By Kristina Smith
“Paddle, paddle, paddle! Get ready! Up, up, up!” I can barely hear the surf instructor’s shouts over the crashing waves, trying as I am to remember all the steps required to actually get up, crouch down, arms out, keep your balance, and … surf. After an hour or so my attempts yield one glorious 10-second ride that could just qualify as catching a wave. The rest end in falls and crashes, quite graceful I assume. But, I did it. Life goals!
This takes place in beautiful Samara, a beach town on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. After a revitalizing yoga session on tropical Playa Carrillo early in the morning—where the sun salutations felt truer to life than inside the studio at home—the day has been absolutely inspiring.
I am traveling with G Adventures, a world-renowned adventure travel company that is expanding into healthy travel with a suite of wellness trips this year. The group tour experience itself is seamless, with punctual transfers, stunning accommodations, and a local guide to facilitate the itinerary and keep everyone healthy and well.
In the 1990s Costa Rica became popular for adventure tourism, laying important infrastructure and gaining a reputation for ecotourism. Most recently, it’s become a top spot for yoga and surf retreats – Chillasana was just around the corner from our luxe Hotel Nammbú accommodations, with its stunning ocean views from the thatched-roof balconies and drool-worthy infinity pool.
The Costa Rican infrastructure is excellent, especially compared to neighboring countries, and felt quite safe and welcoming. I was surprised to learn that water was potable throughout the country, and the natural beauty is bar none, from beach to rainforest to hillsides so lush they look soft to the touch. Waterfalls took my breath away while being in the presence of the towering (and active) volcanoes felt quite sacred.
Like any country, Costa Rica has its contradictions, where protected areas (some 25% of the country) contrast with polluted streams and the clearing of rainforest for pineapple export, which many farmers rely upon. The dichotomy was evident and yet there is a trend toward organic; our tranquil accommodations, in particular, were outstanding in their commitment to sustainability.
If you’ve never been on a group tour, there are definite advantages – transport, accommodation, and most meals are arranged, allowing more mind space to just take everything in. The local guide educates and solves any issues that crop up, and if you’re a solo traveler the group adds protection (more women than men tend toward these tours in Central America). For some, an itinerary may feel restrictive, as you are definitely on the clock some days. And yet, the connections formed with fellow travelers – and deepened through shared experience – may last a lifetime.
A perfect example is our time spent in Rincón de la Vieja, home to its namesake volcano. Ziplining and rappelling through the canyon pumps up the adrenaline, while a hike through the national park rewards with breathtaking waterfalls and pools of bubbling volcanic mud. Later, we connect, laughing, in the natural hot spring as we wash away the volcanic mud we painted all over each other moments before.
That night we sleep peacefully at the lush and comfortable Hotel Hacienda Guachipelin after a yoga flow session beneath the darkening sky, where the energy of the volcano is palpable. The food here is simple and delicious – think rice, beans, corn tortillas, fresh fruit – and the night sky explodes with stars.
Our trip wraps up in La Fortuna, northwest of the capital, San Jose. Here, activities include a rainforest canopy walk (complete with baby vipers!) and SUP yoga on the nearby lake. Our adventures are rounded out with a yoga class at Hotel Arenal Manoa, a beautiful property in the tranquil countryside, with stunning views of Arenal Volcano. The class is fast-paced, then wraps with sound bath therapy, where we are blessed with an energetic cleansing as Tibetan sound bowls sing on our chests.
Weaving wellness – yoga, movement, nature, fresh, soulful food – with adventure activities give a holistic experience of Costa Rica, from its beaches to its people to its lush wildlife. The perfect way to reconnect with yourself, and gain new perspectives on the world.
Yoga in Playa Carrillo
Set against a tropical backdrop, a restorative flow session on a beautiful beach to the sounds of birds calling and waves crashing on shore. At gorgeous Hotel Nammbú, the aerial yoga garnered some very deep opening – combined with the heat the effect was absolutely detoxifying.
Mud Bath in Rincón de la Vieja
Slather yourself in volcanic mud, bake dry in the sun, then rinse off in the therapeutic waters of the natural hot springs under the rainforest canopy. Be rewarded with deep relaxation and skin soft as butter.
SUP Yoga on Lake Arenal
Find your center (not so easy!) balancing on a stand-up paddleboard in the shadow of Arenal Volcano, then work up an appetite paddling the glassy waters, while your mind floats away to the natural beauty that surrounds you.
Rainforest Trekking in La Fortuna
Picture this: picking your way across swaying bridges at eye-level with the rainforest canopy, surrounded by exotic bird calls, keeping a close eye out for sloths and monkeys. This is Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park, a lush nature preserve and the source of an incredible array of medicinal plants.
Mi Cafecito Community Coffee Plantation
A memorable experience, the coffee co-op is supported by G Adventure’s non-profit partner, Planeterra Foundation, supporting over 200 farmers and their families. Learn the process of making fair-trade coffee from bean to cup, then enjoy it yourself.