Slower, greener and happier… in Costa Rica
Costa Ricans – also known as ticos – live by the ethos of Pura Vida, which means ‘pure life’. Abolishing its military in 1948, they created a civil police force. The money from the military was then reassigned to education and health. This in turn increased the standard of living and, since then, the country has become a pioneer in sustainable living. Costa Rica sources 90% of its energy from renewable alternatives and aims to be carbon neutral by 2021.
Consistently ranked as one of the happiest places on earth in the Happy Planet Index, it’s no wonder why Costa Rica is such an alluring country to visit. Home to more than 5% of the world’s biodiversity, its national parks and reserves protect more than a quarter of the country. The verdant countryside, countless walking trails, natural hot springs and locally grown produce all contribute to the nation’s well being. We delve deeper into the country’s secrets to happiness and longevity and why it should be next on your list of countries to visit.
Healing nature hikes
Surrounding oneself in nature is known to reduce feelings of anxiety, anger and stress. Costa Rica has endless trails to explore through its verdant forests and reserves. The Corcovado National Park has excellent hiking trails. The park comprises 13 major ecosystems, from dense jungles and mangrove swamps to lagoons and beaches. Look out for tapirs – the largest land mammal in Central America – foraging on the forest floor, as well as monkeys swinging from the branches. Amid the incredible concentration of flora, there are 350 bird species. Keep your eyes peeled for white-crested coquettes, scarlet macaws and yellow-throated toucans, among others.
The winter months see regular downpours between May and November, and is known as the ‘green season’. This is the perfect time to take walks amid the flora surrounding Arenal volcano, where there are more than 500 species of native orchid. Nayara Hotel is set within lush tropical gardens and has spectacular views of the volcano. Wind down from a day of exploring in the open-air spa or your private pool fed by mineral springs.
Spot toucans in the wild
Cloud forest cures
Covering approximately 26,000 acres, discover the flora and fauna of the Monteverde Cloud Forest. Cloud forests occur in tropical or subtropical mountainous environments where there is consistent cloud cover. The forest’s high moisture content nurtures bountiful plant life, including passiflora and bromeliads. Search for translucent-bellied glass frogs in the vegetation and have your binoculars ready to spot some of the 400 species of bird, including the endangered three-wattled bellbird and the resplendent quetzal. Male resplendent quetzals use their vibrant blue, green and red tail feathers – that can grow up to three feet in length – to attract a partner during mating season.
Spend the evening relaxing in the mineral-rich natural spas heated by the volcano springs. The numerous health benefits include boosting circulation, as well as strengthening the parasympathetic nervous system, which aids recovery from stress.
Relax in natural hot springs
As Costa Rica is five times smaller than the UK, it won’t take long for you to drive to your next destination. Self-driving gives you the flexibility to spot wildlife or discover interesting places along the way. The Caño Negro Wetlands, a two-hour drive from Arenal, are home to a large population of migratory birds. Nicaraguan grackles, anhingas and spoonbills are often spotted. Turtles amble through the vegetation, while sloths lazily hang from branches. Moving at a languid 30cm per minute, sloths are a wonderful reminder to slow down and appreciate your surroundings.
Set between the Caribbean and Pacific oceans, Costa Rica has 801 miles of coastline with pristine beaches. The clear waters of Santa Teresa in the The Nicoya Peninsula also offer great snorkelling and swimming. Gentle yoga classes are taught throughout the area. At Latitude 10, for instance, you can try it in their outdoor pavilion.
Stay at the Punta Islita hotel, where you can learn to cook fresh and healthy Costa Rican dishes or take an art class with local artists to create sand candles, embroidered collages or jewellery. Between July and November you can also visit Camaronal beach, where sea turtles lay their eggs. The hotel’s spa is set in a tropical garden and treatments use local products made from volcanic rock, which can address skin conditions such as wrinkles, stretch marks and blemishes.
Santa Teresa’s white beaches
Thanks to the tropical climate, Costa Rica produces many colourful fruits and organic natural produce. The bright orange flesh of the soft sapote fruit is a local delicacy that can be eaten raw, blended into a smoothie or made into ice cream. Incredibly nutritious, they are low in fat, high in fibre and a good source of magnesium and vitamins.
Casado, meaning married man, is a balanced dish of rice, beans, salad, plantain and either fresh meat or fish. It was thought to be called this as men ate it at home, or alternatively due to the popular coupling of rice with beans. Another must-try is ceviche, a seafood dish cured in lime, which is high in vitamin C and a natural antioxidant. Finish any meal with a deliciously smooth and sweet Arabica coffee, one of Costa Rica’s main exports. This healthy, balanced diet could be the key to the Costa Ricans longevity.
Casado – the traditional meal
The country’s natural resources are also used for homeopathic remedies. Stomach troubles can be soothed with papaya, while heartburn can be cooled with a concoction of aloe vera gel, milk and honey. Drinking plenty of liquid in Costa Rica’s hot climate is extremely important. The water is calcium rich, which helps bone and heart health. Another must-try is pipa fria – cold coconuts – that are packed with electrolytes which can help rehydrate the body.
A capuchin monkey eating a banana
Walking through Costa Rica’s lush forests searching for animals and tropical plants is the highlight for many. Combining this with a couple of days relaxing on the pristine beaches, feasting on wholesome food is the perfect way to end an active holiday.
Cox & Kings arranges escorted group tours and tailor-made private travel throughout Costa Rica. To visit some of the destinations described in this article, join our Natural Splendours of Costa Rica group tour. Alternatively, if you are interested in private travel, please either call one of our specialist travel consultants or complete our tailor-made request form and one of our experts will get back to you to help you plan an itinerary.