Pura Vida or “simple life” is Costa Rica’s national motto and the phrase that best encapsulates the culture.
Costa Rica is one of the most beautiful and biodiverse places on earth. Abundant with wildlife and rolling hills covered in dense, lush rainforest. It also hosts an impressive selection of adrenaline sports and activities in the air, on land and on water. Foodie’s this country is home to arguably some of the best street food fare and soda* cuisine you’ll ever get you’re hands on. Yogi’s and those of a spiritual ilk, Costa Rica will be a highlight visit for you. I spent one month truly embracing that Pura Vida lifestyle discovering these unique experiences along the way.
Most travellers head straight to the Arenal Volcano area, spending time in the canopy of Monteverde’s cloud rainforest or in the hot springs of La Fortuna. And while I absolutely suggest you add these to you itinerary, the below suggestions are a little further off the beaten track but very much worth the added time and effort…
1. Visit a sloth sanctuary
Family run and most importantly absolutely respectful, kind and caring to these beautiful, sleepy creatures. Do not expect to get to feed, touch or hold them, this is a proper establishment where you will observe nature with the regard it deserves. The sanctuary can be home to upwards of 120 sloths at a time, all of which the vets and biologists attempt to rehabilitate and rerelease into the wild. The one’s you will see on ‘exhibition’ are unable to be reintroduced to the jungle due to injury or disability. They are carefully monitored to see how they respond to human interaction for the first few weeks, so the ones you ultimately see are comfortable and very friendly (like this little guy below who literally smiled for the picture). You’ll get lots of great information and even a canoe ride to see if you can spot any in the wild. One of my favourite days in Costa Rica! Oh and if you buy something in the gift shop after your tour, 100% of the cost will go untaxed to the sanctuary which receives no government funding.
Where: Sloth Sanctuary, Limón Province, Caribbean Coast.
Price: Adult: $30, Child 5 – 12: $15 (up to 4 n/c)
2. Escape on a yoga retreat
I stayed at El Sabanero during Storm Nate, the biggest natural disaster Costa Rica had seen in over a decade. In spite of that we were taken care of incredibly well. The food is exceptional, everything is made on the property right down to the freshly baked bread. The yoga teachers are experienced, patient and attentive. There are two classes per day accommodating all levels and all equipment is provided. When the heavens aren’t caving in there are also optional daily excursions to beautiful sights nearby and Ana, the resident masseuse, gives an otherworldly rub down! I did a lot of research and this was by far the best value for a very luxurious experience.
Where: El Sabanero Eco Lodge, Guanacaste Province, Pacific Coast.
Price: I paid €570 for 5 nights, full board during low season. Prices will vary.
3. Go night kayaking in bioluminescent water
On the entire planet there are five locations to see vibrant bioluminescent water, of those Costa Rica’s Bahia Beach is number one. This is the most concentrated, dazzling display of natures brilliance you will ever experience first hand. This phenomenon happens here 365 days a year so there is no off-chance of missing it. Thomas and Vigdis, the owners, are two of the most wonderful people I’ve ever met and they take great care of every guest. Night kayaking is exciting and serene at the same time, especially when it’s backdropped with lightening waking up the skies every few minutes and bioluminescent water dancing beneath your oars or hands. An absolutely incredible experience that’s magic can only be understood once you’ve witnessed it with your own two eyes! It’s also VERY difficult to capture on camera so please excuse these grainy images, they do not do it justice.
Where: Bahia Rica Fishing & Kayak Lodge, Puntarenas, Nicoya Peninsula.
4. Volunteer on a baby turtle conservation project
The best months to see the tiny hatchlings are October and November but if you’re in Montezuma anytime between June and December it’s worth taking a look to see if there’s any action. Montezuma Beach is home to ASVO Turtle Conservation Project and it is where the Olive Ridley turtle comes to nest her eggs. You can volunteer at the beachside project for a minimum of 5 days with board or up to as long as you like. I met a girl who was working there for a year! If you don’t have time for a stopover head to their hub on the beach everyday at 4pm to see that day’s batch of hatchlings make their slow and unsteady debut dash for the water. If you’re lucky you’ll even get to help release them. I mean have you ever seen a happier girl?
Where: ASVO, Montezuma Beach, Nicoya Peninsula.
Price: FREE! Unless you decide to volunteer and stay put for a couple of weeks, then there is a small daily charge to cover your board ranging from $34 to $60.
5. Go paragliding
Arguably one of the most beautiful places in the world to throw yourself off the side of a mountain to fly like a bird? We twisted and spin 2500ft over Dominical rainforest and beach eye to eye with hawks. We spotted waterfalls hidden in the mountains below and even caught a spectacular sunset from our seat in the sky. I think the image below captures how much I enjoyed myself! Terry, owner of Hawk Adventures and Paraglide Dominical, is originally from Alaska and has over 30 years experience in the air. You will be very well looked after.
Where: Hawk Adventures, launch site may vary depending on weather conditions, generally around Dominical Beach.
Price guide: $125
6. Stay on a bustel
My lovely friend Arno owns this genius BUSiness! A mobile hostel on a renovated school bus offering kite surfing and snorkelling school, yoga, a coffee bar and most important a beautiful home on wheels to explore Costa Rica. Self sustainable with solar powered facilities and guarantying only the best vibes, Arno’s bustel sleep’s 6 people and can be booked through Airbnb. A driver and full tour package can be included if required. An authentic Pura Vida experience awaits! I spent 4 nights onboard and left entirely reluctantly.
Where: Generally found around the Manuel Antonio/Dominical area.
Price guide: $15 per night for a single bunk bed. $35 per night for the queen bed.
$175 per day to hire as a private charter including driver.
7. Visit rio celeste
Waterfalls, hot springs and the most delicious turquoise water you’ll ever lay your eyes on! The source of this river’s distinctive colour is not a due to chemicals or manipulation but to a physical phenomenon known as Mie scattering. Celeste River is fed by two colourless rivers, the Buenavista River and Sour Creek. Buenavista River carries a large concentration of aluminosilicate particles. Sour Creek, as its name implies, has a high acidity due to volcanic activity. When these two streams mix to form Celeste River, the drop in pH causes the aluminosilicate particles to aggregate and enlarge. These suspended particles produce Mie scattering which gives the river a strong turquoise colour. I copy and pasted that from Wikipedia, but now you know! Regardless of the science, it’s stunning, a natural phenomenon and you can swim in it. Check out the dramatic colour change when the two rivers meet below.
Where: Tenorio Volcano National Park.
*soda is a traditional open plan Costa Rican cafe/restaurant generally found by the roadside. Cheap, cheerful and where the locals eat.