Sparkling beachers, rain forest exploration and coffee massages (seriously) add to the diverse allure of COSTA RICA.
Pura Vida. It’s the phrase delivered ubiquitously throughout Costa Rica as a greeting, a farewell and a thank-you. It’s also what my waiter at the Los Suenos Marriott Ocean & Golf Resort’s Puesta Del Sol bar said to me as he handed me a cocktail made with Cacique, a liquor that is Costa Rica’s national spirit. I sipped it slowly at a table that overlooked the Pacific Ocean. The glass began to sweat in the humidity as the sun slipped below the horizon. I was finally feeling the contentedness Pura Vida seems to encourage.
On previous trips to Costa Rica, I’ve made sure to pack my days with the most popular activities: zip-lining through the Monteverde cloud forest, surfing the Pacific, searching for sloths in Manuel Antonio National Park. While these activities are main attractions for Costa Rica’s thousands of visitors each year, they are only an introduction to this country’s signature adventurous — yet laid-back — lifestyle: Pura Vida. The direct translation is “Pure Life,” but it’s meant as a reminder that we should live our lives to the fullest.
Costa Rica is located in Central America north of Panama and south of Nicaragua. Its Pacific coast is known for world-class surf breaks and sunset views, while the Caribbean coast is wild and less developed. In between sits a diverse landscape of rain forests, mountains and volcanoes, all teeming with wildlife and insects. A national focus on preserving those environments has made Costa Rica a darling of the world’s green movement — it’s ranked the fifth-greenest country by the Environmental Performance Index. It’s also ranked No. 1 in the Happy Planet Index, a measure of well-being, life expectancy and ecological footprint.
Experiencing Pura Vida is a must for any visitor, which is why it was my mission on a recent trip. I sought out the most uniquely Costa Rican activities I could find in hopes of discovering what it feels like to live the Costa Rican pure life.
PURA VIDA LESSON 1: EAT AND DRINK LOCAL.
One of the most enjoyable ways to learn about Costa Rican culture is through food. That means not only trying local dishes such as gallo pinto (the national dish of rice, beans and Lizano sauce) but also learning about the foods fundamental to traditional and modern cuisine.
Pineapples, bananas and sugar are important staples, but coffee has helped define Costa Rica both culturally and economically for centuries. Before local coffee was revered as some of the best in the world, it was sold unroasted as a commodity. It wasn’t until passionate boutique producers began roasting their beans locally in the 1950s that Costa Ricans and the rest of the world took notice.