Pura Vida – Costa Rica
Now for as long as I can remember Costa Rica is a country that has always intrigued me, it seemed so tropical, full of unusual wildlife, jungle, volcanoes and just a place I’ve always been drawn too. Me and my family had a list of our top 3 destinations in the world and we took turns to visit each person’s dream … Costa Rica was top of mine.
We stayed in the Guanacaste area of the country, a province in the North West, bordering the Pacific. It is an area that is known for its parkland and beautiful beaches. We flew from London Gatwick direct to Liberia (the largest city in the Guanacaste region), taking around 11 hours flight time, with TUI on the Dreamliner. Then we had an hour or so, bus journey through incredible scenery to our hotel. We stayed for 2 weeks, in the month of September, at the ‘Riu Palace Costa Rica’.
The hotel was stunning, we had stayed in a Riu Palace before, in Puerto Vallarta (Mexico), but this was much more exquisite. The hotel was 24-hour all-inclusive (so I got straight on the cocktails as soon as we’d checked in). It was situated right on the beach of Matapalo, it was the only hotel on the beach and in the area.
After previous experiences of staying in a beach front all-inclusive hotel, I was expecting to find a row of different hotels all along the sand.. in places such as Cancun, Miami, Spain .. this has always been the layout I had seen before. Here was different it was just us, surrounded by jungle, tree’s and monkeys. Yes, monkeys…. Howler monkeys that we could see and hear jumping through the jungle tree’s from our balcony.
The hotel had 4 swimming pools, with one swim up bar, jacuzzi’s, gym, sauna and spa. The quality of the cuisine was exceptional thanks to the top class chefs preparing a wide variety in the buffet style restaurant, not to mention the gorgeous 5-star A-la Carte restaurants. There were four different themed speciality restaurants – Krystal (Fusion Restaurant), Tokio (Japanese), L’Anfora (Italian) and Papagayo (Steakhouse).
Being on a privileged environment the hotel offered a wide variety of activities on the beach, such as diving and fishing in the waters of the Pacific.
Also beach side, were tennis courts, a volleyball pitch, windsurfing and sailing facilities, kayaks and much more.
Me and my sister shared a room and stayed in a junior suite with a garden view and it was gorgeous. The junior suites were equipped with two double beds, a sofa in the lounge area and a hydromassage bathtub .. as well as the usual TV, AC, mini bar and beverage dispenser, coffee maker and beautiful balcony.
The hotel itself was stunning, white palatial vibes surrounded by beautiful, tropical trees and plants. We arrived early morning so we checked in and went for lunch, a quick catnap then relaxed and explored our amazing home for the next two weeks. We walked along the gorgeous beach and were already met with some incredible animals, just in that first hour of exploring we saw huge Lizards lurking around the hotel grounds, green and brown just chilling out in the sun.
We saw a number of Iguana’s trying to blend into their surrounding but the more we looked, the more we saw.We even nicknamed the one that hung around the restaurant Reggie! We dipped our toes in the ocean only to see 3 stingrays literally playing in the waves just in front of us, I was in disbelief and so excited at what was to come. After a walk along the dark sand, we were still quite tired and so retired to our sunbeds with a cocktail in a coconut.
There was so much of this country I wanted to explore, as well as have a well-deserved chill at the amazing hotel. We started out the holiday just relaxing, getting into the time zone, walking along the beach, swimming in the ocean. Trying out the different speciality restaurants which we soon come to realise you had to arrive at least 30 minutes before you wanted a table, to then receive a buzzer that would go off, to let you know when your table was ready. For the Steakhouse probably even an hour before.
The beach front steakhouse was some of the best steak I’ve ever tried, tender and tasty it was gorgeous, however small warning, although the setting was beautiful, it was an open air restaurant and so in tropical Costa Rica was humid and hot. I was not prepared and actually wore a long sleeved dress the first night we ate there. We had to use the menu’s to fan ourselves and my hair became a frizzy mess (picture Monica in Friends) but the food is well worth the sweatiness. After that we tried to pick a more breezy night to eat there.
The Italian was also lovely, buffet style starters of pizza and pasta actually filled me up but the main course was always delicious.
Now Japanese is not my usual first choice of food but it is my Sisters favourite so I ate there on a number of occasions and it was delicious. A huge tray of Sushi to start, followed by Ramen for me which was gorgeous and finally the fusion restaurant was wonderful, beautifully set out offering an array of starters and lovely mains, I couldn’t fault any of them.
There was entertainment of a night, which was repeated weekly so if you’re there for two weeks you saw the same show again, but they weren’t bad to sit with a Gin and Tonic, chatting and listening to the music in the background. There were also daily activities throughout the day, I took part in a few but when I’m not out exploring I love to be chatting, drinking, swimming or reading.
After a few nights me and my sister discovered there was a ‘Pacha’ nightclub on the site of the hotel, so went to check it out. I have to admit it was not what we were expecting, dark dingy and a bit seedy really, it was not really playing any songs we knew and was not our cup of tea. We went back a few nights later, with some of the Entertainment team we had come to know, and what a mistake that was.
They became way too touchy feely, grabbing us while dirty dancing, whispering weird things in our ears and we just felt so uncomfortable, Me and Danielle just wanted to dance with each other and have a laugh. One of the men grabbed my sisters hair and tugged it backwards hard. I became the over protective big sis and stepped in, that was not okay. We left soon after and the next day the two members of the entertainment crew came to apologise.
I think they were used to women falling at their feet and were shocked that we were actually repulsed by them and the way they had acted. Probably scared for their jobs in case we reported them, we didn’t , we just steered clear after that.
That evening as we left the club and walked back to our room, we only crossed a bloody snake on the way back, he just slithered out in front of us, Dani backed off, but I of course got as close as I could to take a picture, she was screaming at me to get away from it, it was only a skinny one and quite long and had a leopard like pattern on it.
We spent a few afternoons relaxing on the beach, under the shade of the palm trees, reading and sipping cocktails.. on numerous occasions a group of a wild dogs would come over for attention and sit underneath our sunbeds or just next to us, they were too cute not to stroke.
With the howl of monkeys coming from the jungle behind it really was the tropical paradise I’d been dreaming off. It was during one of the walks along the gorgeous beach that we met Luis, the owner of ‘Prime Tours Costa Rica’. He was such a nice man and he had amazing deals on the tours that we had wanted to do, even before we’d booked any, he took us on a walking tour of the jungle. He pointed out plants and flowers, lizards camouflaged that we hadn’t even noticed, told us about the different types of birds you could hear and then pointed out the hundreds of monkeys up high in the branches of the tress, that we hadn’t even noticed. It was around 40 mins before we got back to his office, when I say office it was some tables and chairs hidden within the trees at the top of the beach but it was cool, chilled, Costa Rica style.
So the first tour we did was a boat trip looking for wildlife and stopping at an island for a snorkel, it was around 3 hours in total and did not disappoint. It was booked for the afternoon, so we had a lovely chilled morning in the sun and just as we walked down to the beach to pick up our boat, a big, black, thundering cloud came overhead and of course it started to rain, at least it was still warm. It rained most afternoons that we were there, but everywhere being so lush and green, it was to be expected. You can’t have a tropical paradise without a bit of rain.
Within 10 minutes of being onboard we saw multiple pairs of Turtles mating in the water, we were told by the captain of our little wooden boat, that when they mate they stick like that just floating around in the water for hours, that the male can actually hang on, in his words, ‘for dear life’ for up to 24 hours. That’s determination!
We headed out to the island and hopped off into the shallow waters, the ocean felt so warm, I think mainly because it was raining, so I grabbed a mask and had an underwater experience. There were loads of fish and amazing things to see. Even on the banks of the island it was beautiful to explore, with hundreds of huge cactus plants and little coati’s running around it was magical. The return journey got even more exciting, I was just sat enjoying the view, feeling the splash of water on my face as we jumped through the waves, when the boat just suddenly stopped. I had a split second of panic thinking we’d broken down or something, just when I saw it…a Humpback whale breaching in the water just ahead. We were told it was a usual sight in these waters but we were not promised before the trip. We saw the whale pop in and out of the water multiple times, flicking her tail as she went back under, it was incredible, a moment I won’t forget.
Now one thing I didn’t expect to do while I was in Costa Rica is a zip line, mainly because I’ve done them before and it’s not what I went to the country for. But for the first few days we were there, up above the hotel, way up high in the jungle I kept noticing these tiny little dots of people fly through the air.. and it looked too much fun not to go. So up we went to the ‘Diamate Eco Adventure Park’. Without a doubt the best ziplining course I’ve ever done.
Offering around a 2 hour adventure of multiple zip lines over the top of the Costa Rican jungle, a 30ft free fall and of course ‘The Superman’ – a mile long, ocean view, lying superman style line. Now I am adventurous, I love heights and all the lines had been incredible, zooming from one edge of the jungle to the other, but the Superman was something else. We were first drove up in jeeps to the top and that’s where we started.
We went in two’s so I first watched them put my sister and Dad in a little bag that made them look like flying squirrels. They laid them face down on a plank, clipped them up onto the line, attached sandbags to my Sis and then they were off, side by side flying through the air.. I watched in amazement but also a slight apprehension. Then it was mine and mums turn… we were on our stomachs, then lifted up onto the line, I felt like I was being swaddled in a blanket but my arms were free. We were ready and in position and I gave my mum a last look, I could tell she was thinking ‘what the hell are we doing?’ and then we were off, zooming through the air at around 60mph. We were so high, I could see the hotel way down below, the ocean for miles and the jungle all around us, I was screaming but with pure joy and excitement. That’s the closest feeling to flying I have ever experienced and I wanted to do it again straight after.
Another trip we did was a bit of a mixture, we hopped on a minibus and were taken to a number of different locations – what a day! One that I will never forget for the rest of my life… The first stop was the Llanos de Cortes Waterfall. Now this waterfall is quite secret and hidden away in the jungle, we reached a car park and hopped off our bus. It was a bit of trek down some wet and slippery steps, but once you reached the bottom it was so worth it.
As we started to descend down the steps, I could hear the roar of water in the distance and I was so excited, I love waterfalls as you probably know from other blogs but they are just so magical and spiritual almost, I could sit and listen to the water flow for hours.
It was humid and what better for a cool off then the amazing pool of the water below the falls, I paddled in and admired it before having a full dip in the tranquil water.
Now the next stop was a boat ride along the crocodile infested Corobici River, I was excited to be seeing crocs from the safety of a boat in their natural habitat. Safety of our boat being the funny part in this story. We got out of our mini bus and walked down to the side of the river bank, still looking for our boat. We’d met another couple in our hotel and they were on the trip too, a nice couple around my parents age and they were put in a group with the 4 of us and the rest of the bus made up another group. Then came two men, with what I can only describe as green rubber dinghy’s. They came past us, plonked them in the water and told us to get in. We all looked a bit shocked, knowing there were Crocs all the way down this river it didn’t feel like the safest form of transport. My sister started to panic so Me and Dad got on the front row seat, if you can even call it a seat, it was just another piece of rubber that had been inflated. Mum and Dani got behind us and our friends in the back with the ‘guide’ at the very back.
We got in and off we went, within the first couple of minutes my feet were fully submerged in a good chunk of water, it was past my ankles, completely soaking my trainers, fuelling to the panic of my sister. I turned round to see Dani crying and the other couple looking extremely panicked. I thought well were on it now, may as well enjoy it, if we get eaten by crocodiles then it was just our time.
Once we relaxed it was one of the most thrilling and amazing things I’ve ever done in my life. The scenery was out of this world, I kept feeling as if I was on a ride in universal studios or something, how was this real life?
Floating along the river I was constantly looking out for crocs but we saw so much more than that, there were Vultures, tree’s along the river bank completely full of Howler monkey’s relaxing in the midday sun, Jesus Christ lizard’s running across the top of the water and so many baby crocs. They were so cute but we were all thinking the same thing, their Mother probably wasn’t far away. And sure enough after a while we saw some not so baby Crocs enjoying the sun on the river bank, they were around 3 Meters long. One even slipped off the bank and under the water as we passed and I kept expecting him to appear next to us. They were in the water just peeking out and then re-submerging but they weren’t interested in us, they were just living their life in the river and we were up close and personal with real life Crocodiles. I still to this day, can’t believe the experience, it baffles me that we did that. After two hours floating along the brown muddy river, we stopped at a bank and got off, I didn’t want to, I was enjoying it so much and everyone on our rubber boat was smiling by the end.
So we stopped off for lunch at a local restaurant on the side of the road, it was very authentic and the food was actually lovely. Then just when you thought the day couldn’t get better – off we went into the jungle to find Sloths. We headed to the Bijagua area of the country and started our walking tour of the jungle, we could take photos and get close up but just not touch. Which I would never touch an animal in its natural habitat anyway, it’s incredible enough to be able to watch them. It was incredible, we saw frogs that were green, blue and orange, we even saw a poison dart frog – bright red body with its blue legs, there was no mistaking it.
The walk through the jungle was amazing, there were sloths everywhere once you started to look, way up high in the tree branches just moving so slow. We saw Jaguar footprints along our way and then our luck continued. We came across some smaller trees that were teaming with Sloths… even a baby one, thought to be no more than a few months old. What an Incredible day and place for wildlife.
I absolutely loved Costa Rica, it lived up to my expectations and more and it is a place I would definitely love to explore again one day, probably with Tjay because it is the most tropical place with the most exciting wildlife I have ever come across, which he would love. We spent our remaining few days just relaxing and trying out all the shots they made behind the bar – some weird and wonderful creations from a Bob Marley to a Rican Flag.
I am so lucky my dreams came true when visiting this magical place, until the next time ‘Pura Vida’ – as the Costa Ricans say. Which literally translates to as ‘pure life’ but to the locals it is more than just a saying, it is a way of life. It’s a term to say ‘Hello’ and ‘Goodbye’, a way to say ‘everything’s great’ or ‘everything’s cool’ but it is also much more. It is a way in which they live their life, relaxed and stress free, a simple life. Pura Vida means being thankful for what they have and not dwelling on the negatives. Costa Rica has been named one of the happiest countries in the world and it is this Pura Vida way of thinking that has got them there, it is something I have taken away from their country and a positive way of thinking and living that I love!
P.S – Top traveller tip – make sure you keep enough money aside to pay the departure tax before you leave the country. There is a $29 fee, per person to pay at the airport.