Pura Vida. In Costa Rica, these words express the philosophy of life that embodies the natural beauty of this majestic country and its people. Enjoy life, live life to the fullest, be grateful for all living things.

Having recently spent a glorious multi-generational family holiday in Costa Rica —  seven adults and three children from three families — I am still holding on to this awesome feeling by which the “ticos” live.

To be honest, when my daughter, Jessie, called from her home in Toronto several months earlier and invited me and my husband Marty to vacation with her, her husband, Herb, and our two grandsons, Loki and Nate, I quickly agreed before hearing where they planned to go. Timbuktu? Sure! Oshkosh? Absolutely!

We had visited Costa Rica at least a decade earlier and loved it. And now, as a budding photographer, I knew that in addition to the gift of being with my family, this was also going to be a photographic paradise.

Costa Rica is tucked in between the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, and offers an expansive menu of some of the world’s most diverse ecological treasures. From rainforests and volcanoes to hot springs, mangroves and beaches, the opportunities to explore are endless.

With one week to experience as much as possible, Herb mapped out an itinerary that allowed us to enjoy two key areas — the Zone Norte near the iconic Arenal Volcano and Guanacaste, the western coast peppered with lovely beaches.

We met in Liberia, on the northwest coast of the country, to start our journey. Marty and I flew from BWI directly into the Liberia airport — a smooth 4½-hour flight. In two rental cars, we drove several hours inland to our first villa near La Fortuna, a small town outside of the active Arenal Volcano. Designed by our friendly host Julian, an artist and Israeli ex-pat, the house was filled with art, had an indoor pool and sat on more than an acre of gardens with exotic flowers and palm trees. It was open and airy with plenty of communal space as well as privacy.

At Julian’s recommendation, we spent a fun day at Baldi’s hot springs soaking in thermos-mineral waters and sliding through curved pipe water slides with the majestic volcano in panoramic view.

The kids had a ball! Later, we hiked to a natural water hole with Tarzan-like ropes and waterfalls. By then, I must have already taken over a hundred photos.

The rainforest was our next stop. We visited Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park, a private reserve of 600 acres of tropical flora and fauna. We completed the two-mile hike through the forest, traversing 22 bridges — some stable, some not so much — and at the end, saw a group of tourists pointing high at a treetop. I couldn’t see what it was that everyone was excitedly shouting about, but I aimed my camera in that direction, used my telephoto lens and was amazed to capture a smiling, very hairy, three toed sloth.

Leaving the rainforest, we drove on to our next home, Casa Punta, in the small beach town of Playas de Coco. We were taken aback by this gorgeous villa that had a huge wide-open living area, a fully equipped kitchen, bedrooms with private baths and a guesthouse. The outdoor infinity pool overlooked the beach and the glorious and brilliant sunsets stole the show every night. We shared great meals cooked at the villa and at fun and funky restaurants in town.

And while I captured hundreds more memories through my camera to fill the family photo-journal that I will make, the fondest memories of this time in this place with my family will remain in my heart.

Pura Vida!

Check out visitcostarica.com or costaricaexpeditions.com.

Karen Sitnick is a Baltimore-based freelance writer. Photo by Karen Sitnick.

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