(For all my posts on pagan-inspired travel destinations, click here.)
In Costa Rica, the locals say, Pura Vida.
Roughly, this translates to “it’s all good,” “no worries,” or even “hello.”
Pura vida, like so many of the best expressions, renders no true equivalent in any other language.
But directly translated, Pura Vida means “pure life.”
When I think of Costa Rica, I think of the pure life, and all the things I love about the wild, breath-taking, adventurous spirit of this beautiful country.
Costa Rica appeals in particular to Earth Signs (Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn) and anyone who identifies as a green or Hedge Witch.
Boasting some of the richest biodiversity on the planet, the green witch will marvel at the lush, tropical cornucopia of plant life, and the impressive local knowledge of its medicinal and spiritual values.
Every place vibrates with a certain energy. This energy is both static and infinite.
As individuals, we “read” this energy and experience it according to our beliefs, impressions, state of being and the context of our lives.
For me, Costa Rica means rest, rejuvenation, and purification.
Perhaps because I love me some spa time.
The ritualism and use of natural herbs and oils to honor the body as a temple deeply to my pagan self.
Costa Rica’s unique access to botanicals combined with its world-class service industry makes for some of the most amazing, quality massages and spa treatments available at a price much more affordable than Europe or the US.
It’s not impossible to score an top-notch facial for $15.
I especially enjoy making magically meaningful beauty treatments at home, so I brought this recipe home for my green witches on the Stateside:
Mint Chocolate Face Mask
*greek yogurt (3 tbsp)
*cocoa powder (1 tablespoon)
*3 drops peppermint oil
Mix it up, and ahhhh . . .
(Or even better!, let me mix up a batch of the scrub version for you personally.)
Stay away from the bigger, more commercial spas at hotels and look for little places tucked in between shops on the charming streets of La Fortuna.
Usually, there’s room to negotiate if you feel comfortable bargaining, but even on the high end, an hour long massage runs less than $50.
My inclination towards natural healing and holistic health drew me to the healing waters of the hot springs in La Fortuna.
Situated near a majestic volcano that dominates the landscape like a great, sleeping giant, the deep fire that roars beneath it feeds hot springs all over the area. Many hotels even have private natural springs.
Many off-beat travelers value lesser known, more local attractions, and I personally enjoy them very much over super-touristy, Disney theme park type stuff
On that note, if ghost chasing piques your interest, check out the little-known Sanatorio Duran. Built originally to treat patients dying of the then widespread epidemic of tuberculosis, the Sanatorio also served as a prison and a mental hospital.
It’s no wonder local legends abound about this strange and beautiful place.
(Look forward to more on the Sanatorio Duran, as I plan to showcase it in an upcoming Featured Haunting post.)
Whenever I go anywhere, I take note of the wildlife I encounter. Every place teems with its dominate species. In Tanzania, you may think of the mighty lion. In New York, you may think of less-mighty (yet formidable) subway rat. For many people, Costa Rica conjures images of butterflies and brightly color tropical birds.
But I think of alligators.
We passed this one on a stroll through Manuel Antonio, where he soaked himself in a natural drainage ditch just 4 feet from the sidewalk. No barrier, no fence. Nothing standing between us and this ancient creature with razor-lined jaws.
Oddly, a man stood on the sidewalk, tossing what looked like some kind of hairy palm fruit. (You can kind of see one right in front of the mouth in the photo below). The alligator happily ate them—-I always thought they were exclusively carnivores?
As a totem animal, the alligator represents primal energy, courage, protection and The Gatekeeper.
I find the eyes especially unsettling, and in them, I see a jarring reminder of the beautiful but dangerous world beyond our five senses.
Speaking of totem animals . . .
Although (sadly) indigenous tribes in Central America continue to shrink, the Baruca people of Central America still carry on a rich tradition.
The above masks made Costa Rica famous for its hand-carved wood. Baruca people began making these masks 500 years ago to scare away Spanish invaders.
Christian invaders thought the masks symbolized the devil, but in fact, they represented fierce versions of the Baruca totem animals.
Of course, Costa Rica remains largely Catholic, but I love seeing little pockets of living-yet-ancient pagan traditions around the world.
Wildflowers in Costa Rica’s rain forest wonderland burst with a delicate, vibrant beauty.
The orchid—a flower I think of us as impossibly fragile in my own region—grows with particular tenacity in this climate, poking its way through the thick of the jungle in search of sunlight.
In my childhood, my great uncle visited us from San Jose and brought with him bouquets of orchids from Costa Rica for the ladies in our family.
(How did he manage to get them through customs?)
I still vividly recall the image of his wife standing at our kitchen counter, gingerly flicking water droplets on the exquisite, graceful blossoms with her fingertips to keep them from fading in the drier, cooler air of the Northeast US.
If you live in North America or Europe and keep a pot of orchids indoors through the winter, you know what a marvel it is that this plant actually grows somewhere wildly without any help from human hands.
In ritual, the orchid symbolizes:
Leave them on the altar or use them in beauty and romance spells.
Perhaps even more than the flowers I know and love, I marvel at all the strange, otherworldly flowers for which I have no name.
For those with a deep love of gardening, I recommend you not leave without a tour of the farms that grow one of the earthiest, most wondrous plants ever gifted to the human race by Mother Earth herself: coffee.
I consider it one of Costa Rica’s best kept secrets. Lesser known than coffee powerhouses like Columbia, Costa Rica nonetheless grows some of the finest coffee in the world, and the growers there know their crop in a way we rarely think of it in the US/Western World.
The indigeneous healers in Costa Rica recognized the medicinal and spiritual value of this magical plant centuries ago and still use it this way today.
At the very least, if you drink imported coffee anywhere, know that it tastes completely different at the source. The vibes coming off well-grown coffee beans (or “cherries”) on the vine give me a heady, dizzy feeling that ruined me for the ordinary, pre-ground, store-bought stuff.
In spell craft, coffee makes a wonderful addition to rituals for motivation, moving forward, energy clearing, and creative pursuits. Include fresh, unprocessed beans in mojo bags for these purposes.
For the gardener, touring a coffee plantation opens creative possibilities for sustainable growing practices. Our guide impressed me with the interesting and unique ways Costa Rican coffee farmers make the most of the land space and soil quality by mingling complimentary crops.
While coffee plays a key role in Costa Rica’s economy, my visits to Costa Rica drew my attention to the importance of responsible growth and labor practices. Coffee production impacts Costa Rica’s rain forests and rivers to such a degree that the (exceptionally) environmentally-conscious government often passes laws regulating the process to ensure sustainability.
However, corruption often impedes the enforcement of these laws.
In addition, farmers often exploit cheap labor from neighboring countries like Nicaragua, even employing small children to spend hours picking coffee beans in harsh conditions.
Witnessing directly the devastating effects of child labor while abroad makes ignoring these things much, much more difficult. I encourage all pagans to look these things in the face and practice less harmful consumerism as a key feature of a nature-based spiritual experience.
I think we all sometimes forget real people live on the other end of our purchases. Protecting their interests should be a part of everyone’s investment in better karma.