Costa Rican Narnia

Elizabeth Seward fulfills a childhood desire to visit Costa Rica.

I was in elementary school the first time I heard Costa Rica referenced as a destination people actually traveled to. A boy in my class answered his “what did you do this summer?” question with tales of this mystical place, which sounded a lot like Narnia to me. He was wearing a shirt covered in a colorful image of a parrot and the words “Costa Rica” scribbled underneath the bird in cursive. He made my summer’s trip to Ocean City, Maryland sound like garbage and while I resented him for this, I still went home that evening parading the idea of Costa Rica vacation to my family. around the dinner table. When my mother told me how many birthday checks I’d have to save up before I could afford to fly the family to Costa Rica, I realized I would be 39–in which case I’d just fly myself. Fortunately, the prospect of vacationing in Costa Rica in my adult years didn’t hinge on (only) birthday checks. 

I set out this past summer to embark on a trip to the land filled with monkeys and brightly colored poisonous frogs.  Flights to Costa Rica, as it turns out, are much less expensive than I’d once imagined.

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I’d been obsessing, with the help of Google, over an eco-friendly lodge located where the rain forest meets the ocean by way of Golfo Dulce near the border with Panama. Although I’d been eyeing virtual tours and reviews online, Playa Nicuesa of Costa Rica seemed just as fantastic to me as the image of Costa Rica painted for me by that childhood classmate. And the image only seemed more imaginary once I was standing at the foot of the lodge’s main structure amid the astounding wildlife –you’d have to be numb to not feel its magic.  

Lush bright green leaves bigger than my body sprouted out and met each other mid-sky to form a canopy over the winding pathways that branched out from the lodge. Beads of rainwater trickled down neon flower petals, and the lodge, built from the wood of fallen trees, stood before me without a single window or door. The owners of Playa Nicuesa, on a mission to build their lodge greenly, designed the blueprint for the lodge’s structure around the land they were given; not a single tree was cut down. This mission was extended through all aspects of our stay: the building uses solar panels and a roof made from recycled items, we air-dried our clothing, batteries were offered to guests so that they might be properly disposed of back home, and we used a natural water source, composting, and eco-friendly soaps. 

When my friend, Kelly, and I were shown the cabin we’d rented for the week, we noticed it had something peculiar in common with the lodge’s main building: no windows or doors. “Check your bed for bugs before you go to sleep,” we were warned. 

And there were bugs. 

The idea of vacationing so openly with nature doesn’t appeal to everyone, but I kind of loved it. Our cabin, also constructed primarily with fallen wood, was like a treehouse for adults. Without access to the phone, internet, or even a hair dryer, this lodge was a series of treehouses where we could effectively play pretend and detach ourselves from the lives we’d paused back in New York City.   

Our meals were comprised mostly of locally grown or caught meat and produce. The traditional Costa Rican cuisine was prepared with a gourmet twist, creating meals that always impressed.   

The lodge offered activities like yoga at dawn on the beach, massages, river kayaking alongside boas, dolphin-gazing, and waterfall rappelling. It was, simply put, one of the best places on Earth I’ve yet to encounter and I commend Playa Nicuesa, and especially their environmental guru, Jodi, for making it a sustainable destination. 

Nothing quite compares to being sung to sleep by the ocean’s lapping waves while then being awoken by the deep roar of howler monkeys. Although I have now seen it for myself, I still maintain that Costa Rica is much like Narnia.

Photos: Playa Nicuesa