The Call of Costa Rica

By Liz Fleming

Costa Rica doesn’t just introduce you to the natural world – she forges a deep, personal bond. It’s the luxury of experience – beyond the beautiful places to stay and the organic cuisine – that this destination gives back to you. I start my Costa Rican adventures with a shore stroll, charmed by little crabs that raise tiny pincers in alarm at my footfalls, scurrying wildly back to their sandy holes, but my real passion, it turns out, is reserved for the sloths.

Sleepy-eyed, lolling creatures, sloths move so slowly that any binocular-jockey can find them. Like big balls of friendly hair caught in the branches, they hang, snooze and occasionally pull a leaf into their lazy mouths. Endearingly, through some wonderful twist of biological whimsy, sloths have perma-smiles. A sloth smile is sweet and gentle and guaranteed to capture your heart. The best place to meet them? The Sloth Sanctuary, about a 30-minute drive from Limón, where a mother lode of sloths is always being nursed back to health. Sloths often fail to cross roads quickly and some even forget to hang onto the trees. Most of the injured heal and are returned to the forest but some can’t survive on their own and become permanent residents of the Sloth Sanctuary. Completely acclimatized to humans, they love to be held. Smiling winningly, a 20-pound sloth wraps his hairy arms around my neck and rests his head on my chest, preparing for what could become a day-long nap. I briefly (and quite crazily) consider importing him to Canada. Perfect pets, sloths digest so slowly that they only need a bathroom break once a week and remain so still that butterflies lay eggs in their fur – eggs which later hatch in a colorful blaze. Can your dog do that?

Hiking, kayaking, zip lining, surfing … whether you spend your days wandering on perfect sandy white beaches, watching sea birds swooping and diving for their lunch beside you, or saddle up for a horseback ride up the side of a volcano to treat yourself to a warm mud bath, you’ll be up close and personal with Mother Nature.

Although it occupies just .03 percent of the globe’s surface, Costa Rica hosts more than five percent of its biodiversity, has a coastline 800 miles long and more than 120 volcanic formations. Seven are still bubbling, and the Arenal volcano is one of the 10 most active in the world. As the ticos and ticas (Costa Rican men and women) say, it’s “Pura vida.” Pure life.

Wildlife and wildly luxurious experiences go hand in hand in Costa Rica, as I discovered during my mud bath adventure. Though we don’t do it nearly often enough in North America, a good mucky steeping is good for what ails you. I certainly know what’s ailing me when I arrive at the steamy pools on the side of the Miravalles Volcano – my backside. I’ve bounced up the trail on a patient but boney horse. I pull on a bathing suit and slide into the first of several luxuriously tiled pools, heated only by the volcanic ground, but steamy as any hot tub. My muscles uncoil as my skin connects with the warm water. From the trees came the barking of howler monkeys, and we watch for the fluttering of some of the 52 species of local hummingbirds. Less enticing is the prospect of seeing the 750,000 species of insects that live in Costa Rica – particularly the 20,000 different types of spiders – but despite a slight bug phobia, I can’t resist Costa Rica’s wildly natural charm.

That same charm entices us into the trees, to try zip lining, the sport for which Costa Rica is most famous. Not for the acrophobic, zip lining in Costa Rica involves suiting up in a sturdy harness, having a smiley guide help to attach you to giant cables swaying rather gut-wrenchingly in the wind, and then leaping off a tree-house-like platform, high above the rainforest floor. After that breathtaking first jump, I soar along that cable, flying over treetops, rivers and giant valleys. All around, eyes peer as I flash past – snakes, birds, those ever-charming sloths; you name it, the trees are full of voyeurs. Once I land on my second platform – a good, long, giggling scream away from my starting point – another guide helps me repeat the process. You grow giddier by the second as the adrenaline hits and you realize the whole thing is pretty crazy. But zip lining is the most exhilarating, heart-stoppingly-exciting, unbelievably freeing adventure I’ve ever have. It is the closest thing to being a bird and, if I could, I’d do it every day of my life.

Massive adrenaline rushes, sloth romancing and hot-mudsteeping can be tiring so it’s good to have a place to call home in the rain forest. Eco-lodges abound in Costa Rica and one of the best – Finca Luna Nueva Lodge – is so close to the Arenal volcano it can be the backdrop for the selfies I take from the porch. That is the only techno-activity I feel like engaging in, however, as the lodge encourages us to unplug and unwind. With a bar, an outdoor pool and a sun terrace offering those absolutely stunning views, why would I want to check my phone?

Originally an organic ginger and turmeric farm, Finca Luna Nueva Lodge was built using fallen timber from the farm and now features walking trails, guided hikes and tours of the sustainable farm. Luxurious but ecologically responsible, this is a lodge that offers simple, elegant rooms into which you tuck yourself, far from any light and sound pollution. As I listen to the sounds of the wild all around, I feel a complete immersion in the natural world, in the heart of the wild wonder that is Costa Rica.

Pura Vida, indeed.

FROM OUR CWT TRAVEL ADVISOR – BRENDA BITZ, Branch Manager, Regina Branch

Costa Rica is a diverse country that demands to be explored – each area offers a vastly different experience. Plan a vacation that will offer the opportunity to take guided local excursions or perhaps rent a private car. If you’re a beach lover, the Guanacaste and Nicoya Peninsula’s Pacific coastline area is a must for sun and surf and you’ll want to plan to visit between December to April, during the dry season.

SEE & DO – Celebrate the natural world in Costa Rica! Visit Rincón de la Vieja National Park to enjoy rejuvenating hot springs, and hike to beautiful waterfalls. Try zip lining through the rain forest to look for monkeys. Plan a visit to Tortuguero National Park to volunteer with the turtle conservation program.

SLEEP – Treat yourself to a getaway at the luxurious El Silencio Lodge & Spa, located in 500 lush acres of private forest in the shelter of the mountains and within easy reach of the majestic cloud forest.

RAINFOREST REFINEMENT: For a taste of over-the-top luxury, choose the boutique Nayara Springs Hotel. Walk the 250-foot pedestrian bridge hanging above the canopy of the trees and enter a stunning retreat unlike any other – oversized infinity edge pools, outdoor terraces overlooking a volcano and a wilderness of toucans, hummingbirds and macaws, an award-winning spa with outdoor treatment rooms, two fabulous restaurants, and five-star guestrooms. Nayara Springs Hotel truly offers a return to Eden.

TASTE – To savor the ultimate in Costa Rican cuisine – fresh, authentic and delicious – try Taste the Stars at the Four Seasons Costa Rica Resort near Papagayo.

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