A ‘pura vida’ destination: The people and nature make Costa Rica a memorable adventure

February 2016 Posted in Travel
Susan Murray and Steve Ritchie in Costa Rica

Susan Murray and Steve Ritchie in Costa Rica

By Steve Ritchie

Leaving the beach at Junquillal on the Pacific Coast after watching another gorgeous Costa Rican sunset, I was brushing the wet sand off my feet before hopping into our rental car.

A young man a few cars away called out to me, “Aqua?” Thinking he must want to sell me a bottle of water, I called back, “No, we’re good but thanks.”

The young man came over anyway, carrying a big jug of water, and gestured at my still sandy feet.

I finally understood and stuck my feet out so he could pour water on them and I could get the sticky sand off.

Then he was off, with a wave and smile. I was dumbstruck at this unexpected kindness from a stranger.

A week later, my wife and I were hundreds of miles away on the Osa Peninsula in southern Costa Rica, starting a long hike into the Corcovado National Park at dawn. As we crossed a little stream by hopping from rock-to-rock, Susan was having a little trouble not slipping into the water. She paused on a rock, not wanting to get her shoes soaked just as we were starting our 10-mile trek.

Just then, a little Costa Rican girl, maybe eight or nine years old, left her mother and silently went to Susan’s side.

Susan and her little guide across the stream.

Susan and her little guide across the stream.

The girl took Susan’s hand and led her across the stream, showing her which rocks to step on.

When we finished our hike seven hours later, we came back to the same stream, and the scene was repeated. Without a word, the girl again appeared by Susan’s side, and again helped her across.

These two thoughtful, unexpected actions seem to epitomize the friendliness of the people in this beautiful country.

In the three weeks we spent in Costa Rica, we never encountered hostility or rudeness, felt threatened or had to rebuff a sales pitch.

The friendly, easy-going vibe of the Ticos (the term commonly used for Costa Ricans) reflects their philosophy of “Pura Vida,” or “pure life.”

In its broadest sense, pura vida refers to the Tico commitment to preserving the natural beauty of Costa Rica, the genuine way they relate to each other, and the shared values that seem to unite this peace-loving democracy.

As if to remind each other – and visitors – of this, people in Costa Rica often say, “Pura Vida,” instead of “goodbye” when they part.

We enjoyed our first trip to Costa Rica a year ago so much that we decided to return, and we planned an itinerary that would take us from the northernmost of the country’s 14 volcanoes, Rincon de la Vieja, to the pristine beaches of the Nicoya Peninsula, all the way down the Pacific Coast and deep into the rain forest of the Osa wilderness.

Staying in eco lodges, B & B’s, small hotels, and on a horse ranch, we managed to avoid the most developed tourist areas, and the Best Westerns and Marriotts. We traveled more than 700 miles, but still managed to hike, kayak, bird watch, or play in the waves nearly every day.

And we put our 4WD vehicle to the test, fording 12 creeks on our trip to and from Corcovado.

Smaller in area than West Virginia, Costa Rica has an amazingly varied landscape.

Mountainous regions with active volcanoes, high plateaus with coffee plantations, “cloud forests,” wild rivers, sun-drenched beaches, jungle areas, and humid, marshy estuaries are all found in close proximity.

Amazingly, about 25 percent of the country is protected through national parks and reserves, and ecotourism has become an important part of its economy.

Adventure seems to lurk around every corner in Costa Rica.

If you like an active vacation, your options are plentiful, no matter which region you find yourself in.

At the volcano we hiked in to see the bubbling mud pots, and soaked in natural hot springs.

At the beach the warm ocean beckoned for swimming and body surfing. In the cloud forests, we explored the forest canopy on elevated walkways and suspension bridges.

In the tropical rainforest, we kayaked and hiked.

A big highlight of our trip was seeing so many birds and mammals. In Samara, one of the beach towns we stayed in, our hotel was just outside the village on hill.

Howler monkeys roamed through the forest around us, alerting us to their presence with their deep-throated howls. Several times, a large band of  monkeys, scrambling high on trees, came within feet of us.

A friendly (I think) iguana lived under our unit, and liked to sun herself next to our deck. Coatis, raccoon-like creatures, and a host of tropical birds made regular appearances.

We also found Costa Rica to be a great value for the money.

All of the places we stayed were clean, comfortable, and included a delicious, cooked-to-order breakfast. Most had a swimming pool. With one exception, the nightly rate we paid was between $65 and $110.

In the next installment I’ll write about our trip to the Corcovado National Park, which National Geographic has called “the most biologically intense place on earth.”

Sorry, comments for this entry are closed at this time.