral Point where the original Quepos tribe performed their ceremonies, lured me to rest and in a moment a raccoon came after my rucksack that was acting as my pillow.

Friends back home implored me to see the glorious stretch of many miles of the sandy beach of Playa Matapalo all the way from the Manuel Antonio to Dominical and then onto Uvita where the famous whale-shaped beach is a special natural feature. Inaccessible by foot, I took a boat from the beautiful marina in Quepos, where I got to look up at the houses in the hills and the varieties of green landscape beyond the beach all competing for light. As the day went on so the light changed affording different hues in the colour of the sea, from teal to lime green, from aquamarine to emerald green. Though Uvita was at high tide when I got there I was intrigued to learn that right above the whale-shaped beach was the favoured spot for whales to come and mate. What a day of adventure and such a personalised way to see the glorious coastline with turtles, whales and dolphins visible at nature’s whim as it decides what it wants to show, if anything, though it always seems to provide some of its splendour.

Here I witnessed one of the delights of the ocean life, the ‘arribada’: the mass nesting of the turtles. Massive mothers had dragged themselves onto the shore weeks ago to leave their precious eggs covered with sand in a secret place only to then plod back to the sea never to see their young again. These miniature newly born then make their way out of their cracked eggs onto a sandy mound at the top of a beach. As tiny babies, they wade into the murky waters without fear with thousands of little heads bobbing about on the water waiting for the right time to come out. And tragically only a few ever make it as they are picked off by predators.

Amazing Biodiversity

The tropical exuberance of animal life is utterly enchanting. From the fishy, to the furry and the feathered. I felt immersed in the natural wonder of the many birds and animals. The cheek of the capuchin monkeys did little to reflect the fashion of monks their name suggests and howler monkeys kept delivering their plangent sounds up in the trees.

Huge three-feet long iguanas tried to blend in with the sand on the beach while also hissing at those passing by a little too close. Exotic birds and butterflies filled the skies and brown fireflies flitted: both the ‘candelilla’ variety with its light gleaming on and off and the ‘carbunca’ with its light always on.

I looked through the index of the definitive book on Costa Rican birds to find exquisite and exotic names like bananaquit, yellow-breasted chat, chuck-will’s-widow, dickcissel, marbled godwit, Nicaraguan grackle, yellow-faced grassquit, Bonaparte’s gull, semiplumbeous hawk, red-legged honeycreeper, killdeer, red knot, scaly-throated leaftosser, limpkin and lanceolated monklet. Not to mention of course, the national icon, the resplendent quetzal that feasts on aguacate, a wild avocado.

Some useful coloured guide cards opened my eyes to exotic names like the misfit leaf frog, the bullet ant, the trumpetfish, the beaubrummel (a fish) and the Jesus Christ lizard, so-called as it walks on water.

As for the people, Costa Rica is one of the longest running democracies in Latin America and is hearteningly safe and peaceful. It has had no wars for over a hundred years, and there is no standing army. And possessed with this openhearted spirit, some locals are amazed to see guns when they go abroad.

They’re known as ‘ticos’ after their habit of using diminutives in their lingo and I sensed their open humility that doubtless comes with belonging to this wondrous kingdom of animals. When the conquistadors came in the 16th century in the vain search of gold in Costa Rica (the ‘rich coast’), they found only azure waters and blanched beaches. Brave early farmers went at their task alone, abandoned by their former visitors. They tamed the land, hacked forests, planted coffee and bred cattle. They settled and in their solitude created a tiny model for living, a miniature democracy with no pecking order, no extremes of wealth and poverty, each assisting their neighbour in order to subsist. And thus this unique Costa Rican mentality was forged and the country now ranks as one of the happiest places on the planet.

Several countries have an all-purpose word to cover our basic daily forms of interaction. In Hawaii there’s ‘aloha’, in Fiji there’s ‘bula’ and in Costa Rica there’s ‘pura vida’. Literally translating as ‘pure life’ it spans the entire spectrum of greeting and parting, incorporating: ‘no worries’, ‘enjoy life’, ‘take it easy’, ‘good luck’ and ‘have a good day’. I couldn’t get enough of this delightful country. I have to go back. Whenever but soon. Pura vida!


  • Costa Rica is home to 5% of the world’s biodiversity.
  • 25% of all land is covered by national parks, wildlife reserves and protected environments with a terrain made up of beaches, forests, cloud forests, wetlands, river systems, plains and volcanoes.
  • Costa Rica ranks third in the world (after Iceland and Switzerland) in the Environmental Protection Index.
  • It uses 99.2% renewable, 18% geothermic and 78% hydroelectric energy.
  • In 2017 Costa Rica ran solely on renewable energy for 300 days.


There are many other sustainable hotels across Costa Rica with dedicated eco-initiatives. Some are more geared towards families, others are for couples or outdoor adventurers:

Hotel Aguas Claras – Puerto Viejo
It’s spread across six bungalows and six themed suites with lots of local artwork in a plastic free property.

Senda – Monteverde
With 24 rooms, it’s tucked into the mountainous landscape overlooking the Continental Divide, where the Pacific and Caribbean meet; the produce is local and strongly farm-to-table in outlook.

Kurà – Uvita
With eight intimate luxury suites, it overlooks the sandy Whale’s Tail and is a high-design boutique hotel with minimalist designs letting the panoramic views speak for themselves.

Latitude 10 – Santa Teresa
With five luxury accommodations, it guarantees a nature-immersion with the beach within view, a clubhouse where guests interact, a pool, spa and wellness centre and morning yoga sessions.

Kinkara – Chirripo Foothills
It has unique circular Lotus Belle canvas tents, cooking workshops with legumes fresh from the Mandala Garden, bath houses and river hikes.