Nicoya Peninsula

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February 22nd 2019
Published: February 23rd 2019
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The road down from Monteverde was pretty good. It seems more newly maintained and there’s evidence of fairly complicated blasting and channeling water to protect the road from washing out. All in all the roads to and from Monteverde were pretty good - at least for these two Canadian travellers.

We took our time driving. Dave took us on a road out of the way. I didn’t realize this until we were well into it. But the country side was beautiful and we drove through some stunning landscape and farming communities. Stopping to take pictures of cows on the road and whatever else we came across and to get some ice cream on the side of the road. The temperature rose at least 10 degrees Celsius, if not more. It was mid to high 20s in Monteverde and 38 when we got down to the low lands and over to the Nicoya peninsula.

We arrived mid afternoon in Playa Avellana. The road here was pretty good except when it completely disappeared under water while I was driving. This freaked me right out - also the rental car agreement is on my credit card and I signed my life away for it. At this point Dave was already getting a bit too aggressive with his comments and direction on my driving so I just got out of the car and let him take over. I thought we’d taken the wrong road but then a bus came across through the water. It was obviously passable. Turns out this is just the main road. And you have to navigate through some water. Now I’m feeling thankful for the 4x4 vehicle although plenty of bikes and cars do drive through this area.

We rented an Airbnb called Cora’s Reef in playa Avellana. Our initial plan was to stay in playa grande but accommodation was expensive and hard to come by so we opted for something close by and we wanted to avoid Tamarindo which is the large town known more for its party life style than anything else. Playa Avellana is barely a town. Maybe a tiny street or two of a village and a dusty drive to the beach where surfing is the primary goal. It was a pretty beach although not within walking distance to our accommodation.

Cora’s Reef was a lovely place with 4 guest rooms - large and roomy. Very newly and tastefully renovated. It had air conditioning and a pool (we were thankful for both!). It is owned an operated by a young Canadian man (Caley) who is from Vancouver island. We had a great time there and enjoyed the area and Caleys company and recommendations. We’d highly recommend this accommodation to anyone in the area. Although having a vehicle is not a must it would certainly be a preference out here.

We had dinner that night at a restaurant Caley recommended called Cactus. It is run by a very sweet young man who said it was his dream to open a restaurant. He lives on the property and is enthusiastic and helpful. The food was excellent although the menu relatively small. We intended to go back for eggs Benedict for breakfast but Caley ended up making us breakfast the next day so we didn’t. We forgot cactus was closed on Wednesday’s and we missed our eggs Benedict and felt very guilty about standing him up. But we had to move on. We spent our one full day in the area driving out to playa grande. We sat at the taco star restaurant at the beach entrance for some very good tacos made quickly on the grill (how do we not make simple meals like this more often!?). We had a couple drinks and enjoyed the company of an American couple spending their entire holiday at playa grande. We tried a couple beer from the local brewery but to be honest they weren’t very good.

We were short on cash so we had to make a detour into Tamarindo for an atm. As we were leaving we stopped at Paradise brewing (another craft brewery) for some tasting. The place was open but the only person there was the brewer himself but he was kind enough to help us with a drink. We had a great time and received a lot of information about the brewing process, his own history (he’s from Venezuela), and believe it or not... he brought up Jordan Peterson - Dave’s favourite subject. It was a very lovely detour but we ended up being in a rush to get back to the Airbnb, shower and change and make our way back out to Playa Grande for a turtle tour we wanted to catch. Someone on the beach came up to us and offered the tour to see sea turtles laying their eggs which is in high season right now.

We made it out to playa grande and grabbed another pizza to go which we ate in the car outside the ‘meeting place’ for the tour. It was deserted. We were told the tour left there at 6:30 and we almost left thinking it wasn’t happening or had left from a different location until at about 6:40 a convoy of cars drove by and picked up the only other vehicle to park in the area. We decided just to follow the convoy and see what happened. It was the right place and the right group and we all drove down to the beach a convoy of about 5 vehicles.

Our tour guide was Carlos sr.... initially. We walked a ways down to the first beach by flashlight where we were able to see some baby turtles hatching and making the race to the ocean. There were a lot of tourists and I couldn’t help but think this was not a very sustainable tour and that many turtles could be trodden on. But apparently it is regulated by a conservationist group and there were certainly guides who were very cautious. But a lot of people running around without any regard!

There was one woman in our group who was a bit limited mobility wise. In the end Carlos Sr called in his son Carlos Jr and all but 2 of our group went with him to another beach. At the second beach we were able to see the female turtles coming ashore and digging their holes to lay their eggs. We unfortunately didn’t get to see any eggs being laid since the turtles came up to a part of the beach not ideal for this and after digging a large hole, she abandoned it for a second attempt a ways over. They didn’t seem to be overly stressed by our presence. But it would be hard to tell. I believe we were watching the green sea turtles. The smallest of the turtles in this area. They were still big.

The next morning we had to check out of our lovely Airbnb - we would have loved to have stayed longer! But we had 3 nights booked in Samara. We missed the turn off to the main road and our quick 1.5-2 hour trip turned into about 4 hours on the smaller, gravel, bumpy roads connecting the beach communities. These weren’t in as good of condition and yes, we had to pass more water on the roads. I freaked out again at the second one and Dave was pushing my buttons on purpose. There’s a funny video of him recording our crossing and me grabbing the phone. The way I say ‘Dave’ is full of all my stress and frustration! Haha. We made it across though and at the next crossing I was less afraid and decided to just close my eyes figuring if I can’t see it happening I’ll be less irritating to Dave. Whew.

Samara is a small coastal town right on the water. It’s very accessible. Hot and humid. And busy for its tiny size. It has a beautiful beach that is well protected by a large cove and reef making it very safe. Our accommodation here is called La Mansion and was recommended in the lonely planet. We knew we wanted to spend some extra time in Samara and finding affordable accommodation was a challenge - I searched and searched. We seem to be the
The cactus and cactus restaurant. The cactus and cactus restaurant. The cactus and cactus restaurant.

The owner/chef said his grandmother planted it many many years ago and it had never flowered until 7 months and some fats ago when he opened his restaurant on the site. It was getting ready to flower again.
only travellers staying at La Mansion. It is run by an elderly couple from the states who have settled here. It’s not affordable. But we have a nice large room with a big bathroom, balcony and AC. The couple is obviously catholic. And the wife is a painter and her artwork is everywhere. They are very sweet. But the downstairs smells oddly like slightly sour milk. Marlene gave us some food recommendations and we have been to both with good results. We are finally enjoying our first taste of fresh seafood in Costa Rica. Red snapper being the most readily available and served fresh the day it’s caught. We ate at soda Esmeralda one night - the food was amazing and the fish cooked to perfection. Dave got his favourite ‘whole fish’ meal. It was a little expensive but so good.

We had reserved two 30 minute gyrocopter flights with Fly With Us Samara. Jorge was our pilot and although this was expensive ($160/30 min) it was well worth it! What an amazing way to see the area and what a unique experience flying in an open gyrocopter. Dave was particularly excited about this part of the trip. Any well engineered machine gets him excited. We saw crocodiles in the river, turtles in the reefs and a humpback whale surfacing from the deep. As we circled waiting for the whale to come up I thought- I’ve seen whales before, no biggy if I miss this one. How wrong I was. It’s a completely different vantage point seeing it from above before it breaks the surface. It’s fins glistening white in the water and its body darker grey or blue. And you can appreciate how big they are which you can’t from a boat or the shore when all you see is a humped back, a tail or a fin. And the gyrocopter can see it as it begins it’s ascent and can fly quickly closer leaving the boats well behind. It was magnificent. Again - a highly recommended splurge if you can manage it. And Jorge was a great pilot with a lot of experience and knowledge about the area. Oh and we saw Mel Gibson’s house in Costa Rica. Which is apparently a big deal to some people. He owns 65 acres wth many homes on it. The beaches are all public though so there is beach access
Jalapeño cafe in playa NegraJalapeño cafe in playa NegraJalapeño cafe in playa Negra

We had the Tico burrito which was too big for me to finish. And tried every hot sauce that they made! And bought a couple mango hot sauce to bring home. Carry on size :)
to the beach against his property. Apparently the property is for sale right now for $27 million. Yikes.

On our second morning in Samara we went out to puerto Islita to visit the macaw recovery network and have a 1 hour tour including a feeding where about 10 to 15 red macaw came to eat. They are noisy colourful birds with plenty of character. They were apparently extinct in this area until a number of years ago thanks to the efforts of this group completely run by volunteers. It was a great informative presentation and their efforts are paying off. They also help rehabilitate the great green macaw population which has only approximately 1500 birds left worldwide - a very sad statistic. They don’t live on this side of the island so they are rehabilitated here and then taken back to release on the Caribbean coast. Again, the efforts have been paying off since their numbers were as low as 300-400. They house a number of birds rescued as pets. Some with wings broken so they can’t fly away. Those birds obviously cannot be released into the wild but they are still pairing with other birds to mate and
Pura Vida - the Costa Rican catch phrasePura Vida - the Costa Rican catch phrasePura Vida - the Costa Rican catch phrase

Literal translation: pure life. Can be the answer to anything and the greeting to anyone. Fave has taken to saying it like a local with a dirty Mexican twist. He’s weird. This is also my new iPhone screenshot.
then their offspring when ready are released into the wild. They socialize the birds so they get used to each other and the young of birds that can’t fly learn to fly from other groups. It’s a fascinating project well worth donating to if you’re interested:

Playa Carillo is about 15 minutes from Samara and it is considered (after Mel Gibson’s beach) to be the most beautiful beach in the Nicoya Peninsula- although I suspect that depends on the area you’re in and who you’re asking. It is a beautiful protected breach and we enjoyed the early part of the day here. We had planned to snorkel but Dave has caught a cold - potentially the one I had been trying to kick for 4 plus weeks - and instead we found some shade in the palm trees and took quick dips in the ocean to cool off. There was a lovely breeze from the water to keep us comfortable and kept the sweating to a minimum. We unfortunately left our cooler at the B&B with our water and Gatorade so that cut our trip short. There’s nothing else out here. Although a small town is only a few minutes away - still inconvenient when you’re already settled on your towel in the sand.

We came home mid day. Dave is sick. He has a head cold and is certain he is dying (aka man cold). He spent most of the rest of the day in bed trying to heal up. I went for lunch by myself and purposely sought out a recommended plant based restaurant called Luv Burger. It was absolutely amazing. Honestly I can’t rave enough about it. One of the best meals I’ve had! Ever. And hard to beat sitting on the beach eating great food with a tasty passion mojito to wash it down!

Dave let me rouse him to catch the sunset at playa Samara together since we leave tomorrow. Afterwards we went to Microbar. - a tiny little space with limited seating for a couple Costa Rican craft beers. I tried two and both were great. A Microbar pale ale and a different brewery that made a sun dried mango pale ale. Yum. Dave had a craft ginger beer - no alcohol - to help with his cold. He said that was also amazing.

We’ve decided to skip dinner.
Random midway gravel road stop for a dip to cool off. Random midway gravel road stop for a dip to cool off. Random midway gravel road stop for a dip to cool off.

The sand was excessively hot. Couldn’t walk 3 steps on it. Sandals required all the way to the wet sand.
Dave isn’t hungry and I ate such a big late lunch. We have a long day of driving tomorrow and want to get a fairly early start. We have made some changes to our original plans due to challenges with booking affordable accommodation. We’ve also decided to skip Jaco altogether. It’s a busy beach town that’s known for its party scene and we are trying to find the low key places where we can relax without a crowd. We will be driving over 2 days down to the Osa peninsula- the most undeveloped part of Costa Rica. I’m both terrified and excited. Terrified about the road conditions and how many times I’m going to have to close my eyes to cross the river in the rental car and excited for the adventures and the last leg of our trip. See you next time!

Additional photos below
Photos: 33, Displayed: 32


Gravel Nicoya Peninsula road - river crossing in the dry season. Gravel Nicoya Peninsula road - river crossing in the dry season.
Gravel Nicoya Peninsula road - river crossing in the dry season.

You can see the dry season and the wet season roads.
La Mancion - playa SamaraLa Mancion - playa Samara
La Mancion - playa Samara

View from the balcony into the garden overlooking the street.
Unexpected dinner date Unexpected dinner date
Unexpected dinner date

This little gal came for pets and joined us ever so hopefully to dinner. I was making her wait until we were done before giving her some red snapper - Dave on the other hand is a sucker! She sat here through our entire meal and had plenty of fish herself.
Fly with us - gyrocopter tourFly with us - gyrocopter tour
Fly with us - gyrocopter tour

Dave went first. He was so excited.
Gyrocopter viewGyrocopter view
Gyrocopter view

Looking down onto the river after take off. Saw a crocodile on our way back but it’s not in this picture

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