Costa Rica – Pura Vida!
A travel story by Caitlyn Vermeij
Pura Vida, this saying is unavoidable in this Central American country: Costa Rica. It is written all around you and is also regularly used as a greeting by the inhabitants of this beautiful country. With a big smile on their face they say: “Get the most out of life and don’t worry about the meaningless things in it! In addition, they also use it to simply indicate when they find something beautiful, for example.
You can feel and see this life goal when travelling through Costa Rica. Not surprisingly, Costa Rica is one of the 7 blue zone countries in the world. People there generally live according to a healthy lifestyle, are happier, and live longer. In my opinion, we in this fast-paced, hurried Western world can certainly take an example from this!
Puerto Viejo & dominical
Puerto Viejo gives me the ultimate feeling of my idea of Costa Rica: it is relaxed, you can take surfing lessons or rent a board yourself, people are cheerful, the food is delicious and life is sober but super colorful and you immediately become cheerful and relaxed. Besides surfing, you can take a relaxing bike ride to explore the area. Beware of the flying twigs that howler monkeys sometimes throw from the trees that hang over the road. The monkeys do this because they want to protect themselves in this way.
The people in both Puerto Viejo and Dominical never seem to have any stress. How could it be otherwise when your life consists of giving surfing lessons within your own local company and the rest of the day is spent chilling among the abundance of animals. Most of the inhabitants of both places live from tourism within small businesses that also pay a lot of attention to the nature around them. You won’t find large resorts and mass tourism here and that’s a good thing because there has to be enough space for the sloths to take a peaceful afternoon nap.
As I said, no big hotels, but that doesn’t matter, because you have plenty of cosy hostels and smaller hotels where you are warmly welcomed and also helped when you want to eat your self-found coconut, but can’t open it.
Manuel Antonio & Uvita
This special restaurant is a must-see when you stay in Manuel Antonio. Apart from delicious food, you will also enjoy a special view. El Avión is not just any restaurant. It has a very interesting history. The Fairchild C-123 is from 1980 and is linked to a piece of Latin American history at the time of Ronald Reagan. The aircraft was used for the counter-revolutionary guerrilla fighters in Nicaragua. These troops were also called the “Contras”. In the end, the Ronald Reagan administration funded $3.8 million for the “Contras”. One of the things that were funded was the C-123 that was later shot out of the sky over Nicaragua. It was eventually relegated to San Jose and is now used as a restaurant.
As you can see from the photo, the beach is not nicknamed “Whale tail” for nothing. Very appropriately, you can also spot whales from this point with different tour agencies. I was there when all the animals in Costa Rica had babies and that made this tour even more special. At first, I thought I saw an adult whale until I found out that they are much bigger. However, the baby whales are also huge and grow 90kg in weight per day! It’s incredible to see these animals in real life. Apart from whales, you will also encounter sea turtles and dolphins during your tour and you will have the opportunity to snorkel.
On the tour to La Leona ecolodge, there is a chance that you will actually find gold! The tour to the paradise-like coast of Corcovado is namely given by one of the local gold diggers who still want to live their life as much as possible in the traditional way. In collaboration with the travel organization I travelled with (Mambo), they give these small-scale tours with the gold diggers’ camp as a stopover. You arrive at this camp in the afternoon and the gold seekers who live there show you how to find the gold and you are allowed to search for it yourself. And yes, if you do your best, you can find it. A nice souvenir to take home!
After you have rested a bit, the gold diggers cook delicious meals and you spend the evening with them around the campfire. The way you are involved in everything makes you feel really welcome and for a while, you really live in the same way as they do for years. For this trip, you should not be afraid of the inhabitants of the jungle, as you will spend the night in a hammock. This sleeps wonderfully by the way, especially with all the soothing jungle sounds around you. Plus, there is no phone coverage in this part of the jungle so you really are in another world for a while!
Corcovado national park
CBT & Ecotourism
During my tour, there was a lot of focus on CBT and ecotourism. This was reflected in both activities and accommodation. Without the help of the locals, it would not have been possible to make the trip such a unique experience. Costa Ricans are proud of their country and nature and make a lot of money out of tourism, but in a responsible way. During my trip, I really got involved with the customs and activities of the local people in many different ways.
A bit of history
Los mineros guesthouse is a good example of a place where sustainability and CBT play an important role. It is run by a couple and consists of a number of small huts in the middle of the jungle. The guesthouse used to be a brothel and was mainly visited by gold seekers during the big gold rush at the end of the 19th century. There are still gold diggers today, but often they also work as tour guides. So did the guide who took us through the jungle.
The tour through the jungle with the gold digger guide was a very special experience. Because you travel with a local who knows the jungle in detail, you get an experience you would otherwise never have. The tour does require some fitness! The tour takes two days and you walk continuously for about five hours and yes, this is almost like in the film with a machete, because there are no real paths. The night you stay in the gold diggers’ camp in the middle of the jungle. Really a very cool experience that you have to go through!
The Arenal volcano is an active volcano northwest of San José and is located in the Arenal area. The rainforest around the volcano is good for beautiful hikes and spotting many different species of monkeys, sloths, coatis, and numerous birds.
These beautiful hotsprings are located 2.5 km from the Arenal volcano. This is the ultimate place to relax after a long journey and that is exactly what we did after our flight! Besides being able to swim for a day, you can also have dinner here with a view of the Arenal volcano.
If you want to go for a bit of action, I would definitely recommend canyoning. Besides being active you also have enough time to enjoy the beautiful jungle during your tour. Besides canyoning, there are plenty of other activities you can do from Arenal such as rafting, hiking, ziplining, etc.