Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Costa Rica and All Things Pura Vida *with Photos!*

Costa Rica. Tropical paradise saturated with lush rainforests and glorious beaches, complete with an active volcano that's criss-crossed with natural hot springs. This is all true, but it hardly begins to scratch the surface of how incredible and beautiful this country is. I vacationed in Costa Rica this year together with an insane number of family members, and this trip is tied with Japan as my most favorite vacation of all time. What's it like to visit Costa Rica? Allow me to serve you up a virtual plate of gallo pinto, drizzle some sweetened condensed milk over your Churchill's ice cream, and take you on a top 5 7 tour of Costa Rica:

Top 5 7 Most Awesome Experiences in Costa Rica
5 was just not enough!!

1. Gorgeous beaches that a mermaid could happily call home

We stayed at a hotel within sight of the ocean for part of our trip, which was walking distance to the famed Manuel Antonio National Park. This is the beach to visit, if you can only see one. The national park consists of a neatly trailed jungle that emerges onto a protected cove. It feels like something right out of Pirates of the Caribbean. Could I envision a mast and sails popping right out from around the cliffs, Timespell-style? You bet I could! And I sort of wish I could have visited Costa Rica before writing the sequel.

Warm tropical waters? Check. Rocks jutting out of the sea 
(perfect for striking a pose from The Little Mermaid)? Check. 

Another day in paradise? Check!

2. Animals & Wildlife... up close and personal!

Why did the enormous iguana cross the road? Because it's Costa Rica! 

Seriously. Iguanas all over the place, and yes, they jammed traffic when they crossed the road. Oh, and that beach I just mentioned? Walking through the jungle I saw 4 sloths - including a mother sloth holding her baby (d'awww...!), and there were more monkeys than I could count, especially at the beach itself. Families of monkeys hung around, right on the shore, and they would definitely steal a backpack if given the chance, looking for tasty snacks. 


Yes, that's a monkey behind me. But who is photo-bombing who?

3. An active volcano: virgin sacrifice not required
(...at least, that I know of)

Arenal Volcano is active, and on a previous trip I was lucky enough to see the smoldering lava-flow, glowing at night. This trip there was smoke but no lava. No matter, because seeing the traditional cone shaped volcano surrounded by a dense rainforest was awe-inspiring enough. I signed myself up for a horseback tour across grasslands - and right through the jungle - all the way to the base of the volcano. 

4. Soaking in volcanic hot springs

A short walk from the highway and we were in the rainforest, on a path locals frequent to reach a nearby river that rushes along as hot as bathwater... and that only got hotter the more upstream we went. We feasted on mangoes while soaking in lava-heated, mineral-rich water, listening to birds and monkeys hidden in the canopy. Our hotel also channeled hot spring water through a dozen pools of increasing heat, which was lovely as well, but there's something primal about being in an untouched, natural hot spring river.

5. Rainforest canopy zip-lining... whee!

During part of the trip, we stayed at a hotel in the rainforest near Arenal Volcano. The entire area is rainforest, so most hotels in Arenal will offer the opportunity to become one with the jungle. Our hotel happened to boast one of the longest canopy zip-lines in the country, with 11 drops altogether starting right in our backyard.

Zip-lining is... I can hardly put into words the terror and exhilaration of the experience, other than to say once is enough for my lifetime. I loved it, but it really is you, a harness, and a rope. That's it. Several hundred feet below is the unforgiving forest floor, with no safety net and, *gulps*, a pretty small margin of error for accidentally hurling yourself into oblivion. Viewing the rainforest like a bird zooming through the trees is pretty phenomenal, and you get a genuine appreciation for the vastness of the jungle. Thrill-seekers will feel the rush, and feel alive. The faint-of-heart need not apply.

Worth it? YES. Would I do it again for 11 launches? Highly unlikely. 

6. Food, glorious food!

Restaurants near the coast offered, hands-down, the best seafood of my life. Costa Rica's simple but delicious flagship dish, gallo pinto, is something you'll find offered at every meal. Its name literally means colored rooster, and the dish is a mixture of white rice and black beans, often with onion or other personal touches. Combine this with a trip to a beachside restaurant at sunset, a tropical drink, and a seafood kabob with fish so flaky, so soft on your tongue that every bite feels nearly x-rated, and you've got yourself a meal you'll wish you didn't have to fly across the world to enjoy.

7. Getting to know the culture... pura vida, mae!

Ticos, as Costa Ricans are affectionately nicknamed, are known for friendliness, stress-free living, and a general attitude of loving life. This is probably best encapsulated with the national phrase, pura vida. It means "pure life", and it's used as a greeting, a parting phrase, and even as a question to find out how someone is doing. Everything from "How's it going?" to "What are you up to?" can be answered with pura vida, and it often serves as a positive response in place of "Sure, that sounds like an awesome plan!" 

Want to visit Costa Rica? Pura vida!

Thanks for swinging by...