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Costa Rica

Adventure and Eco-Tourism

Daniel Findlay, an executive from North Bay, Ontario, Canada, set up his telescope on the balcony of his room at the Malinche Real Beach Resort. He pointed the lens toward the Gulf of Papagayo and said to the guests whose accommodations adjoined his, "I'm a bit of a bird watcher and this is the place to do it. I'm looking at a pelican out there diving for prey."

With 850 species in these parts, spotting birds is not a difficult task. However, dedicated bird watchers might want to take the Special Quetzal Tour. Participants are driven up the Mountain of Death to the Saavegre Refuge at an altitude of 8000 feet to view several varieties of hummingbirds, woodpeckers and trogans including the resplendent quetzal, a trogan whose plumage and tail are magnificent.

Malinche Real is in the province of Guanacaste, the area of Costa Rica bordered by the Pacific Ocean on the west and Nicaragua on the north. All of this Central American land is a popular destination for eco-tourism and for adventure but Guanacaste, in particular, has been getting a lot of play from tourists recently.

Juan Melhado, general manager of Malinche Real, says the reason Costa Rica is a top destination is that, "Along with adventure we're adding soft adventure experiences. There's great appeal in the fact that about 25 percent of the territory is a public or private environmentally-protected zone."

Scuba diving, Costa Rica

Visitors often spend a few days in San Jose, the capital, before heading out to other areas. Perhaps the best place to stay is the beautiful Meliá Cariari Hotel and Golf Resort, near the airport and downtown.

Although the city is rather dreary and does not provide much in the way of sightseeing, vacationers have access from here to many diverse activities. One of the travel services operating out of the hotel's lobby offers 26 day trips, such as tours to volcanoes, the butterfly farm and the Sarapique Rain Forest, which encompasses viewing of waterfalls, banana and coffee plantations, a nature walk and a river ride to watch alligators and crocodiles. A similar excursion to the Braulio Carrillo National Park includes an aerial tram crossing over the rain forest.

Costa Rica has 20 national parks, nine animal and wild life refuges, 12 biological reserves, 14 forest reserves, 21 Indian reserves and 26 protected areas. Prominent among them are Rio Macho near San Jose, Santa Rosa in Guanacaste and Tortuguero on the Caribbean side of the country, a preserve that is unusual for its natural and man-made canals serving as the means of transportation and exploration.

Driving the mostly good roads in the undeveloped districts, one is struck by the absence of blight and the sheer beauty of the surroundings. The trip by auto from San Jose to the northwestern coast is about five hours, but the scenic beauty is so intense– thick forests, fields of pure green, mountains capped by blue marbled skies and puffy clouds– that staring from the window is a wondrous activity. Cows are put out to pasture and you might even see monkeys and iguanas.

In addition to the opportunity to observe an overwhelming variety of animal and plant life, vacationers can take part in sporting adventures on land and on water. Day trips are organized for deep-sea fishing, mountain biking, scuba diving, horseback riding, hiking on well-marked trails, themed cruises and white water rafting. Rafting levels on several rivers range from classes one through five. Costa Rica is also a glorious place for camping.

The beaches along a small stretch of the Pacific, south of the Gulf of Papagayo–Playas Ocotal, Flamingo, Brasilito, Conchal, Coco and Tamarindo–are some of the prettiest in the world. Mountains rise next to pristine sands and the ocean crawling up the shores in the protected inlets is calm. Every beach might be visited at dusk when the flaming orange sun dips and reflects its glowing hues at the edge of the water. Linger at the ocean's rim to let the gentle waves lap over your feet while watching the kaleidoscope in the sky.

Flamingo Beach is of special note for it is a seashore resort with a very Latin American flavor, open-air restaurants serving local foods, small hotels and streets that are brightly lit in the evenings.

Flamingo Beach is also the site of a special nightly event. From October to May at 8 p.m. about 100 or so visitors are admitted to the beach to watch the giant sea turtles emerge from the water and bury their eggs in the sand. Depending on luck, you may or may not get to witness the event and might have to sit for several hours in pitch black just gazing at a sky so crowded with stars it can only be described as heavenly. You can also search the tropical sky aboard the Manta Raya, either by using a reflecting telescope or reclining on a giant trampoline, while an astronomer lectures about constellations, planets, galaxies and star clusters.

Because of its treasure house of natural wonders, diversity of sights and long list of things to do, Costa Rica is the next place to go.

Where To Stay

San Jose and Environs

Meliá Cariari, AP. 737 Centro Colon, 1007, San Jose. Tel. 506-239-0022, 800-33 MELIA. Large and comfortable with many amenities. Constructed to bring the outdoors, indoors. Rates start at $115. www.

Villa Caletas, PO Box 12358-1000, San Jose. Tel. 506-257-3653. Fifty-six miles southeast of San Jose with 30 rooms. The most exclusive hotel in the country, located on a cliff 1000-feet above sea level with a 350-degree panoramic view. French-colonial architecture and a Grecian-style amphitheater for sunset concerts. Rates start at $125. www.hotelvillacaletas.com

Grano de Oro, Apdo. 1157-1007 Centro Colón, San Jose, tel. 506-255-3322, a 35-room stately mansion in downtown, is One of the Small Distinctive Hotels of Costa Rica. Rates start at $72. www.hotelgranodeoro.com


Meliá Playa Conchal Beach & Golf Resort, Aparto 232-5150, Santa Cruz, Guanacaste. Tel. 506-654-4123, 800-33-MELIA. Brand-new, five-star resort. Very spread out, beautifully landscaped with good facilities and nightly entertainment. All 308 accommodations are junior suites. Rates start at $105. www.

Hotel Punta Islita, Nicoya Peninsula on the southern coast of Guanacaste, tel. 506-296-5797, 800-525-4800, is the only member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World in Costa Rica. Rates start at $130. http://www.hotelpuntaislita.com/

Malinche Real Beach Resort & Spa, Gulf of Papagayo, Guanacaste. Tel. 506-670-0033, 800-999-9182. An all-inclusive resort, much like a Carnival Cruise on land. Rates start at $130 and include food, sports and alcohol.

Costa Smeralda Beach Hotel & Casino, Gulf of Papagayo, Guanacaste. Tel. 506-670-0032. Fine restaurant and 33 attractive rooms with beautiful views and terraced landscaping overlooking the water. Rates start at $95.

El Octal Beach Resort, P O Box 1, Playa del Coco, Guanacaste. Tel. 506-670-0321. On-site dive shop and three sport fishing boats. Eighty percent of the clientele are scuba divers. Convenient to good surfing. Rates start at $58. www.ocotalresort.com

Flying To Costa Rica

Lacsa, the official airline of Costa Rica, has direct flights to San Jose from the gateway cities of Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, New Orleans, Orlando and Miami. Daniel Oduber Quiros International Airport in Guanacaste is serviced by Sansa and is one hour by air from San Jose. 800-225-2272. www.centralamerica.com/cr/lacsa/lacsa.htm

Spring 1997