When I started this blog my focus was on health related topics like food, fitness, and overall wellness. As I’ve grown this past year I have realized just how comprehensive health is. It is not simply defined by the fuel we put into our bodies or the exercises that shapes us. Healthy living is more than the number on a scale or even the positive mindset we work so hard to foster. To live in good health, to live well, is to live freely, simply, and with optimism. I was really able to comprehend this on my recent visit to Costa Rica. The “Pura Vida” lifestyle is easy to embrace as it reminds me to take it easy.
I was in Costa Rica for about a week visiting my husband who was there finishing up a project with his graduate program. He had lived there for several years when he was younger, but this was my first time stepping foot in this country. I was excited to see where he spent his childhood and experience the Costa Rican culture. We had a rental car, making easy to travel between cities and explore.
La Selva Biological Station
I spent the first night in La Selva Biological Station, in Sarapiqui, where I got to experience Costa Rica’s beautiful wildlife and forests. In just 24 hours I saw monkeys, all types of loud and colorful birds, two sloths (plus a baby sloth), a poisonous red and blue frog, and wild pigs. Everywhere I walked I had to be vigilant or I might easily miss some wonderful creature! The weather was hot and humid, with some rain (even though this was dry season). This area is secluded from much else so all our meals were provided by the Station, buffet style. This was my first introduction to the fruit in Costa Rica. The papaya, pineapple and watermelon were the best I have ever tasted. During the day there are hikes offered with a tour guide, or you can go on your own. In the evenings there are night tours where you are sure to see all kinds of crazy looking insects, amphibians, and reptiles (think NatGeo type of creatures!). After a day, I was pretty much done oo-ing and aw-ing at the wildlife and was ready to pack it up and move on to our next destination. It’s a fun place to see and explore, but after a day or two there isn’t much else to do.
Arenal Volcano National Park
Our next stop was Arenal Volcano National Park. The terrain noticeably changed as we drove further away from Sarapiqui, from green lush landscapes, to dry sparse lands. Towards the end of our two hour drive, we saw a sloth in the most random of places. He was hanging off barbed wire on the side of the highway. We turned around and pulled over to see if our eyes were deceiving us. Hanging so still and looking a bit stiff, we wondered if this sloth was dead?! A tour guide, along with two tourists happened to pull over as well. The guide told us the sloth was indeed alive and sleeps for up to 16 hours a day. Talk about getting some beauty sleep! Usually, these animals are found in wet, rainy areas sleeping high up in trees so I was surprised to find him here of all places. Why he settled upon the most uncomfortable of napping spots I don’t understand. I really wanted to touch him, but the guide scared me when he mentioned sloths can bite. Seeing the sloth was a big highlight for me. I can’t get over what an interesting animal they are.
After this brief, but exciting slot spotting, we continued on our way to Arenal. It’s a pretty small town, but loaded with restaurants and shops (for tourists, that is). The small park in the center of town is a great place to stop for a rest, as you can see the top of the arenal volcano from here on a clear day. There are hotels after hotels here advertising all kinds of tours and hikes (zip lining is quite popular). And all of the hotels have hot springs, too. We enjoyed the hot springs at our hotel, especially the natural pool with the wet bar. We were told the best days to hike up the volcano were sunrise or sunset, as this is when you get the best views of the volcano. Unfortunately, most of the time the volcano was barely visible due to the thick blanket of clouds hiding it. I mean you almost wouldn’t even know there was a massive volcano there because of how well the clouds covered it up. We did catch a breathtaking view here and there allowing us to snap some photos, especially just before sunset. I wouldn’t recommend hiking to the volcano if it’s an especially cloudy day because you won’t see much. Instead, Karim and I went to La Fortuna waterfalls. It was a short hike, down several flights of steps, but delightful and worth the $12 entrance fee. Once we reached the waterfall we were able to swim in it. While the water is incredibly cold, it was so refreshing and our bodies seemed to get used to the temperature pretty quickly. A little ways down from the waterfall is a stream/run-off that’s shallow, calmer, and warmer so we spent more time in this area. I’d recommend bringing drinking water, bug spray, towel, your bathing suit of course, and maybe swimming shoes because there are a lot of rocks at the water’s edge.
Two days in Arenal was sufficient. There isn’t much of a night life so take full advantage of all the day time excursions. As far as food goes, our favorite by far was Chifa La Familia Feliz. This place served Peruvian/Asian influenced food. We loved this place so much we ate here twice. The chef is friendly and warm, coming out to shake your hand and welcome you personally. All of the food is fresh and flavorful. You can tell by the plating and type of cuisine that this chef definitely has professional culinary training. And best of all, it’s totally affordable. So if you visit Arenal, don’t leave without eating here.
Tamarindo Area & Playa Langosta
Our next,last, and most anticipated stop was Tamarindo, Langosta beach. We spent the bulk of our time here mostly surfing, laying out by the beach, watching sunsets, enjoying the main street’s shops and restaurants. The beach area was so laid back and relaxing. Having rented an AirB&B near Barcelo hotels, we were able to cook some of our meals at home. There were plenty of nearby grocery stores but the AutoMercado had the best selection and prices. When we did eat out, we found many places did not accept credit cards, so carry around some cash. U.S. Dollars were accepted, but at a slightly worse exchange rate. Prices in this area are similar to U.S. prices.
Some of the food spots we checked out and would recommend are: Green Papaya, Patagonia, Sharky’s, and Falafel. As you might know, I don’t eat meat but to my surprise, eating plant based was pretty easy in Costa Rica. Most of the restaurants always offered some sort of vegan option.
During the day we spent our time at the beach. Neptuno’s Surf Shop offered great deals on surfing. For $35 they provide semi-private 2 hour lessons and for $10 you can use the surfboard all day long. If you’re not into surfing, you can beach hop. While Langosta beach is beautiful, Playa Conchal was it’s own kind of beauty. The sand was made from an infinite number of crushed seashells (many of which were still whole). No surfing is allowed at this beach so it’s calm and quiet aside from locals selling drinks like pipa fria (cold coconut) and Imperial (the national beer). There are a lot of other beaches to check out all along this western pacific coast of Costa Rica. If you don’t have a rental car, shuttle buses are offered that will take you to these places.
Just because you’re in the beach area, don’t think you won’t see wild life. I was standing in the back porch of our airbnb near the main pool area when suddenly I see a black furry creature walking towards me. I don’t know why, but I thought it was a cat at first only to realize it was a lonely little monkey! During my stay in Playa Langosta, I also saw a baby skunk and a racoon– different type of “wildlife” but still! Haha.
Costa Rica was a great place to visit. If, and when, you go there be sure to check out more than one area of this diverse country. You’ll find that each place has something wonderful and totally different to offer than the next. The people are friendly and laid back with their “pura vida” attitude. The food is fresh and delicious, especially my favorites- the fruit (pineapple, papaya and watermelon) and the traditional gallo pinto breakfast. The simple beauty and optimistic way of life here was soothing to my soul. I’ll definitely be back. So if you want the relaxation of the beach, exploration of wildlife and nature, and adventures like hiking and ziplining Costa Rica is a THE place to visit.
If you’ve been to Costa Rica too, I’d love to hear some of your favorite experiences and places to check out because there is so much I didn’t get to see and do (maybe next time!).