Costa Rica, or "the rich coast," got its name when Christopher Columbus visited in the 16th century and was impressed by the abundance of gold worn by the local people.
But you'll soon discover, on a vacation to this tiny Central American country, that the true wealth of Costa Rica is its incredible biodiversity and spectacular natural beauty.
The journey begins in the colorful capital city of San Jose. It is very much a modern cosmopolitan city, full of sleek skyscrapers and busy people. But the lovely climate, which the locals refer to as "eternal spring" makes it a perfect city for sightseeing.
The afternoon is spent checking out the incredible treasures at the Gold Museum, mingling with some of the friendly locals, or "ticos," at the Plaza de Cultural and sampling some traditional Costa Rican cuisine.
Costa Rican food is similar to what you find in other parts of Central America, with typical dishes containing rice, beans and meat. You'll also find an abundance of fresh fruits such as watermelon, mangoes and pineapple. Because they are grown locally, they are exceptionally juicy and sweet.
Another delicious Costa Rican treat is pipa fria, cold coconut water, which is enjoyed with a straw fright from the coconut.
And, of course, Costa Rican coffee is fresh, rich and delicious.
Some local plantations offer informational tours, where you can see how the coffee bean is grown, picked and ground, and then sample the wonderful finished product.
From San Jose, travel north to San Carlos, a small town that serves as the gateway to the Arenal Volcano, one of the world's most active volcanoes. It is quite an impressive sight, dominating the horizon with its massive silhouette and emitting puffs of white smoke into the blue sky.
Another popular local attraction is Tabacon Hot Springs, a beautiful complex of thermal pools surrounded by lush tropical vegetation.
The next day, visit the remote Cano Negro Nature Preserve, home to an incredible assortment of indigenous wildlife.
Upon arrival, join a local guide aboard a little motorboat and set off down the Rio Frio in search of wildlife. You won't have to search far. Wildlife is everywhere. See crocodiles silently peeking their eyes above the surface, a lethargic sloth clinging to a branch, spider monkeys swinging in the trees high above, and the colorful birds flying back and forth overhead. A truly incredible sight.
You wouldn't think Cano Negro could possibly be topped until you visit Monteverde Cloud Forest.
This expansive nature reserve has an incredible diversity of flora and fauna, including trees that grow to heights of more than 100 feet and more than 400 species of birds.
Monteverde is home to one of the world's largest populations of the endangered Resplendent Quetzal, the ancient holy bird of the Mayans. Keep your eyes peeled for the Quetzal, as you explore the Cloud Forest from its skywalk, a series of platforms and suspension bridges built high in the treetops that give you a fantastic bird's eye view of the forest below.
Being up so high among the sights and sounds of the natural world, gives you a feeling of wonder and awe that is hard to describe in mere words.
After exploring the tropical rainforests of Costa Rica's interior, head for the gorgeous Guanacaste region on the northwest Pacific coast to cool off and relax.
A popular destination for sport fishermen, surfers and beachgoers, this area is filled with world-class oceanfront resorts. The water is blue, the beaches are clean and the atmosphere is utterly relaxed. You may wish to spend your days reading under the shade of an almond tree and pacing the shoreline looking for sand dollars.
And each night, as the sun sinks below the horizon, watch the sky ignite into fiery shades of pink, orange and red. Pure bliss.
This article was submitted by Sonja Corliss of Gadabout Travel in Melbourne and Rose Mascarenhas of Gadabout Travel in Sebastian. For information, call (321) 253-3674 or (772) 589-0633.