Off the Beaten Track: Santa Teresa and Montezuma

It’s been a few months (!!) since my last post so apologies to the avid readers out there. 😉 We were back in the states for a couple weeks for my brother and new sister-in-law’s gorgeous wedding and also spent time visiting dear family and friends in the Northeast.

Soon after we returned, the kids had their ‘semester break’ (the school year here goes from early February to late November with December and January as summer holiday) so we took advantage of that and headed to a couple of small beach towns on the Nicoya Peninsula to do some exploring and enjoy lots of fun in the water.

Getting there

Our first stop was the small town of Santa Teresa on the very southwest corner of the peninsula and just getting there was an adventure in itself. We drove to the Puntarenas ferry about an hour from Atenas and took the ferry over to the peninsula before continuing on. The hour long ferry ride was quite lovely – there was a little cafeteria with fresh popcorn and cold beer AND even air conditioning!

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The ferry from Puntarenas to Paquera

We then disembarked and our narrow paved road turned to dirt with major potholes and dust for the last 30 minutes or so to Santa Teresa, but we arrived. It’s a good thing we did not stop anywhere after the ferry until we arrived as our car promptly died as though it couldn’t take anymore…it wouldn’t start later that night when we were thinking of heading out for dinner. Actually, we knew there was an issue weeks prior that we figured we get checked out after our trip. Oops! Thankfully, our AirBnB host lived at the property and right away called her personal mechanic who came to the house, diagnosed the problem (the starter was caput), got the car started and took it to his shop to get fixed. They then delivered back to us two days later just in time for us to get ready for the next leg of our adventure. Talk about service! In the meantime, ‘Big Red’ got us around the area just fine. Actually, this vehicle was made for these unpaved and potholed roads so it was a dream…as long as we stayed under the speed limit.

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Cruising in style with Big Red

Santa Teresa

As for Santa Teresa, the town is spread out along the coast along a string of beaches and beyond that it’s pretty much jungle. The beaches are gorgeous – raw natural beauty! Not the best for swimming as lots of rip currents and waves, but great for surfing and boogie-ing. Playa Hermosa is the calmest and there were lots of first-time surf lessons happening and boogie boarders enjoying the waves.

 

 

We also enjoyed walking to Playa Carmen from our casita and hanging out at the Banana Beach restaurant for amazing food, cold drinks and beautiful sunsets. I mean, it doesn’t get much better than this!

Sidenote: the restaurants in Santa Teresa are also of superb quality with a strong focus on fresh locally sourced ingredients. The Bakery served amazing gourmet lunch fare:

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Avocado Toast at ‘The Bakery’ in Santa Teresa…YUM!

Montezuma

We also took a day trip to Montezuma with Big Red which was a whole other adventure. It’s probably less than 20km away from Santa Teresa, but on very rough dirt roads which included fording three rivers. Somehow Alice fell asleep along the way; meanwhile, I was gripping the door handles. It was worth the journey as Montezuma was a pretty cool boho little town famous for a few beaches great for surfing and a colorful pueblito. We had some snacks, played in the town playground and hung out at the beach for awhile before our nail biting (or nap time in Alice’s case) ride home.

We would have liked to stay longer and do some hiking in Cabo Blanco Natural Reserve, but it wasn’t meant to be this time around.

Stay tuned for the second leg of our trip to Nosara!

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Our Top 5 for Sámara

With Auntie Tay Tay visiting and the kids out of school for Semana Santa, we headed to the beach (along with everyone else!) for some quality R & R.  We chose to explore Sámara, a chill beach town on the Guanacaste Coast that I’ve long wanted to check out having heard lots of good things.

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Here’s our list of what’s not-to-miss:

1. Sunset at Sámara Beach

Everyone heads to the beach at sunset! It’s the best time of day when the heat subsides but still plenty hot enough to enjoy a dip in the warm water, go for a horseback ride, enjoy an ice cream or cocktail, and not risk burning your scalp and every other piece of exposed skin. On our first night, we checked out Lo Que Hay, a casual beachfront restaurant specializing in tacos but with lots of other options and super drink specials. High tide or low tide, there is plenty of beach for everyone…even during Semana Santa. Sunset is definitely our favorite time at the beach in Costa Rica!

 

2. Spend a Day Boogie Boarding at Carrillo Beach (and don’t forget your hammock!)

About 4k south of Sámara Beach is another lovely picture perfect beach called Playa Carrillo. You can park right along the beach for free, hang up your hammock and set up camp along with lots of other picnicking families. It had the most perfect waves for boogie boarding which helped soothe our poor burnt feet after running through the scorching hot sand.

 

3. Dolphin Boat Tour

Sámara offers lots of cool activities such as surf lessons, boat tours, wildlife hikes and hidden beaches, and we opted for a morning dolphin and snorkeling tour (THANKS Auntie Tay!) that was seriously awesome. We saw manta rays jumping out of the water all around us, the spotted dolphins were also fun to watch, and we even saw a couple sea turtles. The snorkeling wasn’t all that great for us, but still fun to give it a try.

 

4. Tide Pooling at Low Tide on Sámara Beach

On our final morning, we headed straight to the beach and it was perfect as there was almost no one there and it was low tide so we had a blast exploring the tide pools on the north end of the beach, and all the critters waiting to be discovered, before having to pack up and head back home. 😦

 

5. Check Out the Town

Samara is small enough to easily get around and find your own little slice of heaven, but big enough to offer some great services, such as some fabulous restaurants (beachfront places such as Gusto Beach, and others specializing in seafood, French, Mexican, etc.) and a couple watering holes (don’t miss Franks and the Flying Taco for live music on weekends), tours for visitors, some decent shopping and even Spanish language classes. There are also troops of howler monkeys that you can’t miss right in and around town, short hikes with lovely vistas that you can take and other nearby beaches such as the secluded Playa Barrigona (“Mel Gibson’s Beach”) to explore.

 

We only had 4 nights here so I’m sure there are other gems to be discovered in Sámara. We sure hope to return!

Highlights of Tortuguero

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Palmer and I recently enjoyed a 3 night getaway to the small town of Tortuguero on Costa Rica’s north caribbean coast (HUGE thanks to mom and dad for babysitting and allowing us some time sans kiddos!). Though most famous for its nesting green sea turtles that return to the beach where they hatched during the months of June through October, we had an amazing experience during our early January visit. Here are a few of the highlights:

1. Guided Canoe Trip in Tortuguero National Park

We booked a 3 hour canoe trip with Tortuguero Tours, a local guiding company, in the national park where you can spot amazing wildlife. We woke up at dawn and headed down to the meeting point for some coffee and fruit before being given a pair of binoculars and heading to the park. We were on small boat with 4 other tourists plus our local guide who rowed us through the smaller canals and pointed out some fascinating flora and fauna. We saw howler monkeys, sloths, caimans, iguanas and lots of bird life (green macaws, little blue herons, yellow crowned night heron and northern jacanas to name a few). The highlight for me was a male emerald green basilisk that was perfectly camouflaged on a branch just over the water surrounded by leaves…so camouflaged that you couldn’t get a good pic!

2. Hike in Tortuguero National Park

Since we had already purchased our national park passes for the canoe tour, we headed back to the park later that same day to hike the one out and back trail that the park offers. We were all geared out with our sturdy rubber boots, hiking clothes, hats and even a dry bag. It soon started to rain pretty steadily and we were thankful for our rental boots as it was so muddy…and also the umbrellas we brought. Ha! We weren’t very lucky with wildlife, but we did see a howler monkey eating and a pretty cool great curassow (a large pheasant-like bird strolling the path ahead of us) and enjoyed a walk on Tortuguero beach where the turtles nest.

3. Visit to Sea Turtle Conservancy

Even though it wasn’t turtle season when we visited, we still felt we got the turtle experience with our visit to the Sea Turtle Conservancy, the world’s oldest sea turtle research and conservation group founded by Dr. Archie Carr. He was also instrumental in the effort to protect the region and advocate for the opening of Tortuguero National Park. The small facility is located just off the beach a few blocks from the town center and functions as a research station but also hosts a small museum for visitors to learn more about the sea turtles of Tortuguero, the history of the region, and the work that STC does. We ended up adopting a turtle (named ‘Shelby’ thanks to Oscar) to support their mission. We are looking to return one day when we can actually observe the turtles nesting. That would be amazing!

4. Exploring the Town of Tortuguero

We really loved discovering the town itself and were glad that we opted to stay in town rather than one of the resorts to get a better feel for the community. We stayed at El Icaco, a modest but colorful hotel on the beach side, and had plenty of time to walk the paths of town and just relax. The one main paved pathway in front of the public dock is sprinkled with businesses (restaurants, grocery stores, shops) while the rest of the paths are mainly sand or some combination of boards or stepping stones due to all the rain they experienced. Apparently the rainy season in Tortuguero ends in late January. We enjoyed some good meals at Tutti’s (amazing calzones!) and Donde Richard, and delicious breakfasts and cakes at Dorling’s Bakery. Budda Cafe had fancy cocktails and a lovely canal-side location.

5. Getting There and Back, an Adventure In Itself

Tortuguero is only accessible by plane or boat so we opted to drive to La Pavona (basically a restaurant, bathrooms, small store and parking area in the middle of nowhere) where you can then park your car and hop on a boat for the one hour ride to Tortuguero. The drive from San José to La Pavona is beautiful as you first climb through the misty mountains of Braulio Carrillo National Park and then head north through the banana plantations and ranches north of Guápiles. The road is mostly paved except for the last 30-40 minutes when it turns to gravel, but the views were beautiful and we loved the drive. I’m sure that flying in would be spectacular too as the region is so remote and picturesque, but we’ll have to save that for our next visit.

Overall, Tortuguero totally exceeded my expectations with its raw beauty and unique wildlife and even though the town is mainly dependent on the tourism industry, it still has an authentic small town Caribbean vibe. We are hoping to return again soon during turtle season!

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