Pura Vida: Costa Rica

Waterfall at La Fortuna
Waterfall at La Fortuna

It’s no secret I’m the world’s biggest beach fan. It’s where I prefer to vacation as I find myself hating the cold weather more and more each year.

I’ve visited and fallen in love with beaches on Colombia’s Atlantic Coast, Mexico’s Caribbean Riviera, the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic. In the States, some of my favorites are in Miami, Myrtle Beach, and — though I no longer get into the water (too cold!) — the Jersey shore.

This year, I finally got to vacation in Costa Rica. I went to Guanacaste in the country’s Papagayo Gulf region for a friend’s birthday — an all girls grip. It was beyond amazing, and the first vacation where I didn’t just “lay out” to tan. I was too busy on excursions!

First, I need to explain “pura vida.”

Pura vida is a characteristic Costa Rican phrase. Per Wikipedia, it literally means pure life, however, the real meaning is closer to “plenty of life”, “full of life”, “this is living!”, “going great”, or “real living.” The phrase can be used in many ways; for example, it can be used both as a greeting or a farewell, as an answer expressing that things are going well, or as a way of giving thanks.

True! We heard it time and again.

Here are some things I loved about Costa Rica. Pura Vida!

Temperature: the best thing about going to the Guanacaste region in early August is it isn’t unbearably hot. It’s warm, and in our case, it was sunny (they haven’t been getting much rain, something uncharacteristic for the region’s rainy season), but we never sweated bullets.

Rain: As explained above, the summertime in the U.S. is Costa Rica’s “rainy season,” more so in the capital of San Jose than in Guanacaste, although we heard Guanacaste had a pretty dry July in 2013.

Proximity to the New York area: You can’t beat a roughly four hour trip. Two hours to Miami and then another couple to the airport in Liberia. I was sold.

Our resort: We stayed at the Hilton Papagayo. It was wonderful. We loved the food, the pool and its swim up bar, and the warm and attentive employees. We wished there was more of a nightlife on the resort, but we made due by going to nearby club and bar strip on Coco Beach (go to Lizard and Z-Lounge on Friday and Saturday nights!).

Excursions: Here is where a review in Trip Advisor was a lifesaver. We knew we wanted to go on excursions, but didn’t book ahead of time because we wanted to ask around when we got there. The resort offered some options (average $160 for a full day of excursions) but some great Trip Advisor reviews for a local named Herson inspired us to shoot him an email. It was the best thing we ever did. Herson Segura runs his own concierge tour guide company, Spanglish Tours. He’s fully bilingual and prefers to do private tours. (In other words, you won’t be stuck ziplining with strangers.)

Segura took us: clubbing (he provided roundtrip transport and even hung out for a bit, though he responsibly didn’t drink, of course); ziplining at the Congo Canopy Trail; to the waterfalls at La Fortuna, the volcano at Arenal; to eat typical Costa Rican breakfast and lunch; an eco-center where we saw frogs, a sloth, butterflies, and more; and a Hot River.

He can take you to all of the above plus: horseback riding, tubing, hot springs, and lots, lots, more. Contact him via email to get details. Visit his Facebook page here.

Animals / Ecotourism: For the most part, Costa Rica seemed like the most eco-friendly place I’ve ever visited. Recycling and composting bins are a mainstay, animal refuges are aplenty (howler monkeys and sloths!), and the greenery is stunning for a reason. The ticos (nickname for Costa Ricans) take care of their country.

To book this trip, we bought the airfare first (most of us used Kayak) and then the hotel. We got decent prices (about $800 for both for about five days.) I hear there are Groupon and Living Social deals floating around out there.

I’d suggest exploring a trip to this gem of a country. Pura Vida!

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4 thoughts on “Pura Vida: Costa Rica

  1. I love this! It has been a few years since I went on a tropical trip and Costa Rica is on my To Do list.

    Don’t you love finding a local who can take you on personalized excursions? That’s what my friends and I did in Grand Cayman for Stingray City and off-shore snorkeling.

  2. Cayman Islands! Oddly enough, our tour guide, Herson, has been there and LOVED it! He recommended it as a travel destination. Yes, absolutely we were fortunate to have found him!

  3. I just booked our flights to Costa Rica via SJO, and we are staying at the Hilton. How did you get from the airport to the hotel? Transfer, shuttle, taxi, rental car, curious? Thanks!

    1. Hi there! Well, we flew into Guanacaste. Did you know they had an airport? But don’t worry, many folks we met at the hotel flew in through SJO and then arranged for rides from SJO to Hilton Papgayo. It’s a four-hour ride. Some went half way to the Arenal section and stayed there for a few nights before going to Guanacaste for the Papagayo region. I’m sure you can arrange for a ride from the airport. But I would recommend reaching out to our tour guide, Herson. (See his email in my post.) He’s a San Jose native who relocated to Guanacaste and has many reliable friends in the transportation business. He can arrange it for you. That’s what he does. Hope this helps!!

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