Costa Rica is the happiest place on Earth, according to the New Economics Foundation’s Happy Planet Index. We’re not surprised: the green landscapes, laid-back beaches, fantasy-like creatures and welcoming people make it a stunning place to take it easy. Costa Ricans even have a name for this brand of happier, slower-paced living: pura vida.
Translating to “pure life” or “simple life,” this mantra helps Costa Ricans remember to slow down, enjoy time with their families and live in harmony with the beautiful world around them.
Here are six ways families can experience pura vida in Costa Rica.
6. Buddy Up with Locals and Learn Something New
Conversation isn’t hard to come by in Costa Rica. Costa Ricans (Ticos) are warm, friendly people who love welcoming strangers like they are old friends. Getting chummy is part of the pura vida spirit!
Through our Friends Across Borders program, your family can visit a Costa Rican community for a small party with local families and their children. Play soccer, get some treats or just hang out. Kids might struggle with linguistic differences, but that’s okay: games and activities are a universal language everyone can understand.
Depending on when you plan to travel, your kids might have the special opportunity to write to one of the kids in Costa Rica before your trip – their own international pen pal!
Very few children on Earth have the opportunity to meet, play and hang out with kids in international communities. This makes Friends Across Borders an incredible opportunity for children and their families.
You’ll have plenty of time to get to know the local people wherever you are in the country. Strike up a friendly chat in the market, the farmlands and the town centers. Your guides – also homegrown Ticos with excellent English skills – will be there to help you communicate. They will also be one of your best friends during the trip. They’ll tell you all about the local culture, flora and fauna, because they grew up immersed in all of it.
5. Relax in Natural Hot Springs
Part of pura vida is about disconnecting from the hustle and bustle of everyday life in favor of a natural connection: waterfalls, foliage and swim-worthy weather. Where best to find that?
Enter the Eco Termales Hot Springs.
Eco Termales is heated by underground thermal vents from the nearby Arenal Volcano, looming over the region at the young, young age of ~7,500 years old. This heating system is completely natural – in fact, Eco Termales is the only naturally heated hot springs in the country.
The series of hot tub-like pools range in heat from 90-106° Fahrenheit. Others are cooler and have waterfalls. This serene trove is secluded under the rich green foliage of the tropical rainforest, offering impressive views of the volcano and a secretive ambience.
So, put your phone away, feel the warm water on your skin and breathe the rainforest air.
4. Hike at La Paz Waterfall Gardens
A slow pace and stunning natural beauty are the facts of life in Costa Rica – and the facts of pura vida, too.
This truth is especially apparent at La Paz Waterfall Gardens, home to some of Costa Rica’s greatest walking trails and the country’s most gorgeous waterfalls.
The gardens are woven together by a string of rainforest trails. These trails connect lakes and rivers to animal housing and one of the largest butterfly observatories in the world. That’s not to mention a waterfall – or four!
The gardens also house over 100 species of fantastic Costa Rican wildlife: hummingbirds, monkeys, jungle cats, snakes and more. Kids will love the weird and wacky-colored frogs behind the glass, and everyone will love the mist-shrouded waterfalls.
3. Taste Authentic Costa Rican Chocolate
If pura vida is all about slowing down to enjoy life, what about slowing down to enjoy chocolate? We’re okay with that! For centuries, indigenous Mayan groups in the region used cacao beans as money, and royalty consumed chocolate as a drink.
This makes Costa Rica the perfect place to satisfy your sweet tooth and (literally!) get in touch with local chocolate-making traditions.
The process includes grinding roasted cacao beans and crushing them on a heated stone, similar to how the Mayans would have done it. Afterward, you can sample your own chocolate creations and even get a temporary tattoo, made with vegetable ink, in the ancient tradition of the indigenous people in the area.
2. Wet Your Watersports Whistle
Who said some action-packed watersports can’t be part of a robust pura vida experience? Waterfall spas and rainforest hikes are tranquil and therapeutic, but sometimes, a changeup can do some good.
When you go whitewater rafting in Costa Rica, you’ll slip downstream on easy (and safe!) Class II/III rivers. You’ll feel the mist in your hair as you paddle around on foaming waves that crash and break. The thrill is sublime.
Each run of rapids is followed by calm, crystalline pools, where you can stop for a swimming and snacking break. This way, the ride never get too overwhelming, and everyone ages six and up can participate with ease.
If you’re looking for something calmer on the water, then Costa Rica’s Guanacaste region is the place to go. It’s known for its lovely northern Pacific coasts, funky ocean-side villages and miles of beachball bliss.
Chill out and rejuvenate with some seaside kayaking on these calm coastal waters. You’ll paddle out to quiet mangrove forests just beyond the lapping waves on the sand. You’ll also explore some quiet coves – great spots for swimming and beachcombing.
1. Wildlife Watching
With over 5% of the world’s biodiversity in one teeny-tiny country, you could call Costa Rica a hotspot of ecological excitement. What’s more, over 25% of Costa Rica’s land is dedicated to national parks, reserves and wildlife refuges, meaning all of that natural beauty remains untouched and easy to access.
The lowland tropical rainforests of Tortugeuro National Park are home to habitats for tons of wildlife: spider, howler and white-faced monkeys; sloths; otters; turtles; basilisk lizards – plus more than 320 species of birds. A jungle boat expedition winding along the Costa Rican rivers is the best way to see them.
If that’s not enough wildlife, hop into a canoe with a naturalist guide and paddle into the quiet of the forests in Tortuguero. Listen for the rustling of monkeys in the trees and the plop of turtles sliding off of logs. Crocodiles, slithering river otters, tall herons and a visual feast of birds all live here, too – egrets, parrots, toucans, and so on. It’s an amazing symphony of nature!