Pura Vida in Costa Rica

Credit : Pauline Ponchaux

In the middle of winter last year, I decided to escape the cold by travelling to Guatemala. I spent two weeks under the sun admiring breathtaking views that made me fall completely in love with the country. On my way home, I remember opening the window shade on the plane and thinking, “where will I go next?” With a special interest in other South American countries, I set my heart on going to Costa Rica. After a few months of waiting, I would finally be able to embrace the country’s mantra: pura vida or pure life.

Credit : Pauline Ponchaux

By nature, I’m an impatient person but a contrario, when it comes to waiting for a trip, the countdown to the departure date is half the fun.

After hours of searching airline websites, I finally booked my flight to San José—the capital of Costa Rica. The next logical step was to dive right into a Lonely Planet travel guide to plan my itinerary. I had expectations of exploring jungles, seeing tropical animals and taking time for myself on sandy beaches. And I must say, I wasn’t disappointed! If you’re looking for the same things, plan your trip now! There’s great diving, surfing, zip lining, mountain climbing and more.

San José

Credit : Pauline Ponchaux

An international airport is only 15 minutes away from the capital city, so it only makes sense for San José to be the first stop on your trip. It’s not the most typical, nor beautiful place in Costa Rica, but after five hours of travelling by plane, I chose to spend a relaxing day in the city before heading into the wilderness. I booked a room in a colonial-style hotel and explored the historic neighbourhood barrio Amón. One day in the capital was more than enough.
Adiós winter coats and boots, holà sundresses and sandals! With that, I went out to walk around the city in balmy 25-degree weather making a special stop at the Teatro nacional. I recommend going with a tour guide that will passionately tell you all about the theatre that is over 120 year old.

During my quick stay in San José, only one culinary delight stood out:  cafe con miel. What is it? A cappuccino with frothy milk, cinnamon and honey. It was so good that I had two throughout the day!

Monteverde

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Travelling to Monteverde from San José will take you three to four hours depending on whether you drive or take a bus. About 25 minutes of the ride is on bumpy, winding roads so you’ll experience what my witty bus driver called, “the country’s best massage.” Plan at least two days to visit a coffee plantation and explore bosque nuboso, the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve.

Credit : Pauline Ponchaux

I went to El Trapiche, a family farm that grows coffee beans, cacao beans, sugar cane and more. Since I love coffee just as much as I love chocolate, I was over the moon! Accompanied by a tour guide, you’ll start your visit off with a short presentation on sugar production while nibbling on a piece of fresh sugar cane. Then you’ll head up the mountain to learn about 100% Arabica coffee beans and cacao! Follow your guide and taste the mouthwatering delights of the seedy fruit. Finally, finish off the two-hour tour with a cup of coffee, a typical Costa Rican snack and homemade lemonade. As an added bonus, learn how to make their brown sugar candy.

On my second day in Monteverde I was off to the bosque nuboso reserve. I’m glad I opted for a guided hike with a naturalist because he had an eye for spotting all of the wildlife! As soon as we stepped foot on the trail we saw a colourful quetzal. A Guatemalan symbol, this hard-to-spot bird is sacred to the Mayans. Seeing one in its natural habitat was pure luck. Along our walk, we also saw toucans, monkeys, snakes and tarantulas. We were all amazed!
When I got back from the hike, I sipped on a delicious cafe negro while watching dozens of hummingbirds buzz around the terrace at the reserve’s café.

Sámara

Credit : Pauline Ponchaux

Palm trees, warm sunrays, crashing waves and a laid-back atmosphere—that’s Sámara. The first thing I did after an hour-long bus ride was drink a fresh passion fruit smoothie surrounded by coconut trees with my feet in the sand, of course! This is where I was able to disconnect and recharge. It was 26 degrees by 8 a.m. every day and I could feel my body thanking me for all of the much-needed vitamin D. My daily routine consisted of the following: waking up, walking, taking pictures, eating, going to the beach, reading, dining at sunset. My favourite beachside restaurants were Gusto and Luv Burger where I ate yucca fries—a must try!
My tip: Think about carrying cash with you. Not many places accept credit cards and there are only two ATMs in town.

Montezuma

Credit : Pauline Ponchaux

The three days I spent in Montezuma happened to fall on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. With that in mind, I decided to spoil myself with a very nice hotel room at Hotel Horizontes complete with a salt-water pool and a beautiful tropical garden set on a hilltop. The hotel was just as charming as its staff. When I arrived, Jean and his daughter Alejandra welcomed me with open arms. My room overlooked the garden and even had a hammock on the balcony. I couldn’t have asked for more!
The town itself is quite small. There are really only two roads with shops and restaurants. The beach in Montezuma was beautiful but the water was very rough. Be careful when you go swimming. My tip: Slip on your sandals, bring water, apply sunscreen, put on a hat and cross the tropical forest. On the other side, you’ll find Playa Grande, a dreamy beach with clear water more suitable for swimming. You won’t regret the 30-minute walk once you see the shoreline. Just watch out for the capuchin monkeys! While I was splashing through the waves, a curious monkey ruffled through my bag. The hotel owner said they’re known for stealing valuable objects like cameras and cellphones. Luckily, the only thing stolen from me was a pack of tissues.

Credit : Pauline Ponchaux

There’s a nice selection of restaurants in the area. I loved Soda Tipica Las Palmeras. The dishes are so delicious that even the monkeys hang around to see what’s on your plate. You can also head over to Cocolores for a succulent fish filet topped with passion fruit sauce.

Manuel Antonio

Credit : Pauline Ponchaux

The Manuel Antonio National Park is known as one of the most beautiful natural parks in Costa Rica. It’s also one of the smallest. Even though I woke up early in the morning, there was a lineup to get in by 7 a.m. I decided to let the crowd die down and went back later in the day. By noon, there were less people and I was able to walk through the park at my own pace.
I went with one goal in mind: to see a sloth. To my absolute delight, I saw a three-toed sloth with her baby. The rest of my walk consisted of admiring incredible views in the company of howler monkeys. I was amazed by beautiful beaches with turquoise water and squirrel monkeys in their natural habitat.

Credit : Pauline Ponchaux

On your way out of the park, grab a tasty dessert at Sol Frozen Yogurt and end your day by watching the sun set over the ocean at Baldi’s Fresh. I recommend the mahi mahi burger washed down with an artisanal passion fruit beer.

Start packing your bags. You’re going to Costa Rica!

 

Adapted from French by Kylee Ross

 

Written by Pauline Ponchaux

Straight from Northern France, Pauline has great admiration for “baked-just-right-baguettes”, waffles, and sweets at brunch. Films from the '80s and '90s are almost a religion, and she adores reciting memorized lines from her favourite movies at any given time. Since she moved to Quebec – two years ago – Pauline has developed a passionate curiosity for the reoccurring discrepancies between the “current temperature” and the “feels like temperature” advertised on The Weather Network. She also likes: reading in the metro, strumming the strings of her ukulele while dreaming of beaches and sunshine, trips to exotic places, Barcelona and Güell architecture (and let’s not forget sangria of course), cats, Tom Hanks, Bill Murray, and The Beatles.

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