Pura Vida: Embracing Eco-Tourism in Costa Rica: A Week Of Beach, Rainforest, And Hot Springs Adventure

Traveling to Costa RicaBy Elaina Verhoff

Why Costa Rica?

Costa Rica is a nature lover’s dream – with surprise animal encounters, adventure, and beauty at every turn. I recently took the kids to Costa Rica for a week’s vacation, where we got a taste of beach relaxation, jungle adventure, and hot springs luxury.

We started our trip at Papagayo Peninsula, just a 30-minute drive from the Liberia airport. It’s important to note that Costa Rica has two airports – Liberia and San Juan – and depending on where you plan to spend your time, you’ll want to choose the right landing spot. Although Costa Rica looks tiny on a map, there’s a fair bit of travel time involved to get from one destination to the next.

The Andaz Papagayo was the perfect way to ease into our vacation. This beach resort’s close proximity to the Liberia airport makes it an easy choice for a first or last night. Animal and insect sightings were frequent at the Andaz. From cruising coatis (a cousin of the raccoon) to white-faced monkeys swinging through the trees and iguanas lazing in the sun, we knew we were in Costa Rica from the moment we arrived.

Arenal Lake

From Papagayo, we headed east and into the jungle, leaving the dry climate behind. By the time we stopped for lunch overlooking Arenal Lake, the temperature had dropped considerably, and the freeway that had been dotted with fruit stands for miles turned to tiny winding roads and the lushest green rainforest this desert girl had ever seen. Even a half-hour traffic delay due to road work didn’t dampen our spirits as we made our way over a road that turned from the smooth paved variety to unpaved jungle adventure. The last 20 minutes of the drive to our next destination – an eco-lodge called Rancho Margot – would have made me think we had made a wrong turn if I hadn’t been warned in advance about Costa Rica road conditions.

Eco-Lodge Rancho Margot

Rancho Margot is a sustainable eco-lodge in the heart of the rainforest near Arenal volcano and Lake Arenal. The ranch was conceived and built by a Harvard-educated ex-chemical company executive who saw the light and realized he needed to reverse his previous negative impact on the environment by doing something to preserve our Earth and teaching others to do the same. We stayed in our own cabin, with a private deck and a big relaxing hammock where we could zen out to the sounds of the birds.

If you’re looking for the true eco experience, this is it. From the pigs, chickens and cows raised for food, dairy and eggs, to the biodigester that slurps up methane gas from all the animal “caca,” there is a system and a purpose for everything. Vegetables are grown in the sprawling garden, hydropower generates the electricity, and the ranch even makes its own soap, using leftover cooking oil from the ranch kitchen. Volunteers and students run the place, while getting a true hands-on education in sustainability – serving as ranch hands, dishing out the meals (3 meals per day included), teaching yoga (2 classes per day are included), and leading the day and night ranch tours (also included).

Hot Springs in Costa Rica

After two nights at Rancho Margot, including a day-trip to zipline through the rainforest (which involved hours driving over jagged roads and a detour getting stuck in a river), we wrapped up our stay with some much-needed pampering. Tabacon Thermal Resort and Spa was exactly what we needed. If you are a fan of natural hot springs, this is heaven on earth. Zigzagging steamy springs that go on forever, a beautiful view of the Arenal volcano, and a dreamy spa with outdoor massage cabanas. Day passes to the thermal hot springs are available for those not staying at the resort.

After a week, we had only scratched the surface of this rainforest paradise. The beauty, the food, and the friendly Ticos (Costa Ricans) left us glowing with the “pura vida” spirit. We will be back.


Elaina Verhoff is a freelance writer, public relations director, travel lover, and mom based in Phoenix. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @elainaverhoff.

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