Ready to show the world ‘Pura Vida’ again
Wedged between Nicaragua and Panama lies the eco-tourism capital of the world in Costa Rica. Sporting one of the most diverse biological ecosystems, Costa Rica has everything to offer, stunning volcanoes surrounded by enchanted cloud forests and majestic beaches that produce some of the finest surfing in the world.
Impressively the country recognized the enormous jewel that they held in their hand and began sharing their way of life and country with the world around them, quickly becoming one of the leading eco-tourism destinations.
That ‘life’ we speak of is partially made possible by the fact that Costa Rica is located to one of the only Blue Zones in the world. A unique blend of diet, philosophy, community, and environment in Costa Rica simply known as ‘Pura Vida.’
After 1/3rd of the tourists from 2019 showed up in 2020 and facing another disastrous year to their tourism economy, Costa Rica began the process of letting tourists enter the country as long as they met some fair and basic guidelines. I visited in March 2021, smack in the middle of what should’ve been the height of Spring Break season for the country.I arrived in San Jose on March 13th aboard a Delta flight originating in Atlanta. The total flight time was about 4 hours and was socially spaced out with an open middle seat available in all the rows.
Customs was fairly full as I arrived around 9:30 pm, a few other spring break flights from the US landed about the same time. Costa Rica right now requires that you fill out a health questionnaire, obtain travel insurance in case you contract COVID while in town, and then provide details of where you will stay while in-country. A few extra steps caused a little extended wait in the customs line but it appeared that the Costa Rican officials were prepared and I was through quickly.
I opted to grab a rental car through Enterprise and after finding the desk in the terminal I waited a minute in Costa Rican time (30 mins in the US) for the Enterprise shuttle to take me to the car. From there I was quickly driving away with my Toyota Rav 4 (just have your US passport and driver's license). I quickly found out that if you plan on doing some driving throughout the country, a 4x4 is pretty much mandatory and without one things would’ve been a little uncomfortable a few times.
After a day of travel and picking up a car, an AirBnB close to the airport was the first stop, a shower was stop two, and a bed was a welcomed last stop for the day.
Arenal — Volcano Erupting from the Middle of a Cloud Forest
I got up early and, following Reddit's suggestions, hit a supermarket on the way out of town. Picked up water, snacks, and a few essentials (bring zinc sunscreen, let's keep what little coral we have left). Then it was on Highway 1 to La Fortuna at the base of the Arenal Volcano. I stopped for gas (super easy and they pump for you in Costa Rica) and a coffee at a roadside soda (a local cafe). After a beautiful two-and-a-half-hour trip I was at La Fortuna Waterfall. The entrance to the hike for the waterfall is $18 but well worth it. They have bathrooms to change and a little cafe for a snack or drink. The entrance is at the top of 500 stairs that run through the jungle to the base of the waterfall. There, they have a very chill swimming pool for families and a much more active swimming pool at the base of the waterfall. Navigate the jagged rocks and Instagramers and I jumped in roaring, freezing water.
I dried off and changed and made the 20 min drive to the Tabacon Resort nestled tightly at the base of the Arenal Volcano. Tabacon has done an impressive job of integrating their expansive resort into the natural hot springs that are produced by the volcano. If you aren’t looking to stay at the resort the springs are also open to the public for a fee. They offer a variety of temperature pools scattered throughout the forest that allow for an intimate experience to relax and unwind(especially at night, the springs are open till 9 pm).
After recouping in the hot springs from the journey to Costa Rica, I made the drive across the country to the Guanacaste Peninsula and the Pacific Ocean. Nosara, more specifically the Guiones Beach, was the final destination and the drive took about 4.5 hours, with the last hour of that navigating a pretty rural dirt road. I found an Airbnb above the 10 Pies Restaurant in town that was centrally located. A town run by bikini and board short-clad surfers, motoring towards the beach on their ATVs and dirt bikes. The water was warm, the beach was relaxed and although this time I skipped the reiki massage offered on the beach, it intrigued me enough to come back again soon.
10 Pies and Howlers Beach Cafe offered great food options near the AirBnB but the best meal was at the next beach over and Il Peperoni. I enjoyed the casada, a traditional Costa Rican dish consisting of rice, beans, fried plantains, and protein (in this case, amazing Mahi). The pizza, burger, and shrimp salad looked like something that I will soon be back for. Set in open air, light, and breezy atmosphere it's the perfect lunch ‘escape’ during your relaxing beach day.
I feel like I’ve found myself away from light pollution before (Alaska, Rocky Mountains, Northwoods of Wisconsin) but the stars in Costa Rica were something I’ve never experienced. A full carpet of light laid out in the sky is something everyone should see and brings a slight pain that it has been covered up by our stamp on the earth. Sitting on the beach and looking upwards was all the entertainment needed after sunset.
I started my final morning in Nosara by attending an amazing yoga session at the Bodhi Tree Yoga Resort. It was set up in the canopy of the jungle, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, and probably the best yoga experience I’ve ever had. The teacher was great, the breeze was cool and I was pleasantly surprised when the 45 min class I thought I signed up for turned out to be an hour and a half. $15 drop-in fee at an amazing location was well worth it.
My flight out of Liberia (much closer to the coast and the cost was the same) got moved up 2 hours so I decided to spend the last day in Tamarindo to make sure the rough roads didn’t prevent me from making my flight. The drive from Nosara to Tamarindo was equal parts fun, beautiful and adventurous. Lets just say I was very happy to have the 4x4. Dirt roads, tight jungle turns, and one or two shallow river crossings. The trip took about 2 hours and was definitely a fun drive.
I stopped at the shop of Tamarindo Coffee Roasters on the way into town and grabbed an amazing house-roasted cup of coffee. Checked into my AirBnB close to the beach and then just took some time to chill. Made my way to a surf lesson on the beach and after a grueling and fulfilling hour of surfing (stood up twice, NBD) I went back and laid in a hammock to recoup before dinner. As I drifted off to an afternoon nap, the trees began moving above me and I was surprised to watch a band of about 20 monkeys make their way through the trees on their way home from a tough day out in town.
For dinner, I kept it easy and went to Hotel Tamarindo Diria which offered a spot to watch one of the most amazing sunsets I’ve ever witnessed and enjoy a solid meal. Tamarindo was a good town, a little bit more of your traditional, party town in my mind, and lacked the supernatural aura of Nosara.
A 45 min drive and I was dropping off at Enterprise in Liberia. At the airport, I showed an airport employee the results from the covid test I received in Nosara 3 days prior ($130) and the required US health form. From there it was a quick flight to Atlanta and I was back in the good ole USA.
Pura Vida and a mighty thank you for a wonderful experience in one of the most biodiverse, friendly, and beautiful countries I’ve visited, truly look forward to coming back soon.
Follow travel writer Tommy Lee on Medium