Travel: Escaping To Pura Vida In Costa Rica

Let’s face it, we all deserve, or even need, a vacation sometimes. And while traveling right now is definitely riskier than in the past, choosing your destination(s) wisely and going for anything that’s mostly outdoors and easy to social-distance can make a safer trip possible and potentially preserve your sanity if you are like us and need to travel. That’s where the gorgeous landscapes and local flora and fauna of Costa Rica come into play.

Pura Vida In Costa Rica

We’ve just gotten back from a trip to the Central American nation and let’s just say we have fully embraced the Pura Vida lifestyle. For the uninitiated, Pura Vida is a phrase that translates to “pure life” but is used in Costa Rica for essentially everything from saying hello, goodbye or thank you to wishing someone well and almost everything in between. 

So are you considering a trip to Costa Rica? We went with Jacada travel (who plan exquisite trips to many destinations around the world and shout-out to Lily Bunker and Berni De Luca who planned this one) and here’s the rundown of what we did and loved.

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San Jose

If you head to Costa Rica, the capital city is probably where you’ll start. San Jose has some beautiful green spaces and some lively restaurants, but we do recommend getting out of town and into nature as soon as possible.

Where To Stay: If you need a spot to crash for a night after you land in Costa Rica, the Grano Del Oro hotel is an old Victorian-era Casona or mansion that’s been turned into an exquisitely decorated hotel complete with gardens filled with orchids and other tropical plants and a rooftop deck with hot tubs. 

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Pacuare River

Imagine rafting down a river – including some class III and IV rapids – to get to a cloud forest retreat where you will relax in a gorgeously spacious villa with your own private plunge pool, indoor and outdoor showers, and deck that overlooks the river and cloud forest filled with gorgeously colored flowers and exotic birds and butterflies. We loved hearing the river rapids at night along with the morning bird calls and evening bonfires that made us feel like we were truly part of the intricate ecosystem of the Pacuare. 

Where To Stay: The Pacuare Lodge offers a great combination of adventurous activities like the aforementioned white water rafting, ziplining to have breakfast or lunch in the rainforest canopy, treks to meet the indigenous Cabechar tribe members who live in the area and discover their way of life and matrilineal society, and so much more. 

You’ll definitely see a bunch of tropical birds (toucans, hummingbirds, and cormorants) and possibly even sloths and boa constrictors. We also highly recommend the coffee scrub and mini-facial treatments at the spa, and you can add on massages to recover from a day trekking in the rainforest or rafting down the river. 

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Arenal

Seeing the mighty Arenal volcano is impressive in and of itself, but all the adventurous activities you can partake in on and around the mountain are what makes the trip worth it in our opinion. Ziplining on some of the world’s longest lines, rappelling or canyoning down waterfalls in the lush cloud forest, and going on horseback rides through the national park will definitely give you an adrenaline rush.

Where To Stay: Swimming in volcano-fed hot springs, visiting the spa for an anti-aging and refreshing treatment using volcanic clay and mud, and hanging out with the sloths and iguanas who live on the location make Nayara Springs and its sister properties Nayara Tented Camp and Nayara Gardens the standout choice if you want to stay near the Arenal volcano – and the complex has some of the only private hot springs in the area, so you can have a volcano pool all to yourself and soak up all those electrolytic minerals.

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Osa Peninsula

The Osa is one of the world’s last unspoiled paradises complete with old primary growth rainforests and spectacular vistas and beaches that will make you feel like you’re the only person in the world. What’s more, you can see sloths, macaws, toucans, and tropical birds of all kinds, howler monkeys, spider monkeys, coatis, peccaries, and even the deadly fer-de-lance snake along with flora of all kinds including naturally growing hibiscus, passion flowers, heliconia and more.

Where To Stay: El Remanso lodge is a sustainable choice with an unbelievable beach in a location that’s so remote, you’ll have the area all to yourself. Note that air conditioning is not a thing in most of the lodging options in this area, and you are literally in the middle of a rainforest, so there will be insects, snakes, and other critters. Also know that the beaches in this area have some seriously strong waves and swimming is challenging and not necessarily recommended, but the gorgeous scenery, mountain springs and pools will more than make up for it.

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Manuel Antonio

A classic tropical beach town where you can surf, ride horses on the beach, parasail, scuba dive or snorkel, or simply relax on the beach, Manuel Antonio is quite possibly the most chilled out spot we’ve been to in a while – or maybe ever. This is the tropical paradise that you probably picture when someone says “white sand beach” or similar – and it is more than easy enough to find a corner of the beaches in and around Manuel Antonio or nearby Quepos to call your own for a few days. 

Where To Stay: Arenas Del Mar is situated directly next to Manuel Antonio National Park and has access to two stunning beaches. You can learn to surf, zip line, parasail, scuba, snorkel, and more – or just relax on the beach and enjoy the antics of sloths, iguanas, and the local mischievous “monkey mafia”. The ocean is bathwater-warm and the sandy beaches are super soft and picturesque. Besides the waves aren’t too rough or the tides too challenging for swimming.

What To Pack And Wear In Costa Rica

Costa Rica is only a few degrees above the equator, so it is hot and humid all year round, especially if you visit some of the rainforest ecolodges. Things are also pretty casual there. The Pura Vida lifestyle is super relaxed, so you can get away with athleisure or performance gear from brands like Nike, Patagonia, Under Armour, or The North Face – but bring a dress or two or wide leg pants and a tank or tee and some pretty sandals if you’d like to have a nice dinner out. 

And of course, pack lots of swimsuits, rash guards, and other gear! The humidity means that your swimwear won’t dry very quickly and who wants to put on a damp bathing suit? Good sunscreen is also a must since you’ll only be a few degrees above the equator, but leave the glamorous make-up at home since it’ll melt off or be washed off anyways. 

Another thing to keep in mind is that if you are flying internally in the country or doing any kind of adventure trip, you’ll likely need a duffel bag or backpack versus hard-sided luggage since you’ll be traveling in small puddle-jumper planes and boats.  

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What To Eat In Costa Rica

Costa Rican food is typically simple and healthy. Gallo pinto (beans and rice cooked in coconut milk and flavored with coriander, garlic, and other spices) is served at any time of the day. It is usually paired with eggs and local Turrialba cheese for breakfast and with a protein like beef, pork, chicken, or fish for a “Casado” lunch or dinner. It is a staple and it goes well with the local favorite Lizano sauce (which tastes similar to A-1 sauce or Worcestershire sauce). On the Caribbean side you’ll find spicy curry dishes as well due to the influx of immigrants. 

Ceviche, tiradito, and super fresh seafood like lobster, shrimp, and octopus is also easy to come by everywhere in Costa Rica, and the massive array of fresh fruit options can’t be beat. We had fruit smoothies all day every day and nearly every meal included absolutely perfect fruit plates. It’s easy to eat healthy and still enjoy delicious food. That might be one of the reasons why Costa Rica is considered one of the world’s “Blue Zones” in regard to the longevity and health of its people. 

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What To Buy In Costa Rica

Unlike some of its neighboring countries, Costa Rica is not a major shopping destination. That said, locally made jewelry, eco-friendly bath and beauty products, and artwork featuring traditional Costa Rican designs can all be found fairly easily. In fact, in the main squares of towns like Fortuna (the landing zone near the Arenal volcano) Puerto Jimenez,  Manuel Antonio, Quepos, and other popular spots will have shops and vendors selling handicrafts, paintings, sculptures, and more.   

Some of our favorite souvenirs include the country’s amazing coffee, hot sauce and local favorite Lizano sauce, jewelry made from pearls, silver, and semi-precious gems, wood carvings, and scarves painted with the distinctive colorful Costa Rican ox cart or “carreta” designs. 

Travel During The Pandemic

Covid-19 Disclaimer: While we know everyone has their own comfort levels with safety during this pandemic and obviously vacation is always a choice, we were tested before and afterwards (including before flying back to the U.S.) and the resorts, restaurants, transportation, and other places we visited all took an abundance of precautions including double masking, hand sanitizer and handwashing stations, temperature checks, and spraying down luggage. 

In addition, Costa Rica requires all visitors to carry insurance that will cover the costs if they have to be treated for Covid-19 and quarantined if they test positive. Your coverage has to be approved before you can enter the country. 

Are you planning – or dreaming – about future travel? Or are you holding off until the global situation gets better? Let us know in the comments or on our Growing Younger Facebook Page! 

–Jacqueline Zenn

You may also like to read more of Jacqueline’s travel guides like Egypt Travel Guide: Where To Go And What to See and Travel To The Mystical And Magical Peru.

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