Ecotourism's origins may be hard to pinpoint, but there's little disputing that Costa Rica - a diverse land teeming with natural wonders - has become one of the world's most sought-after green destinations.
How serious are Costa Rican authorities about doing right by the environment? Almost one-fourth of Costa Rica is protected, and much of the protected areas serve as national park land where visitors can explore the rainforests, volcanoes, rivers and beaches firsthand. Costa Rica also plans to become the first country to go carbon neutral, a goal expected to be accomplished as early as 2021.
But whether your idea of "going green" includes recycling your daily paper, riding a bike to work, or wearing your favorite St. Patrick's Day shirt, you'll find plenty to see and do here. Adventurers may choose to grab a paddle and raft Class IV river rapids; surf, scuba or fish in the Pacific; explore a rumbling, lava spewing volcano; interact with some amazing wildlife (sea turtles, capuchin monkeys, basilisk lizards, butterflies); or zip-line through a rainforest canopy.
Others may find peace in more tranquil pursuits, such as sunning on a secluded beach; touring a coffee plantation; taking a nature walk; shopping for a bargain in the city; or visiting a one-of-a-kind mosaic church.
In Costa Rica, there are countless ways to live out your vacation fantasies - without worrying how big of a carbon footprint you've left behind.
Hit up a 'soda.' The Costa Rican equivalent to an American diner, the soda is a great place to fill up on Tico food (lots of rice and beans) while hardly putting a dent in your wallet.
Get a fruit snack. San Jose's fruit vendors are easy to spot: just head to the corner of the nearest downtown street. Then stock up on mangoes, palm nuts and more.
Cafeteria 1830. This 24-hour patio café, located at the Gran Hotel in Costa Rica, is a great place to enjoy a beer or a late-night snack and watch the world go by.
'Zip' through the forest. Zip line tours through the rainforest canopy are exhilarating. The only downside: you'll be moving so fast, you won't have time to take in all the wonderful views.
Ride the white water. Take a two- or three-day trip down the Pacuare River, where, with the help of professional guides, you can tackle Class III and Class IV rapids.
Manuel Antonio National Park. Stunning panoramic views fill visitors' cameras regularly at this beautiful park near Quepos. But the monkeys, including the endangered squirrel monkey, steal the show.
Arenal hanging bridge. Suspended bridges such as this one put you in the line of sight of the majority of the rainforests birds, reptiles and animals: in the canopy.
Arenal volcano. Don't miss out on the opportunity to witness an active volcano as it rumbles and spews lava daily. Nighttime views to see the glowing lava are most popular, although daytime visits have their own rewards.
Follow the turtles. Sea turtles nest on both coasts at various times of the year, and many of the nesting beaches have been protected as national parks. Places where you could see a leatherback, Pacific green or other type of sea turtle include: Santa Rosa National Park, Las Baulas National Marine Park, Tortuguero National Park or the Ostional National Wildlife Refuge.
One word: Coffee. Tourism pumps more money into the Costa Rican economy than anything else, but the coffee bean is the rich, aromatic runner-up. You can purchase a one-pound bag for less than $5 at any supermarket.
Boutique Annemarie. This two-floor shop at the Hotel Don Carlos offers a large selection of leather goods, paintings, jewelry and other products you'd have to visit several stores to see.
Avenida Central. This street mall, located west of the Plaza de la Cultura, offers several stores that sell clothing for the entire family.