A small red eyed frog sits perched on a broad leaf.

One of Costa Rica’s iconic fauna, the red-eyed tree frog. Photo © Peter Wollinga.

On my first visit to Costa Rica, I performed yoga in a crisply cool cloud forest with accommodations in a Swiss-style hotel amid the pines. The next day I participated in dawn calisthenics on a Pacific beach within sight of marine turtles and monkeys. Therein lies Costa Rica’s beauty.

You can journey from the Amazon to a Swiss alpine forest simply by starting on the coastal plains and walking uphill.Despite its diminutive size, Costa Rica is a kind of microcontinent unto itself—one sculpted to show off the full potential of the tropics. The diversity of terrain is remarkable. You can journey from the Amazon to a Swiss alpine forest simply by starting on the coastal plains and walking uphill. The tableau changes from dense rainforest, dry deciduous forests, open savanna, and lush wetlands to montane cloud forest swathing the upper slopes of volcanoes. Along the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, dozens of inviting beaches run the gamut from frost-white to chocolate, and islands and offshore coral reefs open up a world more beautiful than a casket of gems.

The nation’s 12 distinct ecological zones are home to an astonishing array of flora and fauna—approximately 5 percent of all known species on earth—and include more butterfly species than in all of Africa, and more than twice the number of bird species in the whole of the United States. Stay here long enough and you’ll begin to think that with luck you might see examples of all the creatures on earth.

Unlike many destinations, where humans have driven animals into the deepest seclusion, Costa Rica’s wildlife loves to put on a song and dance. Animals and birds are prolific and relatively easy to spot: sleek jaguars on the prowl; sloths moving languidly among the high branches; scarlet macaws launching from their perches to fly squawking away.

Since my first visit, the country has also exploded as a world-class venue for active adventures—scuba diving, sportfishing, white-water rafting, surfing, and horseback riding. The adrenaline rush never stops, be it ATV tours or zip-line adventures.

Plus, the nation boasts a huge choice of fantastic resorts, boutique hotels, rustic lodges, surfer camps, and budget cabinas. And while its neighbors have been racked by turmoil, Costa Rica has been blessed with a remarkable normalcy—few extremes of wealth and poverty, no standing army, a proud history as Central America’s most stable democracy, and a quality of life among the highest in the western hemisphere.

Color map of Costa Rica

Costa Rica

Excerpted from the Ninth Edition of Moon Costa Rica.