Pura Vida – Film Photography from Costa Rica

Eryndae Thorvaldsen

March 6, 2023

I’ve always been a planner in my life, but sometimes too much organization leaves no room for play.  So, I’ve decided to balance this quality by surrounding myself with adventurously spontaneous friends. This particular trip to Costa Rica came out of my friend texting me at 1am on a weekend with cheap tickets to Costa Rica and me having a very hard time saying no. This trip ended up being a saving grace at the end of my first wedding season as a full time photographer. I had worked my butt off during the summer shooting weddings, and being abroad let my mind completely disconnect from work and reconnect with myself and why I was working so hard in the first place–to be more in control of my life. For me, that means traveling and spending time with family, both chosen and blood. 

hibiscus flower against a blue sky in Costa Rica

We chose to spend five days in the jungle and five on the beach. The weather was perfection the whole trip. The colors were vibrant, the jungle was lush and the waves were the best I have surfed in my life so far. In the jungle, it rained on and off everyday, but it was the warm kind of rain that you could enjoy in a t-shirt and shorts. Since we would be exploring more of the country, we opted to rent a car, and it was well worth it.  As most of the roads are rough, we chose a car with good clearance and all-wheel-drive. While exploring Mt. Arenal, we stayed in El Castillo which was in a very small town outside of the large tourist area of La Fortuna. It was more affordable and a quiet place to rest with a beautiful view. On the way to our place the first night, we ate at La Patio and it became the ‘go to’ spot, delicious birria tacos and very cute dogs. 

Our best day in the jungle was spent exploring the Arenal Observatory Lodge. There is a small museum dedicated to the last eruption of Mt. Arenal and the rebuilding process since then. The museum was located inside a café with delicious cakes. The gardens are stunning and there is a hanging bridge that is just sturdy enough for me to not have a full anxiety attack about my fear of heights. I can’t say the same about the observatory deck that swayed back and forth as you stood above the trees. The hike was exactly what I was looking for, starting with a dip in a waterfall that we had to ourselves for a good half hour before running into some other hikers. The full hike was about four miles of moderate trial. It takes you through many different forests, three waterfalls and farm land. We did get lost once, and I had wished we brought more water but neither of those things dampened my spirit about the hike. 

View of the trees against the blue sky in the jungle

My two other favorite moments of the first half of the trip was finding a store filled with beautiful local artists’ works. The other was the Tabacon springs. If I return to that area I hope to be able to enjoy the full Tabacon spa experience but, for now I am happy to pay a few dollars to park near the springs whose hot water is runoff from the spa. They were very busy with both locals and tourists. Amazingly, as I was laying in the springs I started to see new movement in the trees and suddenly a group of four howler monkeys were swinging from the branches above us. A truly unbelievable moment. It was such a relaxing afternoon before the drive across the country to Tamarindo.

The next day we made the trek to Tamarindo. Unfortunately the roads are winding and treacherous, I am very prone to motion sickness. Besides that, it was really amazing to see all the different landscapes and towns across Costa Rica. We even drove through a large wind farm! 

I would return to Tamarindo in a heartbeat. People visit there from all over the world, it’s the quintessential beach town. Surfers roaming the small streets, a laid back vibe by day and dancing to good music in small cafes by night. “Pura Vida” is the mantra there.  During our first night out dancing we met people from Chile, Australia and Texas. We stayed at Hotel Pasatiempo and I could not recommend it more. According to our waiter for breakfast one morning, it is one of the longest standing establishments in the area. The hotel is even on a map he has from the 80s. Each room has its own porch with a hammock. The second day, while sitting next to the pool we watched as a huge Iguana climbed up a palm tree to eat eggs from a bird’s nest. 

One of my favorite parts about the town was the ability to walk everywhere, spending most days at the beach at sunset,  dipping our toes in the water. The second day we got caught in a warm rainstorm while swimming in the waves, a blissful feeling to say the least. It reminded me of growing up in the midwest. Swimming in the lakes during a warm summer rainstorm is its own special moment of peace. 

Woman laughing by pool in jungle of Costa Rica

If you find yourself in Tamarindo and you don’t do anything besides eating at El Santuario, the trip would be well worth it. The restaurant was started by two Italian friends who fell in love with Costa Rica. The ambiance of the open air restaurant, paired with a local duo playing live music and absolutely mouth watering italian food was an evening I hope to remember for a long time.

The day before we left, I rented a surfboard from one of the countless shops along the beach. I learned how to surf years ago on a very cold, overcast day on the Oregon coast. I remember spending 4 hours in the ocean, only managing to stand up three or four times, but still I became totally enamored by the feeling of riding the waves. Living in the Midwest now, surfing has not been very accessible so getting out in Costa Rica was high on my list. After being absolutely destroyed by a few waves, I rode the largest wave I had ever been on. The feeling was the same experience as  tearing through powder on my snowboard, a true flow state.

All photos taken by me, Eryndae Photography on a Minolta XD11 and Kodak Portra 400 35mm film.