Costa Rica, Culture, Latin America, Reviews
Comments 47

Costa Rica Wasn’t The Country I Imagined.

Costa Rica wildlife, puffer fish

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.

Costa Rica people, Costa Rica pura vida

A Tico crossing over from Panama to Costa Rica!

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!

Costa Rica wildlife, puffer fish

My Airbnb host taught me how to rescue puffer fish from tide pools at Isle de Cabuya.

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!

Costa Rica cycling, Costa Rica pictures, Costa Rica cabuya

Cycling along the Pacific Ocean.

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.

Costa Rica food, Costa Rica sodas

Delicious plato typico at a soda in Cabuya.

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.

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What are your impressions of Costa Rica?

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ALSO READ:

Sshh… A Secret in the Caribbean

My Impressions of Guatemala

Going Back to the Places We Love

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47 Comments

  1. Lovely…. It is the simple people who are always the happiest. People from big cities and towns are so busy with their lives that they forget how to live 🙂

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  2. For me the best part, and most thrilling too, is the night ride through countryside lying on the back of a truck and watching starry sky! 🙂 Beautiful!

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  3. Wow, I’m glad you had such a great experience in Costa Rica.

    When I went, I wasn’t expecting to like it, but left with a much better impression than I originally had. The natural beauty of the country itself in unquestionable, which is what won me over. I also had generally positive experiences with the people.

    I will say that, in my opinion, Costa Rica is incredibly expensive when you compare it with other countries in Latin America. It makes a much better destination if you have the right budget and a fixed timeline.

    Also, I think it’s more of a place to go if your focus is nature, not culture. I definitely felt and loved the ‘pura vida’ culture, but so many of the beautiful parts of the country have been converted into towns that cater to tourism. Something like 97% of Ticos live in and around San Jose, meaning that most of the people you will interact with on your trip are somehow in the tourism industry.

    That creates a different vibe and can make it a little more difficult to meet Ticos that aren’t jaded by the tourism.

    Believe it or not, I would still recommend it to anyone. I especially loved the Oso Peninsula and Drake Bay which are very difficult to reach by land, making them more untouched and wild than other areas.

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    • Spot on Scott. I agree with everything you say. Coming to Nicaragua after Costa Rica made me realize how expensive it indeed was (though Panama is far more expensive, atleast the Bocas Del Toro islands where an average measly meal for 2 can set you back 20$!).

      I spent some time in villages close to popular tourist destinations and noticed a big difference in the interaction with Ticos though – a lot more genuine in smaller parts where everyone has time for a chat. It took a lot of research, but I found a way to stay with an indigenous community deep in the forest, far from civilization, without electricity or connectivity (writing about that soon). But yes, the cultural bits of Central America are not as prominent in Costa Rica as in its neighboring countries.

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  4. Coolpams says

    As always great post Shivya. Costa remains prominent to me through your writing 🙂

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  5. Costa Rica was the first country I visited in Central America and I instantly fell in love. As you say, the people are so lovely and I was amazed at how diverse it is for such a small country – one minute you’re at the beach and the next you’re in the jungle. Pura vida indeed!

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  6. I have been wanting to go to Costa Rica since 2013 🙂 I am glad you had such a great experience. Makes me more determined to go there. Soon, very soon!

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  7. Wow! Impressive 🙂 Costa Rica has been in my thoughts for a while, but I was curious to know your take on it. Now I am intrigued about it even more. I love places that have pristine natural beauty along with great developments. I loved your ‘truck ride’ story a lot! I am surprised that it’s pretty safe for a girl to opt for something like that! And that bicycle photo is SO gorgeous!

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    • Thanks Renuka! When it comes to safety while traveling alone, I just go with my gut and it’s worked so far (except for one blotch on this CA trip which I’ll write about soon). I hope you get to visit soon. It’s an amazing country, albeit expensive.

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  8. thetraveloholic says

    Would definitely like to visit there some day…… Thanks for the inspiration.

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  9. Pictures are awesome of the puffer fish from tide pools at Isle de Cabuya and a Tico crossing over from Panama to Costa Rica. Your post has inspired me to visit this beautiful place.

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  10. Pingback: 10 Awe-Inspiring (yet affordable) Places to Stay in Central America. | The Shooting Star

  11. Victor says

    Thanks for showing in words how beautiful my country. Many times we do not value what we really have.

    Welcome for ever, “Pura Vida” …in your next trip, go to Puerto Viejo, Limon (Caribe).

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  12. Hey Shivya,
    I thoroughly enjoyed reading your blog about Costa Rica… it was really interesting to know that the locals were so keen to help you. Being a person who loves beaches, Costa Rica has entered my places to visit list after reading about your trip.

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  13. sanakhuraishi says

    Hi Shiva!
    Just came across your blog and it caught my attention, instantly.
    I’m planning on travelling to Costa Rica soon but I have no clue on how to plan my budget for the trip.
    Was wondering if you could lend any advice on my travel budget for about 2 or 3 weeks to Costa Rica. Or if you could share your budget (only if you’re comfortable with it), it would be rather helpful! (that’s an understatement)
    Thanks in advance!:)

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  14. 1 month in Costa Rica was more than enough for us.

    Extraordinarybecpensive country in matters of food & decent accomodation. Transport is cheap but everlastimg (took us 6 hrs to do a 150km trip).

    Canopy also very expensive aswell as other activities. By the way, they say that CR is ecofriendly but never saw it anywhere.

    Let’s say we did not fall in love with the country it’s the least we can say :))

    Regards Shivya

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  15. Ah, I was in Costa Rica the day you posted this. It was my second time there, 12 years after the first, and this time I really wanted to stay longer, maybe several months. I want to set a novel in CR. I so loved Monteverde, and Oso Peninsula, and wanted to meet some indigenous people. So I really enjoyed your post on your stay with the Bribris. We couldn’t be so spontaneous as you, though, as we were in a group of 8, including our 2 children, and my in-laws, who are past 65. But one day, one day, it’ll happen.

    Thanks for sharing your experiences!

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  16. If you did not, yet, you should come to visit Brazil. So much different culture you will find here. I am about to go to a conference at Costa Rica and I really enjoyed reading a little more about the country. Thanks a lot for sharing it and stay blessed wherever you go.

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  17. I’m glad you changed your mind. Costa Rica really is a special place.

    We’ve left our home in the US for a year together with our kids 15 and 8) to experience pura vida by living and going to school in the land of their abuelo. My husband and I lived here for six months almost 20 years ago, ran out of money and had to return home. It’s been really interesting to see the changes in the country and the expat communities.

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