With a deep history, surging registration numbers and epic courses, a country referred to affectionately as Central America’s New Zealand is triathlon’s booming new hotspot.

There’s new triathlon hotspot, and it’s literally right under our noses, just a four hour flight away. No, you don’t have to do the 14-hour flight to the outdoorsman mecca of New Zealand. Nor a transcontintental trek to Germany. And you don’t have to deal with the expense that any trip to Hawaii brings.

Try Costa Rica.

The tiny Central American country of Costa Rica has been a popular vacation escape for Americans for years—see the luxury resorts that dot the coastlines and the beautiful resorts that exist in the cool climes of the mountains. But it’s only been in the last five years than an explosion of endurance events has come to the fore. While nations like Mexico have seen a surge in participation, it’s Costa Rica that is getting great interest from triathletes.

All one has to do is witness the popularity of epic events like the the Ruta de los Conquistadores mountain bike stage race, and the insatiable hunger for adventure races here, with Costa Rica playing host to the sport’s crown jewel, the Adventure Racing World Series World Championship in late November and early December. 

Add the Coastal Challenge ultramarathon, and the popular Green Cup duathlon series and ITU Tri Cross mountain bike triathlon events (one of which is being prepared to debut the first certified carbon-neutral multisport event in the Americas). As a small land with outstanding natural terrain options and weather from ranging from cool cloud forests to tropical jungles to warm beaches and wildlife from howler monkey to coatimundi and everything in between, there’s truth in the increasingly common saying about this outdoorsman’s nirvana: Costa Rica is the new New Zealand.

“Behind only Mexico, we have the biggest audience in Central America in the development of the sport of triathlon,” said event production manger Sergio Sanchez, co-director of Unlimited Costa Rica. An accomplished triathlete and adventure racer in his own right, Sanchez is no fly by night event manager; he has an emotional stake in the success of triathlon in his country. ‘FEUTRI (Federación Unida de Triatlón de Costa Rica, or the Costa Rican Triathlon Federation) created the basis in the 90s, but in the most humble way, I’m really glad to be part of the development of the sport.” 

And triathlon falls squarely within that roundhouse. In 2008, the Costa Rica Triathlon Federation had just 150 registered members. This year, it’s over 1800 athletes competing in sanctioned road and off-road triathlon events. Youth involvement skyrocketed in parallel; there were less than 10 registered kids under age 13 participating in 2008. Last year? 180. 

You want triathlon history? Costa Rica has it. The beach town of Playa del Coco on the Pacific coast side played host to Costa Rica’s first ever triathlon 30 years ago, the Playa del Coco Triathlon—and the event continues strong today. 

While organizers will soon be announcing more new multisport events in the country, the show continues this weekend with a (literally) hot tropical race weekend today and Sunday in Guanacaste, Puerto Rico. Today will play host to the 2575 Costa Rica sprint race (.75k swim, 20k bike, 5k run), followed Sunday by the Triatlon Pinilla JW Marriott. 

With a “111” distance (1k swim, 100k bike, 10k run) event on the docket Sunday (serving as the Central American Championship and the third date of the BMW Costa Rica Tri Series), the Triatlon Pinilla JW Marriott will be a unique event; while a long-course event, it’s still going to be draft-legal.

It was enough to draw fluent Spanish-speaking Michael Lovato to head south from his home in Boulder, Colo. to take on the 111 race. 

Meanwhile, top Costa Rican ITU mainstay, Leonardo Chacon will tackle both the 2575 Sprint Saturday and the Olympic-distance draft-legal race that runs in concert with the 111 event. 

“I’ve always loved coming to Latin America to race, but Costa Rica is a special place for me to really enjoy the food, the culture—what they call “pura vida,” Lovato says. “I’m looking forward to getting out and racing tomorrow.”  

Race Notes: Friday and Saturday played host to registration and the Lovato Perfomance Camp hosted by pros Michael and Amanda Lovato. The Spanish-fluent Michael hosted a bilingual Q&A and took athletes out on a course preview run and engaged campers in swim stroke analysis at the host venue, the JW Marriott Guanacaste.

Check in Sunday for a post-race report and gallery from the weekend races.