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Planning A Trip To Costa Rica? Here's Where To Stay, What To Do And What You *Must* See

January 29, 2020 by Morgan Maloney
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“Pura Vida” sounds like a simple enough concept, right? It means “Pure Life” and Costa Ricans use the phrase for everything: greetings, thank-yous, goodbyes, and more. But most importantly, it’s a lifestyle for them. The phrase is seen everywhere in Costa Rica, from the airport to signs along the road and uttered by every local–or tico–you’ll meet. Costa Ricans truly live a healthy, simple life, and are happy to share it with travelers.

I recently spent a week visiting Costa Rica for the first time, staying at eco-conscious hotels, enjoying local food and learning about their sustainability efforts. I saw so many incredible sights and learned so much about what makes the pura vida lifestyle so valuable.

First things first: coffee. Coffee is a huge export of Costa Rica and it was flowing plentifully all week. Our first stop was the Chayote Lodge in Naranjo. Each individual bungalow here is completely inspired by coffee farming: the shape of the buildings are inspired by coffee “recibidores” (the coffee bean receiving stations on coffee plantations), and even the coffee table inside each suite is shaped like a coffee bean! Visitors can book a tour to a nearby coffee plantation while staying at Chayote Lodge, among other day trips like having a traditional meal cooked by a local woman, Mrs. Elida, at her home where she’ll share a couple of her culinary secrets, or a night out dancing salsa and meringue to Latin music by live bands with the ticos and ticas. They’ll lead the way!

Our second hotel was the Lagarta Lodge in Nosara, Guanacaste on the Nicoya Peninsula, a beachy area on the Pacific coast. This boutique hotel (with gorgeous scenery, both on the property and the views of the ocean from the hotel rooms) maintains its own nature preserve where we had an immersive “forest bathing therapy” session with our wellness guide who helped us connect with nature. The Lagarta Lodge has been awarded five leaves of the CST certificate (Certification of Sustainable Tourism), the highest certification for sustainability. They’re dedicated to giving back to the earth, and they do so by recycling hotel water, serving local organic food, and utilizing solar panels.

Through the Lagarta Lodge, you can book activities like yoga, surfing lessons at Guiones Beach and kayaking. Surfing is surprisingly a lot like yoga: all about balance and holding a pose, but while moving, of course. After our morning activities, we met for breakfast at the hotel which always includes flowing coffee, fresh local fruit and traditional favorites like gallo pinto. It’s surprisingly simple and delicious, just some eggs cooked however you’d like with a serving of rice and black beans, and usually a slice of fresh cheese and toast or tortillas on the side. By mid-afternoon, we were checking out the shops in Guanacaste, a quick 2 mile drive from the hotel. Later in the evening, we stopped at the nearby Harmony Hotel for a restorative yoga session, hosted in their gorgeous open studio space in the middle of the jungle environment. There’s even a smoothie and snack shop on site for healthy refreshments after your class (where the food waste is composted to make organic fertilizer for the gardens–waste not, want not!).

Finishing up our trip, we headed to Asclepios Wellness & Healing Retreat in Alajuela, but our journey to get there was packed with learning as well. I found out that the Nicoya Peninsula of Costa Rica, where we had just stayed, is one of seven “blue zones” in the world. To put it simply, blue zones are places where people commonly live to be 100 years old and older. All of these blue zones have been deeply researched and it turns out that their lifestyles have everything to do with it. It’s much different from most Americans lifestyles (although California is home to a blue zone as well), so I was happy to make a stop to meet a local centenarian, at 105 years old! He was elated to meet the group I was with and tell us about his daily life that he attributes to his longevity. Eating light, early dinners, maintaining a meaningful social network of family and neighbors (in-person, of course), working hard and possessing a sense of purpose in life are a few of the aspects of Nicoyan life that help these people live so long and happily.

Once we reached Asclepios in Alajuela, we had a great Zumba class and steam bath before dinner. As a wellness center, their mission is to restore visitors’ well-being through food, rest and holistic practices in their spas. Just as the rest of our hotels, Asclepios doesn’t compromise on sustainability. Of the 12,500 acres of coffee and sugar cane farms that they’re located on, the center only takes up 20,000 square feet, and the rooms utilize natural ventilation and sunlight to reduce the need for electricity. And like the others, this hotel restaurant offers local, organic meals, and Asclepios focuses on bio-energetic, anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic, both vegetarian and non-vegetarian, dishes.

Taking life a little more slowly for just one week can really change one’s perspective. I’ve been carrying the little tips and tricks I learned from my time in Costa Rica, from both the ticos’ way of life and the activities we booked, in the back of my mind since I arrived home. I’ve been more mindful of my diet, moving my body, making more ecological efforts and seeing the bright side of things to stay positive. Yes, you could say I’m living pura vida.

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