Pura Vida in Costa Rica
On my recent trip to Costa Rica, I had just one clear and pressing objective: to meet a sloth. But this tropical paradise has so many incredible sights and experiences to offer, even if I had never achieved my dream I surely would have gone home happy. Lucky for me, I never had to test the theory. At my hotel in the bohemian seaside town of Puerto Viejo, an entire family of sloths lived in the hedge right across the street. Every morning, on my way to the pristine white sand beaches of the Caribbean Coast, I would part the leaves of the bushes and look into his tiny, blissful face and feel with absolute certainty that there is no better place to be than Costa Rica.
In addition to visiting the beaches every day and enjoying great food and better vibes in the local restaurants, I also visited Cahuita National Park while staying in the rasta-tinged downtown of Puerto Viejo. The park is extensive, but as most of it is dense, uncut jungle, the only easily accessible area is a gorgeous jungle path that follows and occasionally meets up with the beach. On this trail you can see all manner of wildlife, from wickedly elegant orb weaver spiders to bashful and prehistoric-looking armadillos. When you’re done, or when you’re beginning, or whenever you feel like it, you can cool off in the ocean, which breaks very gently along most of this part of the coast.
As magical and lovely as Puerto Viejo is, my favorite part of my Costa Rica trip was, surprisingly, almost as far as you can get from the sea in the small country. Nuevo Arenal is a beautiful high-altitude town named after the volcano that watches over Lake Arenal and the town of Old Arenal, which now lies at the bottom of the beautiful and serene waters of the giant man-made lake. The weather here is milder than on the coasts, with thick fog and light rain in the mornings, followed by glorious sunny days once the mist has burned off. Arenal is famous for its Hanging Bridges hike, an incredible park of suspension bridges constructed at dizzying heights in the jungle canopy. But this popular trek can get overrun with tourists, and is no more beautiful than the nearby El Silencio hike. On this trail, you will likely never run into another human, but you will encounter huge amounts of wildlife, including the unbearably cute coatimundis that seem to command the whole area. After the hike, it’s a quick trip to the local hot springs, of which there are many, to relax and watch the sunset.
The country’s unofficial motto is “pura vida”, translating to “pure life” and meaning an attitude, a lifestyle, and an expression of joy or gratefulness. And life really is pure in Costa Rica. It’s impossible not to feel a reverential connection to nature when you’re looking out over the blindingly blue Caribbean or walking the verdant jungle trail at Cahuita National Park, watching Arenal Volcano part the foggy skies, or, best of all, peering into the face of a baby sloth.
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