In the past decade, construction of hotels, second homes, and condominiums has surged in coastal regions, taking advantage of a vacuum in planning and enforcement. The total land area that has been developed grew 600 percent in that time, according to a government report.
As a result, the biodiversity that has long lured visitors is disappearing, say scientists. Monkey and turtle populations are plummeting, and infrastructure is strained to a near breaking point.
Costa Rica's highly regarded, nonpartisan State of the Nation report aired the country's dirty laundry last November, alarming both the press and the public.
Statistics revealed that 97 percent of Costa Rica's sewage flows untreated into rivers, streams, or the ocean, and that more than 300,000 tons of garbage was left uncollected on streets in 2006. And a flurry of illegal well-drilling is running aquifers dry, ironic in a country where as much as 20 feet of rain falls annually.
Despite the chaos, less than a quarter of coastal towns have zoning plans to balance tourism development with natural resources and government services such as sewage treatment and public water supply.
Monkey populations, symbols of the rain forest and a charismatic tourist attraction, declined an estimated 50 percent in little more than a decade, according to a recent report by a team of wildlife scientists.
Even given these developments, Costa Rica is still a very cool place:
Costa Rica remains decades ahead of its neighbors. More than 26 percent of its national territory is under protected status, 80 percent of its energy is produced from renewable resources such as wind and hydropower, and the country is growing more trees than it cuts down – an anomaly in widely poor Central America.
Costa Rica's natural resources are equally impressive, with its 11,450 species of plants, 67,000 species of insects, 850 species of birds, and the highest density of plants, animals, and ecosystems of any country in the Americas.
Ms. Angus and I have visited the Osa peninsula twice and had a great time on each occasion.