Pura Vida. Pure Life. Pure honeymoon.
It sounds like an elixir drawn from the fountain of youth. And, in a way, it is. Pura Vida is how the denizens of Costa Rica (called Ticos) greet one another. Like Hawaii’s Aloha, Pura Vida means hello, goodbye and best wishes. But more than that, Pura Vida symbolizes the largesse of this tiny, Central American country — a treasure trove of natural wonders, unsullied biodiversity, untarnished beaches and an affable populace. Wedged between the Pacific and the Caribbean, this unique swathe of terrain teems with flora and fauna — legions of which can be found nowhere else in the world. Poison Dart Frog? Ocelots? Tapirs? Howler Monkeys? More than 800 species of birds? That’s just the beginning. Rainforests, jungle canals, coffee plantations nestled on steep volcanoes, natural hot springs and fish-rich coastal waters define the destination. Rustic pueblos and urbane cities contain a well-educated populace responsible for the small democracy’s ambitious awareness of its virtues and deep commitment to conservation. For eco-conscious travelers, Costa Rica is . . . Pura Vida.
Lush rainforests and cloud forests compose vast areas of Costa Rica. At Monteverde Cloud Biological Reserve, located in the mountains northwest of San Jose, an early morning mist enshrouds the towering trees. Home to more than 100 species of mammals, Monteverde has myriad well marked hiking trails. Walking along them, trekkers can spot more than 420 types of orchids, hundreds of birds and all six of Costa Rica’s big cats (from jaguarundi to puma). But a favorite way to experience this national park is swinging through the trees. Scramble over suspension bridges and zip from vine to vine above the forest’s canopy like a monkey with Sky Trek’s zip line tour of Monteverde. Speaking of monkeys, Manuel Antonio National Park, near Quepos on the Central Pacific Coast, buzzes with them. Here, visitors can even ogle lesser seen species, such as the endangered Squirrel Monkey and the frolicsome white-throated Capuchin. Visit this park accompanied by an able guide. Hike or bike its luxuriant trails with Jade Tours.
Further north, lies Guanacaste, a region located just south of Nicaragua. Some locals refer to this Pacific Coast area as Jurassic Park. In part, that’s due to the abundant greenery, the plethora of monkeys, reptiles and primitive looking beasts — think the three-toed sloth, anteaters, toucans and rare green turtles. But more so, the nickname stems from what bounty the fishermen haul from the sea. A mecca for the rod and reel set, the Pacific coastal waters give up a premium catch of hard won, colossal fish — think prize-winning marlin, sailfish, dorado, amberjack, mackerel and immense tuna, to name a few. Hook, line and sinker aside, locals and tourists also romp along Costa Rica’s sugary crescents of beach and dip into its crystalline waters in the usual ways. They kayak, sail, paddleboard and snorkel on both the Caribbean and Pacific coasts. Hanker to hang 10? Surfers hunker down in the California-cool, beach town of Playa Tamarindo, known for its superior swells, chic bars and snazzy restaurants. Nearby resorts on the Papagayo Peninsula, like the Four Seasons and the newly opened Andaz have surfing school programs. Point Break Surf, touted for its two-hour private lessons in various locations — including Tamarindo and some spots accessible only by boat — promises to have every student catching a wave.
On the Caribbean side, the Tortuguero Canals, known as Costa Rica’s Amazon, parallel the coastline. Float down them in a pontoon boat. Lined with thick expanses of big-leafed foliage, the Tortuguero Canals’s soupy waters seethe with crocodiles and caiman who surface menacingly as you pass by. Parrots, colorful toucans and macaws dot the overhanging branches like so many holiday ornaments festooning a tree. Cicadas hum, frogs croon, Howler monkeys bawl and a jaguars roar along the way. On shore, wild boars snuffle and anteaters ferret. Share the waterway with locals in dugout canoes, women washing clothing waterside or children cooling off with a swim. Tours the canal region with an expedition to a banana plantation. Try all Jungle Tom Safaris.
Trademark eco-tourism pervades Costa Rica. Whether a budget-friendly, electricity-free tent camp, a restored coffee plantation or a five-star resort lording over a beach, every stay shares a common focus on nature — and a commitment to protect it. Take Los Suenos Marriott, found adjacent to Herradura Beach, within an 1,100-acre rainforest. Though boasting a manicured golf course and other accoutrements of modernity, the resort gives back with its Reforesting the Rainforest, a complimentary program meant to educate and involve guests, as well as improve the eco-sphere. Guests participate by planting tropical almond trees, a favorite of the Red Macaw, along the fringes of the golf course. Successful, this effort keeps the micro-climate ideal for housing monkeys, iguanas, sloths and other wildlife. When guests return, they can revel in the growth of their tree. Marriott.com
But eco-play isn’t the only way to experience Costa Rica. An increasing number of visitors root into the culture via a volunteer opportunity. Organizations such as Global Volunteer Network and Volunteer HQ coordinate stints for travelers willing to offer their skills to help smaller Costa Rican communities reach their potential. These unpaid gigs might include teaching English in an orphanage, toiling with endangered turtles in a wildlife reserve, building new homes in remote villages or assisting in a coffee cooperative. For rates starting at $400 a week, Anywhere Costa Rica sets volunteering travels up with home stays and jobs in locations from Samara to Puerto Jimenez. Options such as veterinary assistant, sustainable farming aid, dog and cat rescue helper (even snake breeder) allow civic-minded travelers to make a difference with their free time, while learning valuable skills. Making new friends and practicing Spanish simply seals the deal.
However, you honeymoon in Costa Rica, you’ll return to start your hew life recharged, infused with Pura Vida — the essence of life.
Sidebar: Honeymoon worthy, five-star Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica at Peninsula Papagayo occupies a rainforest-blanketed hillside overlooking the Pacific. Five star, with plenty to do (diving, snorkellng, fishing, surfing, hiking, spa, cooking and more) the resort offers a slew or romantic activities. Book a private boat cruise to a secluded beach for a picnic or enjoy their Taste the Stars adventure, which pairs couples with the night sky. Staff supply a GPS-guided telescope and share stargazing tips as lovers sip Chilean Meteorito cabernet sauvignon (aged with a real meteor) and nibble from a specially prepared gastronomic menu.