Pura Vida... in Costa Rica

| October 17, 2018

Costa Ricans have a phrase that opens a conversation between friends and is said when times get tough, as well as concluding conversations. It perfectly encapsulates the way of life of this tropical nation.

“Pura Vida” translates to “pure life”, and is the first word a foreigner will learn upon landing in San Jose, the country’s capital. Costa Ricans are extremely friendly and it made my first visit here so memorable. On our first evening, we were greeted to an overwhelmingly warm welcome by a crowd of beaming local representatives who were truly passionate about their land. On our travels, more than once, we were invited by farmers to taste the bountiful fruits grown on their prosperous orchards. We encountered the strong focus on environmental and social sustainability taken by hotels and businesses; I was moved by the wisdom of even young Costa Ricans wishing to preserve their beautiful country for generations to come. Pura Vida is the spirit of Costa Rica: the people, their kindness, pride and resilience. These are qualities just as special to Costa Rica as its wildlife.

Pura Vida

An unforgettable encounter

Our guide told us that seeing a resplendent quetzal was rare. Seeing one flying in the open was so rare that he had only witnessed such a spectacle three times in his career as a naturalist guide.

We were walking across the longest of the Selvatura Park’s eight hanging bridges, aloft over the rich lands of the Monteverde Cloud Forest. It is said that there are few better places to see this magnificent small bird, yet many never catch a glimpse. The bridge breaks through the thick canopy foliage and opens to a scene of pristine nature, sounds of myriad birds shaking the treetops and cloud obscuring the upper reaches of the forest. We hear its tell-tale melody before we see its iridescent and bold plumage flying across the sky. It is glorious and special, for we know how few are lucky enough to witness the event. Before the lens can train on the elusive creature, it is gone, lost in the endless stretch of forest. Alone on the bridge, we take a moment to appreciate this experience. More quetzals are to be seen on our trip through Costa Rica, but none are to match this first encounter.

Selvatura Park

The walkways around Selvatura Park

The most romantic hotel – Playa Cativo

Like something from a Hollywood film, Playa Cativo emerges from the haze of a humid tropical afternoon. Hidden behind palm trees in a small, private bay on the Golfo Dulce, it is only accessible by boat from the small marina town of Golfito, near to the Panamanian border. The hotel has refined the art of comfort amid the wild rainforest.

The main building has the air of a plantation estate, with landscaped gardens sweeping down to the pebble beach and rooms dotted throughout the grounds. I stayed in the only beachfront villa, which enjoys fresh sea breezes, a light and spacious living area and a partially open bathroom with an outdoor shower. Waking up to the sound of waves and birdsong makes you feel as though you’re in paradise. Along with gourmet dining and a beautiful pool that has views across the gulf, that feeling increases a tenfold. For those chasing nature, you don’t need to travel far. There are plenty of trails on the expansive property with opportunities to see monkeys, birdlife, amphibians, and even dolphins that can often be seen from the restaurant. There are also trips to the nearby Piedras Blancas National Park.

Playa Cativo

Playa Cativo

Osa Peninsula – for wildlife and untouched nature

The Osa Peninsula was a revelation as the most untouched of Costa Rica’s many biodiverse regions, as well as being one of the world’s most biodiverse regions. Located in the far south of the country, most of the peninsula is a protected area with little human habitation and only a few lodges. Corcovado is the famous national park in the region; however El Remanso Lodge, where I stayed for three nights, is in a private reserve. It is the perfect place for nature lovers and escape-seekers.

With a series of beautifully-situated detached bungalows immersed in tropical jungle, nature is on your doorstep. You don’t need to venture far to spot Costa Rican fauna. Trails start from the main complex and you may encounter agoutis – from the guinea pig family – all four species of monkey, anteaters, sloths and snakes on an early morning walk. The ocean is never far away from El Remanso – all the bungalows have either partial or full views out to the water – and the lodge has a secluded beach. As the sun sets over the frothy Pacific, you will be rewarded with unbroken sandy beaches in both directions, fringed by drooping palms and breaking waves. Pure magic!

Whale tail

The whale tail, Osa Peninsula

For the adventurer – Pedal boarding

Costa Rica is home to a new leisure activity that is becoming more popular with active travellers around the world – pedal boarding. On our trip to the Arenal Volcano region, we marvelled at the perfectly conical mountain from the water aboard these wonderful inventions. The board is built like a surfboard, with handlebars installed on the front and pedals built into the floor for propulsion. The handlebars are used for turning only. Unlike the classic paddleboard, there is a natural stability, which allows you to ride the waves like Poseidon!

Pedalling with ease across the lake, there was time to enjoy our surroundings: the lush forest, bird calls, and presiding over all, the steep slopes of the Arenal Volcano. There is even time to take a dip from your board; naturally heated by volcanic energy, the water is nice and warm.

Pedal boarding

Pedal boarding

Cox & Kings arranges escorted group tours and tailor-made private travel throughout Costa Rica. To visit many of the stunning sights described in this article, options include our Natural Splendours of Costa Rica group tour, or the Costa Rica Wildlife Explorer. Alternatively, find out more about all our holidays to Costa Rica here.

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