If there's one thing Costa Ricans value above all else, it's community. Pura vida is more than a friendly motto written on hats or T-shirts for tourists to buy at souvenir shops. Directly translated as "pure life," it is closer to American ideas of the "simple life." And in Costa Rica, the concept is part of their heritage and runs deep in the soil. The phrase is a reminder to not sweat the small stuff and instead focus on things that matter: friends, family, and most importantly, love.
In a country that's home to five million people and nearly a thousand species of birds--including two of my favorites, the keelbilled toucan and the scarlet macaw -- pura vida permeates through every experience you have. Whether you're staying at a fancy resort or hiking on a crowded trail, you'll find pura vida is a shared human language that transcends differences and unites those who embrace it.
Above: Tamarindo Beach
For many LGBTQ people living in Costa Rica, social norms have noticeably shifted in recent years, thanks to wider visibility in smaller communities. While the country is widely known for its environmental efforts (embracing eco-tourism early) and lack of an army (the nation instead chooses to invest its money in agriculture) and Catholic traditions, citizens are still hungry for social progress.
Gay Costa Rica (GayCostaRica.com) the country's first travel company with agents specifically catering to LGBTQ clients and their needs, is an example of how the nation is rebranding itself as a gay-friendly travel destination. It's working. The number of queer-friendly excursions is exploding, and so you'll likely find options to suit your interests.
If it's queer nightlife you're looking for, you can find it every night in San Jose. Places like Club Teatro (@ClubElTeactroCR, the best drag shows, which can include circus acts), Bo Club (dance club featuring everything from '70s disco to electronica), and La Avispa (LaAvispa.com, "The Wasp" is a classic lesbian club that has been in operation for more than four decades offering pool and dancing). These venues anchor Costa Rica's gay scene with disco nights that often go until sunrise -- and no one goes home alone.
If it's true escapism you're seeking, look no further than the luxurious Andaz Peninsula Papagayo Resort (Hyatt.com). Perched on the lush shores of Costa Rica's Peninsula Papagayo, the phenomenal property has welcomed numerous celebs over the years -- including the Kardashians. With its unique cocoon-like public spaces hidden behind breathtaking scenery and top-quality services, everything you need is right at your fingertips.
You can't leave Costa Rica without experiencing its famous zip lines. Once you're strapped in, Superman cable, the country's longest, at Diamante Eco Adventure Park (DiamanteEcoAdventurePark.com), you will "fly" the line for nearly a minute. As you're flying, the sun hits you at such an angle that when you look down your shadow literally looks like Superman! By the way, no need to worry about speed. The cables support your weight so that the drop is more of sexy glide than theme park ride.
Above: Arenal Hanging Bridges Park
For those who need photographic evidence that they've seen a volcano and braved walking across multiple hanging bridges, check out the Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges (MisticoPark.com). The trail, which winds you through a rainforest where I heard sounds from animals I never saw, is one the best maintained trails I've seen in my life. Enjoy stunning views of the Arenal Volcano, which at only 7,500 years old, is still considered young. The friendly guides also offer night tours as well as climbing, rappelling, and ziplining.
To enjoy the beauty of Arenal Volcano from another perspective, consider staying at Montana de Fuego Resort & Spa (MontanadeFuego.com), located near the base of the volcano in the northern lowlands of Costa Rica. With horseback riding, biking tours, hikes, and numerous water sports like kayaking and windsurfing, the lush beauty of the property will tickle the inner adventurer in you.
Above: Tabacon Thermal Resort and Spa
The perfect way to end your Costa Rican trip is by diving into its natural beauty -- literally! Tabacon Thermal Resort & Spa (Tabacon.com) has the largest network of naturally flowing thermal mineral springs in Arenal's largest and most beautiful private, rainforest reserve. If you love water, you're going to love the numerous waterfalls and pools -- all with various temperatures, design, and texture -- that leave your muscles relaxed and your skin refreshed. While it's a perk for hotel guests, the public can purchase day-passes so you too can come home with that pura vida glow.