Surely you have heard the phrase “Pura Vida” in the context of Costa Rica, but maybe you do not understand what it means… yet. These words encompass much more than their literal meaning. Each Tico (Costa Rican) you come across will have a slightly different way of seeing it, but essentially “Pura Vida” is a philosophy of enjoying life to the fullest -but also in a quiet way, so that you can be present at every moment.
These words are used to say hello, say goodbye, exclaim, thank, or to show satisfaction. It is almost a belief system. Think of it as a reminder to relax and de-stress, since in Costa Rica, you are not short of options to do so.
These are the best ways to take care of your body, mind and soul and live in the moment, even in this age of digital distractions:
- Savor the hundreds of fruits and vegetables that Costa Rica offers you
Costa Rica is a country of a little more than 51,000 square kilometers that is home to tropical forests, mangroves, rain forests and coasts – we are talking about 12 climatic zones in a country of this size. Hundreds of fruits and vegetables are harvested in this country, which means that natural soft drinks (made with water or milk) are always on the menu and the markets have a constant supply of fresh fruits and vegetables to be used in a typical Costa Rican recipe. .
You’ll see well-known fruits like papaya, banana, pineapple, or even passion fruit – but don’t leave without trying some of the lesser-known options. Like the cashew fruit, which comes from the mango family and it is used in a fresh similar to lemonade. Or the pejibaye, an orange and black vegetable, a traditional food in the country’s indigenous culture (you cannot eat it raw, but cooked with mayonnaise it is a delight).
- Bathing in volcanic mud
Costa Rica’s hot springs come directly from its multiple volcanoes, so they are rich in minerals and carry a lot of volcanic mud. Bathing in these mud and water mixtures is a tradition that dates back centuries. The mud is packed with sulfur, zinc, and magnesium. All of these minerals are supposed to have important health benefits. Zinc and magnesium can soothe inflammation of the skin and joints, and sulfur has been used to treat skin irritation (some say it also slows the aging process).
You will find hot springs all over Costa Rica, but one of the best places to look is near Rincón de la Vieja in Guanacaste. It is the largest and most active volcano in the province and reaches 1,916 meters above sea level. It has about 9 craters, with permanent monitoring to ensure the safety of visitors. So your only concern will be to bring your bathing suit and find all the hot springs you can.
- Learn about cocoa through traditional ceremonies
The cocoa bean is packed with magnesium, calcium, and antioxidants and is considered to have heart benefits. To experience its health benefits in person, you could simply buy a bag (most markets in the country sell it). But it is much more rewarding to participate in a cacao ceremony, in which you will sit in a circle with other cacao enthusiasts while a guide circulates with a ceremonial drink made from boiled and strained cacao beans.
And then comes the best part: get ready to chant, sing, and play instruments, as well as positive affirmations and lots of reflection. And what happen at the end? You will have a feeling similar to that which happens after a relaxing meditation session … combined with the stimulating effect of a good coffee. In short, it is a true paradise.
- Saying “Namaste” from the soul
Yoga could be the most perfect physical manifestation of “Pura Vida.” It asks you to focus on the present moment, while dedicating your mental and physical energy to each position. It also teaches you respect for your body and your environment. It is one of the activities that most defines “Costa Rica”: that is why there are so many yoga retreats and classes in this country that you do not necessarily have to book in advance – you can find something when you arrive. Puntarenas, Montezuma, Tamarindo, Santa Teresa, Nosara and Puerto Viejo are especially favorite areas for this.
Withdrawals tend to be several days, even several weeks. Not only will you do a lot of yoga, but you will also meditate, attend talks, and eat organic foods that are prepared for you every day. If you don’t want the commitment of a retreat, you can attend a class or book a private session with an instructor. There are many yoga studios, but classes are also held outside, including on the beach.
- Experience a volcanic stone treatment
Stone massages are one of the most popular treatments in Costa Rica, in which black volcanic stones -which are very good at retaining heat- are heated and placed on your skin. These stones are generally heated in water with temperatures between 50 and 65 °C and the masseuse applies them in conjunction with the massage. The heat expands the blood vessels, thus promoting circulation. This, in combination with the weight of the stones, has the effect of transporting to the intense relaxation mode.
Pro Tip: Montezuma is known for its spa treatments -especially since you can enjoy them outdoors!
- Just watching the sunset
Sunsets in Costa Rica are glorious at any time of year, but the best tend to happen in late August or early May, when the dry season ends and the rains begin. The quality of a sunrise or sunset depends on how clean the air is, and the first rains clean particles from the atmosphere. And the result? The colors of the sun burn brighter.
Tamarindo Beach is one of the best places to watch the sun go down. The extensive views of the sea make a perfect mirror image. For a more secluded spot, try Playa Junquillal. Since it is close to the equator, sunset in Costa Rica tends to occur at 5:30 p.m. -so it is important to check so that you do not lose it.
- Throw your fishing line into the open sea
Although Costa Rica is small -it is surrounded by 2 seas and there is a large network of lakes and rivers on land. It has access to both sides of the world- so if you have not caught fishing yet, you may have just been waiting to get here. Professionals say the Pacific is slightly better, famed for its blue and black marlin, sailfish and goldfish, with a season that lasts most of the year, from November to September.
By renting a sport fishing boat, you will be in the open sea, feeling the gentle rolling of the waves, watching the sunset as you cast the line again. (Yes, you have to find the correct waters, like the ones in Quepos and Manuel Antonio). If you manage to catch one it will be a huge effort, but there are few things more authentic and rejuvenating than catching your own fish.
- Stay in an eco-lodge
Costa Rica has been recognized worldwide as a pioneer in sustainability. It was here that the Certification Program for Sustainable Tourism was born, the system approved by the UN that qualifies businesses regarding their management of social, cultural and natural resources. The idea is to motivate businesses, as well as tourists, to make decisions based on their environmental footprint.
Thanks to the national focus on sustainability and ecotourism, ecolodges are now everywhere. Many have been built with recycled building materials (eg. wood from freshly fallen trees) and are typically powered by solar energy and other renewable energy. The ecolodges are usually outside the villages, in forests, valleys, in the mountains or on the slopes of volcanoes, but although remote houses exist on the tops of the trees, there are also places where access is easier.
- Walk towards relaxation in one of the best parks for wildlife
Manuel Antonio National Park is small in size for being a national park: with less than 2,000 hectares, it measures about 6 times larger than Central Park in New York. However, it makes up for its size with the great biodiversity it has, with more than 100 species of mammals and almost 200 species of birds living within this peaceful paradise.
There are several trails to explore, but the largest is that of Punta Catedral. Stop at one of the viewpoints and try to spot all the animals you can -such as the marmoset, a species only found in Manuel Antonio and Corcovado, and the diostedé toucan. It is recommended to start as early as possible in the day to spot the inhabitants of the jungle while they wake up. After your walk, simply lie down on one of the 4 beaches in the park and soak up some vitamin D. That is Pure Life!