Costa Rica wasn’t part of my original Central America travel plan, because it seemed to be part of everyone else’s. I imagined this little country to be overrun by tourists and expats, and its culture to have been eroded by tourism. After all, it’s the only country in the region which has been extensively written about online.
Turns out, I was wrong.
I made a short two week trip to Costa Rica, while waiting for a friend to join me for a long trip through Nicaragua and Panama. And I instantly fell in love.
The Pure Life
Pura Vida isn’t just Costa Rica’s tourism mantra. It really is how locals greet each other in the hinterlands! I’m yet to meet a people who live more in tune with nature in their daily lives. I’m yet to visit a place that is as developed and connected, yet so wild and pristine.
The country welcomed me with a green carpet of swaying fields in hilly San Jose. The blue hues of the Pacific Coast called out to me as I cycled along its small villages. And living with the indigenous Bribri people in a village next to the Panama border, farming cacao and drinking chocolate, was an experience I’ll never forget.
It didn’t take much effort to get off the beaten track. But even in the most popular towns, it was easy to find a pristine beach all to myself. Pura vida indeed!
Learning to live like the Ticos
I try to live like the locals wherever I go. But the Ticos of Costa Rica made me want to live like them wherever I go next. They are laid back, and incredibly friendly. The joy with which they go about their daily lives, the warmth with which they welcome outsiders and the pride they take in their pura vida culture is infectious. Hell, even the touts went out of their way to help me!
The day I was to say goodbye to the Bribris, the river was too rough, and we couldn’t get to the road at Bambu till late afternoon. After waiting for hours, I found that the only bus wasn’t plying its usual route because it had rained too much. The folks at the village couldn’t call me a taxi because the only driver in the area was far away. They told me to hail a ride, but I hadn’t seen a car pass in hours. By dusk, I started panicking.
Seeing me so restless, the farmers having their first round of beer after a rainy day’s work, gathered around and decided that a small shop owner (the only one still sober) should drive me to the nearest big town, but only after he shut his shop an hour later. I gratefully agreed. Just then, a small truck showed up to deliver supplies to the shop, and asked if this chica needed a ride to the next town. So that’s how my backpack and I rode out, on the back of a truck, watching stars twinkle out in the night sky, past sleepy villages and banana plantations, maneuvering waterfalls on the road!
Food cooked with love
Besides warmth and beauty, the countryside of Costa Rica was full of delicious food. Even though the typical platter remains pretty much the same across Central America for a vegetarian like me – beans, rice, plantains, eggs and salad – I was delighted by the coconut flavored cooking on the Caribbean side, and the use of herbs and homemade salsa picante on the Pacific coast. I frequented little sodas (Costa Rica’s version of Indian dhabas) and always left with a satisfied tummy and new friends.
I didn’t feel done with Costa Rica when I left for Nicaragua. I want to come back and volunteer at a turtle nesting beach conservation project, experience its famed eco-luxury, and well, learn more about the art of laid-back living from Ticos. For my next trip to the Americas, it sits on the top of my list.
What are your impressions of Costa Rica?
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