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  • Writer's pictureSarina Harper

¡Pura Vida! Part 1

Updated: Apr 7, 2020

Monteverde, Santa Elena Cloud Forest and Rafting the Rio Pacuare

Adventuring in Mystical Cloud Forests

After a snowy Bostonian winter cooped up inside I was craving warmth - and adventure! The decision wasn't a difficult one to make. On my radar for quite some time, Costa Rica was a country that I'd been wanting to explore since reading about the fantastic diving opportunities coupled with the wealth of wildlife. Although on the smaller side, the country boasts 5% of the entire planet's biodiversity, and 25% of the country consists of protected parks - I needed no further convincing. I had to visit this mecca stat.

Teeming with exotic wildlife, desolate beaches, volcanoes billowing steam, vibrant verde mountains and the laid back attitude of a Caribbean island....I couldn't imagine a more perfect paradise.

The expression "Pura Vida" is basically the law of the land in Costa Rica. Throughout our travels Ticos happily exclaimed it as a greeting, a goodbye, and most of all just to describe a moment of beauty, relaxation and appreciation - they certainly know how lucky they are to live in such a stunning country.


Monteverde, like most spots worth visiting in Costa Rica, was not an easy place to get to. Armed with a 4 wheel drive and our usual sense of adventure, we got an early start to navigate the notoriously treacherous route up into the gorgeous mountains. As promised, we encountered pot holes the size of bathtubs, narrow unpaved "roads" with bends that cut so close to the edge we prayed another cow didn't appear in our path for fear of plunging into the pastureland hundreds of feet to our left!

Santa Elena Cloud Forest

The cloud forest was exactly how one pictures a rain forest: Thousands of trees covered in every shade of green you could imagine, towering over another competing for precious sunlight. Ropey vines hung from hundreds of feet above, and exotic flowers added pops of color, breaking the green that stretched on forever. Clouds crept in blanketing the forest as we walked the hanging bridges suspended hundreds of feet in the air. We were surrounded by the tallest, most majestic trees I'd ever seen. The forest was loud around us, a harmony of birds constantly calling out, and the sound of rain created a tranquil setting as we gazed around in awe. Rain came and went every few minutes, but since we were on the ground most didn't make it through the thick canopy to even reach us.

The town was pretty isolated, and aside from some backpackers it wasn't very crowded. Rainy season in Costa Rica starts in May, so we were able to enjoy the peace and quiet. In the evenings we shared food and drink with fellow travelers we met. In the cool evenings we partied to funky music at a multi floor restaurant built around a giant tree, colorful lights illuminating the reaching branches.

We got hooked on eating at sodas which are small, family run establishments mostly serving casadas (heaping plates of galle pinto with veggies, fried plantains and delicious meats).

We gulped refreshing batidos and resbaladeras (similar to Horchata), ravenous from all our activity.

An Arachnophobic's Worst Nightmare

One night we hiked the forest with flashlights and marveled at the nocturnal insects, frogs and various animals creeping about.

Flying Through The Clouds

We felt exhilarated ziplining through the cloud forest, sometimes 600 feet above the trees, sometimes right through the trees of the cloud forest. We ended with a half mile long line Superman style, and with our legs and back strapped to the line we flew through the air like the hero himself, looking hundreds of feet down onto the tops of the trees. We rented ATVs from a couple of guys who carved out miles of trails through the jungle with machetes. We zoomed up muddy trails with hairpin turns, some so rocky and steep at one point I got thrown off! But I got back on, and pumped with adrenaline continued at high speed, thrilled by yet another way to explore this paradise.

Ficus Trees = jungle gyms

Once in the area, we heard about a giant Ficus Tree with a skeleton resembling a ladder that, upon entering, would bring you to the top. We sprayed on some deet and set out to find this mammoth. I couldn't believe this hidden gem! We climbed with a couple of local guys that put us to shame by scaling the giant in record time.

Rafting the Rio Pacuare

Rafting the Rio Pacuare is on most white water rafters' bucket lists. While the international rafting championships are held here in October, in May the river was at the perfect height for my far from professional level. A deep gorge carved through dense jungle, the Pacuare stretches from the Central Valley to the Caribbean coast. A beautiful rain forest surrounds the river, and as we began our four hour journey I couldn't help but stare up in awe between rapids. Electric blue Morpho butterflies fluttered around our raft, tropical birds sang through the trees, and exotic flowers decorated our journey.

We started the excursion with the cool breeze of the mountains, but as we continued our 23 mile trip the tropical heat of the Caribbean engulfed us. After navigating class III and IV rapids, we leaped into the surreal turquoise river to cool off. As the current moved us downstream, we gazed up at the jungle towering 30 feet above us. Gorgeous waterfalls spilled overhead, and as I floated on my back I found myself thinking yet again, Pura Vida!

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