Costa Rica is so synonymous with ecotourism that “it could be Al Gore’s poster child,” said Julian Rubinstein in Travel + Leisure. A country smaller than West Virginia, with a population of about 4 million, it has the highest literacy rate in the region and no standing army. Costa Rica’s green revolution began in 1970, when it outlawed unrestricted logging and established a national parks system. Adventure outfitters and lodges soon
followed. Today Costa Rica’s natural beauty and tranquility make it “stand out like Scarlett Johansson in a bus station.”
On my first day as an ecotourist, “I was peed on by a howler monkey.” After a 30-minute flight from the capital San José to the old fishing village of Tortuguero, I joined a group of tourists and scientists on a motorboat heading downriver. Crocodiles sunned themselves on the banks, iguanas clung to hibiscus bushes, and toucans, pelicans, and other birds solemnly observed our passage. My encounter with the howler occurred near a forest overgrowth that blocked our progress as a troop of monkeys crossed the river in the branches of the almond trees overhead. Later we returned to Tortuga Lodge, the first and largest ecotourism operator in the region.
An example of the “delicate balance” such establishments must strike with the environment occurred on the following night, when I “marched under the moonlight” with 100 other people to see a sea turtle. At last we were allotted 10 seconds each to witness “an unforgettable sight”—a gigantic turtle that seemed almost in a trance as it laid about 100 large eggs in a hole in the sand. On subsequent days, I explored Arenal, an active volcano surrounded by a cloud forest; hiked across hanging bridges 500 feet in the air; and, at the luxurious Four Seasons resort at Peninsula Papagayo, dozed on the beach and went sea kayaking. The experience was so dream-like I began to suspect “the monkeys singing outside my villa’s windows were on the payroll.”