San Juanillo Ostional

In one of Costa Rica’s many jungles, I found myself lying half-submerged in a river as hot as a bath, watching white-faced capuchin monkeys peer down from the canopy as leaves gently fluttered around me. Steadily I swam upstream, passing rapids and smooth boulders until I reached the boiling source: a series of natural hot springs, with water heated by magma bubbling up into pools as clear as polished glass. This was the Río Perdido, the lost river, hidden deep in the forests of the northern province of Guanacaste.

A common phrase here can be used to describe this sense of natural bliss, ‘pura vida’. Directly translated from Spanish it means ‘pure life’ but for Ticos, as Costa Ricans call themselves, it has a far richer and deeper meaning. Pura vida is an ideology, it’s scripture – a way of viewing the world. It’s about living life to the full, in the moment and without regret. And it was the reason I had travelled to this country. I’d spent far too long at work shifting to-do lists from one day to the next. My head was down and I was ready to lift it up. Travelling has always been my medicine. So I did what I always do: I packed my bags and set off for somewhere new.

And so should you. But plan your trip wisely: there’s a well-trodden holiday trail here and few escape its ruts. “In some parts of the country,” one local from San José told me, “we Costa Ricans feel like the tourists.” I wanted something different. Pura vida was not going to be found on neatly packaged trips with coach loads of tourists. I picked four boutique eco-lodges spread out along the Pacific coast and northwest interior, rented a 4×4 and set off on a road trip.

With temperatures rising, and after marinating in the steamy Río Perdido, I was ready to feel the wind on my skin. Costa Rica is crazy about ziplines – there are dozens spread out across the country – and sure enough there was one by the river as well. But this was more like an expedition than a thrill ride: five wires, four rock climbs, a knee-tremblingly thin suspension bridge and a Tarzan swing – all linked precariously above the Perdido’s 150-ft thermal gorge. I did learn one thing: it’s impossible to be stressed when you have nothing but a harness, a handhold and a cheery sense of optimism lying between you and certain death. I started tense and sweating and ended up flying Superman-style, smiling and laughing all the way. My guide Jonathan high-fived me at the end of the last white-knuckle run: “Pura vida, amigo,” was all he needed to say…

To read more, order The Good Life: Volume 15 SUITCASE Magazine

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