Adventures in Central America

Sea turtle, Costa Rica
Enjoy the “pura vida” in Costa Rica

Chris Carter on nesting turtles, coral reefs and the tranquillity of Costa Rica, Placencia and El Salvador.

Pura vida means “pure life” in Spanish, says Jenni Doggett in The Sunday Times. But depending on whom you ask in Costa Rica, it is a salutation, a toast, a philosophy and the answer to everything. It means hello, goodbye, c’est la vie and live in peace with nature. And there are plenty of places to enjoy nature in this part of Central America. The “Little Amazon of Costa Rica”, as Tortuguero, a conservation area on the Caribbean coast, is known, is home to the Tortuguero National Park and the turtles that come to nest there. “The guide leads us to a grand old dame stoically dropping her eggs into a deep oval pit,” says Doggett.

“I am in equal measure uneasy and awestruck. But the new mother seems ‘unflappable’ at the presence of people and the income from this programme helps to protect the turtles from more intrusive tourism and poaching.”

Doggett moved on to Pacuare Lodge, an elegant wooden edifice in the emerald-hued Talamanca Mountains further inland, reached via a “tortuous” journey on twisted mud tracks. It was, however, well worth the toil for the outdoor shower in the forest gloam as the river bellows below. “I spend the next morning daydreaming in my mini-infinity pool, lost in a cathedral of green,” says Doggett. “I think I may actually be catching pura vida.”

From $985 for two nights,

A life of ease in Belize


Coral Caye, Belize
Coral Caye, Belize: a delightful escape from reality

The peninsula of Placencia, meaning “pleasant place” in Spanish, is a straggle of beaches, mangroves and lagoons caught between the coastal plain of Belize and the blue Caribbean Sea, says Horatio Clare in Condé Nast Traveller. “Just over the horizon, the second-largest living coral reef holds the swells at bay. The shallows seem too warm and dozy to bother raising a wave.” Meanwhile, on the shore the trees rock their heads in the breeze, “as though everything seems a good idea to them, however mad”. You come here for the tranquility, to “escape the rest of the planet’s reality and ease yourself into a culture still based on the old rhythm of life”. Take Hollywood film director Francis Ford Coppola’s Coral Caye, a private island just off shore, for instance.

Just 50 paces wide by 150 long, it has two cabins and a sand-floored lobby with a “magnificent” carved wooden daybed. “There’s nothing to do but snorkel, snooze in a hammock… and wonder what the chef will come up with next.”

Coral Caye, from around £1,450 for two,

Central America in the raw

Earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, as well as the horror of the civil war that ended 25 years ago, have taken their A dude surfingtoll on El Salvador, says Martin Symington in Wanderlust magazine. As a tourist stop, it remains something of a “Cinderella nation”, never quite making it to the ball being enjoyed by its neighbours. “But might El Salvador be the perfect way to scratch a Central American itch?” After all, this tiny country on the isthmus’s Pacific coast has smoking volcanic craters, Mayan ruins, empty beaches and coffee plantations. And as it is no bigger than Wales, the country “offers a rawer version than that found on the well-trod trails of, say, Costa Rica”.

It is a distillation of all that is wild in this region. The beaches of El Salvador’s far east are a favourite of surfers, who come from all over in search of its world-class rip curls. The waves are a result “of the mix of southern swell – we face due south – and the way the beach shelves”, Ricardo Rivas, owner of the cliff top Hotel Miraflores, explains. “It’s unmatched.” But alas, it wasn’t the season for the big waves, says Symington, “so I contented myself with pondering the Pacific rather than attempting to stand on it.”

From $70,