San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Mountain retreat in Heredia is ‘Pure Life’

“Pura vida,” or “pure life,” the quintessential Tico catchphrase for all things good, may be a ubiquitous part of speech in Costa Rica, but a peaceful estate overlooking the Central Valley has earned the right to use the much-exploited phrase in its name.

Steeped in fresh mountain air and the aroma of pine trees, Rancho Pura Vida offers six luxurious white villas on a tranquil 40-acre estate in Los Angeles de Heredia, north of San José. A retiree’s dream, the estate’s rolling pastures and wooded trails grant visitors the therapeutic effects of nature with the comfort of modern amenities.

Since opening to the public in January 2010, the estate has hosted weddings, family reunions, extended vacations and private social events. Founder and owner Marilyn Henderson plans to complete her dream of establishing an assisted-living community in the coming years, a project that has been more than three decades in the making. The community will eventually offer three levels of residence: independent living, assisted living and health center. Henderson plans to develop a full-scale community including 60 villas, a medical center, clubhouse, swimming pool, hot tub, sauna, golf putting green and minimarket. For now, the first six villas are available for weekly and monthly vacation rental.

A native of the Florida Keys in the U.S., Henderson first visited Costa Rica in 1966 as a participant in a goodwill tour with the Business and Professional Women’s Club of Marathon, Florida. In 1967, Henderson, her husband, Earl, and their four children drove the family trailer down from Marathon to Costa Rica. They purchased the Pura Vida property in 1972.

In the ensuing decades, the Henderson family made its mark in Costa Rica. In 1982, Henderson and her daughter, Ginger, both licensed real estate agents, opened Carico Real Estate of Costa Rica as a branch of their Florida Keys real estate brokerage firm. Another daughter, Amba Stapleton, and her husband, Don Stapleton, are the co-founders of the Nosara Yoga Institute on northwestern Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula. Henderson now lives on the Pura Vida estate in a restored 130-year-old farmhouse.

At nearly 1,700 meters (5,500 feet) of elevation, air conditioning at Rancho Pura Vida is provided by nature. Even in the dry season, the area maintains an average temperature of 22 degrees Celsius (72 F). The villas invite guests to engage in the Costa Rican pastime of relaxing in a rocking chair on the porch. At dusk, fireflies flicker over the pasture as the valley begins to glitter with the lights of the city.

Animal lovers can encounter porcupines, sloths, parrots, motmots and squirrels on the property, which is planted with guava, citrus and mango trees, hydrangeas and coffee plants.

Each villa features an airy floor plan with large glass doors that open toward the panoramic valley view. Guests have everything necessary for a prolonged stay, including a fully equipped kitchen, spacious bathroom with whirlpool bathtub, shower and bidet. The regal master bedroom features a plush queen-size bed and opens onto the balcony, while the second bedroom has a convertible sofa bed. Each villa is wheelchair-accessible and includes a private one-car garage, satellite flat-screen TV and DVD, washer and dryer, wireless Internet and phone with free local and international calls.

Rancho Pura Vida feels like a mountain getaway, yet fine dining, parks and nightlife are just a few minutes’ drive away. Several well-known eateries lie just beyond the estate gates, including Lebanese restaurant Baalbek, Costa Rican eatery Añoranzas and gourmet restaurants Miramonte and Patio Los Condes at Hotel La Condesa. Also nearby are La Puerta de Alcalá, a rustic discotheque that often features live salsa and Latin music on weekends, and the Lekkerland cheese factory, where visitors can purchase dairy products directly from the source. Farther up the mountain lie Monte de la Cruz park and El Castillo Country Club.

The gated estate features hiking trails through the cloud forest and a small waterfall in the rainy season. The ranch is home to three horses: two mares, Princess Gabriella and Roxie, and Roxie’s 3-year-old gelding, Domingo. Guests can arrange horseback riding excursions with advance notice. Rancho Pura Vida staff can also arrange tours to nearby attractions such as Poás Volcano National Park, La Paz Waterfall Gardens and the Café Britt Coffee Tour.

Going There

From downtown Heredia, pass the National University (UNA) on the main street and continue north 300 meters. Turn right (east) over the road to San Rafael de Heredia. From the north side of the main white church, go up 3.5 km toward Los Angeles. Go past the animal refuge 300 m and turn right, continue 1 km and then turn right again. Drive 300 m to a long rock wall; the Rancho Pura Vida entrance gate is on the left.

Villa rates are $700 a week or $1,800 a month. Discounts are available for longer rentals.

For reservations and information, call 2267-7920, email manager Josette Vílchez at josette@caricohen, or visit For information about the planned Pura Vida Life Care retirement community, see

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