Costa Rica is a country that is well studying before going to a pub quiz. Perhaps one of the most likely pieces of trivia you’ll need is that Costa Rica is the largest country in the world to have no military forces. Another would be the country’s proud place at the top of the Happy Planet Index list. Both factors that help promote the image of Costa Rica as a free and peaceful nation.

But Costa Rica is about so more than peace and happiness (although these are of course part of the attraction). So what are the main reasons people choose to visit this compact central American nation?

1. Rainforests and Cloud Forests

The rich year-round greenery of much of Costa Rica provides a spectacular wilderness for the visitor to enjoy. Rainforest covers much of the country’s natural landscape although it is perhaps the cloud forests that offer the most dramatic experiences. Shrouded in eerie fog and covered in thick growths of ferns and mosses, these areas are excellent for hiking, canopy tours and a range of adventure sports that are offered here.

2. Active Volcanoes

If you like your volcanoes active (from a safe distance of course) then you’ll love Costa Rica. Home to five currently active volcanoes and many more that have had some activity in recent generations, this is a very young and dynamic landscape, geologically speaking.

Arenal is the most famous volcano in Costa Rica. A tourist infrastructure has been cobbled together to service the thousands who come to admire its near-perfect cone. Many activities such as horse riding, hiking and birdwatching are available in the area. Those looking to enjoy their volcano away from the crowds might choose to visit Irazu with its green blue lake and the views from the summit which stretch all the way from the Pacific to the Atlantic.

3. Wildlife

Costa Rica really is a paradise for nature lovers. The list of flora and fauna that can be observed in their natural habitat is staggering. Turtles, monkey, crocodiles, iguanas and armadillos can all be found here, while bird-watchers will enjoy looking out for over 800 species of bird, including the brightly-coloured toucans and scarlet macaws. In fact tiny Costa Rica is home to an astonishing 5% of the world’s biodiversity.

The plant life is equally dramatic with around 8,000 species of orchid, 150 varieties of edible fruit and the hard-to-believe walking palm trees. A single visit to Costa Rica may only scratch at the incredible diversity that lives here but it almost certainly have you wanting to return and explore further.

4. Beaches

When it’s time to take a break from all that hiking and horse-riding Costa Ricaalso offers world-class beaches. A visit to Ballena National Marine Park provides access to the largest coral reef on the Pacific side of Central America. There is a good choice of good quality hotels dotted along the coastline.

On the Atlantic side don’t miss a visit to Tortuguero, where green turtles lay their eggs on the beach between July and September. If you visit in October you might even be lucky enough to see the eggs hatch and the baby turtles making their hazardous dash towards the ocean.

For further information check our special Costa Rica section on our website.

by Andy Jarosz