It is said that Costa Rica is home to the happiest people in the world. Without military, without big industry, but with an unparalleled flora and fauna. But you don’t have to be a naturalist to love this small country. There are also volcanoes with hot springs, perfect waves and visual lessons on how tourism could work.
Paradise, 200 meters behind the changing rooms of a volcanic spa in La Fortuna. A wrong turnoff and you stand in your bathrobe at an enchanted little lake. Every step triggers rustling and chirping. Birds fly up, brightly coloured poison dart frogs jump into the water. Blue, hand-sized butterflies settle directly in front of you on exotic plants. And just when you think you’ve finally landed in a Disneyland for nature lovers, there sits Lizard – a grass-green dragon – staring at you with peace of mind.
Costa Rica is not a country. Costa Rica is a huge, well organized nature park. In the centre of the country, which is hardly bigger than Switzerland, volcano after volcano lines up, some of them active and so perfectly formed that one would want to dismiss them as kitschy.
Mystic cloud forests grow in their surroundings, which can be crossed comfortably on 40 to 100 meter high suspension bridges. And where the jungle ends, miles of beaches begin. Glowworms perform their glowing dances after sunset, raccoons roam the terrace and sloths hang like fur balls in the trees of the hotel parks.
Sustainable luxury in the middle of the jungle
Costa Rica, rich coast, this is what Columbus called the country when he arrived in the autumn of 1502. He did not mean nature. He and his men had expected that there would be gold and jade to be recovered here. There was no such thing. Costa Rica is still poor in mineral resources today. Fortunately for its natural treasures.
Altogether almost 30 percent of the country is under special protection. Today Costa Rica is a worldwide pioneer in soft tourism. This is thanks to people like Roberto Fernandez. Those who stay overnight in their eco-lodges in the middle of the primary rainforest have to do without some things. There is no TV, no Internet, no real doors and walls. And yet there are only a few hotels on this earth that can compete with the Pacuare Lodge.
Who needs a television when the rainforest offers a live show through the walls that are only covered with fine nets? “More than 80 percent of the animals here are nocturnal”, Roberto Fernandez had told at the welcoming address. This is what you think of in the evening when you put out the last of over a dozen candles in your four-poster bed. It feels like lying in the middle of the jungle. You can’t think about sleep at first. But at five o’clock in the morning you wake up from the howling of the howler monkeys.
30 years ago Roberto Fernandez, at that time still working as a Riverraftig guide, discovered the piece of land at the Pacuare River. For him it was love at first sight, for everyone else it was swampy jungle of the kind that is not pleasant for people. It took the biotechnologist three years to dry up the first 40 hectares.
Another two years to open the reception. Fernandez and his men manoeuvred every toilet bowl, every pipe through treacherous rapids on rubber boats. To this day, no real road leads to Pacuare Lodge. If you want to come to this exclusive place, you have to put on your life jacket and take the paddle into your own hands. Hardly any guest should have ever regretted this.
Especially the second, longer section after leaving the lodge is considered one of the most scenic rafting routes in the world. But if Guide Juan Carlos screams “go down”, you should get into the boat as soon as possible and have it done.
Trendy yoga and surf destination on the Pacific Ocean
Nosara on the northern Pacific coast of the Guanacaste region is considerably more peaceful, if not almost deeply relaxed. “This is where everything that makes a good life comes together,” says Alexander Suarez, as he comfortably steers his canoe deeper into the mangrove forest.
The 32-year-old Tico has already worked as a tourist guide throughout the country. He came to Nosara to stay. “Because the climate is less humid and the people here are particularly satisfied and healthy,” he says and hacks up a fresh coconut in the middle of the water. “Better than any medicine,” he says. In fact, the village of Nicoyan, just a few kilometres away, belongs to one of the five “Blue Zones”. The oldest people in the world live here.
But Alexander has moved something else to Nosara: the search for the perfect wave. He found it at Playa Guiones. And not only him. The magazine National Geographic has declared Nosara one of the top surf destinations in the world. But that’s not all; the region is developing into a booming yoga destination. Surfing in the morning, dozing in a hammock at noon, doing some yoga in the afternoon and going to bed early in the evening is how many travellers spend their days here.
Despite the boom, Playa Guiones has remained a sleepy beach village. On a dusty road, in the middle of densest green, some – but very hip – surf shops, restaurants and pubs are loosely lined up. The strong tides and the fact that it is not allowed to build near the beach make sure that Nosara could keep its original character. Regina and Amadeo Amacker have been realizing their life’s dream in Nosara since 2003, when they bought a half-decay hotel.
The Lagarta Lodge, recently extended to 27 rooms, is an ecological jewel. From the pool filled with volcanic water, the view over the hotel’s own jungle sweeps far across the Pacific.
“Because life here is easier, more colourful and somehow more human, we emigrated to Costa Rica,” says Amadeo Amacker. And despite its Caribbean way of life, Costa Rica is a stable country with a good infrastructure. “Pura Vida”, the full life, is the most heard sentence in Costa Rica. “Pura Vida” is greeting, prosit and farewell in one. Above all, it is the perfect slogan for a country that has managed without an army for 50 years and has made nature its friend rather than its enemy.