Journey to the Center of La Senda, One of the World's Largest Labyrinths

Dating as far back as 3,500 B.C., labyrinths are still used today for their therapeutic potential.

WORDS Lola Méndez
January 2020
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An aerial view of La Senda’s labyrinth, which can take up to an hour to navigate. / Photography ©SV3NSKA

Costa Rica is home to one of the largest labyrinths in the world, La Senda (Spanish for “the path”), about 30 minutes inland from Tamarindo on the Pacific. Unlike a maze that uses twists and turns to camouflage the exit, a labyrinth has one clear route with winding curves to symbolize the path of life. As a travel writer, I usually seek out spiritual experiences, but I found myself dreading the labyrinth—I’d had a claustrophobic panic attack on a crowded night bus in Cambodia, and figured the only thing wandering the path could enlighten me about was a crippling sense of things closing in.

Dating as far back as 3,500 B.C., labyrinths were used by ancient Egyptians, and the spiraling pathways are still used today for their therapeutic potential—the Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, D.C., incorporates a painted concrete labyrinth to ease patients’ stress.

When my friend and I arrive, the owner, Griet Depypere, warmly greets us and leads us through acres of organic farmland. She lives on-site and walks the labyrinth whenever she feels the need. “It’s taught me to connect to my inner self and live from there,” she says.

When the time has come, Depypere escorts me to the labyrinth, which from above, takes on the shape of an infinity symbol. From the ground, though, it’s a tad unimpressive—the cacti are somewhat spaced out (eventually, they’ll grow in, she tells me). Frankly, I’m grateful there are still gaps between the prickly plants. If worse comes to worst I can squeeze my way out.

I embark and soon sense that the curved path is gradually narrowing. With each step, I’m moving closer to not just the center of the labyrinth, but purportedly deeper into self-reflection. I walk under trees I think I’ve passed before, maybe more than once. After a while it’s hard to tell how far I’ve gone—am I 10 minutes in or an hour?

I look around and see cacti in every direction. I feel trapped. I want to ask how much longer but know no one can hear me. I contemplate a thorny escape. I’m not sure if it’s adrenaline or the site’s alleged energy vortexes helping, but I ride out the panic. With each footstep onto the raw earth, my hearing heightens and I notice every bird’s call and monkey’s bark.

After what turns out to be an hour, I reach the center. It’s sparse—just wood stools and benches. But maybe that’s the point. You are there with yourself, unadorned. The center is meant to represent the point of creation, like a womb. After several minutes, I realize I have to head back, symbolically reentering the world anew. I’m not sure if I found my inner self, but it’s reassuring to know that in a labyrinth, you never take the same path twice.

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