Wilderness Adventures

The Spirit of Pura Vida

By Tom Holland April 10, 2019

17 years ago, I led a group of teenagers on a wilderness trip through Costa Rica. It was a truly life-changing experience.  The adventures I had there, with the American students and the Costa Rican locals who guided us, have always been a part of the foundation for the leadership we provide at WA.

Our two-week Costa Rica Pura Vida program for 7th-9th graders and our three-week Costa Rica program for 9th-12th graders are huge hits each and every summer. And although Costa Rica remains one of the top destinations for our students at WA, I had not been back since.

This year, Catherine and I made it our goal to get back to this special place known for its ‘Pura Vida’ spirit. We spent our 10 days in Costa Rica visiting our in-country partners, experiencing the very adventures that our students go on, and witnessing the wonderful service work our students have done over the years.  All the while, we had impactful and positive experiences with the people of Costa Rica. So, now that we have landed back in Jackson, we wanted to share the key highlights from the trip that stood out to us.

  • The sound of howler monkeys. Nothing says ‘wilderness’ like the sights and sounds of wildlife, and we were lucky enough to see all 4 types of monkeys found in Costa Rica during our trip: white face, spider, squirrel and howler. However, we only truly heard one of them: the howler. If you have never heard one before, head to Costa Rica with us this summer.
  • The impact of Wilderness Adventures has had on the communities we serve. We have been running trips in Costa Rica since the early 2000s. In all of those years service has been a key part of the adventure. It was amazing to witness, in person, the special impact our infrastructure projects have had on the small town of San Gerardo de Rivas. This small town sits at the base of mighty Mt Chirripo in the majestic Talamanca mountains. We toured the schools we have worked to improve and saw the projects engage in to support this community.
  • The Gulfo Dulce. The warm, crystal clear, blue waters of the Gulfo Dulce are without compare. There, the salt water of the gulf is calm due to the protection from the Osa Peninsula. With Piedras Blancas National Park surrounding this area, it made for the perfect day of sea kayaking, seeing some of the most pristine and wild eco lodges on the planet.  
  • Low key, high adventure Uvita. Tourism is big in Costa Rica, real big. You feel it as you land in San Jose (an airport that has seen drastic change since I last visited). You can also feel the impacts of tourism on the roads to Arenal and Manuel Antonio National Park. But if take the road a bit more south, the adventure grows and the crowds shrink. We became enamored by Uvita, one of the small towns we hit down south. There, with the coastal mountain range rising to our backs we explored the Whale’s Tail on Playa Uvita and watched spotted dolphins cruise on our boat ride to Cano Island.  
  • The expertise, knowledge and professionalism of our in-country partners. Years ago, Wilderness Adventures partnered with an organization led by local Costa Rican and tourism expert named Noel. A former mountain guide and birding expert who earned a degree in tourism management in the US, he has come to be the backbone of our trips in the country. Hundreds of WA youth have been under his care and have been guided by his local expertise over the years. We always knew our students were in great hands, but we felt it ourselves during our recent adventure.

There is plenty more to report from our trip. The sights (ever seen a boa constrictor in the wild?), the sounds (seriously, I cannot get the howler monkey sound out of my head), the smells (casado is a traditional Costa Rica meal, and the aroma coming out of our friend’s kitchen on the trip is unforgettable). Nevertheless, it is the spirit of the people that will stay with us the most. They say that you can feel the ‘Pura Vida’ spirit everywhere in Costa Rica, and it is totally true. Costa Rica welcomed my family and I with open arms, just as it had 17 years ago.

For a visual of Wilderness Adventures’ Costa Rica trips, check out the video below, made by our partners in Costa Rica from this past summer.