By Mara Vorhees
Lonely Planet Writer
Pura vida. Pure life. You’ll hear the expression frequently throughout your visit to Costa Rica, as a sincere wish for your time in this natural wonderland. It’s a valediction, an affirmation and a state of mind, reflecting an appreciation for the awesomeness of nature and our role in it. This concept – pura vida – is what makes Costa Rica a perfect destination to relax, rejuvenate and renew your spirit. Here are some unique ways to do it.
Find yourself in the forest
‘Forest bathing’ may be the latest trend in wellness, but in Costa Rica it’s as old as the ancient trees. This practice, from the Japanese shinrin-yoku, or ‘forest bath’, does not (necessarily) refer to lathering up in a tree-shaded tub. Rather, it is about opening your senses to all of the sights and sounds and scents of the earth; in other words, being in nature, mindfully and sensually. In Costa Rica, the opportunities are endless: take your pick between forest, beach or mountain setting. You’ll be rewarded with wildlife sightings, flourishing flora and spectacular scenery, not to mention a renewed and refreshed body and soul.
If you wish to take your forest immersion to the next level, why not sleep among the trees? Camping is always an option, but Costa Rica also offers countless opportunities that do not require setting up a tent or sleeping on the ground. This eco-conscious country was at the forefront of ‘glamping’. Few lodges use that term (which comes from ‘glamorous camping’), but the concept is legit: sleeping outside can be comfortable and even luxurious. Many eco-lodges offer spacious tents, raised platforms, comfy beds, private bathrooms, gourmet meals and more. The ecological impact is minimized, but the luxury is not. Some of the original and still excellent tent-lodges are located on the outskirts of Corcovado National Park, one of the wildest corners of Costa Rica.
Even better, spend the night in the treetops when you stay at a treehouse lodge. The canopy views can’t be beat (obviously). Inviting treetop hideaways are located in the cloud forests around Monteverde, in the Caribbean rainforests south of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, and off the beaten track in Ciudad Quesada and Boca Tapada.
Soak your cares away
Volcanic explosions, spewing ash and molten lava might not sound particularly peaceful. Believe it or not, the hundred-plus volcanoes in central Costa Rica offer some of the country’s most soothing experiences. The volcanoes heat countless thermal pools and mud pots. Here, you can take advantage of all-natural skin treatments and healing medicinal waters, or just submerge in liquid heat and soak your cares away.
The most popular destination for hot-spring soaking is La Fortuna, the town at the base of Volcán Arenal. As recently as 2010, the volcano spit lava regularly, offering a sort of fireworks display on a nightly basis. Nowadays, the visuals have subsided, but the volcano is still generating plenty of heat – as you can experience at one of the many resorts with on-site thermal pools. Indulge in a day of soaking (and eating and drinking and more) in a luxurious setting, ornately decorated with tropical plants and waterfalls.
About 15 miles northeast of Liberia, Rincón de la Vieja is a national park that contains two fiery mountains, making it a perfect place to witness volcanic activity up close. In Las Pailas sector, hiking trails lead past boiling mud pools, sulfurous fumaroles and a mini volcancito, so you never forget what’s happening below the surface of the earth. Recover from your hike at one of the nearby private hot springs, where you can treat your skin with volcanic mud and soak your aching limbs in heated waters. Another option is to head to the park’s less developed Santa María sector. Here, you can hike through the forest to pristine natural hot springs, soak to your heart’s content, then cool off in the nearby cold flowing stream.
Namaste in nature
Salute the sun as it rises over bubbling sea. Strike a tree pose in a forest of almendros and Guanacaste growth. Find frog pose amid the chorus of tree frogs. Summon your inner warrior while surrounded by primeval forest. Costa Rica’s wild and wonderful natural setting has become one of the world’s top spots for wellness getaways. Retreat centers all over the country offer yoga, meditation, and other wellness classes for practitioners at all levels.
One reason Costa Rica has developed as a yoga destination is that it is also a top-notch surf destination. Turns out, yoga is the perfect complement to surfing – training the unfocused mind and stretching and strengthening the muscles needed to ride the waves. All of Costa Rica’s top surf spots also have excellent options for yoga. Bonus: many resorts offer packages that combine surf lessons and equipment rental with yoga classes.
On the Nicoya Peninsula, Nosara is a mecca for surfers and yogis, with a half a dozen different yoga retreat centers, fantastic surf breaks, and a chilled-out welcoming beach-town vibe. More difficult to reach but no less rewarding, Mal País and Santa Teresa are side-by-side surf towns at the tip of the same peninsula. The destination is beloved not only for its waves and blissful yogi vibe, but also for its farm-to-table dining. In the southwest corner of the country, the Osa Peninsula also attracts yogis and peace-seekers, who relish being off the grid, surrounded by tropical rainforest.
Introspective souls can seek out other restorative spiritual experiences. PachaMama is a forest-bound retreat center that offers not only yoga, but also meditation and silent retreats, body cleansing and healing therapies, and all kinds of earth-centered rituals and practices. Also unique, La Senda is a 2-mile labyrinth (among the world’s largest) near Tamarindo, which is open for contemplative walking.
Good for the earth, good for the soul. Pura Vida.