In Pursuit of Pura Vida

Joy Martinello

  • Joy in Costa Rica
    Joy in Costa Rica
  • Shampoo Ginger
    Shampoo Ginger
  • Waterfall
    Waterfall
  • Butterfly
    Butterfly
  • Costa Rican Wildlife
    Costa Rican Wildlife
  • Turtle of Tortuguero
    Turtle of Tortuguero
  • At the Tortuga Lodge
    At the Tortuga Lodge
  • Canopy Bridge
    Canopy Bridge
  • Poas Volcano
    Poas Volcano
  • The Porcelain Rose Flower
    The Porcelain Rose Flower

In Pursuit of Pura Vida

Joy Martinello

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Do you wish you could think of a fantastically lush, beautiful place to take your family where the list of animals you can see and the activities you can join are virtually endless? Do you wish you could visit a beach, a cloud forest and a volcano all in one trip? Do you like the idea of being able to speak English and be understood in an exotic destination? If you answered “yes” to any or all of these questions, I recommend you plan a dream trip to friendly, over-the-top-magnificent Costa Rica.

Costa Rica has something for everyone. Whether you prefer getting outside for hiking, rafting or cycling among exotic animals and plants, or relaxing at one of the country’s fabulous 5-star resorts or on one of the world’s most beautiful beaches, you’ll find your perfect vacation here.

My trip to Costa Rica began with a quick flight from San Jose to a series of verdant waterways known as Tortuguero National Park. Tortuguero consists of eleven habitats including rainforest, swamp, mangrove forest, beach and lagoon. Upon arrival, my group checked in to the charming Tortuga Lodge, our base for exploring hidden canals of the region teeming with animals from turtles, crocodiles, and iguanas to sloths, toucans, and monkeys, just to name a few. So many brightly colored birds and butterflies were circling around our heads, I realized the only context I had for such an experience was via a Disney movie. It was magic!

In Tortuguero, I had the most amazing experience seeing a massive sea turtle laying her eggs, something that can only be seen July to October. It was unforgettable! We stood on a dark beach waiting, when finally our guide cast a red light across the beach where a huge, 4 foot-long turtle was wiggling over a hole she had dug in the sand. We watched her eggs drop one by one, soon to be covered up by her massive flippers. There was something deeply elemental about this experience. The mother was breathing hard and making low cries all through the laying process. I felt honored to be a witness.

After leaving the canals of Tortuguero behind, we headed via four wheel drive vehicle down an extremely rugged road which stopped dead at a raging river. To reach our next hotel, the Pacuare Lodge, we boarded a tiny metal gondola suspended over the whitewater known as the Pacuare River. The trip across was exciting yet easier than it looked, and once on the other side, we arrived in a jungle paradise.

Pacuare Lodge is a small eco-lodge that can only be reached by gondola or river raft. Guides pack up your luggage on a series of rafts and bring them down river to the lodge. The accommodations feel like you’ve just stepped into an issue of Condé Nast, with mosquito-curtained four poster beds, outdoor stone showers, and high peaked bungalow ceilings. And the lace hammocks are to die for! This is an island of deep relaxation hidden in the Costa Rican jungle. Rafting down the river after our stay at Pacuare Lodge was fantastic, some of the best I’ve ever experienced with class 3-4 rapids.

Our guide transported us across the countryside to Arenal, Costa Rica’s most famous active volcano. I stayed at Kioro, one of several beautiful properties that take advantage of the volcanically heated waters for soaking. Nayara Hotel Spa and Gardens is an exquisite 5 star property we recommend to our clients for the best experience in the region and the landscaped hot springs at Tabacón are not to be missed. While at Arenal, families and active guests can ride horses, hike, boat, explore the jungle, photograph birds and other animals, and revel in some of the best experiences that Costa Rica has to offer.

To enjoy the full effect of Costa Rica, what the locals affectionately call “Pura Vida”, (the good life of Costa Rica), we recommend clients experience the two habitats of the beach and the cloud forest. My pursuit of Pura Vida brought me to El Silencio, an exclusive eco-lodge high in the Costa Rican cloud forest. It was exquisite. Working hard at sustainability, El Silencio raises their own chickens and fish, grows their own vegetables, and includes local communities and people in their programs. I learned how to make tortillas in a grandmother’s kitchen! The beautiful bungalows at El Silencio lend themselves perfectly to a honeymoon or personal retreat. At Monteverde, a more common cloud forest destination, you can experience outrageous bird sightings, especially hummingbirds and the famous quetzal.

With so much to see and do in Costa Rica, we still recommend enjoying some down time relaxing on one of this country’s exquisite beaches. Santa Teresa and the surrounding area is host to fantastic 4 and 5 star properties including Malpais Florblanca and Latitude 10. And Manuel Antonio National Park is a wonderful wildlife reserve near some of Costa Rica's perfect beaches.

My trip ended with a visit to the Poas Volcano, a spectacular smoking crater seen from a high overlook. I spent my last night in Costa Rica at the Poas Volcano Lodge, a delightfully eclectic lodge that feels like someone’s elegantly appointed home. Each room is unique and decorated with brocade fabrics and rustic touches that made me feel like a medieval queen. Dinner was presided over by the lodge’s charming matriarch, a woman in her 70s, one of those special people you wish you could converse with forever. This is a very special hotel.

Costa Rica is a place where people live their lives outdoors. Everywhere you go, the nature is lush and abundantly populated with beautiful, exotic animals and plants, and being in their presence becomes a special daily gift. Even if you’re not very active, Costa Rica will bring you closer to nature than you’ve ever been. If you are very active, you’re in for the experience of your life, feeling the depth of what Costa Ricans call “Pura Vida.”