How to experience Costa Rica the pura vida way


Home to an astounding four percent of the world’s biodiversity in a country slightly smaller than West Virginia, Costa Rica is known for its flora and fauna, as well as its abundance of recreational activities ending in -ing: zip-lining, surfing, horseback riding, jungle trekking, beach strolling and, of course, simply relaxing, to name a few.

Conchal Beach on Costa Rica's northwest coastConchal Beach on Costa Rica’s northwest coast — Photo courtesy of W Costa Rica

But what’s far less frequently explored is how Costa Rica’s pura vida ethos – a certain graciousness and gratitude for the country’s abundance, plus embrace of a more laid-back and low-key lifestyle – inspires local flavors, restaurants and culinary experiences here.

Take the surf town of Tamarindo. for instance. Located in Guanacaste Province on Costa Rica’s northwest coast less than an hour from Liberia Airport – the country’s second international airport – Tamarindo is a melting pot of expats, immigrants, college-age youth on an extended gap year and native Costa Ricans, all drawn here for the lifestyle.

Collectively, those that have set up shop here have helped to created a distinctly Costa Rican food culture that can only be described as pura vida that you can taste.

The beachfront patio at Pico Bistro in Tamarindo — Photo courtesy of Erin Lindholm

What more perfectly encapsulates the essence of pura vida than, after a surf lesson at world-famous Tamarindo Beach, quenching your thirst with a refreshing tumbler of cucumber basil lemonade, made from scratch throughout the day at Pico Bistro?

Located steps from the breaks and the surf rental shops, the jewel box-sized cafe and bistro hasn’t yet been open a year but has already endeared itself to locals and visitors alike for its healthy, unfussy fare and the infectious kindness of its staff, which make even first-time guests feel like regulars.

In addition to a busy Saturday farmer’s market and a weekly night market with more than 40 local food vendors held every Thursday, other highlights around town include the all-day breakfast offerings at La Bodega. The eatery sources fresh, local and organic ingredients for everything from its baked goods to its traditional Costa Rican breakfast platter, The Gallo Pinto – rice and beans, a homemade moringa tortilla, and two additional add-ons (eggs, queso fresco, avocado or breakfast meats), plus coffee and fresh-squeezed juice, both organic, of course.

The Gallo Pinto breakfast at La Bodega in TamarindoThe Gallo Pinto breakfast at La Bodega in Tamarindo — Photo courtesy of Erin Lindholm

Nearly every square foot of interior space not dedicated to the kitchen or food service is filled with organic and vegan food goods by primarily local makers. This includes everything from condiments and spices to kombucha and a selection of Reina’s Chocolate, a labor of love endeavor by husband and wife duo Ron and Reina, whose lush, garden-filled property is about 15 minutes from town. The couple welcome visitors for craft chocolate-making workshops and have also opened a chocolate-fueled cafe.

One of Tamarindo’s most coveted reservations, however, is Pangas Beach Club, where leisurely lunches and dinners are served in true pura vida fashion: on the beach, under a canopy of stately trees with only the sounds of nature as an accompaniment, whether that’s birds or monkeys, the rustle of wind in the trees, or the ocean in the distance.

“For me, that’s what Costa Rica is all about. It has that feeling that makes you feel good and relaxed and calm,” says Elizabeth Cole, the face, heart and soul of the establishment. “When we come from big countries, we miss that feeling…I wanted to reproduce for people what they feel about Costa Rica – that feeling that you can eat, relax, and not be in a rush.”

Surf and turf on hot lava stone at Pangas Beach Club in TamarindoSurf and turf on hot lava stone at Pangas Beach Club in Tamarindo — Photo courtesy of Erin Lindholm

Not to be upstaged by the peaceful natural surroundings, one of the Pangas Beach Club house specialties is prime beef cuts served with a slab of Costa Rican volcanic rock heated to 500 degrees so that you can finish the beef to your desired doneness – with the option to add on some “surf” to accompany your “turf.”

As far as where to stay, how much more pura vida does it get than ditching your luggage immediately upon arrival at the W Costa Rica – Reserva Conchal to hop on a zip-line down to the property’s beach club, where a welcome cocktail inspired by the surroundings awaits your arrival?

Located deep within a more than 200,000-acre nature preserve set on a gentle beachfront bay just north of Tamarindo, W Costa Rica is working towards being certified as a carbon-negative resort – meaning the surrounding trees and natural vegetation will consume more carbon than the resort produces – as well as towards being the first plastic-free W property, notes General Manager Hector Ladeveze. (Also to note: The zip-line will officially make its debut later this year.)

The inviting W Costa RicaThe inviting W Costa Rica — Photo courtesy of W Costa Rica

In addition to sourcing nearly all (90%) of its kitchen ingredients from local suppliers – including a start-up farming cooperative and young entrepreneurs such as Roberto Sibaja of Wagyu del Pacifico, the country’s first certified wagyu beef producer – staple Costa Rican ingredients turn up on menus across the resort in delicious and sometimes unexpected ways.

Typically a slightly sweet breakfast pancake, chorreada batter coats a shrimp starter at the property’s signature restaurant, Latitud 10° Norte, which is named after the latitude shared by Costa Rica and Thailand, and the cuisine follows suit.

“That happy Costa Rican person who’s very kind and smiles all the time, that’s pura vida,” says Executive Chef Julio Cesar Valdivia Tejada. “To work this into my food, I’ve given it a lot of soul; it’s very happy food, made with a lot of love.”

Pura vida, indeed.

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