Wellness vacations in Costa Rica

Discovering the meaning of pura vida

It’s used as a greeting; as a question - “how are things?”; as the response – “things are great!”; as a description of someone’s laid-back character - “she’s pura vida!” and to wish someone well. It permeates every aspect of Costa Rican life, and is appropriate in virtually every situation. It has no real translation in English, of course – but the literal meaning is pure life – and this is the essence of being in Costa Rica.
Taking a yoga or wellness vacation in a destination that revolves around “pure life” just makes sense. This is a country that cherishes its nature, where life is uncluttered and where minds are too; it’s no surprise that the Costa Ricans – known as Ticos – are consistently hailed the happiest people on earth.
Happiness is what yoga and wellness vacations in Costa Rica all about. They are not bootcamps or places of deprivation and self control; they harness the spirit of pura vida, with joyful, abundant retreats where guests can immerse themselves in nature. Home is a jungle lodge set in the midst of vibrant, flowering gardens; few things still the mind as much as a morning meditation on a teak terrace facing the forest, a post-lunch swing in a hammock or an afternoon stroll along a jungle trail, with a clattering cacophony of birds, insects and monkeys. Your body will appreciate Costa Rica’s natural bounty, too – with abundant tropical produce to feast on, pineapple and papaya plucked from the plant, and fish straight from the surrounding turquoise sea. It’s the perfect winter retreat, with tropical rays to revitalise sun-starved souls.
An outdoor yoga shala makes the most of the glorious surroundings – no man-made studio could ever compete with the jungle. Easing into asanas as jewel-coloured hummingbirds flash past, releasing your lion’s breath as howler monkeys roar; these are true Tico treats. Doctors, psychologists and yoga practitioners the world over recognise the healing power of nature – but guests don’t need scientific evidence to know this. They arrive feeling tense, stressed and anxious, and immersing themselves in yoga and nature is like slipping into a warm aromatherapy bath. After a couple of days the aches are easing and the mind is relaxed; by the end of the vacation they are truly at peace, stretched, massaged and meditated into serenity.
Many who come to Costa Rica on a wellness vacation are happy to let nature run its course – but for those who want to be more proactive in their healing or who have a set intention for their week away, there are a range of holistic treatments on offer. Choose from bamboo, aromatherapy and ayurvedic massages, reflexology, Hopi ear candles, reiki and chakra balancing amongst others, to revive, relax and rejuvenate the soul – pura vida for the muscles and mind.
These retreats are holistic in more ways than one. Just as the body cannot be healthy without a healthy mind, a wellness center would not live up to its name if it did not also cherish its surroundings. Guests are nourished and nurtured – but so is the surrounding landscape – a private reserve bordering Costa Rica’s oldest national park, Cabo Blanco. The reserve extends the protected ecosystem, creating a continuous stretch of forest, and allowing birds and animals to thrive. Equally as important are the neighbouring communities. The retreat doesn’t keep its guests all to itself; it encourages them to leave these idyllic surroundings and eat lunch or dinner in the nearby fishing village, take nature walks with local guides, shop in a nearby craft market and take boat tours to look for dolphins, rays and sea turtles.
All of these activities create a sustainable income for local people, ensuring they can remain in this remote, rural area rather than migrating to the cities, and that they, too, get to share in the spirit of these wonderful wellness vacations. And with forest trails to explore on foot or horseback, a coastline pounded by Pacific surf, stand up paddle boards to rent and a fishing village filled with craft stalls and cafes, there are just enough treats to entice guests away from their rainforest retreat, and to meet the people who bring pura vida to life. Pure life.
Photo credits: [Top box: Miguel Vieira] [Lodge and flowers: Colin and Sarah Northway] [Yoga: Viva El Momento] [Toucan: kansasphoto] [Thatched huts: Miguel Vieira]
Written by Vicki Brown
Photo credits: [Page banner: Jay Iwasaki]
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