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Costa Rica
November 2023

By Aly Foret, Luxury Travel Advisor, Plaza Travel

My most recent trip back to Costa Rica was a special one, with my husband’s family in tow for the long Thanksgiving holiday weekend. It being their first trip to Costa Rica, we wanted to take them to the mountains as well as to the beach, to show them both the jungle and the sea!

Our first stop after leaving the airport was at a roadside “soda” (a very casual restaurant) serving typical Costa Rican food. We munched happily on mahi mahi tacos and fresh ceviche, glad to be in the humid tropical air with the lush greenery surrounding the covered restaurant.

Our two-hour drive up to the mountain lodge started on the Interamerican highway, and once our driver turned off the main road towards the interior and our destination called Bijagua, the scenery became very picturesque; rolling hills, healthy looking Brahmin cows (plump from the abundant vegetation they ingested during the green season), and wind turbines dotting the landscape. After a little (cow) traffic, we reached our destination just in time for the introductory walk through the property before dark. Excitement for the following day grew, as the darkness settled in, giving just enough time for a peek at the beautiful riverbed flowing through the property, and the hot tub (which was re-filled daily with fresh river water and heated by a wood-burning fire), the stables, and the lush trees and tropical flowering plants.

Meal at mountain lodge in Costa Rica

A hot meal was served family-style in
the main lodge consisting of rice and
beans, local squash diced with butter
and salt, BBQ pork, rice pudding for
dessert, and a delicious fresh juice
made of ginger and orange. All
ingredients sourced from the land
were prepared on the four burners of
their wood-fire stove and an oven,
which was kept lit until second and
third helpings had been doled out as

Full and tired, we retreated to our
individual cabins guided by the
candles that lit the paths, and were
welcomed by a lit fireplace, the
rocking chairs on the outdoor deck,
and the sound of the river rushing
and cicadas echoing like the rhythm
of a heart in the jungle.

Lodge in Costa Rica

Rio Celeste (the Blue River) is a
beautiful, almost unnatural color – a
particular shade of pale milky blue,
created by the mixing of sulfur and
calcium carbonate seeded into the
water from the nearby volcano. The
three-mile hike is rigorous and steep,
but well worthwhile to see the
bubbling hot water bouillons, and the
spot along the river where the fresh
water turns baby blue.

After a good night’s sleep, the family
was off to Rio Celeste to see the
waterfall in the Tenorio Volcano
National Park
, and hike (while I stayed
back and rested in the hot tub,
alternating my position between
there and the very cold, rushing river,
nursing an unfortunate broken foot).

Rio Celeste

Groundskeeper with cabbage he grew

Once back at the lodge, the rest of
the day was spent eating, swimming
in the river, and exploring the
grounds. The vegetable garden was
teeming with fresh produce, and
groundskeeper Alejandro proudly
showed off the enormous cabbages
and zucchinis he’d been growing. The
next morning, the early risers walked
through the pasture up to the barn to
milk the cows, which we used within
minutes as our morning coffee
creamer. After another day and night
of relaxing at the lodge, everyone fell
into the calmer, laid back pace of
vacation and relaxation… and Pura
Vida. “Pura Vida” is Costa Rica’s
notable catch phrase meaning “pure
life.” It is a common term used in
everyday conversation, and an
appropriate reply for many

Pura Vida can be used to say "hi/bye," "have a nice day," "I'm doing well," "it is what it is," and many more instances. As we boarded our microbus and headed down the mountain back towards sea level, a torrential rain poured down… Pura Vida!

Driving through each of the local towns on the way to Playa Tamarindo (three-hour drive away), we saw wooden corrals and rickety stadium seating being set up in the town squares, in anticipation of the bull-riding “Fiestas” or Rodeo which start traveling though the province of Guanacaste before Christmas. We arrived to Playa Tamarindo as the sun was beginning to set; the bright orange glow emanating drew us straight from dropping the luggage in the villa, out to the westward facing beach. We watched riveted for the next few minutes as the giant red sun quickly fell into the dark blue ocean on the horizon, and then the cloud formations and sky really began to light up! It was a truly magical golden hour, and the family silently agreed (it goes without saying) this would be a spectacular “show” not to be missed each night.

Sunset at Playa Tamarindo

Tamarindo is a quaint two-mile-long town, known for surfing friendly and forgiving waves, perfect for beginners to take lessons. Various restaurants and bars (owned and operated by people from all over the world) line the beach-front street, offering different cuisines and vibrant nightlife. Shops selling locally made souvenirs, jewelry, swimwear, and art are also abundant.

Beach vendor at Playa Tamarindo

Street vendors also sell local fruit out
of the back of a small truck, fresh-
squeezed orange juice, and beach
vendors sell snow cones (pic to the
left) and coconuts out of a cooler
(chopped open with a machete so you
can drink the water inside).

The next day’s activity for part of the
family was a hike at the base of an
active volcano, Rincon de la Vieja.
Their guide pointed out a helicopter
dragonfly, an anteater sleeping in a
tree, a boa constrictor (in a different
tree), and a toucan. They tasted wild
cilantro and saw wild poinsettias and
spotted Blue Monarch butterflies as
big as a hand.

Toucan during hike in Costa Rica

Meanwhile, the rest of us were out on
a fishing charter. With five lines out,
we were trolling for mahi mahi and
tuna, which we quickly found! After
the early morning excitement of
having multiple fish on the lines at
once, and each reeling in two tuna for
that night’s dinner, we lazed in the
boat enjoying breakfast beers and
being out on the open water before
calling it a day and heading back to

Aly and her husband with their fresh catch in Costa Rica

After another glorious sunset that evening, and seeing howler monkeys in the trees, we headed to my favorite restaurant called Dragonfly Bar & Grill (off the beaten path, on a dark side street, this restaurant is a hidden gem with great atmosphere, live music, and good vibes - a local hotspot run by fellow Canadians). Their chef prepared the tuna two different ways for us; sashimi as an appetizer, and thick filets seared with butter and garlic for the main course with grilled veggies and a potato cake. Delicious! And a lovely way for the family to wrap up the long weekend. All said and done, they look forward to the next Costa Rica trip, as is often the case for people who are visiting the first time!

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