Pura Vida in Costa Rica

3rd Act travels to Costa Rica for a taste of Pure Life

“Make it happen.” This is Alex’s advice as we ready to board our small bus and travel Costa Rica’s unmarked roads to our next destination. Alex is our capable Overseas Adventure Travel trip leader. He is referring to visiting the toilet, of course, whether you think you need to or not. Start the journey empty.

Make it happen. Start the journey empty. Apt metaphors for travel of any kind. Or, life, for that matter. Make it your own and be ready to be filled with wonder.

We are a group of 16 people ages 14 to just shy of 80—the majority of us are over 60. A diverse group of travel partners all unknown to each other except for a couple of us, setting out on a two-week adventure to experience Costa Rica and its people. We start the trip as strangers and end as family.

Living life to its fullest is part of Tico (how Costa Rican’s refer to themselves) DNA. The common greeting, “Pura Vida,” is pervasive, and is used for “hello, goodbye,” “life is good,” “peace,” “I’m well, be well,” and numerous other sentiments of positivity. Every local we meet is open, warm, and welcoming.

Costa Ricans pride themselves on having no army. They are the one stable democracy in Central America, sandwiched between Nicaragua to the north and Panama to the south. Their crime rate is no worse than the U.S., yet in San Jose virtually every home is surrounded by razor wire, electric fences, or both. Most of the windows are barred. Embracing “Pura Vida” surrounded by razor wire seemed a strange contradiction. It’s deeply cultural, our guide tells us, sharing that he was surprised when visiting the U.S. to see that our homes were not so secured. I suspect that our widespread use of Ring and security cameras is just not as obvious.

To feel safe, we all sometimes build prisons around ourselves and that prison can be our own living room. “Travel is more than just the seeing of sights, it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the idea of living,” said American author and historian Mary Ritter Beard.

There are not many historical buildings in San Jose, most have crumbled in one or another of the large earthquakes that strike the region with regularity. The exception is the National Theater, built in 1897, by Costa Rican coffee barons at a time when coffee was king. It’s stunning and architecturally on par with some of Europe’s most beautiful theaters.

Outside of San Jose the razor wire diminishes and the Costa Rican countryside flows from pineapple fields and small coffee plantations to jungles, and the entire region is ringed by volcanos, many of which are active. It’s the rainy season and although it has been unseasonably dry and hot, we get our first taste of torrential downpours as we enter Sarapiqui´. Arriving at our beautiful lodge, La Quinta Sarapiqui´(no relationship to the La Quinta hotel chain in the U.S.), a sign says, “Welcome to the Jungle.”

Over the next 12 days we travel the length of Costa Rica and pull out all the stops on adventure travel: Whitewater river-rafting, a horseback ride to a gorgeous waterfall where we swim, zip-lining, mud-baths and soaking in volcanic-heated pools, and wildlife river cruising where we see a plethora of spectacular birds and monkeys. We cross swinging suspension bridges and walk through virgin rainforests where white-faced monkeys throw palm nuts at us from the trees.

At the coast we paddle outrigger canoes to a beach for lunch where a pair of Scarlet Macaws entertain us from the tree branches right above us. Every one of us wades into the Pacific Ocean for a swim. And Ian, the most senior among us and the least well-traveled, leads the charge on just about every activity, smiling all the way. He turns 80 just six days after our return.

Costa Rica is not known for its cuisine but most of our meals are filling and delicious. Rice and beans are a national staple, and fried plantains accompany most meals. We discover Lizano Salsa, which takes rice and beans to a whole new level. Many of us bought some to take home and thank goodness it’s available on Amazon when we run out. The coffee is delicious and, seriously, we enjoyed the best mangos I’ve ever had.

The diversity and beauty of Costa Rican flora and fauna is mind-boggling, but in the end the best part is always the people—the people we meet along the way and those we get to travel with. Such richness, such diversity, such life. Pura Vida!

Victoria Starr Marshall is the publisher and editor of 3rd Act Magazine

3rd Act Magazine organizes one trip a year. If you are interested in joining us on a future 3rd Act Adventure, email victoria@3rdActMag.com and we will contact you when we plan our next trip. As of publishing, our 2024 destination is still undetermined.

Read more by Victoria Starr Marshall

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