Pura Vida: Part One

After my travels in Asia, my plan was to delve directly into my trip to Spain and Portugal. However, after my most recent trip to Costa Rica, it seems only right that I start with Costa Rica instead. The reason for this switch is simple. You see, as someone who often encourages others to see the positive things in life, I found myself in a slump. I was in other words, not practicing what I was preaching. And then, came Costa Rica. Prior to heading to Costa Rica, I knew very little about the country other than it was absolutely beautiful with its lush green rainforests, sandy beaches, and exotic wildlife. This was the reason I had hopped on the plane to Costa Rica, but what I had fallen in love with even more was the Tico way of life encapsulated by the term “Pura Vida.”

This popular term used in Costa Rica, translates to “The Pure Life” or “Simple Life”. It is a saying to represent a relaxed view in life, a reminder to go with the ebbs and flows of life and focus on the little joys and not let the negative moments bring you down. This is not to say that Ticos do not experience hardships. After all, it is still a developing country with poverty to be seen in many places but the lesson to be learned from Ticos is to make the most of your situation. And so, my goal for these posts about Costa Rica are simple. What I hope to do is provide an accurate depiction of my time there, how this “Pura Vida” lifestyle was evident in everyday life and how the people there are some of the kindest individuals you will ever meet. And so, without further ado, let us delve into my time in Costa Rica.

Day 1 (San Jose)

I have mentioned various times that what Canada lacks (especially in the big city) is that we have forgotten how to communicate with one another. While Canadians are known to be polite, politeness should not be seen as synonymous with friendliness. We will more than happily help you with directions but beyond that, Canadians have become wary of strangers. Remaining closed off within their own microscopic friend groups and suspicious of when strangers start random conversations with you. Costa Rica was the entirely opposite as the story that will unfold will reveal.

After arriving in San Jose and settling in, my time in San Jose was primarily limited to looking for restaurants and getting dinner. After some research on my friend’s part, we discovered that establishments with the name “Soda” which is Costa Rican for diner, offer typical Costa Rican cuisine on a budget. And so, we began our hunt for these diners. After passing many overpriced American restaurants, we finally found our saving grace “Soda Yogui’s.” If you have the chance to head down here, you will not regret it. As mentioned, Ticos are not afraid to make random conversations and are generally very welcoming. Our server at this diner was just that. Not only were we blessed with great service but great conversation. One thing I love about the locals, is how reassuring they are when you attempt to speak Spanish. As someone whose Spanish could use some work, it was nice to not feel embarrassed about messing up. As we ate our dinner, we spoke to the waiter about language, his name, and he even helped us work on our Spanish speaking skills and in return he showed off some of the few words he knew in Mandarin (the friend I was travelling with was Chinese). This was my introduction to Costa Rica. While I was not a fan of San Jose, as big cities have never been my favourite, the experience that day at the diner solidified that this trip was the right choice and that helped ensure our vacation started off on a positive note. As we finished our dinner and bid our farewells, we headed back to our hostel and went to bed to prepare for the real start of our vacation tomorrow. Next destination: Quepos.

Day 2-3 (Quepos)

The next day, we were off bright and early to Quepos via public transportation. If you are a budget traveller like myself, the good thing about Costa Rica is the affordability of bus routes to get to different cities and towns. The cost to get to Quepos (8 USD). Quepos was a refreshing change from the hustle and bustle of San Jose, and is home to the magnificent Manuel Antonio National Park (a quick 30 min bus ride from the main bus station and costs about 50 cents). Something about travelling is that you need to be prepared for the unexpected, always. Upon arriving to Quepos, my friend and I decided that walking up to our accommodations would be perfectly fine. It was definitely not fine. With unpaved roads to our accommodations, we struggled to drag our carry on suitcases up the road. Dripping in sweat, we had vastly underestimated how rough the road was and after not even walking 1/3 up the hill to our accommodation, we were exhausted. Luckily for us, the gods were on our side. As from the moment we decided that our decision was a poorly made one, a shuttle van from another hotel drove up the road and offered us assistance. Despite being wary , we accepted the help, and thank God we did. After entering the car and getting a lift we realized we had a very long way to go. This genuine act of kindness with no expectation in return only validated that I had made the right decision to come to Costa Rica. As we hopped off the van in front of our accommodations and thanked the driver a multitude of times, he simply turned to us and said “Pura Vida” and wished us a great vacation.

After settling in, we headed out to enjoy our first day out of two in Quepos. For those wishing to visit Manuel Antonio National Park, my advice is to go early as the park closes at 4 pm with the last admission being at 3 pm. Due to it already being almost 2 pm when we arrived at the National Park and figured out where the heck to go to buy tickets to enter the park, we opted instead to head to the beach right beside the national park. And so, we made like the Ticos do and decided to go with the flow and hang out on the beach instead. Although the weather did not hold up for very long, after our very long and sweaty journey to arrive at our hostel, relaxing on the beach was the perfect way to spend our first day in Quepos. Sometimes things happen for a reason, right?

After lounging at the beach, it was time to head back to avoid the real storm that was about to hit and so we went on a hunt to grab some food. Looking for good food in Quepos ? Check out Soda Sanchez, not only did I have incredibly delicious quesadillas but it also became our saving grace from the storm. One thing to be mindful of Costa Rica, be prepared for all types of weather. While it may be sunny when you head out, you may be caught in a heavy rainstorm. With a front row view of the storm, we enjoyed the sounds of the torrential downpour under the safety of the restaurant. After finishing our food and the storm passed, we headed back to our accommodations where we met some great travellers from the United States. One thing I love about travelling, is how it eliminates barriers and brings people together. As we sat on the terrace, we spoke to our fellow travellers who had done the hikes in Manuel Antonio that day and who offered great advice on navigating the national park. We discussed our work situations, laughed about our similar predicaments, and gushed over the beautiful sights they had seen that day. It was a great end to the day, and in making conversation we not only relished in our shared experiences but were armed with how to make the most of our time in Quepos. It may have not been an action packed day, but it was a perfect day! Life was good!

The next day, after being told to wake up early to see the sunrise I was up at 5 in the morning in preparation. I eagerly awaited for the sun to rise and for hues of pinks and orange to fill the morning sky. I waited and waited patiently, however the cloudy morning had other plans for me. Despite the lack of an epic sunrise, the peace was worth the early morning wake up. What I did get to experience instead was the birds beginning to awaken, the fresh morning air against my face, a frog resting on the terrace, and just being able to immerse myself in nature for one suspended moment in time. With this peace of mind it would set my friend and I up for our grand adventure hiking through the national park.

After eating a quick breakfast and taking selfies in front of the Quepos sign, it was time to hop on the bus to Manuel Antonio National Park. Once arriving to Manuel Antonio, we paid our 16 USD entry fee for foreigners to enter the park. Want to know which will give you the biggest bang for your buck? They are as followed: Sendero Mirador, Sendero Perezoso, and Sendero Playa Gemelas. For those wondering whether to get a guide, the choice is yours. For a budget conscious traveller, we opted out of the guided tour and were content with our decision. That being said, if you want to see animals high up in the trees (specifically the sloths), guides are your biggest chance of seeing these creatures as the guides are equipped with telescopes to see these creatures. The downside to these tours is they often only take you on the main trail, and as a result you will not have a chance to go on Sendero Mirador and witness the beauty from the top. The choice is yours, but regardless of what you choose the park is worth the visit. My advice, go early and avoid the crowds!

As you walk through the park, you will run across monkeys, sloths if you’re lucky, raccoons, crabs, and various kinds of birds and reptiles. Furthermore, the trails are well designed and informative providing travellers with information regarding the flora and fauna in the park, explaining defense systems of plants, animal habits and diets, and uses of plants found in the park. Walking through the park felt a little bit like being in a nature documentary with the guided signs acting as commentary on the sights around you. Our favourite hike was the Sendero Mirador trail. Coming off the main trail of the park, this trail leads up to the highest point in the park to a stunning viewpoint of the beach below. While it does require a bit of fitness to hike up, there are a few benches along the way and it is a hike that is worth the struggle. Make sure to head all the way up to Punta Serrucho for the best view in the park.

After reaching the top of Punta Serrucho, the view was breathtaking. As we reached the top of Punta Serrucho, due to it being fairly early there was only a few people at the top and as a result we could appreciate the view in silence. After taking photos, we talked to a couple of friends who were seated on the bench next to us. One who was working in Costa Rica and discussed the life there, reality versus people’s perceptions of Costa Rica, what we did and how we knew our travel buddy, and had in depth conversations about holistic medicine. We discussed briefly about cultural differences between Americans and Europeans (the girl in question being French) and it was so great to just sit down and have a calm conversation with random strangers. A point in our conversation which stood out most was in regards to photo taking. Whereas, we took multiple photos to get the right angle, the French friends pointed out playfully that the photos were set up to make us as the focal point rather than the scenery. As a running joke, when another tourist came by, one of the Frenchies was asked to take a photo of said individual and asked “do you want a lot of landscape or a lot of you,” to which the four of us broke out in hysterics. It was nice to have an honest conversation and be made aware of something we don’t always realize. While there is nothing wrong with encapsulating the moments you experience with photos, it was a reminder to let the moment take priority over an instagram worthy photo and so we did just that. We sat down, relaxed, laughed, and just let the sun beam down on us while admiring the picturesque greenery, sunny skies, and crystalline waters.

After relaxing at the viewpoint for sometime, we carried on our adventure where we ran into hermit crabs and various lizards scurrying through the park before finally heading to Manuel Antonio Beach to soak up the sun and rest our tired achy bodies. It was a great way to reward ourselves for the long hike. With the sun beaming down on our bodies, the warm sand beneath our feet, and the sound of waves crashing against the shore, life was good.

Something important to note is for travellers heading to the beach, be wary of the monkeys and raccoons, who have learned to steal backpacks for food. While we did not experience any issues, I did witness some monkeys looking for food on the beach in the distance. Luckily for us, we were not bothered on that day.

As our beach day came to an end, we headed back on the trail to the exit where we witnessed a whole bunch of capuchin monkeys hanging about the trees. It was a phenomenal view and one I was most grateful for.

After leaving the park and grabbing a bite to eat, we headed home with the satisfaction that our time spent in Quepos had been thoroughly enjoyed. You know you’ve had a good day, when you sing in your room not caring who hears and that is exactly what I did. So my advice to you, is that if you are visiting Costa Rica make sure to include Quepos on your itinerary and soak up every moment of happiness and joy while there.