March 16-25, 2014, I took a trip to Costa Rica. It was sweet. Here’s my account of what transpired. As with most of my travel escapades, I like to write a travel journal of what we did. Mainly so I can look back on the good times. Its funny, however, when I write these things, despite the fact that it’s on a public forum (my blog), I feel mostly like I’m talking to myself. So pardon the excessive use of talking (typing) in third person and my overuse of parenthesis. You can check out a video I made from the trip below or click here to purchase prints.
Right after shooting Dan & Jessica’s Wedding in Carolina Beach, I hopped in a car with my usual travel companions, my brother, John, and his wife, Allie, to start the trek to Flordia to catch our flight to Costa Rica. This was our second trip there, but it had been nine years since we first made the trip.
We made a few stops on the way, like getting fresh orange juice from the FL welcome center (kudos to you, Flordia) and stopping through Cocoa Beach and Ron John Surf Shop (And Pizza Hut). We quickly retired to our hotel in Orlando to catch our 8 AM flight to Costa. We sucessfully made our flight without any complications (except for a few pressure dings on our surfboards, thanks JetBlue) and proceeded via shuttle to retrieve the rental car.
They picked us a real winner of a car, a questionable, uncomforting noise was coming from under the hood as we sped off. After a quick U-Turn, and John negotiating with the fellow why we would like another car, (“Oh, it’ll be fine”, he said) his persistence paid off and we were rewarded with a sparkly white, 4×4 Daihatsu Terios.
I’ll admit, we were a bit nervous navigating ourselves to our destination for the night, the Arenal Hostel Resort. During our first trip to Costa Rica in 2005, we unknowingly left the airport going in the complete wrong direction. Long story short, we ended up with our Terios in a ditch and were forced to drive through the night on dark, unmarked, unfamiliar dirt roads, with running out of gas a real possibility. We really didn’t want that to happen again, so we were very meticulous about our mapping. We took the longer, more scenic route, which gave us some great views of the mountainous Costa Rican countryside.
Our first choice of hotel was the Arenal Observatory Lodge, which sits in the shadow of Arenal Volcano. Unfortunately, it was booked, so we went with Arenal Hostel Resort in La Fortuna. When we pulled up to a fortress-like structure with tall cinderblock walls, we were a bit concerned on what we were getting ourselves in to, but it ended up being a pretty sweet place. We had volcano views from our room, plus the place gives you a ticket for a complimentary alcoholic beverage at check in. Score. Sitting on our porch, it felt like we were in a tree-house, overlooking a courtyard of hammocks. We got some food from the bar (and our complimentary beverage), walked to the store to grab some of Costa Rica’s finest brew, Imperial, and celebrated our first night in Costa with drinks and a few competitive games of Kendama.
We got up early and got a delicious plate of comida tipica (rice, beans and in this case, eggs) from a restaurant down the street before starting our day at the Arenal Observatory. On the drive there we got some pretty incredible views of the Volcano along the tree-fence post lined dirt roads. The panoramic views from the deck at the Arenal Observatory aren’t too bad either. Then we took to the trails surrounding the volcano, where we encountered swinging bridges, wildflife and waterfalls. I went for a little swim with the GoPro at the base of the waterfall.
Once we completed our loop, we celebrated our accomplishments with lunch and a cold Imperial at the Observatory.
We got back to the hostel in time to pack our stuff and get back on the road to our destination for the night on the North West coast, Playa Negra.
It was our intention (at least according to Johns itinerary) to make it there in time to get in a surf before dark. We made a bet on what time we’d get there. I guessed the latest time. I won. No surf before dark, but we did get settled into our ant infested non-airconditioned hut before nightfall at Hotel Playa Negra and grabbed some casado de pescado (fish) from the restaurant/bar. Afterwards we took a walk on the beach, where me and John had a footrace to prove who’s the faster brother. I won. We hung out at the bar, took at dip in the pool and played some pool before retiring to our hut for the night.
I slept pretty well despite the lack of air circulation, the 2 inch thick mattress and having to swat ants off me all night. John woke me up at the crack-ass-of-dawn all giddy about going surfing out front, so I rolled out of bed and complied. The waves weren’t that great but it was still fun and we had it to ourselves for the most part. We came in to wake Allie and grabbed some comida tipica and some much need cafe con leche. The waves pretty much went flat after breakfast so we explored the area on foot and bodysurfed in the shorebreak. Not long after we packed up the car and headed down the coast towards Nosara and our home for the next few days, Harbor Reef.
We stayed at Harbor Reef 9 years ago during our first trip to Costa Rica and we really loved it, so we knew it was a place we wanted to stay. When we got there we were pleasantly surprised when we were upgraded to a 2 room suite complete with a kitchen! Once settled in we took a walk down the dirt paths to the beach where John caught a surf and we watched our first sunset in Nosara from Playa Guiones.
The next few days consisted of waking up, going for a dawn patrol surf session at Guiones, grabbing our complimentary fresh fruit breakfast from Harbor Reef, exploring Nosara on foot, relaxing by the pool drinking smoothies during the hottest times of the day and going for an evening sunset surf session at Guiones. And of course we would finish the night off by the bar at Harbor Reef, playing the iconic “ring-toss” game, cooking dinner in our suite or taking a star-filled walk on the beach, before falling asleep to the sound of howler monkeys outside our suite.
The trail to the beach.
If I had to choose one place to stay in Costa Rica, it would be at Harbor Reef in Nosara. Get a few friends, take a bus to Nosara from San Jose, rent a couple ATV’s or dirt bikes and hang out and surf in and around Nosara. Perfection. It changed a lot since our first time going (way more gringos) but it was still super fun and relaxing. The locals had deemed Playa Guiones as Playa Goonies (probably due to all the kooky gringos). When the time came for us to check out, we looked to stay another day, but the place was booked completely and someone was scheduled to take over our suite. We knew we wanted to stay close to Nosara for another day, so we hit the interwebs to find a spot. I found the Lagarta Lodge.
The Lagarta Lodge is situated at the Northern-most part of Nosara, atop a cliff with Nosara on the south side and a Biological Reserve on the north. We knew the biological reserve would be our best chance at finding some monkeys.. The lodge is owned by a transplanted Swiss couple, who care less about the surf scene in Guiones and more about the conservation of Costa Rica’s wildlife and biological diversity. We drove up after our dawn patrol session on our last day at Harbor Reef to check it out and see if we could get a room. We did and we decided to take a little walk around the point. We walked along the river mouth to the beach and up on the rocks around the point before heading back to Guiones to catch an afternoon surf session.
It gets so hot during the day in Costa, everybody retreats indoors to catch a siesta during peak hotness, so we weren’t surprised when we walked up to the beach and there only a few people in sight. (However, when we came here 9 years ago, we hardly saw anyone the whole time we were in Nosara) They have these pretty cool shelter/hut/lean-to type things on the beach at Guiones made of palm leaves and bamboo. I would guess they were made by a gringo like myself who gets sunburned just from the reflection off the sand. But I made use of them often when shooting photos from the beach. We did a little more exploring before John went back out for a sunset surf. We stayed out on the beach way past sunset and decided to splurge on our last night at Harbor Reef by eating dinner at the restaurant, having some drinks at the bar and playing a few last games of ring-toss.
We woke up the next day, packed our belongings, went for an AM surf and headed out towards Lagarta Lodge. Once we got our stuff in our room, we started walking on a dirt road to where we thought would lead us to Playa Pelada. During our walk, we encountered what we could only describe as a Howler Monkey turf-war. We looked up and saw a group (family, pack, whatever) of about 10-15 monkeys eating leaves peacefully in the trees above us, then out of nowhere a big angry Howler came out howling (growling) ferociously at the group, essentially attempting to chase the group off of his turf. We watched in awe as these monkeys started leaping frantically, some with their babies clinging on to their backs, from tree to tree across the dirt road (watch the video at the top of the post to see, or click here). It was probably one of the craziest things I’ve ever witnessed.
We sat there until dusk and photographed this group of monkeys. My desire to see some monkeys up close had been fulfilled! We made it back to the lodge in time to grab a couple drinks at the sunset bar to (you guessed it) watch the sunset, where we were treated to panoramic views of Playa Nosara and the Rivermouth Boca.
Then we decided to drive down to Playa Pelada and eat at a restaurant right on the beach called Bar Olgas. It looked like a local hangout, but we just shrugged off the odd looks as we found our seat. I ordered my usual, comida tipica. The food was delicious, although we were interrupted halfway through our meal by the policía rushing in, flashing their lights towards the beach, where we saw a large gringo fella on an air mattress with a couple younger ticas. Dinner and a show, sweet. When we returned to our hotel, we were greeted by a large colony of geckos both inside our room and outside on our porch, which I guess is normal? We woke up early to get in a hike in the biological preserve where we saw more monkeys, birds and coatis (hog-nosed coons).
We then parted ways with Nosara and started our drive south to our next and final stop of the trip, Playa Hermosa. Once you pass the Nicoya peninsula and get into Puntarenas, the landscape changes pretty drastically. It starts getting more mountainous, more humid (think rainforest) and a lot greener. Nosara is more desert-like I guess you could say. The roads go along some pretty precarious ridges, which make for some pretty breathtaking views. We got checked into the Backyard Hotel in Playa Hermosa just in time to crack a couple Imperials and watch the sunset from the black sand beach. The vibe here is a little different than Nosara. Not as many kooky gringos, probably due to the fact that the wave is a lot heavier than Guiones. I can remember getting drilled into the sand a few times here. But it’s mostly a surfers beach, with most of the hotels catering to surfers. We ate dinner at the bar (comida tipica) and called it a night. The next day would be me and John’s birthday and our last full day in Costa Rica.
We woke up early anticipating a big swell to come in overnight. It wasn’t as big as it was forecasted to be, but still some good ones coming through, I sat at the bar with my cafe con leche while John paddled out. After breakfast at the restaurant we drove in to Jaco to do a little souvenir shopping at the touristy shops there before heading back to grab smoothies, lounge by the pool with the iguanas and surf a little more. John went for another surf in the evening then we walked all the way down the beach to the point and climbed along the lava rock (fun fact: the black sand is a product of lava). We celebrated at the bar with birthday drinks and dinner, but we couldn’t party too hard because we had an early flight back to the US… Thanks for the good times Costa, till next time…