The Pacific Coast

We took off from La Fortuna for the west coast in the morning which would take a few hours’s driving along very windy roads. Other than a quick stop at a local soda for lunch, and another small restaurant for a milk shake, we arrived later that day in Playa Del Coco. Our home here was a studio condo in small private condo building, complete with air conditioning AND a pool!

Playa Del Coco is one of many small beach towns along the Pacific Coast, located closer to the north side of the country in Guanacaste Province. It was a bit more touristy than the Caribbean Coast (in terms of shops, hotels, restaurants, etc), but the beaches were just as beautiful. Our first beach stop here was at Playa Ocotal which was rather small and sort of nestled in a small bay. We spent the evening there to catch the sunset, grabbed a quick dinner from a food stand in town, and then hopped in the pool for a bit before heading to bed.

sunset on Playa Ocotal

Happy birthday Emily! My beautiful wife Emily turned 29 (+2) the next day, which started with a tasty breakfast of scrambled eggs, fresh pineapple, and fresh mango. For the rest of the day we drove to the far end of town, parked, and walked another beach, this time Playa Del Coco. One thing we’ve grown accustomed to seeing at the beach, especially on the Pacific coast, is pelicans (and other birds, too) diving for food in the mornings. It’s really fascinating to watch them glide low above the ocean’s surface before turning to dive beak-first into the water on the hunt for fish.

The bay at Playa Del Coco was dotted with dozens of boats, anchored up in the bay. As we walked the length of the beach was passed numerous small restaurants and beach bars, as well as walking beach vendors offering fresh cold coconut water, hats, sunglasses, and hand carved wooden bird-shaped whistles. We stopped for some coffee and acai bowls and also for some fresh pina coladas (probably our second favorite fresh drinks thus far, behind only a Coco-Loco, which is a frothy fresh coconut drink), playing cards at each stop as well.

While walking through town that day, we also saw our first iguanas during our Costa Rica trip. On a sunny day you can find them almost anywhere that receives direct sun, but especially atop fences or the low roofs of property entrances. Without even making an effort to seek them out we saw half a dozen, ranging from 6 inches to 3 feet. Super neat to look at but also super fast and a bit territorial (not so much here, but we noticed it more at our next iguana-filled stop; more on that later).

Before heading back to the beach that evening we grabbed a bottle of wine with plans to enjoy it on the beach during sunset. We wandered along the beach a bit before finding an old ship wrecked boat that was engulfed in sand along the shore line, covered in graffiti, but situated perfectly as a back rest for a sunset view. So we sat back, uncorked our wine, and polished off a bottle to celebrate Emily as we watched the sun disappear behind the horizon. Happy birthday Emily!

Over the next few days we continued to relax and explore the beach town. No blender available here to make fresh smoothies, but we had AC, so a decent trade. We also continued to stop at different coffee coffee shops, play a lot of cards, and plan the remainder of our Costa Rican trip (through the end of March). We spent our final evening in Playa Del Coco walking along the beach, eating some tasty Asian Street food, and Face-timing our friends Chris and Elizabeth to start planning for them to join us in April (can’t wait!)

Our next stop was back inland to a city called Liberia, the largest city in Guanacaste. On our way we stopped at a coffee shop for our usual cup of coffee and cards, but ended up getting quite the bang for our buck. The host in the gift shop offered free samples (so we could make sure we like the coffee before buying a full cup, how nice?!) and explained a good deal about their coffee operation. He walked us through the roasting methods and bean types, and even took us back behind the shop to walk through their coffee plants and mango trees. We finished this impromptu tour of sorts by enjoying a full pot of their delicious coffee and, of course, playing some cards.

THIS is where we really got to see some iguanas. The property and coffee plants were separated by a waist-high stacked stone wall, which was littered with iguanas. Our host mentioned that the iguanas live here in the wall and act as ‘body guards’ for pests that might disturb the coffee plants. Just walking around the small area behind the shop we saw what had to be a few dozen different lizards, some up to 4 or 5 feet.

This is also where we discovered how aggressive they can be; they will bob their head’s up and down to show dominance and territory, and can move wayyyy faster than you’d expect (and way faster than you can). Fortunately they cooperated and remained still for an awesome photo shoot.

From the coffee stop we made our way to Catarata Llanos Del Cortes, where we payed a few dollars to hike down to and swim at another amazing waterfall. It was a triple waterfall of sorts and had a great pool for swimming, too. The “park” closed around 4 and since we had arrived late we were able to have the area all to ourselves for a while before returning to the car.

The next day we had picked out a hike in Rincon de la Vieja National Park, a short drive north of Liberia. Our trip took a little longer than expected, though, when we blew past our turn and didn’t notice for 15 minutes, which added about 40 extra minutes to our trip. Classic. Once we finally arrived and began the hike, things improved dramatically. Our walk started through the forest, where we stopped when we noticed a family of monkey’s in a particularly large tree. It was neat to watch them just play and be themselves rather than come down and interact with humans, which we had seen elsewhere.

Once through the forest portion of the hike the next long stretch felt like we were walking through a desert with few trees, and extreme heat. We trudged through this portion until we finally heard the sound of moving water, and shortly thereafter we arrived at the waterfall. It was a beautiful spot to stop for lunch and to dip our feet in the water. After hanging out for enough time to cool down and catch our breath, we headed back and pushed through the hot return journey (with some more monkeys on the way).

Instead of heading home for the evening, we made another stop at a local swimming hole, which included another small waterfall. This area was different than the other stops, though, as the waterfall had carved it’s way through a massive section of rock which had created a really cool formation of pools and smaller falls. We climbed down into the center of the formation where the water was quite strong, with a current that could easily sweep you away if you weren’t paying attention. Another really cool little spot that we’ve discovered in CR!

The next morning we headed back to the coast, this time to another beach town called Tamarindo. We learned about Tamarindo from our friend Ricardo all the way back in January, who suggested we go there for the sunsets (which he said were the best, so we had to see for ourselves). After a quick detour for some bagel breakfast sandwiches (we were craving a taste from home; they were expensive but worth it), we arrived in Tamarindo and parked in town to explore a bit. We spent some time walking on the beach which included plenty of on-foot vendors offering their souvenirs and several beach bars with great views.

That evening we arrived at our hostel and we had actually signed up for our first shared room of the trip. Upon check in we were told that we would be in a group room with 4 other girls, which honestly made us a bit uneasy. We left our things and grabbed dinner at a local soda, and ended up playing cards and having a few beers with the hostel manager back in the common area of the hostel. As we were enjoying the local beers and listening to the story of how his 6 month tip has turned into a 9 year stay the manager actually upgraded us to a private room, with AC! Pretty great deal if you ask me.

The following day we spent some more time exploring the small town and enjoying some local food and coffee. From there we went down to the beach again and walked a while before finding an area with some shade to spend the day. As the sun began to drop in the sky, we found our way to a small cluster of rocks at the water’s edge and set up to enjoy the sunset. After what felt like a thousand photos Emily and I can both safety say that Tamarindo did indeed provide the best sunset we’ve ever witnessed. Absolutely incredible.

sunset in Tamarindo

Our next stop on the coast was a bit further south in Los Pargos, where we had booked a room in a local’s house through AirBnB. Before heading out of town for the night we spent a bit more time in Tamarindo and enjoyed a beer at the local Volcano Brewing location overlooking the water. The beer was good and the brewery was actually part of the surf camp next door run by a world famous surfer featured in the movie Endless Summer (you’d probably recognize the movie poster). Really cool story and we actually saw him walking through the tables and talking to some locals.

That evening was we made our way to our AirBnB we actually got another nice surprise, another room upgrade! Our host explained that his cousin was coming into town at the last moment and offered us our own private space (which meant his cousin would be taking the room in his house) which we of course accepted. It was a really cool, small place tucked back off the main road with a bed loft and surrounded by some really lush plants that he had grown on his property to give the house an oasis type feel. He told us that the small house was only about a year old and he’d build it himself after doing HVAC work for a living and trying his hand at some home construction. All in all it was well done and was a really comfortable space for a few days.

On our last day in Los Pargos we took a small road trip south along the coast to check out a few of the nearby towns. Samara was the first stop, where we walked along the beach including a stop at a coffee shop and a fresh pipa (coconut) on the beach (which was amazing). Next we stopped in Nasara where we again parked and walked along the beach, although this area was much quieter with fewer shops and bars. Rather than the town being right on the beach, restaurants were tucked up into the hill surrounding by jungle. The final beach on this tour day was at Juanillo, which provided yet another fantastic sunset. The beach extends out from the coast with a small hill and some huge rock formations. We climbed out onto the rocks and found a small quiet spot to sit down and enjoy the sunset.

After a day driving on dirt roads in our little sedan, we were heading back to our Airbnb when we came across a small potential problem: a “bridge” over a river was completely flooded and water was rushing across the road. We’d come across a few of these before, but fortunately each time the water has been relatively shallow, or we’ve seen another sedan cross the bridge and therefor felt confident we could also make it. This time we saw a truck drive across and realized the water was much deeper. We got out of the car to take a closer look. Another SUV pulled up and the driver motioned for us to follow him, as he took a wide loop towards the right side of the river crossing to get across. There wasn’t another route home that didn’t add several hours, so we went for it, and fortunately made it.

Coco frio

Many thanks to Ricardo, who turned us on to some really great spots along the Pacific Coast. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the sunset in Tamarindo, just something about that place that will always stick with us. And with that, our Pacific Coast tour came to an end. We headed back to San Jose to pick up our friends Kendall and Brantlee, who will be spending the next 10 days with us!

  • Mike

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