Think again if you imagine this Central American nation to be another lawless hellhole awash in drugs.The people of Costa Rica (‘Rich Coast’), known as ‘Ticos’, live by the code of Pura Vida, an infectious mixture of “no worries” and “stay cool”, which results in a cohesive society full of optimism.

It has had public schools for all since the 1880s, free healthcare and civilised labour laws, major drivers of this wonderful place.
My wife, my sister-in-law and I joined nine others on a two-week tour through the country with our guide Xander and his trusty sidekick Pappy piloting the bus. For those readers of a certain age, these two were very reminiscent of Pancho and the Cisco Kid.

San Jose the capital sits in the elevated Central Valley surrounded by active volcanoes. After the spectacular flight in, we found the main road into the city was being repaired so our taxi driver took us by the ‘scenic’ route, a bit daunting, with dusty shanties and much barbed wire.

Back on the main drag however all looked fine - car showrooms, universities and so on. At our hotel we were welcomed to an old converted mansion within walking distance of the town centre, with lots of modern shops and street stalls, but no hassling.

Dr Michael Leslie meets a Costa Rican local.

Lottery tickets are big with a seller about every twenty metres adding to the din. My five foot–ish wife likes Spanish countries as she has no trouble seeing over the crowd.

The highlights are the central fort, now the National Museum, with the army having been abolished after a failed coup in 1948, the Native American museum and the vibrant street scene.

The bus trip covered the central third of the country, first north into the agricultural areas then east into the central rainforest volcano area and cloud forest, then south to the Pacific coast.

We stayed on an agricultural commune learning some cooking and cocktail making skills and joining the locals for a dance after a display by the children.

All dirt roads and quite a way off the tar but the mobile phones still worked. The family we stayed with had no English and we little Spanish but photos of our family and Alstonville soon broke the ice.

The next week was a blur of different landforms and a dazzling array of wildlife. Colored birds of all sorts, varieties of monkeys, sloths, caimans and crocodiles, amazing coloured lizards, armadillos and even a hedgehog.
Activities ranged from swimming in splash pools of mighty waterfalls to zip lining through the canopy to a leisurely soak in the hot volcanic springs. Xander even found a member of the exotic Quetzal bird family in the forest.

After the word on this got out, we were overrun by a herd of Japanese twitchers, travelling the globe in search of avian delights.

We moved from coffee and chocolate growing volcanic slopes to the coast with its languid, muddy and crocodile infested rivers. About 30 km south of one of these rivers we stayed at Quespos near Manuel Antonio National Park. Straight into the surf we went - it looked pretty croc free and there were plenty of people in the water.

After a nice swim in water about twenty eight degrees we had a stroll to the southern end of the beach where there was a mangrove lined creek with a sign warning of the presence of crocodiles! Apparently they don’t swim as well as our version of these deadly critters..

Back to the Hotel La Rosa Del Paseo, a place I recommend highly, another day in San Jose (is that a song title?), a Sunday with thousands of people in the streets and then home.

Costa Rica is a fabulous society in a stunning landscape… Pura Vida.