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Nestled between Panama and Nicaragua, Costa Rica is rich with diverse opportunities for travelers -- from beach activities such as surfing and diving to ecologically minded expeditions through rain forests and other natural wonders. Speaking of the environment, dozens of the country's beaches have been awarded the blue ecological flag, indicating that the local community works hard to maintain and protect those beaches, akin to a similar program launched in Europe in the mid 1980s. And in 2006, Costa Rica has been designated as the "Hispanic American Capital of Culture" celebrated with various festivities throughout the year including an International Arts Festival. For an overview, including maps, tips, and an events calendar, investigate Costa Rica Tourism Institute (tel. 866/267-8274; www.visitcostarica.com).

For those with an adventurous spirit, Costa Rica Expeditions (tel. 506/257-0766; www.costaricaexpeditions.com) is running a few trips. The "Costa Rica River and Rainforest" nine-day/eight-night trip is priced from $1,538 per person, based on double occupancy. The next available departures for this price point are May 27-June 4 and June 17-25, but trips are scheduled from March through December. The tour includes accommodations, 21 meals, transfers on the first and last day of the tour, taxes and entrance fees. Itinerary items include a few days in Corcovado with a guided walk through the rainforest near the Corcovado Lodge, a hike through its private nature reserve to view the entire rainforest and its indigenous species including white hawks and howler monkeys. Other points of interest include a five-to-six hour hike through Cerro de la Muerte (with a guide), whitewater rafting and hike through the river canyon in Pacuare.

The company's "Costa Rica Multi-Sport" is slightly shorter -- six nights/seven days -- and includes biking near the Arenal Volcano, kayaking into creeks and lagoons of Tortuguero National Park, and whitewater rafting on the Pacuare River. It's priced from $1,798 per person based on double occupancy; upcoming departures at that price point are May 6, June 24, September 2 and October 21. Trips are available through November 25 but the prices rise and fall based on the season but do not exceed $1,998. Six nights' lodging, taxes, arrival and departure transfers, all air, boat and land transfers within the country, fifteen meals, entrance fees to national parks and hotel taxes are included.

Round-trip airfare is not included in these offers and the trips will run provided the company receives a minimum of two reservations. You can also add on other adventures or take shorter ones, such as "Tortuguero Jungle Odyssey," priced from $328 per person for three days/two nights at the Tortuga Lodge, or $258 per person for two days/one night, including taxes. The trip includes transportation from San Jose airport, boat transportation to Tortuguero, accommodations at Tortuga Lodge, a boat excursion, meals and guided trips to observe the native flora, fauna and wildlife of the tropical rainforest in Tortuguero National Park.

Sunnyland Tours (tel. 800/783-7839; www.sunnylandtours.com) features many warm and sunny spots on its travel agenda, including Costa Rica. It is running a handful of specials to Costa Rica, many of which depart daily through December 2006. "Nature's Temptations" is advertised as its "off-the-beaten-path birding tour" and is priced from $1,899 based on double occupancy. The nine-day trip includes stops at San Gerardo de Dota, and a search for brilliantly colored quetzals, a trip down the Esquinas Coast and Casa Orquideas Tour (a motor boat ride may yield dolphin viewing), and a tour of the Rainmaker Conservation project. This trip is less intensive and is described by the company as "soft adventure." The cost includes accommodations in lodges and "superior tourist-class hotels," all guided tours, excursions and meals (most are included), admission fees to parks, transportation and baggage handling within the country, and round-trip airfare from the New York ($1,999), Miami ($1,899) and Los Angeles ($2,099) based on double occupancy. Departures are available daily, but add $30 each way for weekend flights and travel June 15-August 15 and December 10-31 comes with a $75 per person surcharge. Other departures are available upon inquiry.

If you and your partner are both adventurous, the "Romantic Eco-Discovery" trip might be of interest. Activities include an introductory tree-climbing tour, horseback riding and rainforest hike, a full day of white water rafting, round-trip airfare from select U.S. gateways, and a welcome cocktail, fruit and flowers at one of your hotels. Speaking of hotels, accommodations range from private cabins to deluxe accommodations at the architectural jewel Alta Hotel in San Jose and a tropical suite at the Hotel Tango Mar (they'll also serve you a three-course candlelit meal there). Admission fees to parks and places of interest are covered, as is transportation within the country. Daily departures from New York ($2,199) Miami ($2,099) and Los Angeles ($2,299) are available through December; the same surcharges for weekend and high season travel apply as mentioned with previous offer.

If you can act quickly and book by the March 23 deadline, Fly South Vacations (tel. 800/234-5245; www.flysouthvacations.com) is offering a short trip from $1,089 called "Best of Costa Rica." Round-trip airfare, a tour of Monteverde Cloud Forest, and some meals are included, along with hotel taxes and service charges. You'll spend two nights in San Jose, two nights at Tortuguero where meals and tours are included, one night in Arenal, and two nights at Monteverde. The trip is designed to introduce you to the highlights of the country's attractions. Travel April 17-30 it's priced from $1,119, based on Miami departure. For later departures, the price drops down a bit, to $1,089 for travel May 1-November 30. The package price does not include airport taxes and fees. Add $200 for many other East Coast departure cities (New York, Washington, D.C., Hartford) and $350 for Los Angeles and San Francisco.

If it's a beach vacation you're after, Fly South is also running two specials -- one to the "Ocotal Beach Resort" for four nights from $1,039, and the other, "Manuel Antonio Beach Getaway" for five nights from $789. Both trips are fairly independent, carry a March 23 booking deadline, and include round-trip airfare and airport-hotel transfers; prices are computed from many East Cost departure points, such as New York, Baltimore, Washington D.C., and Boston. The trip to the Ocotal Beach Resort includes two days of scuba diving (and necessary gear), daily breakfast, unlimited beach dives, hotel taxes and service charges. A volcanic sandy beach, Ocotal is about a third of mile in length and has received ecological awards from the Costa Rican government for six consecutive years.

Manuel Antonio, on the other hand, contains a national park with beaches; the forest, like in Lost, is close to the coastline. The trip also includes daily breakfast and a jeep rental for three days with unlimited mileage. Hotel class ranges from tourist to superior (you have a bit of a choice but not much) and the trip is priced from $839 for travel April 17-30; travel May 1-November 30, from $789, based on Miami departures. Add $225 for southwest departures, roughly speaking, and $250 for flights out of most Northeast hubs.

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