Living the Pura Vida in Costa Rica

If you’ve ever been to Costa Rica, you’ve almost certainly heard (and probably more than once) the expression Pura Vida. This expression has been used by the people of Costa Rica for about 50 years now, and has a pretty simple meaning: pure life. But these two little words can be applied to many things, whether it’s to greet someone or to express how you’re feeling. So it can mean, variously: hello, life is good, hakuna matata (yes, really!), take it easy, relax, etc. It took me a few days to get bitten by the Pura Vida bug, but by the end of our trip, my journalist-blogger colleagues and I were regularly exchanging this lovely little phrase. 

If we come back to its translation, pure life, that pretty much sums up how I felt in this Central American country. Tucked between Nicaragua and Panama, Costa Rica is a tiny place, comparable in size to the state of Virginia in the US. One of its best qualities is that it is possible (and highly recommended) to visit more than one area of the country during the same trip, since travel distances are fairly short. You can easily cross the country by car in just four hours, and by doing so, see both the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans. Pretty cool! Other than in the larger cities, you’re surrounded by nature wherever you go. The air is pure, the natural landscapes are breathtaking, and the people are refreshingly kind.

From one adventure to another

My Costa Rica trip was all about adventuring. If you love nature and activities to get your adrenaline pumping, this is the place for you. Our week kicked off with a thrilling trip to Gravity Falls that saw us leaping into pools of water from different heights (from 3 to 8 metres), rappelling down waterfalls (including one that was 140 feet) and traversing along a river through a tropical forest. Even though I was surrounded by my travel companions and our guides, I felt like I had the film-worthy scenery all to myself.

Lake Arenal, the largest lake in Costa Rica, sits at the base of the Arenal volcano, and is a perfect spot for all kinds of water-based activities, like canoeing, kayaking and paddle-boarding[SH1] . Even though we had a surprise rainshower while we were out in the middle of the lake, I felt like I was paddling through a postcard.

If the adrenaline junkie in you craves even more adventure, you can’t pass up the chance to visit a ziplining park. I fell in love with the canopy tour (what they call ziplining in CR) in Monteverde. It was a great physical workout combined with incredible views during the zipline portions of the course.

No trip to Costa Rica is complete without a trip to the beach. The Atlantic coast is favoured by swimmers and beach bums, while surf is king on the Pacific coast. I tried surfing for the first time at Jaca Beach, where the waves are on par with the sheer beauty of the area.

Breathtaking beauty

The region known as La Fortuna offers unparalleled views of the Arenal volcano. Many of the accommodations in the area, like the Manoa Hotel, feature thermal baths on site – definitely something to try out, as it’s both relaxing and unique to lounge in water whose heat comes directly from the volcano on the horizon.

Because of the changeable weather, it’s not always easy to get a good view of the volcano. I found, during my time there, that the best views were to be had early in the morning. Every day I got up early to see it in all its glory. Most of the spacious rooms at the Manoa (perfect for families) feature a direct view of the volcano.

In Monteverde, I was captivated by the mountain ambiance and the distant views of the Pacific Ocean. Finding the right spot to watch the sunset was definitely worth the extra effort. The view I had from my room at the El Establo Hotel was simply perfect, and the rooms themselves were also lovely, featuring lots of beautiful teak wood.

As you’re walking around the hotel, keep your eyes trained out the windows, since every one frames a landscape more stunning than the last.

Be prepared

Costa Rica only has two seasons: summer and winter. Rain features prominently in both! So be sure to pack a variety of clothing (for the beach, for warm days, for cooler weather and waterproof pieces), because each region has its own climate. Best to be prepared for anything! It’s also a good idea to bring along a hat, sunglasses, sturdy walking/hiking shoes, and bug repellent, especially if you plan to visit the beach or a tropical forest.

Be aware too that you will be journeying on some bumpy unpaved roads – it’s one of the hallmarks of this special place where nature is king. If you are prone to motion sickness, be warned! Plan accordingly and you’ll be fine.

Planning ahead and being ready for anything will mean you can focus on your trip and enjoy it to the fullest.

I came home a changed person. Was it the air that I breathed? The people I met? The best pineapple I’d ever tasted in my life? The water I accidentally gulped (!) as I tried new activities? I can’t say. But one thing is sure. Costa Rica was full of amazing experiences, both big and small, and one thought keeps coming back to me: Pura Vida.

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*Jaime was a guest of Tourism Costa Rica from September 26 to October 1, 2016.