MEC: La Pura Vida

Agency: Quietly

It was a delight to be asked to write for one of my favourite brands (Mountain Equipment Co-op) about one of my favourite places (Costa Rica). Below is a blog post I wrote for MEC. You can also find it on MEC’s blog here.

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Living La Pura Vida: 5 Adventures You’ll Only Find in Costa Rica

Stepping off a plane in Costa Rica, you won’t go long before hearing the words Pura Vida. It’s a distinctly Costa Rican expression, used as a greeting, an exclamation, a send-off. And while every Tico has his or her own idea of what it means, all their definitions seem to share a common theme: a good, positive, spirited life.

Luckily for them (and for you), Costa Rica is an easy place to live a spirited life—especially if your idea of a spirited life is an active one. It’s hard to think of a place with more opportunity for adventure, from waterfall-rappelling and kayaking to mountain biking and scuba diving. Here are just a few of the exhilarating experiences you’ll only find in this tiny but teeming-with-life country:  

Play wildlife bingo

Pack your binoculars. Costa Rica has the highest density of biodiversity in the world, so every hike is an opportunity to spot exotic species. Your wildlife-watching bingo card should include rare neotropical animals like scarlet macaws, squirrel monkeys, jaguars, baird’s tapir and (my personal favourite) sloths—and you could very well see them all. Visit the famed Sirena ranger station in Parque Nacional Corcovado for your best chances, especially for the extremely endangered baird’s tapir. The park has a diversity of hiking trails, which follow coastal and inland routes, over Pacific beaches and through mangrove swamps and rainforests.

Walk in the clouds (or zipline through them)

Costa Rica is known for ecotourism, and Reserva Biológica Bosque Nuboso Monteverde is one of its first and best examples. Formed by Quaker settlers wanting to protect their land, with help from the Nature Conservancy and World Wildlife Fund, the incredible Monteverde cloud forest features 13 kilometres of marked and maintained trails. For your best chances of seeing wildlife (such as the colourful quetzal), we recommend visiting at night, ideally with one of the area’s terrific guides. Or take in the view from the treetops with a canopy tour. It’s the closest I’ve ever come to feeling like I could fly.

Master some of the world’s best rapids

Sure, you can go rafting in Canada, but Costa Rica is widely regarded as one of the world’s best white-water rafting destinations. The best of the best are around La Fortuna and in the Turrialba area, where there are two major rivers: Rio Reventazon and Rio Pacuare. When you’re not barreling through the Pacuare’s Class III and IV rapids, be sure to take in the view: the riverbanks are covered with thick jungle, and there are lots of waterfalls. In calmer waters, you might even want to take a dip; unlike at home, the temperature won’t be heart-stopping.

Surf two oceans in a single day

It will be a long day, but because of Costa Rica’s narrowness, it’s entirely possible to start your day surfing the Caribbean coast and catch your last waves in the Pacific. With so many surf spots, your possibilities are endless, but to give you an idea, the drive between popular Pacific surf town Jacó and the breaks around Puerto Limon (including favourite Salsa Brava) takes just over five hours. No matter how eager you are to make it for last-call waves, be careful. The potholes on Costa Rican roads can be treacherous, and are often camouflaged by the shadows of overhanging trees. I nearly took the suspension off a little Yaris rushing to catch sunset in Santa Teresa (it was worth it).

New to surfing? Learners like me love Jacó, Tamarindo and Santa Teresa, all on the Pacific coast. I took a surf lesson in Santa Teresa (my happy place), then stretched out my aching body with an ocean-view yoga class.

Take a soak in some volcanic hot springs

After all that adventuring, you’ve earned a break—and a soak. Part of the Ring of Fire, Costa Rica is home to several volcanoes. Around La Fortuna you’ll find a number of hot springs in which to relax and recover sore muscles with a million-dollar view. If a hot soak sounds too sedentary for you, there are plenty of trails to hike in the area, many starting on the grounds of the Arenal Observatory Lodge. You can also kayak in lovely Lake Arenal.

¡Pura Vida!

What to Pack

Depending on which adventures call you, you’ll need good gear. Most activity-specific equipment and supplies are available for purchase or rent on-site, but we recommend bringing the following: