How many times have you heard someone say, “Just got back from Costa Rica, and man, was it awesome!” Subsequently, when searching the internet for places to travel, Costa Rica consistently comes up on peoples’ bucket lists. Whether it’s divine providence or this travel writer giving it the thumbs up, take the hint. Book a flight to Costa Rica!
In New Mexico, you have “The Land of Mañana.” In Costa Rica, the locals say, “Pura Vida,” which has many meanings. The true definition is “pure life” or “simple life.” But it can also mean, “Thank you,” “You’re welcome,” “That’s great,” or “Life is good.”
However, when I was there, the term seemed to be used for situations like the GPS not working, not finding a parking space, ice cream melting in the hot sun, or “Boy, are we lost! Pura Vida!” In other words, it’s a free-spirited country, and the “anything goes” moniker seems to put everyone at ease, no matter the conflict.
Why Choose Guanacaste
That being said, let’s get into the nuts and bolts of this beautiful country. The first thing to realize is that you can’t do the whole country in one week. It’s virtually impossible. The country is too large for that short time frame. My advice is to pick a section of the country to spend a week in and then plan to return to explore the other half. That is unless you have TWO weeks to spend.
We chose Guanacaste for its close proximity to Liberia International Airport. If you had chosen an area near the Arenal Volcano and La Fortuna, you would have had to take a flight from the US to Liberia, hop on another smaller aircraft to point B, and if that wasn’t enough, you’d then need to drive hours to get to your destination. By then, everyone is exhausted and cranky, and not a good way to start your dream vacation.
Guanacaste is located in the far northwest corner of the country and is both exotic and diverse, featuring pristine Pacific coast beaches, exciting nightlife, great culinary establishments, serene mountainous lookouts, fascinating wildlife, and all types of recreational pursuits for young and old.
If you want total privacy and avoid pricey hotels with screaming kids, I highly recommend “Villa Oasis” in Playa Potrero. It’s a magnificent, four-bedroom home with a glorious saltwater pool high atop a mountain with spectacular views of the Pacific. This elegant estate can sleep up to eight and is a fraction of the cost of a hotel.
In addition, there is a caretaker who lives on the premises, so if you are in need of anything whatsoever, Christopher is at your beck and call.
Tours and Activities
There are so many recreational activities to partake in; you really want a reputable company that is reliable, responsible, and affordable. In that respect, go no further than GetYourGuide. They are a full-service company that offers every type of activity imaginable from anywhere on the planet!
For adrenaline junkies, there’s whitewater rafting in class 4 rapids to zip-lining high above the jungle’s canopy to more family-friendly nature hikes, coffee and chocolate tours, and turtle watching.
Tamarindo Sailing Tour
The first activity we booked with “GetYourGuide” was the Tamarindo sailing tour with “Blue Dolphin Sailing,” offering a deliciously fresh meal, world-class snorkeling, and gorgeous sunset photo ops on your return back to the mainland.
The tour was thoroughly enjoyable, but the crew was actually the star of the show being extremely helpful, accommodating, and personable, which made the whole afternoon even more special.
Palo Verde National Park River Cruise
The second activity we booked was the Palo Verde National Park river cruise, which is a half-day cruise on the river in the Cipancí Wildlife Refuge, exploring the beautiful wetlands of Central America, where we saw copious amounts of crocodiles, monkeys, and diverse bird species.
Our wonderful tour guide, Jose Jimenez, picked us up in town and drove us through the fascinating country backroads of Costa Rica, eloquently explaining the flora and fauna of each area. Jose was extremely knowledgeable regarding any and all things Costa Rica on land and on the river.
If you don’t mind driving some serious hours in a car, have GetYourGuide book you on an Arenal volcano, waterfall, and hanging bridges tour in La Fortuna. On another day, visit San Jose, the largest city and capital of Costa Rica.
GetYourGuide will book you on a city walking tour, a nighttime food culture tour, a coffee farm tour, or even an informative nature walk amongst those fabulous sloths. All in all, GetYourGuide is your one-stop shop for any and all activities in Costa Rica.
Gracia Mar Vista (Brasilito/Flamingo)
Chef Frankie and Stephanie are the power couple behind Gracia Mar Vista and Gracia La Vid. Originally from San Diego, Frankie and Stephanie left the hustle and bustle of big city life, packed up the kids, set up shop in Costa Rica, and haven’t looked back since.
Gracia Mar Vista is tucked cozily within a gated community, nestled on top of a formidable hill overlooking the serene breakers of the great Pacific. The indoor/outdoor vibe works in perfect synergy with nature and the delectable offerings of the establishment.
From casual to fine dining international cuisine, Chef Frankie infuses his own unique culinary twist into each and every dish, making the dining experience a once-in-a-lifetime event. And that translates into extraordinary tastes, the likes of which you’re palate has never before consumed and loved every minute.
We were treated to the fabulous Tapas offerings, including cajun bbq shrimp, bacon-wrapped dates, crispy cauliflower, tuna tataki, their signature fries, and the melt-in-your-mouth lobster bisque. Don’t forget to top off your evening with their killer key lime pie or carrot cake to leave a sweet, lingering taste in your mouth. Service is exceptional.
High above Playa Flamingo on the second floor of the Centro Commercial building is Angelina’s, named after Chef Joe Mucaria’s grandmother. And though it sounds like a strictly Italian establishment, in addition to its delicious pasta and brick oven pizza, its locally sourced cuisine features fresh seafood (especially the Yellowfin tuna steak), aged beef, and other non-Italian delights like red curry chicken. Vegan and gluten-free options abound as well.
Angelina’s is like “Cheers,” where “Everybody knows your name.” In fact, total strangers will say hello, shake your hand and invite you to the bar to have a drink while chatting about the adventures of the day. The service here was impeccable and attentive, and the female vocalist in the bar area created a pleasant overall ambiance.
Gracia La Vid
Gracia La Vid is a short ride from Mar Vista but a much more intimate experience featuring The Wine Room with every white, red, or rosé you can think of, plus a huge selection of beer from around the world. Their house-made pasta and cheeseboards are phenomenal, but their wood-fired pizzas were outrageous.
Chef Frankie told us, “You must try our mashed potato pizza!” You’re probably scratching your head at this point, but Frankie makes it work beautifully and then some. For you late-night partiers, there’s a firepit towards the back, surrounded by comfortable seating.
All in all, Costa Rica has a little bit of something for everyone. There’s adventure, beauty, delicious food, wildlife, and, most importantly, the gracious and friendly nature of Costa Ricans! “Pura Vida!”
Richard Atkins is a travel photo-journalist, playwright, screenwriter, actor, and pianist. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.