Top 5 magical moments in Costa Rica

Rincon de la Vieja volcano, Costa Rica

Waterfall at base of Rincon de la Vieja volcano.

Wild, tranquil and green: Costa Rica travel memories

HOW WOULD YOU like to see crocodiles up close, in the wild? Or go horseback riding to hidden waterfalls at the base of a volcano? Or sink into a natural hot spring, covered in mineral-rich, warm clay? These are just some of the special moments I had on a private guided tour of Costa Rica with Kensington Tours, where I experienced the best of both worlds:  the comfort of a luxury, guided tour and the excitement of authentic, cultural and wilderness adventures. Thanks to the knowledgeable help of local experts, I was able to experience a rich variety of special moments and these are my favourites.

Rio Tempisque River, Costa Rica

The wild and remote Rio Tempisque, Costa Rica

1. A boat ride into the wild

After driving for an hour down remote dirt roads, we arrived at the Rio Tempisque in Palo Verde National Park, Costa Rica. My guide, Jose, unloaded a cooler, binoculars and a few other supplies from the SUV and we walked the few steps to a small dock, where a boat was waiting for us. Though the boat held about a dozen seats, we had it to ourselves — Jose, the captain and I. I was immediately struck by how unspoiled the park was, truly a pristine wilderness reserve, with no sign of human habitation.

heron, Rio Tempisque River, Costa Rica

Great blue heron on the Rio Tempisque

We pushed off and spent a couple of hours slowly cruising the river, spotting umpteen lazy crocodiles, several godzilla-like iguanas and countless glorious tropical birds such as egrets, storks, kingfishers and herons. I quickly learned why Rio Tempisque has earned the reputation for being one of the best wildlife and bird watching spots in Costa Rica. Everywhere I looked I saw National Geographic worthy scenes of wildlife in action, crocodiles basking on sand banks, birds with massive wing spans swooping across the water. I wore out my trigger finger snapping the best photos of birds and animals I have ever taken. It was the closest I have ever come to feeling like a professional wildlife photographer — a dream realized.

Rincon de la Vieja volcano, Costa Rica

The mysterious and mythical Rincon de la Vieja volcano.

2. Discovering the women’s corner of the forest

We could see the mountain emerging from the plains from a far distance. This was before I knew it was a volcano. And before I knew the story of the volcano, Rincon de la Vieja, which means “woman’s corner of the forest.”

As we got closer, my guide, Jose, told me the myth: Once upon a time, the daughter of a chief fell in love with a man deemed inappropriate by her family. The couple ran away to the forest, but they were chased and found, and the man was killed. The chief’s daughter lived the rest of her life in a remote corner of the forest and became a renowned natural healer. Tribal people would go to her for healing, saying, “We are going to the corner of the old lady.”

At the base of the volcano, we rode horses into the lush, tranquil “women’s corner of the forest.” Our guide led us along a narrow path to a waterfall deep in the think forest. The canopy of trees blocked out the light, and the sound of the water filled the air. Water pooled in a dark circle at the base, where I stood in quiet meditation, breathing the fecund, moist air. With my imagination sparked and my senses alive, I felt the life of the forest and experienced one of those transcendent moments that usually only happen in places of natural beauty.

Borinquen Mountain Resort and Spa, Costa Rica

Me, enjoying a mud bath at Borinquen Mountain Resort and Spa.

3. Immersion into the good earth

We rode our horses back to the Borinquen Mountain Resort and Spa stables, from where we picked them up, and headed for the spa. The Borinquen Spa is built on a natural hot spring that erupts here thanks to the geothermal activity of the nearby volcano. Literally piping hot mineral-rich water gushes from the ground and fills the air with mist. A natural sauna is built above one such pool, the hot steam hissing up through the wooden floor boards, and a building housing the massage rooms sits above a warm water stream.

After a pore-opening steam in the very hot sauna, I slathered myself with rich, warm clay, scooped from the sides of the stream. Then, I chose the hottest of three man-made pools, each holding a different temperature of water from the hot springs. I sank into the pool to enjoy the heat, the sun, the natural environment and the peace. Before showering off the mud, my guide Jose helped me take some fun photos of my “Swamp Thing” look to post online. It was a fun moment, and relaxing too. And my skin glowed for days.

Finca Rosa Blanca boutique hotel and organic coffee plantation, Costa Rica

Finca Rosa Blanca boutique hotel and organic coffee plantation.

4. Stopping to smell the coffee

Up we drove, through wildly winding streets, until we reached the elaborate wrought-iron gate of Finca Rosa Blanca, a boutique hotel and organic coffee plantation. I felt immediately that I was entering a different world. The mountain top setting, artfully designed gate and lush greenery, set off with huge tropical flowers, created a unique, whimsical ambience from the first moment.

But then I saw the hotel. Imagine Gaudi designed a hotel in The Shire and Georgia O’Keefe painted it. Bold amorphous white shapes covered in murals of flowers bursting with colour. Each room completely unique, like characters in a play, and featuring all sorts of charming amenities. My room had a massive blue-tiled tub with a sky light above it, a mural behind the bed of sun-drenched fields, and a small balcony overlooking an entire valley and mountain range.

Finca Rosa Blanca boutique hotel and organic coffee plantation, Costa Rica

Sitting room at the Finca Rosa Blanca

Dotted throughout the property: a salt water pool with overflowing waterfall; an outdoor restaurant with the same magnificent view; a gourmet dining room ranged around a children’s book fireplace; a hot tub secluded in the jungle; and a walking trail through the coffee plantation. Delights around every turn of the meandering pathways, no straight lines here at all.

I soaked up as much atmosphere as I could in the short time I was there, feeling the creativity, the life-giving force of the organic garden and the care owners Teri and Glenn Jampol put into Finca Rosa Blanca. I felt I had found somewhere sacred and magical and I imbibed it fully, until it was time to leave. A wonderful last stop on my Costa Rica adventure.

Cala Luna Hotel yoga retreat, Costa Rica

Cala Luna Hotel yoga platform

5. Taking a deep breath with yoga in Costa Rica

While staying in a spacious villa at the lovely Cala Luna Hotel in Tamarindo, I joined the morning yoga class, among the  foliage. Under a simple awning and surrounded by luscious, tropical gardens, it was easy to breathe deeply and enjoy the tranquil setting. Distracted only by bird songs and the sight of butterflies lighting on bright flowers, I found myself feeling very peaceful and at one with the natural environment. The delightful experience continued with a healthy breakfast by the glistening turquoise pool afterwards, and then a long walk on the rugged nearby beach. It was the perfect way to start a perfect day in paradise.

Breathing deeply, and with consciousness, is an essential element of yoga and it really helps when the air you breathe is pure and richly oxygenated. This is no doubt one of the reasons there are many yoga classes and retreats all across Costa Rica. The Cala Luna lists their upcoming yoga retreats here, and you can contact Kensington Tours to find out about private guided yoga experiences in Costa Rica and around the world.

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21 Responses to Top 5 magical moments in Costa Rica

  1. Renuka July 4, 2014 at 9:11 am #

    Wow….Your experiences sound incredible – especially the coffee smelling part. 🙂 Costa Rica is so nature oriented. I think it’s a perfect haven for nature lovers.
    Renuka recently posted..Lamahatta – A Secret Spot For KangchenjungaMy Profile

  2. The Tales of a Traveler July 4, 2014 at 1:07 pm #

    I am scared of crocodiles but sounds to be a yoga , dip into good earth and smell of coffee sounds inviting 🙂
    The Tales of a Traveler recently posted..Top Travel Apps for PlanningMy Profile

  3. Candice @ The Let's Go Ladies July 5, 2014 at 10:16 pm #

    Those pictures are amazing. It looks like you had a wonderful time, especially with that mud bath! I think I need to put that one on my travel bucket list.

  4. UB July 6, 2014 at 1:14 pm #

    I keep on hearing about the spectacular nature in Costa Rica–the pictures are fantastic! I can see how it would make a great place for a yoga retreat too… being embedded in nature like that looks so peaceful.
    UB recently posted..LAND OF THE THUNDER DRAGON: Some of Bhutan’s top sights [photo gallery]My Profile

    • Mariellen Ward July 8, 2014 at 6:58 pm #

      Hi Candice, thanks for the comment. That natural spa was really special. I liked the hot springs sauna as much as the mud and the pools. Plus, they have a beautiful swimming pool with a beach and a swim-up bar!
      Mariellen Ward recently posted..My top 10 Incredible India momentsMy Profile

  5. Philip July 7, 2014 at 9:54 pm #

    Great post. I have fond memories of my hike to the waterfall at Rincon de la Vieja a few years ago. I am surprised how few people visit this magical spot.
    Philip recently posted..One Day in Phnom Pehn, CambodiaMy Profile

  6. Katie July 8, 2014 at 9:02 am #

    Costa Rica is such a beautiful country, with great people, nature, beaches… I miss the coffee and waterfalls! Oh, and gallo pinto for breakfast. 🙂
    Katie recently posted..The quiet beach village of Pemuteran, BaliMy Profile

  7. Kevin @ Guess This City July 8, 2014 at 10:06 am #

    Costa Rica has so much to offer. I am always finding more and more posts of peoples different unique experiences. When I visit I tend to surf almost the entire time and always forget about the vast wilderness just at the foot of your doorstep. I think next time I am going to have to take some time and go in the the wild to check out some of the things Costa Rica has to offer. I would love to go a spend a few days in the jungle and doing some yoga.
    Kevin @ Guess This City recently posted..Would you go off this 50 foot cliff slip and slide at Lake Powell, Utah?My Profile

    • Mariellen Ward July 8, 2014 at 7:03 pm #

      I can well understand being drawn to the beaches of Costa Rica like a magnet! But there really is so much more there, and I recommend visiting volcanos, the rain forests and the animal sanctuaries.
      Mariellen Ward recently posted.. A day at Canada’s magical Ice HotelMy Profile

  8. Bhutan trekking tour July 16, 2014 at 5:19 am #

    I thought it was very beautiful, and I love the “cowboy” culture. I think next time I am going to have to take some time and go in the the wild to check out some of the things Costa Rica has to offer.

  9. Robert Bruce July 30, 2014 at 9:04 pm #

    An acquaintance of mine moved his family to Costa Rica last year, and the first thing they were shocked at was the bountiful variety of animals, insects and flora. He describes it as an explosion of creation. Personally, I think it is a beautiful place to visit, but I personally cannot handle spiders that eat birds. But, that’s just me.
    Robert Bruce recently posted..Remarkable Sights in PhiladelphiaMy Profile

  10. Charlie August 14, 2014 at 10:49 pm #

    Some incredible experiences there, and all very close to nature and good for the soul 🙂 I’m currently in Costa Rica but haven’t made it to a coffee plantation yet – am really keen to go.
    Charlie recently posted..The Truth about Costa Rican Eco-LodgesMy Profile

  11. Adrienne @ AdrienneAway August 19, 2014 at 7:08 pm #

    These all sound wonderful! BTW the coffee there IS amazing! My dad brought me back some awhile ago that I still dream about!
    Adrienne @ AdrienneAway recently posted..Alessandra Ambrosio’s Jetsetting StyleMy Profile

  12. Raj Groups December 3, 2014 at 2:14 am #

    breathtaking images and amazing blog

  13. Kate May 3, 2016 at 1:42 pm #

    Totally in love with Cala Luna Hotel!!! A dream yoga spot! 🙂

  14. The Blueberry Trails June 9, 2016 at 3:11 am #

    What a great place to explore! Would love to recommend it to our travelers. Thanks for sharing.

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