This travel tale begins at the end: I cried when I left. Twice. I’ve hopscotched all over creation with pledges to return to numerous glorious locations. This was a first. Never have I been as moved as I was walking the beach from Hotel Nantipa on my last day in Santa Teresa. Real tears. I dreaded leaving. My farewell funk was interrupted by clopping as two sweet horses arrived at my shoulder. I began nuzzling them which led to a congenial chat with Martin, their owner. As I left, I told him: This is such a spiritual place. He smiled and said: Not everyone gets that.
But this is not a sad story, quite the opposite. The treasures of Costa Rica begin to be found in a city like San Jose, where the locals engage you to try this drink or that dish, like their special patacones (fried plantains), or tasty casados (beans and rice with extras). And the coffee! Just inhale the fragrant earthy beans if it’s not your cup of tea. Or try jugo de tamarindo, tamarind juice for a refreshing beverage. The capital is a predictably busy city, filled with buses, traffic and sidewalk hustlers. Go anyway, dine on the rooftop of Hotel Presidente, where the inspirational cuisine and craft cocktails are surpassed only by the ambience of the staff.
Costa Rica is green in every way imaginable, awash in verdant lush foliage which carpets mountains to countryside, permeates cityscapes, and frames every meandering road. Green is a way of life and state of mind. The ticos (locals) are among the most ardent environmentally conscious people on the planet. They stand proud of and zealously guard their abundant resources. This is a country wildly rich in biodiversity with citizens unwavering in their commitment to conservation, wildlife, and preservation of nature’s gifts bestowed upon and entrusted to them. While keen as any of us to earn a living, they’ve smartly recognized that precious natural resources and their livelihoods are intertwined. Perhaps that mindset of social responsibility served as inspiration for this T shirt:
When the last tree has died, the last fish has been poisoned, and we can’t breathe the air, maybe then we will learn: we cannot eat money.
Green is the optimistic name they give to the rainy season when leaves glisten brighter, roots energize, waves crest and crash in spectacular fury. Whether it rains in tidbits or torrents, senses are awakened, refreshed and restored, all at once. Imagine visiting a place where a little precip doesn’t ruin plans. There’s no bad weather, just bad clothing.
The pace here is relaxing, easy going, yet efficient. Locals have uniquely magnanimous hearts, freely sharing their time, expertise, their bounty. They’re not only glad you came, they do all in their power to ensure you are glad you came. Say what you will about the desperation of any country’s inhabitants aiming to survive a stubbornly persistent pandemic year. Here, hospitality is a way of life. Costa Ricans are the real deal.
Back to touring…after a brief city stay, our team headed North to La Fortuna, the land of mineral springs, exceptional outdoor adventures and uniquely organic spa experiences. Given it was a 3 hour plus ride, we stopped for lunch enroute at Chayote Lodge, less than an hour from SJO airport. Adorned with copious hydrangea bushes, this coffee plantation inspired lodge rises in the cloud forest with 12 ecosmart bungalows and fortunately for us, an exceptional open air restaurant serving delightful local cuisine. Perched on a hilltop setting within sight of 3 volcanos plus long range Pacific views, so easy to love this place.
Next stop: Arenal Volcano. Don’t stay anywhere else but Tabacon Thermal Resort and Spa or you’ll miss a singularly exquisite experience. We dropped our bags, hopped the the shuttle, then headed to Tabacon’s own hot springs in the shadow of Arenal. While it was tempting to plant ourselves at the first swim up bar, we walked on, strolling over a bridge amid sky high lipstick palms, flaming birds of paradise (with and without wings), and flowering lilies. Following stepping stones through the rain forest up to ShangriLa Gardens (adults only), we found our own spot in paradise, surrounded by boulders framing gentle pools and rushing waterfalls.
Tabacon is situated in Alajuela Province, one of those unique spots on the planet where serenity and adrenaline rushes peacefully coexist. First up, a canyoning experience: waterfall rappelling. With helmet, harness, equal amounts of fear and psychotic energy, I jumped off a cliff backwards along a rushing waterfall into a natural pool. Breathtaking! Noteworthy: our Pure Trek guides revealed they had worked with participants as young as 5 and old as 90. For the naturalists, there’s a plethora of nature and volcano hikes, bird watching, treks over hanging bridges. I say, don’t leave without leaping! There’s an adventure for everyone, small to tall.
Even adrenaline junkies need a little pampering, so I booked a late afternoon spa appointment at Tabacon. Picture this: a sheltered room with forest walls, a soft spoken, ambient massage therapist, a chorus of singing birds, water splashing over boulders nearby. The slumber inducing treatment of local botanicals began at dusk. Ninety minutes later, my drowsy eyes opened, I inhaled the sweet night air, surrounded by candlelight. Nirvana.
Mountains to sea, my week in Costa Rica was a seven course meal with dessert served every waking moment. So much more terrain to cover ~ Manuel Antonio, kayaking, mangroves, capuchin monkeys, sloths, spicy chiliguaro shots, yoga mats, cacique, beach clean up, horseback riding, octopus ceviche, sharing shoes…next time.
Lest I forget… that second teary time? Again, the last day. When our transfer van pulled into the airport, we heard music playing. Apart from checking in, no one spoke, no chatter. We sat, mesmerized by an enthralling virtuoso violinist serenading us, the unfortunate souls leaving Santa Teresa for our homeward bound flights. His name was Jorge Siliezar. A fellow passenger informed me he had been an orchestra leader pre-pandemic, now here he was playing for tips at Tambor Airport. I was a puddly mess. I dare you not to be moved…
Think green. Pure Vida!