August 24, 2018

Natural Secret of Costa Rica for Wellness

The name “Costa Rica” will ring a bell immediately if you haven’t yet visited this rich Land of Natural Wonders.

Every time you think of “Costa Rica,” you imagine beautiful beaches and green mountains; Roaring volcanoes and magical tropical rainforests that together comprise 5% of the world’s biodiversity, considering that this land represents only 0.03% of Earth’s territory.

If you haven’t visited Costa Rica yet, I recommend you do. It’s a small country, but with a vast array of nature-related activities. There are many travel agencies that can assist you in the best possible way to book your trip to Costa Rica; these are just a few that I would suggest: Ara Tours, Swiss Travel, Amadeo, Reparto de Costa Rica, Costa Rica para Todos, and Ciudad de vacaciones.

This colorful country has plenty of treasures that are now known to thousands of tourists, but there are still a couple of secrets this paradise holds. Some of these secrets are easy to uncover with a little (not all) help from tour operators, many of whom focus on a different type of experience, specifically concerned with spreading the rich history of our jungles, forests, and all things nature-related, like Mistico Puentes Colgantes del Arenal Parque.

Others, like Rainforest Adventure Costa Rica, strive to raise awareness about the importance of sustainable environmental practices and share our Costa Rican culture to maintain a positive impact on our communities.

With all these options available, there’s no excuse not to go out and take advantage of the healing powers of nature, so let me share with you how I discovered Costa Rica’s natural secret to wellness.

I woke up very early one Saturday morning, and my friend and neighbor was about to head out in his hiking boots. I asked him where he was going. Surprised to see me up so early, he told me he was going for a “forest bath” in some nearby mountains. Intrigued by the idea and how it sounded, I asked if I could join him! 15 minutes later, we were driving up the mountains, where the Central Valley meets the Caribbean border.

The term “forest bath” comes from a form of healing practice called Shinrin-yoku, a Japanese practice where you “absorb” the atmosphere of the forest to cleanse stress or simply elevate to a natural mood that helps strengthen your immune system through meditation. I saw it as a way to do something different and find a connection to being more in tune with nature and that alone, healing the soul from your daily routine.

It was the rainy season in Costa Rica, so it was a bit chilly, but good if you’re going to do something outdoors—exercise. Getting a bit off the road led us maybe a little over an hour through beautiful dark green landscapes, covered by thin layers of mist where, at points, morning rays of light pierced through the clouds.

Costa Rica’s landscape is very rugged and mountainous, resulting in winding roads as one might expect in a small country. But this is also an advantage, as the views are breathtaking. For these types of trips where you want to explore and don’t want to depend on public transportation or share the journey with a lot of tourists, the best way to get around is by renting a car, and a good option would be Solid and Europcar. The freedom to ride wherever your destination may be is worth it, especially if you can stop whenever and wherever you want to appreciate the views like the ones I was lucky enough to admire on this trip.

For me, this display of colors in the sky alone made the drive worthwhile. I felt calm and peaceful, but most importantly, I felt happy to be out of bed, exposed to a different environment, having all my negative thoughts from my day-to-day routine washed away. My mind was in awe.

Stress is a killer. It has become a disease that you have to battle with on a daily basis. For me, it’s a mistake that deteriorates the whole system, making us more vulnerable to illnesses and diseases. In the long run, it could even shorten your life.

It’s very hard to fight stress head-on as a daily battle; it will probably give you more stress just thinking that you are stressed. I’ve been there; feeling tired, productivity dropping; sometimes I’m angry out of nowhere, affecting my family and those around me. It’s just overwhelming how fast everything moves in the world and how technology and communication have reached a frequency that I can’t keep up with and ends up consuming.

To fight against this, I always try to step away from my routine, at least 30 minutes during the day. I leave everything and walk my dog, just sit somewhere outdoors to read while my dog plays around. But sometimes this isn’t enough and luckily this weekend I got away from my heavy, tired head at home and freed myself from any attachment.

This particular area I went to explore with my friend is very secluded from everything, but there are some hotels you can find near the mountains of San José (the capital of Costa Rica) without going too far. Hotels like the Wyndham, Apartotel Villas del Río, Barceló San José, and Palma Real Hotel & Casino are a few that can accommodate you close to everything and still enjoy a natural experience out, near the city center.

By exposing yourself to new, different experiences in life, you can find awakening and learn to balance your work with the things that make you happy; this was what I was about to discover. My friend, who knows more about hiking trails and what he calls “contemplative walks,” told me to stop the car on a wet dirt road. He got out of the car and opened an improvised gate made with thick wooden sticks and wire; it was a “Stargates” to new possibilities.

There was a lady who had a small house within the property, so we paid her $2.00 to let us park the car there; after this, we began to walk up a hill until we reached this magical place. A thick cloud forest with tall tree tops so your eyes couldn’t reach where they ended, an infinite changing green color scheme as the mist slowly consumed the forest. In brief moments, we would see an open space between the trees, giving a spectacular view of what seemed to be an endless chain of mountains. A well-guarded secret trail that was soon going to speak to us through its natural beauty.

Everything felt very harmonious, almost as if we were a link within Nature; I mean, we evolved from nature, shouldn’t we feel more connected to it?

I think we use our brain as if it were a non-stop mechanical organ. It’s true that the brain is always working, but we often exceed its energy with our fast-paced lifestyles.

We need to slow down and seek out environments that inspire us; nature knows how to make us feel restored! I proved this theory correct. Once we entered this forest, it was time to test its healing powers.

“…occasional contemplation of natural scenes of an impressive character… is favorable to the health and vigor of men.” – Frederick Law Olmsted

It started to rain, but we didn’t mind getting wet; it was part of the experience and part of becoming one with nature. Now we were literally “forest bathing,” and as we reconnected, we entered into a kind of meditation; surrounded by the soft sounds of trees moving with the gentle breezes, pushing the mist, creating white veils along our path. Different bird songs tuned a symphony in a loop, creating a mantra, quieting our minds and relaxing our bodies. At this point, we began to walk slowly, taking deep breaths…opening our senses.

This was like an out-of-body experience, I just went somewhere else in my head, like stepping out of my body; I was in a kind of trance. All these natural elements working together to take you to a place where you felt like one with the universe, what I call my “body’s energy” (or soul) found its core, and I was in total tranquility.

As we continued on the path, I started to see everything in more detail; the textures on different leaves, the organic, strategic patterns of tree roots protruding from the earth with living organisms around them. It seemed obvious how this whole ecosystem worked together for the benefit of every molecule, not only did I feel right, I felt full of energy and more vigorous.

We ended up at the edge of a small stream, washing our faces in its waters, and its cool temperature refreshed us. I woke up from this magical dream and felt like in a new reality; a sense of being exempt from everything most relaxed – a feeling that gave me goosebumps, it was almost like being reborn. All my senses were strongly awakened, feeling every drop of water caressing my skin.

That’s how I discovered the natural secret of well-being in Costa Rica. I learned that our minds and bodies could relax in any natural environment. Our senses should adapt to them; once we were among the plants and trees, not the noises of traffic and the office. We shouldn’t think of nature as going for a cup of coffee or shopping; we should see it as a way to enhance our health, but more importantly, to be happy. Happiness is life.

With so many things to do in Costa Rica, it’s recommended to try to seek out these practices. Costa Rica is surrounded by greenery and there are many accommodations in different areas. In my own opinion, the best ones are placed around three different regions that offer changes in landscape and climate, all of them providing beautiful places to stay.

For example, if you like to be close to the beach on the northern Pacific coast, in Guanacaste you can look for Capitan Suizo and Occidental Papagayo. Buena Vista Lodge, Hotel Los Héroes, and Río Celeste Hideaway Hotel are options if you’re more of a mountain person, but all of them have or are close to paths, hikes, and walks that shouldn’t be too demanding physically; it’s all about contemplation and making a connection with our original roots.

If you prefer warmer waters on the beach, then you’d prefer the Central Pacific area, and here you can expect to find these hidden secrets with Hotel Cristal Ballena Resort & Spa and Karahé Beach Hotel. But if you really want to get deeper into the mountains of Costa Rica, I would suggest Hacienda AltaGracia, Auberge Resorts Collection, and Casa Turire. These latter two are near the area where I discovered the natural secret of Costa Rica for well-being.

I encourage you to go out and find different ways to discover what makes you happy with healthy activities. Wellness offers many options that suit your preferences and always focuses on promoting physical, psychological, and spiritual well-being that will help you have a close encounter with inner peace.

By Juancho Otalvaro (
Photo by Río Perdido Hotel