Vista Hermosa at Playa Hermosa

I finally understood the expression Pura Vida exactly one week after arriving in Costa Rica. Last Monday, as everyone loaded up on cafecítos, quoted Garfield, and made their way to work, I had the privilege of being taken on a day trip to Playa Hermosa and the Vista Hermosa bar and restaurant. The most justified use of the word “literally” you’ll see today will be found in this paragraph, because these names literally mean “Beautiful Beach” and “Beautiful View”. See for yourself.

Growing up with Caribbean beaches, I was not sure what to expect of my first dip in the Pacific Ocean. The similarities filled me with nostalgia while the differences made me shamelessly trigger-happy with my camera’s shutter button. I was not prepared for the obsidian-black sand banks that skirted the shore nor the overpowering drag of the undertow. I (very audibly) gasped at the presence of nonchalant iguanas shuffling along the shade, and that of bulbous mountains covered in a carpet of rainforest along the horizon.

After breaking my jumping jacks record with an hour of dodging sizeable waves, the Vista Hermosa staff helpfully turned on their back patio’s outdoor shower so I could freshen up for lunch. I ordered the sesame-charred Pacific Tuna steak to commemorate my first clash with the West Coast, which came topped with a chunky mango-avocado dressing. There’s no hunger like post-swim hunger, so I chose a hefty side of thyme-seasoned potatoes to round off the plate next my guilty non-pleasure garden salad.

My vegetarian companion enjoyed an architecturally sound ratatouille comprised of carefully stacked roasted tomatoes, zucchini, and eggplant slices. Her colourful tower was garnished with sautéed mushrooms, green olives, and red onions, while surrounded by a tomato-based moat of quinoa sauce. Our waiter happily accommodated her off-menu requests of over-easy eggs on the side and a customized El Lagarto (lizard) smoothie that added ginger to the pineapple- maracuya-mint blend.

I recommend the foamy and bright green El Colibrí (hummingbird) smoothie, which combines fresh basil, pineapple and lime. If your sweet tooth is larger than its nectar-loving namesake, just leave room for dessert. We shared the caramel-drenched coconut flan and crunchy crème brûlée, both served with thinly sliced strawberries.

While enjoying la vista hermosa from our table on the open-air porch that led down to the beach, I became hypnotized by the cresting and crashing waves. My concentration was only broken by the surprised yelp of a sunbather, whom I then witnessed cornering and grabbing a redheaded, meter-long iguana by its tail, then carrying it upside down at arm’s length. It had snuck its way onto their private beachfront backyard, which must have been a common felony since he unceremoniously perched the calm lizard back on a nearby palm tree trunk. Neither the iguana nor the sunbather seemed shaken by the encounter, and each casually went back to their own relaxing activity. This, I thought, is pura vida.

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