'Pura Vida' … or, 'pure life' in English, is the phrase heard everywhere in Costa Rica, but it's not just a motto to describe how to live your life. The Ticos and Ticas (male and female Costa Ricans) use the phrase in many situations. Yes, the underlying meaning is to try and live a 'pure' life, yet for each individual, that will be very subjective. It also has so many underlying synonyms. 'Pura Vida' is also said as a form of 'thank you', as 'ok cool', and even 'yes' and many other scenarios where the locals just want to express their happiness or politeness.
Costa Rica is such a diverse country with more layers than an onion. From its rich bio-diversity and wildlife to the wide array of activities and adventure on offer, the beaches and, of course, it's efforts to be eco-friendly and a maintain a strong focus on sustainability. Peel away these layers and themes, and 'Pura Vida' is at the heart of all of them.
Bio-Diversity and Wildlife
Interesting fact: Costa Rica makes up just 0.03% of the world's land mass (comparable to West Virginia in the USA, and about 5 times smaller than the UK), but is home to more than 5% of the world's biodiversity. Naturally the wildlife is most prominent in the national parks such as Tortuguero in the northeast on the Caribbean side, Manuel Antonio on the Pacific Ocean and Corcovado to the far south-west on the Osa Peninsula. That said, it won't be unusual to see some of the animal locals without venturing on a park tour, but just hanging around the lodges as you're having breakfast on the open-air terrace. Monkeys, sloths, lizards, a huge variety of colourful birds such as toucans and red macaw, not to mention the iconic red-eye bull frogs, (although these little fellas are a bit shy in the daytime and are mostly nocturnal) are all prominent throughout the country.
Activities and Adventure
If adrenalin and action is more up your street, there's no shortage of heart pumping choices. Most commonly, zip-lining through the canopy of the forests in Arenal and Monteverde is on most visitor's list of must-dos. Along with volcano exploring, white water rafting, canyoning, rapelling down lush waterfalls (refreshing in the humid heat), biking, or even something a little more tranquil for the less adventurous such as a gentle hike, walking along the hanging bridges that straddle some of the rainforests, (phew, let me take a breath!), there's never a shortage of things to do.
With a collective 800 miles of coastline in Costa Rica on the Pacific and Caribbean coasts, you would expect there to be beaches galore in Costa Rica. On the Caribbean side, for a laid-back vibe with a strong Caribbean influence (think reggae and afro-Caribbean cuisine), Puerto Viejo de Talamanca on the far south-eastern side is a very low-key beach destination, with calmer waters. The Pacific side is the more popular, especially with the surfing community who continue to discover new spots for catching great waves. Although Corcovado National Park sits on the Pacific Ocean it's not a beach destination so it can be nicely combined with a beach stay a little further up on Uvita Beach and Hermosa Beach, which together make up Whale Fin Beach. Continuing North, another National Park, Manuel Antonio, also sits on a beach and is another popular wildlife/beach combo from the same location. The Nicoya Peninsula is home to Santa Theresa, a true 'surf dude' town, which despite having plenty of high-end accommodation, feels bohemian and bare bones, with an undeveloped road running through it. Completing the coast to coast whistle stop tour of Costa Rica's beaches is Tamarindo and the surrounding bays, which offer more seclusion and calmer water, making them more suitable for swimming.
With so much effort now being made globally for us all to become more sustainable, Costa Rica has been at the forefront of this for some time, and the country is considered a global leader in these efforts. 99% of it's electricity is produced from renewable sources and the country is aiming to be carbon neutral by 2020. It is clear that the tourist industry is playing its part too, beginning from the water fountains in the airport through to the many hotels not providing bottled water or dispensing with air conditioning. A lot of hotels are also using solar and hydro energy sources to power their properties.
One slight downer. It is disappointing given how admirably the country does elsewhere, to see that the capital San Jose has a huge traffic problem, as most people drive rather than take public transport. I don't remember seeing too many cyclists either. It can take as long as two hours to go just a few miles so all those cars sitting in traffic are not really helping the environment.
It would be churlish to end on a negative, though. On a more positive note, it's great that single use water bottles aren't common in hotels and instead it's completely safe to drink tap water and use a refillable bottle. And on my final evening sipping on a mojito made with Costa Rica's finest rum there was not a plastic straw in sight. Pura Vida!