Heidi Sherman Mitchell
May 07, 2009

Costa Rica may risk being overrun by tourists, but Nicaragua has the largest area of primary-growth rain forest north of the Amazon, hundreds of beaches, six active volcanoes, and plenty of sleepy surf towns. Since 2002, the government has created 76 national parks to protect the country's wildlife. There's even Morgan's Rock Hacienda & Ecolodge, inspired by the pioneering Costa Rican ecolodge Lapa Rios. Canopy tours are popping up all over, Holland America cruise ships are docking at the Pacific port of San Juan del Sur, and the Four Seasons Resort at Peninsula Papagayo, in Costa Rica, is offering guests day trips to Nicaragua. After decades of political turbulence, the largest country in Central America is finally on the verge.

THE FACTS Morgan's Rock Hacienda & Ecolodge, 011-506/296-9442; www.morgansrock.com. Holland America Line, 877/724-5425; www.hollandamerica.com. Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica at Peninsula Papagayo, 800/819-5053; www.fourseasons.com.

Morgan's Rock Hacienda & Ecolodge

Most guests heading to this thatched-roof resort near La Flor National Park pack hiking boots and swimsuits, anticipating the area’s tropical forests and Pacific Coast beaches. But some also bring books to donate to the school that Morgan’s Rock helps support. The lodge is blazing a trail in Central America’s green-tourism industry with its do-the-right-thing ethos. Cathedral ceilings are crafted from responsibly harvested woods; nature guides are recruited from surrounding villages. Kayak through mangroves as the sun rises, then tuck into almond pancakes and juice squeezed from fruit grown in the property’s own gardens.

Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica at Peninsula Papagayo

Take Four Seasons pampering (chilled towels delivered to your pool chaise), cross it with the charm of location (just north of the Nicoya Peninsula, above the placid Gulf of Papagayo), and you'll see why guests return to this hilltop property year after year. The design here falls into the simple-but-luxurious category: bamboo and rattan, indigenous stone and wood, and Costa Rican art. Activities exceed the average menu of options: guests can go horseback riding in nearby national parks; boost their energy with a body wrap using volcanic mud from the Osa Peninsula; spend the day at either of the resort’s two golden-sand beaches or four pools; sign up for a trip to Diria coffee plantation; follow a naturalist on a bird-watching expedition; and much, much more. At the end of the day, you'll be ready to fall back into one of 175 unfussy yet plush rooms, suites, or private residences, complete with verandas and deep soaking tubs.

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