• Did you catch Channel 4’s Sunday night show Escape to Costa Rica? Environmental journalist Gaia Vince revealed how the country is leading the way in sustainable development and eco-tourism. And that’s not the only reason to visit. Here’s why Costa Rica is the place to be…

    Costa Rica is one of the most eco-friendly places on the planet, and it’s easy to see how the Central American country is making the world more environmentally-friendly. Last year it managed a huge 299 days without burning oil, coal or natural gas, and already 99% of its electricity comes from renewable sources. The country even plans to become carbon neutral by 2021, and follow in Iceland’s footsteps.

    And First Choice have a hand in sustainable tourism, too. Our RIU hotels, including the RIU Guanacaste, have set up a private conservation area in Costa Rica, covering over 200 hectares of land. This area provides a home to 250 plant and animal species which are facing extinction, and RIU also have plans to combat illegal hunting and prevent forest fires.

    If that’s not reason enough, here’s why you should visit…

    It’s the happiest country in the world

    According to the Happy Planet Index, Costa Rica is the most satisfying place to live and one of the happiest countries in the world. The scale measures human well-being against environmental impact and, just to give you some comparison, Britain is 34th on the list! Besides living in an amazing tropical location, there are several things that make Costa Ricans happy. The peace-loving nation favour a simple lifestyle, have one of the highest literacy rates in the world at 97%, and an impressive life expectancy, with residents frequently living beyond 100. You’ll even find the United Nations University for Peace located in Costa Rica, which says everything really.

    25% of the country is made up of National Parks and conservation areas

    Costa Rica has everything you’d expect from a tropical paradise – thick rainforests filled with thousands of species of exotics plants, long stretches of white-sand beaches and soaring volcanoes, all ripe for exploring. A quarter of the country is made up of protected conservation areas, giving you the best pick of nature reserves and wildlife sanctuaries to explore. The Monteverde Cloud Forest is not to be missed. This silvery mist-shrouded jungle is not only filled with rare butterflies, toucans and hummingbirds, it’s also home to the famous eight hanging bridges where you can literally walk at tree top level.

    Get stuck into extreme sports

    Surfing, white water rafting, zip-lining – Costa Rica lines up so much for the adventurous traveller, you’ll be spoilt for choice. You might have been to Go Ape before, but the real zip-lining experience can be had in Rincon de la Vieja. Here there are seven zip-line platforms to cross and two Tarzan swings where you’ll fly through the impressive jungle spotting wildlife on the way. There are also dozens of volcanoes to hike – some of them still active. Arenal Volcano is one of the biggest standing at over 5,000ft high. The road to the top is pretty winding, but the breathtaking views are phenomenal. Plus, if you’re staying near Tamarindo, surfing is the sport of choice. You can either sign up to a surf school or take to the waves yourself.

    Animal experiences

    Animals and National Parks go hand-in-hand, meaning you’ll spot some amazing species in Costa Rica. Head to one of the protected parks and you’ll more than likely see toucans, the famous tree frogs and even sloths. Costa Rica happens to be the hummingbird capital of the world as well, with over 52 species to see, so keep that DSLR handy to get a rare snap of the super-speedy birds. If you’re a dedicated animal lover, you can visit an entire island full of 900 stray dogs called Land of the Strays, and there are several sloth sanctuaries on the island where orphaned and abandoned sloths are rescued and rehabilitated. Here are some of the sloths you can meet there.

    Check out our holidays to Costa Rica here. Or read 25 five fun facts about Costa Rica.