by Michelle Miranda
It starts almost as soon as you step off the airplane: Pura Vida! It’s a Costa Rican motto and way of life. Ticos (Costa Ricans) might use it to greet you, to say goodbye, or simply as a show of emotion. Expect not only to hear it a lot, but to feel it. With a beautiful green landscape and wildlife around every corner, it’s no wonder Costa Ricans decided a long time ago to put aside things like war and violence (they abolished their army about 60 years ago) and focus on what matters most to them: the appreciation and preservation of life.
Costa Rica is one of the leading countries in ecotourism and a good portion of the nation’s economy rests on it, with tourists bringing in almost $2 billion a year. With only 0.1% of the world’s landmass yet 5% of the world’s diversity of plant and animal life, Costa Rica thrives in ecologically friendly travel. About one fourth of the country is made up of protected forests and reserves.
So when you step off the plane and the first thing you hear is “Pura Vida!” there are a couple of ways you can go: you can let the calm wash over you, spend a week laying on the beach, drinking pina coladas, or you can embrace the Costa Rican way, add a little life to your trip, and even lend some support to the friendly people welcoming you into their country. Do a little research beforehand on the types of activities you’re interested in. The Costa Rican Tourism Institute offers certificates to businesses that practice ecological and cultural sustainability. You can check out the website turismo-sostenible.co.cr/EN/home.shtml
Places to stay
Hotel Vista del Cerro (La Fortuna)
Hotel Vista del Cerro has a picturesque view of Volcán Arenal and the friendly family that owns it will hook you up with the best tours, transportation and activities. You may even get a private tour up the mountain to see the volcano erupt at night and swim in a secluded
natural hot spring. (506) 2-479-7029/ www.hotelvistadelcerro.com
Monteverde Lodge (Monteverde)
Located in the Tilarán Mountain Range at 4,600 ft. above sea level on the edge of the world's best known mid-elevation cloud forest, Monteverde Lodge is the ultimate lodging experience for the discerning nature traveler. (888) 456-3212/www.monteverdeinfo.com
What to do
Desafio Adventure Company (La Fortuna)
Spend half a day white water rafting on the Rio Balsa. Transportation to and from your hotel, fresh fruit and a traditional Costa Rican meal are included. Desafio is in the process of gaining accreditation for sustainable tourism from the Costa Rican Tourism Institute.
Discoteque Volcán Look (La Fortuna)
Dance the night away at Volcán Look, where someone hands you a free beer as soon as you walk in the door and you’re bound to reunite with everyone you’ve met in Fortuna along the way. (506)479-6961
Zip Line through the forest (Monteverde)
Get a quick view of Monteverde’s famous forests by gliding along cables in the treetops.
Selvatura (Monteverde) This is the way to go if your looking for a more relaxing, calm trip through the canopy. (506) 26-45-59-29/www.selvatura.com
Extremo (Monteverde) Aptly named, this is the company to go with if your looking for an adreline rush! (506) 26-45-60-58/www.monteverdeextremo.com
Ecological Sanctuary (Monteverde)
A guided tour through the forest is a great way to start off the evening in Monteverde. If you’re lucky (and quiet) you’ll see birds, tarantulas, insects, and much more of Costa Rica’s biodiversity. (506) 26-45-58-69/www.ecologicalsanctuary.com
Bar Amigos (Monteverde)
Bar Amigos is just about the only place to go in Monteverde if you want to dance with the ticos. (506)645-5071/http://www.baramigos.com/home.html