By Tijana Tamburic
Pura Vida in direct translation means ‘pure life’, however the expression is used in many forms in Costa Rica – as a philosophy, a way of life, as a synonym for many words, as a greeting, as a noun, verb and adjective. I went to Guanacaste, Costa Rica, to see if I could define Pura Vida for myself.
It is the primary philosophy of the Andaz Peninsula Papagayo resort. The phrase is everywhere; it’s in the breeze in the open, unscripted, space of the ocean-facing lobby, scrolled into the sand on the secluded beaches, lingering in the air as guests greet each other from golf carts, scattered across the starry night sky.
“What is Pura Vida? You could greet someone and say it, laugh and say it, shrug your shoulders and say it – pretty much use it in any and all scenarios.”
A short drive from Liberia airport the resort is surprisingly easy to get to, considering how other-worldly it feels. The property sprawls across miles of canopied hills and beaches, iconic for its arching wooden architecture, winding paths and multiple curved infinity pools. The buildings dip in and out of the surrounding nature so as to disturb it as little as possible – made evident by the frequent visits from howler and white-faced monkeys, swinging by your terrace.
The first night I attended a mixologist class. Getting drunk on Lemon Mojitos, Spicy Margaritas and something called a Coco-Macato, which is essentially coconut milk, rum and red wine, might just be the best way of breaking the ice with a group of complete strangers. Dinner is also served here at Chao Pescao, which feels like being at a local Costa Rican bar. As I stumbled out Antonio the mixologist waved and said ‘Pura Vida!’ I mumbled something incomprehensible back.
Breakfasts at Rio Bhongo, the central open-air restaurant, were healthy and delicious. Looking out onto the infinity pools and the ocean beyond, you can relax while you slurp fresh watermelon juice and eat your body weight in corncake. Warning: keep your camera close as there is the chance that your meal might be interrupted by a monkey, or even (as it did for me) by a close relation of the raccoon only found in Costa Rica – the pizote. The third restaurant on the property is Ostra, the signature restaurant focusing on the freshest local seafood. Ostra is an elegant, discreet and romantic venue that has a do-it-yourself ceviche station, which I was obsessed with until my acid reflex made me stop.
There are so many activities available within the resort itself that they have a weekly newsletter to keep you updated. From Ceviche classes to kayak tours, you are guaranteed to find something you want to do whether it’s to relax, explore or learn. Snorkelling equipment, kayaks and paddle boards are supplied complimentary on the Sombrero Oscuro beach. It is illegal to have private beaches in Costa Rica, but the resort’s remoteness means there are very few others around. Enjoy this rare privacy by attempting, and failing, to paddle board like I did. I fell on my ass, hard, and the only other person on the beach: a Costa Rican man selling jewellery, laughed and with c’est la vie style gesticulation said ‘Pura Vida.’
Golf carts zip around the property regularly and you can jump in one at any time to get to your next destination if you don’t feel like walking. You can also call them to come and pick you up, which felt like Uber, but with golf carts – Guber? Mariella Cabezas, our fantastic host for the trip, used the golf carts to give a comprehensive tour of the property. The last stop was the Onda Spa. Elevated into the trees, you gaze over the water as you pat yourself down with an icy cold towel. The meditative experience of Onda aligns your physiology with the quiet pace of Papagayo, I was told that the massage and tea would help me on my way to Pura Vida, but I still wasn’t sure what that meant exactly.
True to the Andaz ethos, they encourage guests to explore all that Costa Rica has to offer, so the next day we went to the Buena Vista adventure park, nestled into a volcano (there are five active volcanoes and 120 volcanic structures in Costa Rica – no wonder they filmed scenes of the 1993 Jurassic Park here). Activities included zip-lining, Central America’s longest waterslide, horseback riding and the infamous volcanic hot springs. I had never ziplined before, so when I looked down over the precipice at the canopied forest below I had second thoughts. I tried to reason with the Costa Rican man rigging me onto the wire, but he wasn’t listening to my pleas and let me go mid-objection, his ‘Pura Vida’ call of encouragement was barely audible over my screams.
The following morning I was laying by the pool counting my mosquito bites, which were many, when one of the waiters who had been watching my itchy anguish brought me a bowl of refrigerated fresh aloe vera. The cold aloe on my bites felt incredible, but even better was the feeling of genuine care from the staff here. The Andaz philosophy of making a connection is very literal when it comes to their staff. They asked for my name, said they had seen my Instagram post that day, gave me advice for where to go and what to do and said ‘Pura Vida’ to me with such genuine conviction that I couldn’t help but say it back, with a smile.
Sat on the direct Jet Blue flight back to JFK, I tried to answer the question I had set myself at the start of the trip: what is Pura Vida? You could greet someone and say it, laugh and say it, shrug your shoulder and say it – pretty much use it in any and all scenarios. After much deliberation I decided that it essentially means chill out, relax and enjoy everything life has to offer. It’s a lifestyle that I, as a chronically anxious city girl, found hard to understand but I like, and admire it. My mind then wandered to the aloe vera in my bag, I’m not sure if it’s legal to bring fresh aloe vera through US customs but, hey, Pura Vida.
April 12, 2016