A Week at the Pura Vida Hostel, Tamarindo Costa Rica
Confession Time: When I booked a bed in the Bob Marley room of the Pura Vida Hostel for $11 a night, I’d never stayed in a hostel before.
On the bus from the Liberia, Costa Rica airport to the hostel in Tamarindo, nightmare scenarios flashed through my mind. What If I don’t sleep at all because everyone is noisey? What If someone steals my shit? What if there’s a creepy dude in my room?
All my worries washed away when I stepped through the gates into the hostel.
The space was like an international acid trip or like a crazy mashup of beach and jungle with some music festival sprinkled in. Huge leafy green tropical plants grew in every nook and cranny. The common areas were all open air, and the biggest space featured a bunch of hammocks and rocking chairs tucked beneath a gigantic straw hut. Every square inch of wall was smothered with colorful trippy art and murals. My favorite was a larger-than-life mermaid whose tail transformed into a tornado and whose eyes were shooting fiery red laser beams at a tiny painting of Homer Simpson.
When I arrived, I was greeted off the bat by a smiling American with kind eyes who said, “We’ve been expecting you!”
His name was Taylor. He was the first of many people I’d come to know at Pura Vida Hostel. All in all, the incredible folks I shared time with in that place ended up being my favorite part of the trip by far.
They came from all walks of life, all ages, all nationalities. Some had careers back home and others had abandoned theirs in search of a better life. There were lawyers and stoners, surf bums and backpackers, couples stopping by for a few days during a year-long journey and folks like me who were only popping in for a brief window of time.
There’s a big sign out in front of the hostel that says “Come as a guest, leave as a friend,” and as Taylor told me, it’s not just a saying — it’s true. I learned so much from the folks I met, and I’ll never forget them.
Take Taylor, for example. Over my one week there, he was my personal travel advisor, fruit fairy, and all around Costa Rican spirit guide. He’s a cancer — the zodiac sign for June and July indicating a sympathetic, imaginative, cozy personality — and he’ll show you the crab tattoo on his thigh to prove it. Born and raised surfing in San Diego, he now spends part of the year down in Costa Rica running the hostel. He loves monkeys, and even once came running down the street to show me a family of Howlers posted up in a tree. He brought me fresh fruit on multiple occasions, including the most delicious mango I think I’ve ever tasted, and a granaderia, which is a delicious but bizarre fruit that looks like an alien egg pod and tastes like pure sweetness. Every bit of advice he gave me about things to do or places to eat in Tamarindo were on point, for which I’m eternally grateful.
Another friend I met was Serg. Serg is a surf bum with the demeanor of someone who’s perpetually relaxed and tanned skin the color of melted brown sugar. He owned several bars and restaurants in Hawaii, where he lives when he’s not in Tamarindo surfing, but had to sell them when he needed a hip replacement in his early thirties. He told me the story of his hip replacement over beers one night: how it felt to need such dramatic surgery so young, how painful his recovery was, and most importantly how awesome he feels now that he can do all the things he loves without pain. “I feel awesome now,” he says with a smile, and I believe it. Serg is like a magnet for good vibes, and I found myself just wanting to be around him to soak in that positivity.
I met two brothers — Aaron and Daniel — who were on their first international trip together to celebrate Daniel’s graduation from college. They were at least a decade apart in age and reminded me with fondness of my relationship with my younger brother, Johnny. I thought it was so cool that they were sharing this experience together and it made me wonder if maybe Johnny and I could share something similar in the future.
I met a hilarious 20 year old Brit named John who I hit it off with right away. Something about meeting him felt like we’d known each other for ages, and so right off the bat I started teasing him about his accent. He had quit his job in real estate and was traveling Latin America for three months by himself. I was so impressed and had a blast listening to the stories of his travels.
There were countless others: a boisterous French Canadian who loved expensive cars and kept asking Taylor about the quality of local prostitutes, a sweet and quiet Swiss girl who had just graduated from high school and had been attacked by a monkey, a brother-sister duo from Jersey who loved to party, an easy-going wook from Portland who spent an entire day building a gigantic sandcastle, a middle-aged single mom who came to Tamarindo every year by herself in search of adventure.
Opening yourself up to genuine interactions with strangers teaches you as much about yourself as about the people you meet. The beautiful people I met Pura Vida Hostel showed me that when you follow your heart, there’s no wrong way to live. I’m incredibly inspired by their stories, their tenacity, their lust for life, and I feel so grateful that I get to carry some of that back home with me.
The slogan was true: I came as a guest and left as a friend, and I can’t wait to see them again one day.