Relax…This is Costa Rica

You just might decide to settle down here.

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Published in Good Times in February 2013

The image that stays in my mind months after my first trip to Costa Rica is that of the cows - specifically, the humpbacked Brahman cattle that look at you with lazy eyes and refuse to budge, whether you're on a dusty single-lane road or barrelling down a highway.

We see one shortly after we get off the plane in the compact airport where we are picked up by our friend Dan, a Canadian who has been living with his wife, Cheryl, and their family in Costa Rica for a few months. He's invited my husband, Jeff, and me to be guests in his rented home in the town of Playa Grande on the North Pacific Coast.

Dan slows the car at the first cow sighting and turns his head to the back seat to explain. "They're everywhere," he says. "We just wait for them to cross." And wait we do. A few minutes pass. There's no honking, no yelling out the window. We just wait.

At one point, the cow raises its head and glances over at us as if to ask, "What's your hurry?" and stays right where it is. A few cars gather behind us, but we just idle, as if we have all the time in the world-until the beast finally moves sluggishly off the road.

Our cow encounter is my first clue that life is different here. In the space of an entire June week, I never see anyone move at a pace faster than a stroll. Costa Ricans are renowned for their laid-back attitude: "pura vida" ("plenty of life" or "full or life") is a national motto.

There's a lot to appreciate about life in this lush country nestled between Nicaragua to the north and Panama to the south-southeast, with the Pacific coastline to the west and Caribbean beaches to the east.

Costa Rica, with a population of fewer than five million people, has pristine shores, jungle-covered mountains, a tropical climate, and immense biodiversity (it takes up just one-third of one per cent of Earth's land mass but contains four per cent of all species known to exist on the planet).

It's also considered the world's greenest country: 26 per cent of its territory is under national-park protection.

Costa Rica is unhurried, unspoiled, and uncrowded. No wonder Ticos (the Costa Ricans' name for themselves) are so laid-back-and happy. In fact, they are ranked as the happiest people in the world, according to the New Economics Foundation's most recent Happy Planet Index.

Not only that, Costa Rica is home to one of five of the planet's Blue Zones, regions where it's common for people to live active lives past the age of 100.

It's progressive in plenty of other ways, too: it has a democratic government with a female president, a high literacy rate, universal health care, and good schools, and it abolished its army in 1949.

So it's no surprise that tourism brings in more money than the combined export of coffee, bananas, and pineapples - the three main cash crops; people everywhere are curious to discover a taste of the good life Costa Rica has to offer.

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