Costa Rica, around three-quarters the size of Tasmania, is one of Central America's smallest and friendliest countries. It borders Panama to the south, Nicaragua to the north, the North Pacific Ocean to the west and the Caribbean Sea to the east. It has spectacular volcanoes, fast-flowing rivers, lush tropical rainforest and more species of plants and animals per square kilometre than anywhere on earth.
Costa Ricans, or 'ticos', are nearly all of mixed Spanish and Indian descent. Like Guatemala and El Salvador, Costa Rica was transformed by coffee in the 19th century. It attracted foreign capital and immigrant merchants, and its equitable land tenure patterns and absence of Indian-Latino racial tensions averted the class warfare some of its neighbours experienced with coffee booms.
Getaway's journey began in Golfito, the hub of the southern Pacific zone. Its steep jungle hills meet the water and the town spreads along one main road hugging the winding coastline of the Golfo Dulce – the Sweet Gulf.
From there we flew over the 41,788 hectare Corcovado National Park, the largest patch of virgin lowland tropical rainforest in Central America. It is home to the world's largest population of jaguar, 116 species of amphibians and reptiles, 139 mammals and 850 recorded bird species, making up one-tenth of the world's total. Deforestation is a constant problem, but the nation is offering hope for such rare jewels as the quetzal and the scarlet macaw, both endangered yet commonly seen.
Costa Rica is one of the few places to see frogs such as the red-eyed tree, transparent glass and enamel-bright poison arrow varieties. There are squirrel monkeys, tapir and one of the world's last stands of harpy eagles. Between January and April are the best times to visit.
The ASIS Volunteer Wildlife Sanctuary in San Carlos is a safe place where visitors from around the world nurse injured and orphaned animals to good health. They are very keen to have Australians join them in their worth-while work with animals in distress or jeopardy.
Brazil covers almost half of South America and, with the exception of Chile and Ecuador, touches all of the continent's thirteen countries.
Bahia is Brazil's most historic state with many inhabitants retaining strong links with their African heritage. Its capital, Salvador Bahia is a city built on slavery. Sitting on a peninsula on the east coast and with a population of 2.4 million, Salvador is a vibrant city of ornate churches, cobblestone streets and wild and frequent festivals with capoeira groups dancing through the streets. Capoeira began as an African martial art, developed by slaves to fight their masters. It was practiced clandestinely in the forest and disguised to give the appearance of acrobatic dance.
Music fills the air and what you will recognise is the olodum rhythm, the rhythm of drums borrowed and made famous by Michael Jackson and Paul Simon.
When in Salvador it is almost essential to attend a candomble service, the most orthodox of the many cults taken there by the African people. It combines traditional Yoruban practice with common elements of syncretic faiths. Drums can be heard at night coming from many terreiros de candomble scattered throughout the city. Most allow visitors to attend, but it is a good idea to read up on the rights and wrongs of attending such a ritual. Some colours are unacceptable and other things which should be observed. Candomblé accessories are easy to find, and even if you aren't planning to buy anything, they are interesting to browse.
Sol Victoria Marina Hotel, near the old town of Pelourinho, overlooks the bay. It has 235 modern rooms, a restaurant serving Brazilian cuisine and another serving Thai, a pool bar, cafe, health and fitness club and terrace giving superb views of the bay.
While Salvador, and in fact Brazil, is a fascinating place to visit, travellers are advised to be particularly cautious, even on beaches, as pickpockets including children are very clever and authorities advise against using pockets or backpacks for belongings.