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!

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Our Border Run to Nicaragua

We’ve been here for 3 months already (wow!), which means we needed to renew our 90 day visas and do a border run. Many longer-term expats in Costa Rica do a day trip to Nicaragua or Panama to take care of the visa, but we wanted make a weekend of it so we headed to the northwestern part of Costa Rica (Guanacaste), famous for its beautiful beaches, and visited Nicaragua at the border crossing of Peñas Blancas to get our visas renewed.

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Arriving back into Costa Rica after renewing our visas in Nicaragua.

The 4 hour drive from Atenas to Playas del Coco was an adventure in and of itself with beautiful views, mostly two lane roads and a variety of different landscapes – mountains, tropical forests, the Pacific Coast and finally the dry, flat Guanacaste region known for its sabaneros (cowboys) and cattle.

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Playas del Coco

We based ourselves at an AirBnB condo in Playas del Coco for 3 nights and enjoyed spending time at the beach, swimming in the pool of our little complex and exploring the area. Playas del Coco is a cute town once you get to know it with basically one dusty main street lined with restaurants, shops and a couple of grocery stores that ends at the beach. It seems that stand-alone houses are few and far between here. Rather, lots of condo complexes surround the town and there are many more tourists here than we typically see. The beach wasn’t our favorite in the area as the water was cloudy and the sand was rocky, but the sunsets were beautiful, the boardwalk was lively with food vendors, tourists and weekending Tico families, and we found some amazing sea urchins at low tide.

 

We also visited Playa Hermosa just north of Playas del Coco to watch the sunset and enjoy dinner at Aqua Sport, located in the sand right in front of the beach.  The made-to-order ceviche and whole pargo rojo (red snapper) were amazing. The sand was much nicer here and there were lots of people enjoying the long wide beach.

 

Last but not least, we drove the 10 minutes to Playa Ocotal located just south of Playas del Coco and spent our last morning there. An almost deserted black sand beach, this was unexpectedly our favorite of the three! It was a smaller beach with calm clear blue water, amazing tide pools with tons of life and lots of beautiful seashells. Snorkeling off the beach is also popular here. You do need to be aware of riptides as the signs note as it gets deep quickly and currents can change, but we stayed in the shallows. Apparently, Father Rooster’s is the place to grab lunch as they are right on the beach and well-known for their fantastic pub fare, but we unfortunately had to hit the road.

 

Thankfully our border run to Nicaragua overall went very smoothly. We planned for spending the better part of the day to make the 1.5 hour drive to the border, do the crossing and then drive back to our AirBnB, and despite an extra half hour getting there due to construction and an extra hour on the way home due to an accident ahead of us, it all went according to plan. We had amazing views of three volcanoes (Miravalles, Rincón de la Vieja and Orosi) just east of the route which also made the trip pretty special.

The crossing at Peñas Blancas is a busy one so there was about a 4km line of trucks waiting to cross into Nicaragua. They have to go through a different process so we were able to pass them and parked right in front of the Costa Rican border crossing. There were a lot of people wanting to ‘help’ us for a tip but we said no thanks as it’s a pretty straight forward (thanks to My Tan Feet for that). After paying our $7 per person exit tax, we waited in the short line to have our passports stamped out of Costa Rica. Next step is to walk or hire a pedicab over to the Nicaraguan border in order to enter Nicaragua. Of course, we opted for the quick and fun pedicab ride.

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Pedicab ride
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Nicaraguan border crossing office

The Nicaraguan border agent confirmed with us that we were just staying for the day, we paid the $12 per person entrance fee and he then stamped our passports. Then we were officially in Nicaragua which was a bit livelier than the Costa Rican side with a bunch of little stands and shops selling latest in wares as well as a number of small sodas (typical, family run restaurants) with meats grilling right out front. We chose one and enjoyed a delicious lunch (rice, beans, grilled chicken, cheese, tortilla and salad) complete with a Victoria, the national cerveza of Nicaragua, to celebrate our arrival.

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After our celebratory lunch, we turned around and headed back out of Nicaragua paying our exit fees and then pedicabbed it back to the Costa Rican office where we waited in yet another line to get stamped back into the country. All in all, it was a long day with two little ones, but it was an adventure and we were happy it all went smoothly.

We’re now trying to decide where our next border run will be in early February – Nicaragua again but maybe at Los Chiles instead of Peñas Blancas, Panama, or we may take a flight to Guatemala (to visit Antigua) or Mexico City and make another weekend trip out of the event.  Any suggestions?

Weekending: Playa Bejuco

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We just discovered a new little slice of heaven after a fun-filled weekend and thought we should share. Playa Bejuco is located on the Central Pacific Coast about 2 hours from San José or 1.5 hours from Atenas (if traffic is moving – we hit a major accident and it took us much longer than expected) and halfway in between the major tourist areas of Jacó Beach and Manuel Antonio National Park. We didn’t know anything about it beforehand, but we found a place on AirBnB that looked great and was located right near the beach so we thought we’d give it a try.

And wow, we were blown away by how awesome it was – away from the big touristy beach areas, it offers an almost deserted wide and long sandy beach that is great for boogie boarding (though you still have to be careful of dangerous rip currents), shelling, making sand castles and gorgeous sunsets.

We did see a few surfers as well, but it seems that the beaches north of there are better for surfing. We joined the Ticos and pulled our car right up to the beach under the palm trees and based ourselves there for the better part of the morning. No need to lug a cooler and food, towels, sunscreen and toys a mile down the boardwalk! There are a couple small hotels, but virtually no other services except for the occasional ‘pipa fria’ (cold coconut water) or ‘granizado’ (snow cone) vendor, unless you head out to the main road, Route 34, so we brought our snacks and bevies with us. Exiting onto Route 34, there’s a little shopping complex called Esterillos Town Center which along with a grocery store and a few Tico restaurants also offers a pizza place and a middle eastern restaurant that also has live music on certain days.

We also checked out the tiny town of Esterillos Oeste also located on a beautiful beach just a few miles north of Bejuco and discovered a quaint laid-back Tico town complete with a few nice-looking outdoor restaurants, surf shops, grocery store, a few lodging options, church and soccer field. What else do you need?!

We can’t wait to go back and explore this area a bit more. Perhaps we’ll enjoy some horseback riding on the beach, a surf lesson and a day trip down to Manuel Antonio.

Pura Vida!

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