Costa Rica Private Expedition

  • Trip Type: Private Expedition
  • 9 days | Round-trip San José

Travelogue: Costa Rica


“Travelogue” is a new series that details National Geographic staff member’s most recent travels throughout the world. Learn from their experiences to help you decide on your next awe-inspiring adventure.

Dispatches from Three Jungles

By Lin Kuczera

Photo courtesy of Pacuare Lodge, a National Geographic Unique Lodge of the World

The Freedom of Floating
I’m floating on my back down the Pacuare River as it cuts between a tall black-rock canyon. The forest has still found a way to grow down the sides, creating vibrant walls that envelop me. Toucans pass overhead and a spider monkey scream echoes in the distance. How did I get to these remote jungles of Costa Rica’s Limón province? The best way in my opinion: by tackling class III and IV white-water rapids in a river raft. Fourteen miles of raft-worthy river separate Pacuare Lodge, a National Geographic Unique Lodge of the World, from civilization. After three days at the lodge, this part of my adventure is sadly coming to an end, but I can’t think of a better way to bid farewell to these forests than by drifting slowly through them, soaking up their beauty.

I let my life jacket keep me afloat as I kick downstream, focusing on the sky above. I am completely free—in total travel bliss. For once, I have left my camera tucked away, and I can truly relax and be present. The moment is simple and pure—my most indelible memory of the trip.

Photo by Krystof Ernesto Ponce

Encontrar la Pura Vida
We traverse hanging bridges through the towering jungles of Arenal Volcano National Park, and then cool off in Catarata Fortuna, a 200-foot-tall waterfall. I jump into the waterfall pool and hang on to a large rock, my legs floating behind me. I stay there for a while, feeling the pull of the emerald vortex.

In town, we pop into a small market, still cooled off from our swim. The clerk cuts off the top of a coconut I handpicked, places a straw inside, and hands it to me with a gentle smile. We make our way to the town square and sit in front of the church, sipping on fresh coconut water and admiring the simplicity of the church’s architecture against the brilliant backdrop of the volcano. Arenal Volcano can be seen from anywhere in the town, a reminder of nature’s ever-present beauty and power.

In Costa Rica, "pura vida" means much more than "pure life" or "take it easy"—it is the expression of eternal optimism. It’s used as a greeting, as an answer to questions, and as a general reference to how things are going. Stay awhile, and this saying can change your perspective. A warm breeze shakes the palms, ticos—as Costa Ricans call themselves—pass by on motorbikes, and I envision myself living la pura vida right here.

Photo courtesy of Lapa Rios Lodge, a National Geographic Unique Lodge of the World

Jungle Immersion
Heaven is a place on the Osa Peninsula. Here, the jungle meets the balmy ocean, and abundant primary forest makes it a haven for incredible wildlife. In my screened-in bungalow at Lapa Rios Lodge, another National Geographic Unique Lodge, I’m at first startled awake by the sound of howler monkeys. But soon the primate wails and loud insects lull me to sleep, a reminder of all the other life that exists around me. Just like the sound of the black evening ocean after everyone has left the beach, it makes you feel small and insignificant, but alive. That’s how it is on the Osa. You’re not visiting the jungle, you’re part of it.

The Osa Peninsula is the first place I’ve been where I can really work on my wildlife photography. It’s not unusual to be walking to the main lodge for breakfast and spot a family of spider monkeys. Nor is it uncommon to be rinsing off in the outdoor shower of your villa and look up to see a pair of scarlet macaws flying overhead. I have quickly learned to have my zoom lens on me at all times. Not only am I practicing a type of photography that is new to me, I am also learning how these creatures work. Tracking their every move, I am completely focused on them, observing how they behave and react to me. In these moments, I had a personal rapport with these animals—and felt completely connected to this pristine and protected habitat.

Learn more about our Costa Rica Private Expedition