Peninsula de Papagayo
The Peninsula de Papagayo is located in the Northern part of Costa Rica, in the state of Guanacaste. This peninsula is the perfect getaway for outdoor lovers, for it offers 24 km of coastlines and 31 different beaches to choose from. From luxurious hotels to campgrounds, there’s a place for all sorts of tastes and budgets.
We stayed three nights in Playa Hermosa, a popular place in Guanacaste for its clean water, and pleasant beach for walking. Nearby, Playa del Coco and Playa Panama are other great options to visit, and located just a handful of minutes away. Playa del Coco offers more infrastructure—restaurants, gift shops, and entertainment—while Playa Panama is more tranquil and almost exclusive to the guests of El Mangroove, a Marriott hotel. My family and I spent a day in Playa Panama, where one can purchase a day-pass and enjoy some of the hotel’s facilities. I highly recommend the El Mangroove’s restaurant, especially their desserts(;
Honestly, when we first arrived on Playa Hermosa, I expected a contrast between bright-green trees and blue ocean waters, just like the Caribbean Sea; however, since we were in the dry season (summer)—starting from January until May—the region hadn’t received any rain for a few months already, thus, instead of green, the vegetation was brown and dry.
Once we drove through the touristy town of Tamarindo, our plan was to stay only a few nights…a month later I reluctantly left the city. It’s funny how some places just “lure” one into staying more–either the people, landscape, food, or business. To some extent, Tamarindo offered all to me: an exciting town with an exchange language school, where people from all over the world came to learn Spanish; beautiful beaches for surfing and relaxing; delicious restaurants; and an excellent place to sell lycras for surf in street markets (my sister and I’s “side business” while traveling).
Right when we arrived in Tamarindo, on a very hot day, we spotted a restaurant with a Brazilian flag on it; therefore, we stopped in order to grab a bite and get some information on the area. Tapioca Brazilian Food was simply delicious and practical! Offering typical Brazilian dishes–such as tapioca, pizzioca (tapioca + pizza, my personal favorite), açai bowls, and brigadeiros–which I personally wasn’t very used to eating on a daily basis, but they became an everyday-go-to. Also, João, Lorena, and Andrea, the restaurant’s owners, kindly received and helped us through many situations during our stay: tips on activities, setting up to the markets, and etc. Another golden tip for road travelers and backpackers is to stay in the Tamarindo Eco-Camping Hostel, which is situated on a calmer road near downtown; additionally, Russ, the owner, is super friendly and helpful to his guests!
Since we stayed so long in town, I personally developed the closest thing I had to a routine in many years…wake up early, sometimes go surfing with friends and my sister at the river mouth or nearby beaches, and later study for a few hours in the best coffee shop in town called Nordico Coffee House (went there every-single-day); my personal favorite was the iced chai latte with almond milk / iced latte and the paleo bread with danish chicken salad, but the pastries were superb too! Also, every Thursday night and saturday morning street markets are set up, where one can find a little bit of everything: fruits and vegetables, bracelets and necklaces, freshly baked pastries and savory dishes, clothes, and much more. My sister and I worked on the markets while in Tamarindo, our favorite being the Thursday Night Market , which has become “the spot” for locals and tourists on thursday’s nights, and most of the time had live music.
As for beaches, even though Tamarindo Beach wasn’t my absolute favorite, the town is near breathtaking getaways! A weekly destination for us was Playa Avellanas –wild, crystal-clear waters, and lots of turtles–about 20 minutes south of Tamarindo, where we spent the mornings out in the water by “Little Hawaii” and visit a good friend of ours,Carolina, who lived right by the beach. A closer destination to town is Playa Langosta , which can be easily accessed by walking during low tides from Tamarindo Beach–this was a perfect spot for watching sunsets! To the north of Tamarindo, Playa Conchal is famous for the clearest water in the region due to its bottom of sea shells and seclusion. However, if one seeks complete remoteness, go to Playa Minas , which is gorgeous in every way possible, and fortunately was 100% empty when we visited; furthermore, there’s a trail on the left side that leads to El Nombre de Jesus , a spot only known to Ticos.
Besides being super famous for its surf—sand bottom, and waves for all levels of surfing—and evolving around it, Nosara is worth visiting no matter what. It’s a super “rustic” town with beaten up roads, cute cafes—highly recommend Paris Café’s rosti potato, and El Chile Restaurant–and thick forest all around. It’s the perfect destination for those who enjoy laid back towns, where one can appreciate nature to its fullest, all while getting a tan at Playa Guillones or floating in the clear ocean.
The main thing my sister, Maria, and I did while staying in Nosara was surfing…even though I’m a beginner and she’s only 13, we tried our best with 2 meter waves—a bit scary for me still. However, it was super fun to be out in the warm ocean, and eventually watch the sun kiss the horizon, projecting the most beautiful of colors across the sky: shades of gold and orange, and pink and purple.
Known to be a “party town”, the little time I stayed in Jaco was surprisingly calm and pleasant. We spent only a couple of days, mainly studying and working in cafes, in the city; thus, don’t have many tips. But I really enjoyed strolling around the main street and checking out the cute restaurants and shops in the Jaco Walk (open mall), where The Britt Café & Bakery (perfect for studying) and Juanita’s Fusion are situated. Also, the Vera Pizza Napoletana is a pizza place with really good prices and good food; additionally, right besides it, one can try hand-made gelato from Rebelissimo.
After a long day of traveling, we finally arrived in Quepos—at least, what we thought to be the town. A simple fishermen town with a huge, American-style, marina. Maria and I quickly grabbed our surfboards and crossed a small park filled with children, descended a rocky wall, and paddle across a murky canal until we arrived in a sand “island” (due to the low tide). From there, we paddle out to the small waves that were breaking far away. It was such a perfect evening! Besides basically being alone, with the exception of a few locals, the water was super warm and the view simply breathtaking: mountains covered by emerald-green forest, the clouds lingering above already a shade of pink, the beach framed by a line of coconut trees, and a double rainbow! Hard to believe, right? But it just looked like one of those pictures straight-out of a traveling magazine! After the sunset, we paddle back to the beach—the tide had already risen, so all the sandbanks were already gone—climbed the wall, and walked over to the marina to find a shower and grab dinner. We dined at a little sushi restaurant called Sunrice, which I recommend.
On our way back from surfing:
“By the way, are there crocodiles in this región?”-Me
“Oh, no. Tranquila, only on high tide”-Local
*I look around trying to find any of the sandbanks, but all have been swallowed by water.
“Isn’t that right now?!”-Maria
“Yeah!! But no worries”-Local
*Maria and I look at each other and start paddling super hard to the rock wall.
On that night, we drove up a mountain towards the Manuel Antonio National Park, where we would be going in a few days. Throughout the road, we crossed with dozens of restaurants of all sorts—Italian, Mexican, American, Costa Rican, and many more—and there was even a bar within an airplane! We spent the night at Buena Vista Hotel’s parking lot, which offered great food and super friendly staff. The following day was spent amid waves, under lots of sunshine, and spreaded on warm sand. Fortunately, our home was parked right in front of the playa, thus, a few steps and we could see a green stretch of land to our left—palm trees rising above the white sands, and behind them a dense jungle—and a long beach to the right. A true Paradise!
The Manuel Antonio National Park is the most popular park in Costa Rica, and its beaches are easily accessed by broad trails. Besides the abundant flora, one sees many cappuccino monkeys, sloths, a variety of birds and lizards, as well as multicolored crabs all over the jungle—their claws making a clac-clac-clac sound across the forest. With half a day, one can complete all courses of the park, and enjoy a little bit of everything. For the first hike, we hired a guide—who spotted the fauna with his powerful binoculars—however, I wouldn’t recommend getting one (a bit expansive and we didn’t that many “extra” animals).
Uvita was a pit-stop, but a very pleasant one! Besides camping in the middle of the jungle, and falling asleep to the sound of crickets and howler monkeys, we were right in front of Marino Ballena National Park. A long stretch of golden sand, and a wild forest growing everywhere (if seen from above, the park has a whale tale shape!). Also, close to the camp, we ate at Sibu Restaurante y Café—great choice for savory, desserts, and coffee! Additionally, a few kilometers ahead of Uvita, there’s Playa Ventanas (entrance fee 2,000 colones), one of my absolute favorite beaches in Costa Rica. Playa Ventanas is famous for its caves that are connected to the ocean, and where one can cross by foot on low tides, and watch the water rush in and echo during rising tides. I would recommend arriving early in the morning in order to catch the beach empty!
Peninsula de Osa
Literally meaning “Bear’s Peninsula”, Peninsula de Osa earned its name not because it has bears, but due to its odd shape—the outline of the Ursa Major constellation! If one asked me what was the most beautiful thing about Costa Rica, I would without hesitating say “Peninsula de Osa”. In my opinion, this península is the definition of the Garden of Eden, and it’s so hard to describe its beauty; however, I would define it in four simple words: wilderness, for the thick forest grew like a tapestry to all directions; biodiversity, for it holds 2.5% of the world’s biodiversity per square meter (yes, more than the Amazon Forest); intensity, because the landscape was so bright and vivid; and purely magical, I can’t exactly pinpoint what was it….but it felt like I was in one of those islands of a King Kong’s movie…
We parked our rv in Matapalo, in a hotel hidden in the jungle, and stayed there a couple of nights (fun fact: we had group dinners every night, great way to socialize!). Besides surfing every morning on the clear waters of Matapalo Beach and Pan Dulce Beach, both famous for having very long rights, and having the privilege of observing a few pairs of scarlet macaws—called lapas—flying by, as well as groups of smaller, green parakeets singing from the depths of the forest, we also hiked through secondary and a primary forest nearby (I recommend hiring a guide for this hike). Additionally, we spotted two species of toucans (such as the keel-billed toucan), saw many more macaws, observed dozens of monkeys (cappuccino, spider, and howler monkeys), and even saw a poison dart frog, black as night with vivid-lemon stripes. Unfortunately, we decided to hike to the heart of Peninsula de Osa on a next trip because it takes a few days to arrive at the ranger’s cabin, and it’s only doable with a 4×4; thus, be prepared in advance!! On our way back from the peninsula, we swung by Buena Esperanza Bar-Restaurante, a rustic place to grab great food! Also, they have “parties” on friday nights, so…if you are around, it’s the place where all locals go to.
Finally, our last stop in the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica: Pavones. This spot is famous for having the “world’s longest left” (reaching at times more than a mile of wave), or second longest…opinions vary. Unlike the other overcrowded surf destinations in Costa Rica, Pavones is isolated, undeveloped, and wild. After hours of one-lane roads, then dirt paths, and even a few dilapitaded bridges, we finally reached the famous beach with our rv! There are ways of reaching Pavones through water, riding a boat from Matapalo or Puerto Jimenez can be much quicker. We parked our home in front of the beach and watched the swell as the sun dipped on the horizon, casting golden colors on the ocean. Funny enough, we encountered a few Brazilians, which we met while surfing in Matapalo, and they invited us to shower in their rented house (we were neighbors for a few days).
Since Maria and I are beginners, we didn’t get in on the main beach (waves were 2+ meters plus a super strong current); thus, we drove a few minutes to another place, which had similar wave formation but smaller, called El Ranchito. This calmer spot was out everyday-go-to beach. Similarly, I spent some hours studying and drinking coffee at Café de la Suerte, and we dined at La Piña (Italian food) with our Brazilian friends from Matapalo.