Pura Vida in Costa Rica

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Meredith explores Costa Rica's coastal paradise

Monkeys running free through the rainforest, hot surfers taming impressive waves, and all the tropical fruit smoothie combinations you could dream of – that is Costa Rica, the Nicoya Peninsula to be exact. My husband and I didn’t do a ton of research prior to our trip, hence why we ended up visiting in July, during the rainy season.  The rainy season typically means that it drizzles for a couple of hours each day and the rest of the time it’s sunny, but we encountered some pretty serious flooding. Despite the rain and mud we had a fabulous, memorable time, filled with waterfalls, jungle hikes and ATV rides, but unfortunately no sloths.

We had an easy 4 hour flight from Houston to San Jose and spent one night. We had our own little bungalow and they served a gorgeous breakfast of fresh fruits and anything else you could want. It was the perfect place to break the seal on speaking terrible Spanish that I’d be utilizing for the rest of the trip.

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After a night in San Jose we took a small plane to Tambor. The airport was tiny and we were given reusable laminated plane tickets. Some people are scared to ride in little planes, but we found it exhilarating and got a great view of Tortuga Island on the way. 

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We caught a cab from Tambor to our final destination in Cabuya. The roads in this region of Costa Rica can be a little bumpy, so get strapped in! The nearest established town is Montezuma, a couple of miles away, which was far more populous and built up than Cabuya. Montezuma has been a hot spot for eco tourists and other laid back varieties of visitors since the swinging 60s. We thought if we ever went back again, we would probably prefer to stay in town since Cabuya only has a handful of restaurants and one bar. In Montezuma there are a few impressive waterfalls (you can see all of them on a pretty manageable 2 hour hike) and a good selection of shops and restaurants.

Our vacation rental was nice with plenty of space and its own pool. Although it was too cool and wet to enjoy a swim, we loved seeing different species of monkeys playing the backyard. It is common in Costa Rica for properties to not have hot water plumbed in, so brace yourself for refreshing showers. The best local places to eat are open air informal cafés called sodas. A traditional Costa Rican dish is a casado, which is a plate including white rice, black beans, salad, fried plantains and whatever protein you choose.

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Another delicious treat in Costa Rica is fresh fruit smoothies. They seem to serve them everywhere and offer beautiful combinations like our favorite, watermelon and strawberry. If you want to get some supplies in to eat at home, the local Super is the place to go. You may have to visit a weekly market to get your fresh fruits and veggies though, the selection can be a little limited at the super. I got a kick out of the names of these establishments, like this one (Super David).

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Thanks to the sage advice of our vacation rental owner, we decided to rent an ATV. It was not only REALLY fun to zoom around on the jungle trails, but proved necessary in the mud. My number one tip for anyone traveling to this part of Costa Rica is to rent an ATV. We saw other tourists get irreparably stuck in a Jeep and have to be rescued from treacherous holes in the roads. 

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The craziest ATV ride was from Cabuya to Santa Teresa. It took some skill to navigate over the torn up and muddy trails. Santa Teresa is home to the hard core surfer community. But even if you’re a novice, it’s a great place to take lessons or go to surf camp. If surfing isn’t for you, there’s numerous yoga and health oriented retreats. Although it was rainy, we still managed to see some talented surfers doing their thing.

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The Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve is also nearby, where you can take hikes at all levels of difficulty. We opted for a pretty easy one because we were never sure when the heavens were about to open, but we really enjoyed seeing the natural habitat of all the amazing flora and fauna of the rainforest. Some of the views of the misty jungle mountains were pretty awe inspiring. This is actually the spot that my husband asked me to marry him!

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Just in case you don’t get to see ALL the species you had on your list in the wild, a visit to the Rainsong Wildlife Sanctuary should help you check a few more off. The have a wildlife hospital where they rehabilitate injured and abandoned animals. We met some interesting people there from all over the world that had come to learn more about native species, like this brightly colored frog:

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Overall, we had an incredible time on the Nicoya Peninsula. The natural beauty of Costa Rica is breathtaking, the food is fresh and healthy and the people are warm and friendly. They have a special phrase that encapsulates the relaxed and natural lifestyle - pura vida which means "this is living.” It can be used both as a greeting and a farewell, an answer to “how are you?" or to say thank you. Despite the rain, mud, cold showers and lack of sloth sightings I can still whole heartedly recommend a trip to this lovely part of Costa Rica!

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