Pura Vida. Pure Life. Pure honeymoon.
It sounds like an elixir from the fountain of youth. And in a way it is. Pura Vida is how the residents of Costa Rica (called Ticos) greet one another. Like Hawaii’s Aloha, Pura Vida means hello, goodbye, and best wishes. In addition, Pura Vida symbolizes the size of this tiny Central American country – a treasure trove of natural wonders, pristine biodiversity, pristine beaches and a more sociable population. Located between the Pacific and the Caribbean, this unique terrain is bursting with flora and fauna – legions of which there are nowhere else in the world. Poison dart frog? Ocelots? Tapirs? Howler monkey? More than 800 species of birds? That’s just the beginning. Rainforests, jungle canals, coffee plantations on steep volcanoes, natural hot springs and coastal waters rich in fish determine the destination. In rustic pueblos and urban cities, there is a well-educated population responsible for the small democracy’s ambitious awareness of its virtues and its deep commitment to nature conservation. For eco-conscious travelers, Costa Rica is. . . Pura Vida.
Lush rainforests and cloud forests make up vast areas of Costa Rica. In the Monteverde Cloud Biological Reserve, located in the mountains northwest of San Jose, an early morning mist envelops the towering trees. Monteverde is home to more than 100 species of mammals and has tons of well-marked hiking trails. Along the way, hikers can spot more than 420 species of orchids, hundreds of birds, and all six of Costa Rica’s big cats (from jaguarundi to puma). A popular way to experience this national park is by swinging through the trees. Climb over suspension bridges and soar from vine to vine like a monkey over the forest canopy on Sky Treks zipline tour of Monteverde. Speaking of monkeys, Manuel Antonio National Park near Quepos on the central Pacific coast is full of people. Here, visitors can even google lesser-known species like the critically endangered squirrel monkey and the boisterous white-throated capuchin. Visit this park in the company of a knowledgeable guide. Hike or bike the lush trails with Jade Tours.
Further north is Guanacaste, a region south of Nicaragua. Some locals refer to this area on the Pacific coast as Jurassic Park. This is partly due to the lush greenery, abundance of monkeys, reptiles, and primitive-looking animals – think the three-toed sloth, anteaters, toucans, and rare green turtles. But above all, the nickname comes from the premium that fishermen pull out of the sea. A mecca for the rod and reel set, the Pacific coastal waters give up world-class catches of hard-earned colossal fish – think award-winning marlin, sailfish, dorado, amberjack, mackerel and giant tuna to name a few. Aside from hook, line and sinker, locals and tourists cavort on Costa Rica’s sugary crescent moons of the beach and dive into the crystal clear water in the usual way. You will kayak, sail, paddle and snorkel on the Caribbean and Pacific coasts. Fancy hanging out 10? Surfers sit in the California beach town of Playa Tamarindo, known for its great waves, chic bars, and chic restaurants. There are surf school programs at nearby resorts on the Papagayo Peninsula, such as the Four Seasons and the newly opened Andaz. Touted for its two-hour private lessons in a variety of locations – including Tamarindo and some places only accessible by boat – Point Break Surf promises every student will catch a wave.
On the Caribbean side, the Tortuguero Channels, known as Costa Rica’s Amazon, run parallel to the coast. Float them down in a pontoon boat. The soup water of the Tortuguero canals is lined with dense expanses of large-leaved foliage and seething with crocodiles and caimans, which appear threateningly as they pass. Parrots, colorful toucans, and macaws dot the overhanging branches like so many Christmas ornaments that adorn a tree. Cicadas buzz, frogs sing, howler monkeys roar and a jaguar roars along the way. Wild boars and anteater ferrets sniff on land. Share the waterway with locals in dugout canoes, women washing clothes by the water, or children cooling off while swimming. Tour the canal region on an expedition to a banana plantation. Check out all of the Jungle Tom Safaris.
Branded ecotourism permeates Costa Rica. Whether it’s a budget-friendly, electricityless tent camp, a restored coffee plantation or a five-star resort over a beach – every stay has a common focus on nature – and an obligation to protect it. Take the Los Suenos Marriott, which sits next to Herradura Beach in a 1,100-acre rainforest. Though the resort has a manicured golf course and other modern facilities, it does give something back with Reforesting the Rainforest, a free program designed to educate, engage and improve the environment. Guests plant tropical almond trees, a favorite of the red macaw, on the edge of the golf course. Through these efforts, the microclimate remains ideal for housing monkeys, iguanas, sloths, and other wildlife. When guests return, they can enjoy the growth of their tree. Marriott.com
But eco-gaming isn’t the only way to experience Costa Rica. More and more visitors are taking root in the culture through a voluntary opportunity. Organizations like the Global Volunteer Network and Volunteer HQ coordinate stays for travelers willing to offer their skills to help smaller communities in Costa Rica achieve their potential. These unpaid gigs can include teaching English at an orphanage, caring for endangered turtles in a game reserve, building new homes in remote villages, or helping a coffee cooperative. For prices starting at $ 400 per week, Anywhere Costa Rica offers home-based volunteer travel and jobs in locations from Samara to Puerto Jimenez. Options such as veterinary assistants, sustainable farm aid, dog and cat rescue workers (even snake breeders) allow civic travelers to improve their free time while learning valuable skills. Making new friends and practicing Spanish just seals the deal.
However, if you have a honeymoon in Costa Rica, come back to recharge your life with Pura Vida – the essence of life.
Sidebar: Honeymoon-worthy five-star Four Seasons Papagayo sits on a rainforest-covered hill overlooking the Pacific. Five star resort with lots to do (diving, snorkeling, fishing, surfing, hiking, spa, cooking, and more) the resort offers a lot or romantic activities. Book a private boat trip to a secluded beach for a picnic, or enjoy the Taste the Stars adventure, where couples are paired with the night sky. Staff provide a GPS-guided telescope and give tips on stargazing, while enthusiasts enjoy the Chilean Meteorito Cabernet Sauvignon (aged with a real meteor) and nibble from a specially prepared gastronomic menu.