Get ready for the good life! Pura Vida (which translates as pure life or the good life) is the ethos of Costa Rica. This central American country borders the Caribbean Sea on the east side and the Pacific Ocean on the west. It is a land of beautiful beaches, dramatic scenery, and friendly people.
Christopher Columbus first visited the country in 1502. Fellow Spaniard Gil Gonzales Davila is credited for naming this land. Upon his arrival in Puerto Limon he noted the golden jewelry of the indigenous Carib Indian tribe and declared it “Costa Rica,” meaning “Rich Coast.”
The Spanish attempt to colonize the area was less successful than in Mexico and Peru. They were searching for gold and silver and the land was lacking the minerals they were seeking. The arrival of Spaniards, however, eradicated the native peoples through disease and warfare. Without a pool of native labor, settlers were forced to work their own land which limited growth to small landowners. Costa Rica declared independence from Spain in 1821 along with the rest of Central America.
The newly independent government tapped into some of Costa Rica’s true riches – the land. The first Chief of State, Juan Mora Fernandez, granted lands and coffee beans to anyone who wanted to start growing. This changed the fortunes of the country. Coffee is now the leading agricultural crop in the country and a major agricultural industry.
What to do in Costa Rica
Catch a Wave
Flanked on both sides with the ocean, Costa Rica is ideal for those who love the water. Here it is easy to enjoy beautiful beaches, deep-sea fishing, snorkeling, and surfing.
The Guanacaste Peninsula boasts 400 miles of coastline. Tamarindo Beach is a popular spot for serious surfers. For a laid-back experience, visit Nosara further down the peninsula. This rural area is a step away from touristy areas with a more relaxed pace.
This area is known for its beautiful beaches and for surfing. There is an inner wave break for beginners to try the sport and an outer wave break for expert surfers. There are many teachers and surfing schools in the area for those wanting to learn something new.
After a day of sporting and an afternoon siesta, it is the custom for everyone to wander down to the beach with a drink in hand to watch the glory of the sunset over the ocean. Then it is off to dinner. This area has residents from all over the world and the culinary scene reflects the diversity. If you had a good catch, you can bring it to the local restaurants and they will cook it for you. You can donate the rest of your catch to the restaurant to cook for other diners.
Get your Zen
When you want to get away from the fast pace, Costa Rica is the perfect place to slow down. It is a wonderful place to detox. Recharge in paradise with natural healthy foods, spectacular scenery, and a multitude of outdoor activities. Try forest bathing in a tropical forest. Soak in one of the abundant geothermal pools. Yoga and meditation retreats and classes are abundant.
Costa Rica is one of the planet’s 5 blue zones, locations where many people live to be over 100 years old. Plenty of sunshine, a basic healthy diet, regular movement, and plenty of time with friends and family are the keys to healthy long life. “Plan de Vida,” or strong sense of purpose, is the inner secret to how these Costa Ricans approach longevity. Perhaps you will find yours here.
Explore natural wonders
While Costa Rica is a small country it has over 5% of the planet’s biodiversity. Visitors can explore beaches, volcanos, rainforests, waterfalls, and caves all within a few hours.
One highlight is the La Fortuna Waterfall. This fall is at the base of the Cato Volcano and plummets 200 feet over a cliff into a sparkling jade pool. There is an overlook from the top of the falls and a staircase (500 steps!) through the mist to the base. Jagged rocks at the bottom make this pool Instagram perfect, but not so perfect for swimming. A short stroll brings you to other swimming pools nearby to enjoy.
Barra Honda National Park is home to a series of caves with dramatic stalagmite and stalactite formations. Over 42 caves have been discovered in the region. The discoveries are fairly recent and only 19 have been explored by experts. Terciopelo Cave is the only one that is open to the public if you want to enjoy a spelunking adventure. You will need to book a guide and taking the shuttle is recommended as the road there is a bit rough and there is little parking.
If walking in the clouds is more your speed, the hanging sky bridges will bring you up close to the forest canopy. There are several hanging bridge parks throughout the forest. From this elevated prospect, you will truly enjoy the biodiversity around you. About 90% of the animals and half of the plants live in the forest canopy. You will see exotic birds, snakes, spiders, and sloths. The bridges allow close and safe interaction with the wildlife without damaging their environment.
You can step up the adventure even more by racing along a zip line through the forest canopy. These multi-stage zip adventures give you a bird’s eye view with a zip of adrenaline. If the fast pace isn’t your style, most of the zip line companies have offerings for different levels of adventure. The zip line scenery includes volcanoes, lakes, ocean views, and the rainforest.
Costa Rica has two airports. If you are visiting the Caribbean side San José (SJO) is your best bet. For the Pacific side, Liberia Airport is your choice. If you are comfortable driving in an unfamiliar place, renting a car is the best way to get around. There are some public transport and ferry options and taxis, but the cost and inconvenience can add up. If you are uncomfortable driving, a resort with a shuttle and personal car service is your best bet.
The dry season is from November to April. The rainy season begins in May and continues through the middle of November. The roads can be difficult, or even impassable, during these monsoons. So consider that when making your travel arrangements.
Whichever season you travel be certain to pack sunscreen, plenty of bug spray, and a light jacket for sudden rain showers regardless of the season.
Costa Rica is a fertile land with exotic fresh fruits and an abundance of fresh seafood. Start your day with a delicious Costa Rican coffee on the patio. Most traditional foods incorporate rice and beans. Breakfast of Gallo Pinto (a spotted hen) is a dish of eggs, rice, beans, and sweet plantains. This hearty breakfast will give you the energy for your explorations!
Casado is similar to a combination plate, and the combinations vary with the different regions. Most of these dishes will have a type of meat or fish protein, a potato, salad, plantains, rice, and beans. You will most certainly be looking forward to a siesta after this meal.
The Rich Coast is known for its stunning natural beauty and amazing biodiversity. The best part of the visit to Costa Rica is the opportunity to enjoy the Pura Vida, the good life.