If you know us at all, you know that we love music festivals. After all, we met at the Rothbury festival way back in 2008. We spent an entire summer going to music festivals all across the US the next year and have been to at least one festival every summer since then, including festivals in China and Bali.
When we can combine our love of festivals with our love of travel, we’re definitely in our happy place. Seeing Phish play on the beach in Mexico earlier this year might be our best travel experience yet. That festival was a tough act to follow, but we tried anyways by heading straight from Cancun down to Costa Rica for the Envision Festival.
Read on to hear all about Envision Festival and our transformational experience in the jungle of Costa Rica.
If you’re more of a video person, check out Sasha’s video recap:
What is Envision Festival?
Many of you are probably asking yourself this question right now. We certainly were when we first heard about it a couple of years ago. According to the festival’s website, Envision is “a celebration dedicated to awakening our human potential.”
Still confused? It’s OK, so am I.
Envision Festival is definitely much more than a music festival. As a matter of fact, the music is only one small aspect of the festival in addition to yoga, spirituality, nature, sustainability, art, and surfing. They only have one stage playing music during the day at Envision Festival. Most of the bands and DJs come on after sunset.
The site for Envision Festival is Rancho La Merced, a beautiful property in the jungle of southwest Costa Rica. The nearest town is Uvita, which is famous for its “whale tail” beach. You can easily access a different beach from the festival grounds, so most people spend their days swimming and surfing.
This year was the 9th edition of the Envision Festival, and it has continued to grow with each passing year. We heard estimates that there were 7-8,000 people in attendance this year. Having been to massive festivals like Bonnaroo and Lolapalooza, this felt nice and cozy to us.
A Look Inside Envision Festival
Inside the festival, there are three large stages and a few smaller ones. The Luna stage was a massive creature made of bamboo and was really impressive, while the Sol stage had some mind-blowing visuals on it. Seeing the amazing stages that they put together was definitely a highlight of attending Envision Festival.
There are also dedicated areas for yoga classes and the many workshops they put on. These start after sunrise and continue until sunset when the music starts. That means the action is basically non-stop at Envision Festival. Finding time to sleep is definitely tough at this jam-packed festival!
Of course, there are plenty of vendors selling things like clothing, jewelry, artwork, hula hoops, and more. In the middle of all the vendors is the Village, you’ll find some cool places to chill out. We really enjoyed melting into these things that we called the “spider web chairs” when we needed a break.
In the Village area, you’ll find many different vendors cooking up fresh food, brewing coffee, pouring cocktails, and so on.
Envision Festival is very committed to sustainability – more so than any other festival we’ve been to. They don’t use any single-use cups, bowls, plates, or cutlery. There are no plastic bottles sold inside the festival, either. When you think about how much waste your average festival generates, it’s great to see Envision taking such steps.
A majority of attendees at Envision Festival camp out for the weekend. Since so many people travel from out of the country, the festival has plenty of tents for rent. They also have a secure area where you can keep your valuables locked up.
Despite this, we heard several reports of people having things stolen at the festival. We know what that’s like, as Rachel’s bag was swiped last year at Summer Camp and it sucks big time.
Why Envision Festival?
To be honest, we’re more into going on Phish tour than going to Burning Man. Don’t get me wrong – Burning Man looks rad AF. I would love to go there, open my 3rd eye nice and wide, and freak out to all the mind-blowing art. It’s just too bad that it’s in the freaking desert, is a week long, costs a ton of money, and is incredibly difficult to pull off on a budget.
When some of our Burner friends told us that Envision Festival was basically a mini-version of Burning Man, but in Costa Rica, we decided to go for it. After all, we’re always looking for an excuse to add a new country to our list. Tons of our friends have been to Costa Rica and we heard so many great things about it, so we were pumped to finally visit.
Fun fact – this was actually our first time ever stepping foot in Central America! You’d think that after living in Puerto Vallarta for a few years we would have made it there, but nope.
We have a real bad case of FOMO (fear of missing out). When Phish announced they would be doing another Riviera Maya event, we were pretty certain we wouldn’t be able to afford it. Even though we planned to be nearby in Playa del Carmen, we thought our best case scenario would be watching from the beach on the other side of the wall.
In an effort to combat the inevitable FOMO, we decided to buy tickets for Envision Festival for the very next weekend along with flights to Costa Rica. We figured if we had to watch Phish from a distance, we might as well hit another festival in a new country the next weekend. Plus, we would still spend way less than we would have by buying a package for Phish.
They say good things come to those who wait, and that was definitely true for us this time! After selling off our original Envision tickets and almost bailing on it, we got half-priced tickets thanks to our artist friend who works there. We also managed to get into Phish at the last minute for less than half price. Score!
Our Experience at Envision Festival
Traveling to Envision
After staying up until 3 AM in Tulum celebrating Rachel’s birthday, we caught a flight from Cancun down to San Jose on about two hours of sleep. Whoops.
Thankfully it was a direct flight and it only took about two hours to touch down in the Costa Rican capital.
Upon arriving at the airport, it was very obvious who was there for Envision Festival. There were lots of dreadlocks and yoga mats in that immigration line!
We stayed the night at Selina in San Jose and just took it easy. While we weren’t impressed with our accommodations there, they do have a nice bar & restaurant. We also checked out a nearby craft beer joint to continue Rachel’s birthday celebrations.
The next day, we shared a ride with two other girls who were headed to the festival. We decided to skip out on the official festival shuttles (which cost about $60 per person one way) and instead found a private driver. Split four ways, we each paid about $38.
To Camp or Not to Camp?
Since we’re traveling as digital nomads with computers, tablets, cameras, and all that stuff, we skipped out on the camping. I would have been way too nervous having all of our gear at a festival, even if it was locked up.
Plus, the cost to rent a tent for the weekend ($225) was even more than what I paid for a private room at a guesthouse in Uvita ($180).
I’ll take “Living Like an Actual Human” for $600, Alex!
We stayed at Osa de Rio, which is a beautiful little guesthouse up in the hills outside of town. With our own private room, a hammock to chill in, a kitchen to use (with free coffee!), and a lovely cat & dog on the property, this was way better than a sweaty tent.
Best of all, their property is located right along the river. This means we got to enjoy a short hike upstream to arrive at the Uvita Waterfall and skip out on paying the entrance fee.
Costa Rica – or as I’m now calling it, Custy Rica – may have drained our wallets, but at least we squeezed a few free things out of our trip there!
Sunsets on the Beach
While the music was fun and all, the sunsets on the beach were definitely the best part of Envision Festival for us.
It’s a pretty wild scene down there, as it’s basically a Costa Rican Shakedown Street. Local vendors fill the beach selling kebabs, fried noodles, beers, weed, pipes, and plenty of other goodies.
It’s nice that Envision Festival is trying to go green and all, but their deceptive practices in getting you to pay deposits on cups and dishes really irked us. They make you feel like you’re going to get your money back, but in the end, you don’t.
I was happy to spend my colones on food and drinks from locals on the beach, even though I know the festival organizers are very salty about their presence…
Anyway, back to the fun stuff. Around sunset, there’s a huge drum circle with a bunch of wild chanting. There are fire spinners, jugglers, and all sorts of other performers everywhere you look.
After sunset, people from Envision herd the crowd like cattle back into the festival grounds. As the festival progressed, we came up with clever ways to smuggle cheap beach beers back in for the night.
As luck would have it, we attended the first year they decided to ban outside booze. We got it in, though. Take that, kombucha-sipping hippies! (joking… kind of)
I always enjoy a bit of people watching, and Envision Festival was primetime for this. For starters – the outfits. People really go all out with their wardrobes at this thing. Meanwhile, I was wearing my board shorts and old tank-tops from Southeast Asia all weekend…
There were also tons of people painted up in dried mud to look like Avatar creatures.
It gets even weirder, though. I literally saw Forrest Gump running up the beach. To top it off, I even saw two people bumping uglies in the muddy sand. Welcome to Envision Festival, baby!
One day, we even saw the legendary Matthew Silver doing what he does best – weirding people the fuck out. He was caked in mud, wearing what looked like a one-piece women’s bathing suit, doing somewhat of a mating ritual dance with a friend.
We thought he was just some w00k who ate way too many mushrooms until our friend told us about his YouTube channel later. Having watched a lot of his stuff since we are now huge fans of his. What a cool dude!
La Musica at Envision Festival
So, how about the music?
In all honesty, the Envision Festival lineup really wasn’t our cup of tea. There were a few names on there we wanted to see, but it was mostly DJs we had never heard of. I much prefer instruments to button-pushers when I go to music festivals…
We went for the experience, though, and not the lineup. It was actually quite liberating not having a long list of “must see” acts.
By just bouncing around the stages searching for something we liked, we stumbled upon a lot of artists that we really enjoyed. Our favorite was probably Mentados – a local band playing a mix of reggae, ska, and punk.
Other Costa Rican bands we really enjoyed included Killer Diller and Fuerza Dread. It’s nice that Envision Festival gives a spotlight to local artists that most people in attendance have never heard of. They certainly got some new fans out of us!
The four stages are basically broken down as such – Luna (heavier EDM), Lapa (house music), Sol (bands and bigger DJs), and Village (acoustic and folk). Care to guess which one we spent the most time at?
We definitely enjoyed the Sol stage the most. In addition to all the local bands, we also caught Griz (Detroit what!?), Gone Gone Beyond, and the Frikstailers there. These were definitely some of our favorite sets of the weekend at Envision Festival.
I enjoy house music from time to time, especially when we’re working from home. We ended up spending a decent amount of time at the Lapa stage over the weekend. Some highlights included Saqi, Nicola Cruz, and Bedouin.
As far as the Luna stage goes… meh. The fire was cool I guess, but the music didn’t do it for me. There were some decent DJs on there, but I couldn’t get over how loud it was and the intense heat of the fire singeing off my back hairs. I guess this old hippie probably isn’t cut out for Burning Man after all.
Don’t get me wrong – the stage was pretty fucking epic, and I definitely dig the fire spinners and other performance artists. I just feel like all the theatrics on this stage had to be there to make up for the mediocre music coming out of it. As such, we never spent more than 15 minutes at a time at this stage.
One major gripe we had with Envision Festival was the scheduling of the music. Griz and Tycho – who were both billed as headliners – were given some odd set times. For Griz, it was a sunset show on the last day of the festival. Considering most people want to be on the beach at this hour, it wasn’t a great move.
Tycho was on from 6-7:30 AM on Monday morning, finishing his set a few hours before they wanted everyone off the property. A good portion of the attendees had already left the grounds at this point, as many had a flight to catch out of San Jose. It’s a huge bummer spending a bunch of money getting to a festival only to miss the headliner because the organizers made questionable scheduling decisions.
As you might imagine, we missed both of those sets. Thankfully each artist had another set time, so we got to see them both in the end. Still, it was a questionable booking decision for a music festival.
We also wish they had done more to advertise the Grateful Dead hour. Simply putting GD next to a DJ’s name isn’t enough, even for old Dead Heads like us! We totally missed out on this set and wish we had known. I would have been rocking my tye-dye Terrapin Station t-shirt for sure.
Everything Else at Envision Festival
Our friend was working in the art gallery, so we dropped by quite often to say hi. They had some really amazing pieces up for sale in there, as well as plenty of live painters throughout the festival. The art is definitely a major highlight of going to Envision Festival.
Speaking of friends, that’s why we went to this festival in the first place!
We love traveling on our own and are quite used to it by now, but it’s always more fun with friends around. Our friend Roxana was working in the art gallery and our friend Pinky was doing production.
While they were both super busy, we got to kick it quite a bit over the weekend.
As far as yoga and workshops go, well, we didn’t make it to any of those. It was just so. damn. hot. After crawling into bed around 4 AM, the last thing we wanted to do in the morning was hustle down to the jungle to do yoga on a sarong. I love yoga and do it quite often, but I went to Envision Festival to see music and party with my friends.
Many of the workshops that were going on seemed very interesting but we just didn’t have the energy to go in the festival that early. After showing friends around Playa del Carmen, followed by Phish Riviera Maya, followed by a few nights of raging in Tulum, we were pretty spent.
Would We Go Back to Envision Festival?
I’ve thought about this a lot since the festival ended, and the answer is “Maybe.”
I’m not going to rush to buy my ticket for next year and plan around it, that’s for sure. However, if some friends wanted to meet us in Costa Rica to explore for a week before/after the festival and go together, we would definitely be up for it.
If we make it to Envision Festival again, I would be sure to book a hostel earlier and stay at one on the main road. A friend stayed at U Kinca and that’s a much more convenient location. Our place was too far away to come and go, so we ended up dragging a bag full of soggy beach gear around every night. By staying on the main road, we could pop back to drop stuff off, shower, change, and miss less of the festival overall.
I would definitely make sure we weren’t at another festival the weekend before! We were so exhausted after Phish that we had to skip out on a lot of cool things at Envision Festival. If we make it back, I’ll be sure to go in much more rested so as to take part in some yoga classes and workshops.
Next year is the 10th anniversary of Envision Festival and it’s sure to be a good one. I doubt we’ll make it, but we always like to keep our options open. After all, our slogan is “Improvise your life!”