The motto of Costa Rica is “Pura Vida,” which translates into “pure life” or “simple life.” A Costa Rican vacation emphasizes respect for diverse wildlife, where one lives side by side with white-faced monkeys swinging through trees and iguanas walking along the road. In Costa Rica, beaches abutt to jungles, volcanos, and rain forests. Streams and rivers filled with crocodiles sprout up in the middle of dusty agricultural plains. Life moves at a slow pace, and friends become family.
I’ve been to Costa Rica four times in my life, and each trip brought with it unique adventures that I could not have experienced anywhere else. I went to Nosara, Costa Rica, with my brother and his wife to celebrate his 50th birthday. More specifically, I went to surf camp in Nosara. The town consists of mostly unpaved dirt roads, and when we went in October, it was the rainy season. Meals were served “family style” on picnic tables in a carport of an old garage. My surf instructor was cute, but his English was limited, and I never quite understood the directions on “how to stand up on the board.” My first (and only) day of surfing consisted of me falling off my surfboard for several hours until I decided to quit due to the arrival of rain, thunder, and lightening. My brother and his wife continued all week and did quite well, as did my husband, Scott, the “advanced” surfer. I was a failure at surf camp, and couldn’t wait to get out of the mud, rain, and rustic conditions.
I had to dig deep into my bravery reserves for our day of the “Coco Combo.” This adventure consisted of one-hour on individual jetskis, one-hour on individual ATVs (all-terrain vehicles), and one-hour ziplining. Then lunch, and a repeat of the original three activities in reverse order…but this time in the rain. The instructor explained that our lives were at stake when riding the ATVs if we did not keep one foot on the gas pedal AT ALL TIMES while going up the VERY steep inclines. He said that even a second’s hesitation could cause the ATV to fall over backward and crush us. He was most concerned about me (he must have seen the look on my face), so he placed me at the front of the group, right behind him. This seemed strange to me since if my ATV started tumbling, I might kill everyone. No pressure, though. I was so terrified of the hills that by the time we had to drive our vehicles through the raging waters of the stream, it wasn’t a problem at all. I still consider this day to be one of the most difficult and strenuous days I’ve ever had.
On another trip to the land of Pura Vida, I stayed in a luxury home as part of Exclusive Resorts on the Penisula Papagayo. We had Capuchin monkeys flying through the trees outside our window. My days were spent at one of two private beach clubs. My nights included dinners in our home with a private chef. My friends and I played after-dinner games, had a “dance night,” and caught up on our leisure reading.
On that trip, we drove to the Palo Verde National Park, an extensive wildlife sanctuary. We chartered a boat for a river cruise to see crocodiles, bats, and birds while our naturalist, Juan, regaled us with fascinating and gruesome stories about Capuchin monkeys, named after the coffee drink for their white faces and brown bodies. They are brilliant and can use tools to get what they want. I found it interesting that juveniles become fully mature within four years for females and eight years for males. (Same concept ratio for humans?) When a mature male decides to become the alpha for the group, he must kill the prior alpha male’s offspring by sucking out their brains. Clearly, we got the “adult” narration from Juan.
Because of the lush jungle canopy, Costa Rica is known for it’s ziplining. I’ve done this on two separate trips. For me, it’s a little bit scary, and a lot of fun. I enjoy the view from above the tree tops and the feeling of exhilaration while rushing along the line at a zippy pace. Each trip, some friends have experienced it for the first time, and so far everyone has been happy they conquered their fears and gave it a shot. On my latest trip, we arranged a beach “surf and turf” BBQ to greet my daughter and her friends when they completed their ATV/Surf Line adventure.
As a beach alternative, I visited a unique historical site, the HACIENDA EL VIEJO, a preserved colonial home from the 19th century. While there, we ate a traditional Costa Rican lunch (protein, rice, beans) while the warm breeze blew through the mahogany pillars next to our balcony table. Situated at the river’s edge, this homestead was ideal for farming, fishing, and ranching.
I checked out the new ANDAZ Hotel on the Pacific Ocean side of the Penisula in the Guanacaste Province, and found the balcony view rooms to be superb. Ammenities include free Costa Rican beach hats and flip flops, mini bar goodies, fresh fruit daily, and golf cart service to help you up the steep hillside if you choose not to walk. For dinner, we dined to live music at the Tapas Bar and reclined on large teak-wood sofas while sampling pork, beef, and chicken empanadas accompanied with spicy cole slaw.
Costa Ricans are concerned about our environment, and 98% of their electricity is generated from “green” sources. They still burn their fields after harvesting crops, but they plan to be carbon-neutral by 2050 and are well on their way. After four trips, I am ready to return again to the beauty that is Costa Rica. Pura Vida.