A world leader in ecotourism, Costa Rica is a country that promotes nature conservation instead of the ruthless exploitation of natural resources, and wildlife-watching instead of competitive drinking at the side of hotel pools.

The Central American nation is considered a role model in this respect, and its many natural treasures – including crater lakes, smoking and dormant volcanoes, Pacific and Caribbean beaches, and rain forests with howler monkeys, toucans and sloths – attract more and more tourists every year.

Even little creatures are big stars in Costa Rica; for instance, a red poison dart frog spotted in the bushes by the Sarapiqui River looked up to see two cameras pointed in its direction.

Barely as big as a thumb, the pipsqueak puffed out its throat mightily.

Two tourists from Germany, along with the rest of the small group, heeded the advice of Karla Barquero, their guide: they kept still and photographed without flashbulbs.

The brightly colored amphibian, normally quite shy, seemed to appreciate this behavior and did not bound away.

A 28-year-old biologist, Barquero pursued university studies in the German city of Ulm and now offers night tours for bat-watching. She stopped at a suspension bridge spanning the river and pointed downward.

There in the rain forest, amid the wild orchids, aerial roots and ferns, hung a sloth on a branch of a giant, moss-covered tree. Its claws gripped the branch firmly, and its eyes were closed.

Living up to its name, the animal did not let the intruders disturb its nap. The tourists were impressed.

“This is better than at the zoo,” said a teacher from Rome.

Details: Visit Costa Rica, Tirimbina, OTS, Learning Center Costa Rica.