7 Ways to Costa Rica & Chill
Costa Rica has a well-deserved rep as a hot spot for adrenaline-fuelled 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 a 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.
Even the trip's logistics minimize stress: There are nonstop flights from Montreal, Toronto and Calgary; English is widely spoken and dollars 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 favourites and go:
1. Check in to Zen-inducing digs
Though humans have long intuited that nature relaxes us, recent advances in neuroscience are backing that belief with all kinds of evidence. It 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 colourful 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 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 group yoga retreats or private ones, with 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 colour, 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.