7 Ways to Costa Rica & Chill

Deal Expert, New York
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Costa Rica has a well-deserved rep as a hot spot for adrenaline-fueled adventures, from zip-lining through jungle canopies to rappelling down waterfalls. But there’s also some serious local yin to balance out all that yang. So much so that you could easily create an entire — pretty epic — relaxation retreat here. In this version of your vacation, treetop naps lead into thermal pool soaks, which in turn set the stage for sublime spa treatments in the rain forest.

In fact, even the trip’s logistics minimize stress: There are nonstop flights from 15 U.S. cities, English is widely spoken, dollars are widely accepted and the time zones are never too far off from your own (Costa Rica lines up with CST).

Here, seven more reasons to pack up your loose, flowy favorites and go:

1. Check in to Zen-inducing digs

Though humans have long intuited that nature relaxes us, recent advances in neuroscience, among other fields, are backing that belief with all kinds of evidence. Turns out that even brief exposure to nature can, for example, lower stress hormones, heart rate, blood pressure and anxiety. So actually staying out in nature is like megadosing on tranquility.

And that’s where Costa Rica’s loftiest lodgings come in: Set up in the treetops, these perches place you face-to-beak with some of the country’s most colorful characters (yup, toucans included). From simple but comfortable tree house hotels to more elaborately constructed rental units, options abound.

Of course, if you’d rather stay among the trees than atop them, you have even more options that include rain forest reserves with open-air bungalows.

2. Dip into a bath that’s already drawn, naturally

An active member of the Pacific Ring of Fire, Costa Rica is famous for dazzling displays of volcanism — and all that geothermic activity makes for some amazing soaking ops. Occasionally manmade but always derived from natural springs, these steamy, mineral-rich, volcano-adjacent pools make for sublime day trips — or focal points of your stay.

Consider a soak and mud bath near the Rincón de la Vieja volcano, or check out the geothermal waterfalls and around the Arenal volcano.

In both places — as in so many other prime Costa Rican soaking spots — spa facilities are obligingly close at hand. So if maximum bliss is the desired result, proceed directly from a steamy pool to a treatment table. You’ll likely find yourself in an open-air cabana, with only jungle noises for a soundtrack — and locally sourced muds, oils and botanicals for treatment ingredients.

3. Go with the (ebb and) flow

If your brand of chill involves hypnotic wave action and watching the sun rise or set over the sea, you’d do well to visit a country whose very name means Rich Coast. (Or Delicious Coast, if you prefer — and we kind of do.)

Between the Pacific and the Caribbean, there are 912 miles of national shoreline. Of those, one of the quietest and prettiest stretches on the Caribbean side is Punta Uva (you’ll have to take a twisting jungle road and some unmarked dirt roads to get there, but you’ll be glad you did once you’re swimming among the corals and communing with the local monkeys and macaws).

On the Pacific side, don’t miss the stunning beaches of Manuel Antonio in the national park of the same name. You’ll find sweeping vistas, calm waters and a wild array of companions, from sloths to squirrel monkeys.

4. Find your om away from home

If yoga’s your de-stressor of choice, set your out-of-office message to “namaste in the jungle” and find your perfect rain forest retreat. You can choose from group yoga retreats, private ones and add-ons that include everything from aerial silk to fire dancing.

A good geographic starting point is the longstanding coastal yogi haven of Nosara, where you’ll find no fewer than five yoga centers.

5. Stop and smell the flowers … every two seconds

Little Costa Rica has a disproportionate allotment of flowering plants — at least 9000 species by most counts, of which more than 1000 are orchids (the pinky-purple variant known as the guaria morada is the national flower). You’ll likely spot plenty of orchids in the wild, but you can see 400+ species in one go at the Monteverde Orchid Garden, thanks largely to the humidity and elevation of the surrounding cloud forest.

Of course, not all orchids are scented. But what they lack in aroma they more than make up for in gorgeousness, from crimson polka-dotted yellow bucket orchids to fuchsia-striped Easter orchids. And research has shown that through color, scent or a combination of the two, flowers can be stress-relieving and mood-boosting.

6. Go off the grid

Even if you have an unlocked phone or international data, wireless coverage can be spotty and extra charges can stack up — both great reasons to put the phone down (yes, you too) and be totally present during your vacation. Okay, the occasional #SlothSelfie doesn’t automatically negate mindfulness, but don’t let your pics tempt you into an all-out Facebook/Insta/email-checking binge.

7. Treat yourself to a stress-fighting smoothie

Bucking notions of comfort food (i.e., anything fried), much of the produce that goes into the local blender concoctions is comforting in its own right. Examples range from papaya (combats the effects of stress) to cacao (lowers blood pressure) to mint (calms nerves).

But whatever the fresh-squeezed — and likely organic — ingredients in your glass, the local catch-all phrase makes for an especially appropriate toast: Pura vida! (Pure life.)

Discover even more travel tips and ways to relax, including itineraries for a Costa Rica (My Choice, Naturally) vacation, from VisitCostaRica.com.

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Show 12 Comments
  • Karen Thorne

    I want to retire in Costa Rica!! Cheers!!

    • Randy Spate

      I lived there for 5 1/2 years and loved the beaches, the fishing, the people and the weather but needed to return to the USA for a hip replacement under medicare..

      Bought a lot on the big island of Hawaii and will be building my forever home next year.

      • Bev Toole

        Check out bamboo houses, pre fab bamboo houses by architect David Sands, a College friend of mine

      • nallenh

        Congrats Love the big Island

      • Karen Thorne

        Congratulations, on your piece of Paradise Randy! Way to go!! 🙂 Cheers!

  • Jacqui

    Sadly this country is overrun by unscrupulous proprietors, often by people with revolving border visas. They tout delivery of zen at any cost of the culture and impacting the natural environment all for tourism’s vacation retreat $$.

  • Lou Warren

    Went to CR for years for extended times and loved it….the last time however, the traffic was incredible, the prices way up, crime up, many misbehaving tourists, sadly most of them Americans. As a result I chose not to go back….unbridled tourism did not treat the country well.

    • Donnie Walsh

      Wow ! Shame !

      • Lou Warren

        I know…I wish it were otherwise. It is a beautiful country. Even the very small beach town that were a refuge changed a lot. I think the rising crime rate is a result of commercial tourism taking land that belonged to Ticos and disrupting a fine, peaceful life.

    • Todd Brown

      I think you are referring to only portions of the country. There are still many, many unspoiled parts of Costa Rica… I have a place in one of them. Incredibly inexpensive, crime is unheard of, and no tourists (yet). Just lots of hard-working Ticos who are generous, kind, and fun to be with. CR is an amazing country still.

      • Lou Warren

        I know I am only referring to the places where I spent time….but some were small, quiet towns…mostly beach towns…with little more than a bodega…still ran into problems. I would never tell someone not to go…it is beautiful but it is no longer unspoiled.

  • Cre8ive

    Beautiful country!