"Pura vida," said our driver and tour guide Sergio Quesada of Costa Rican Trails on the way to the Xandari Resort and Spa in Alajuela, Costa Rica. This is likely the first phrase you'll become acquainted with in Costa Rica, and one you'll quickly pick up.
Though its literal translation is "pure life," the term can be used in various contexts. For instance, it could be used to greet someone, describe how great you are feeling or, in our case, something you say as you wait for a frog to leap off the road before resuming the drive to the hotel. In short, it describes the carefree attitude Costa Ricans live by.
When we approached Xandari, the sky was dark, the weather warm but damp, and the sound of cicadas filled the air. After checking into one of 24 palm-roofed villas, we enjoyed a farm-to-table dinner in the open-air, covered terrace overlooking the lights of the Central Valley.
Here, all of the dishes are prepared with fresh fruits and vegetables from Xandari's farm, which takes up about 40 acres of the property. In busy months, when the resort cannot keep up with demand, it buys produce from a neighboring organic farm. Organic dairy products are also sourced locally.
During our stay, dishes included zucchini carpaccio salad, sea bass ceviche and shrimp Provencal prepared with fresh tomato, mushrooms, onions, garlic, white wine and fresh parsley and served with roasted garlic potato cakes and sauteed vegetables.
In addition to farm-fresh fare, the sustainable hotel offers many on-site activities, including bird-watching, yoga and hiking in the second-growth forest.
As the sun came up, the bright colors of the villas popped, resembling the birds, flowers and insects we'd later spot on Xandari's trails. Later that evening, a downpour would serve as a soothing soundtrack for a sunset yoga class inside a palm-roofed palapa with wooden doors that were left open.
Wellness top of mind at event
The purpose of our stay was to attend Expotur, Costa Rica's annual travel mart. At this year's event, attendees learned a new slogan: "Essential Costa Rica. My Choice, Naturally."
The marketing campaign, which made its debut at the inaugural ceremony at the National Theater, highlights the country's niche markets, including wellness, a major focus of this year's Expotur. The country is well known as a destination for ecotourism, adventure, sun and beach.
The next morning, international participants and buyers gathered at the Parque Viva's Centro de Evento Kolbi to explore tourism products and services ranging from hotels and airlines to tour operators and major attractions.
The convention included representatives from 130 hotels. Throughout the daylong event, attendees enjoyed different artistic performances and activities, including local food tastings. The event also highlighted wellness offerings, and along its 312 booths it presented the Ruta Nacional de las Aves (national bird watching routes), a tourism segment that is booming in Costa Rica.
Next year's Expotur will take place from April 25 to 27 at the new Centro Nacional de Congresos y Convenciones. For more on Expotur, visit www.expotur.com.