When we last left off on our 6-person Costa Rican road trip we were in Arenal, ziplining and hot springing in the jungle. As our vacation was only a week long, we had to start heading back to our starting point in Playa del Coco on the Nosara Peninsula, but a road trip is always more fun when you take the long way. After 4 days of rain the sun was much appreciated and appeared right when we arrived to the hippie beach town of Montezuma. Heading back up the coast to Samara we got news of Hurricane Sandy hitting NYC, and with all the airline delays we were blessed with 4 more days of sun, sand, and ceviche.
The Itinerary: From Arenal, drive direction Monteverde, home of the famous cloud forest ecosystem. If artisanal goat cheese made by artists-cum-farmers is your thing, Monteverde is your destination. We, however, did not have time to check out this area and instead drove straight to the port town of Puntarenas. Beware: Driving the road from Monteverde to San Ramon at night is not the smartest move. Narrow, winding mountain roads covered in fog make the oncoming trucks even harder to spot. Puntarenas is your typical port town, full of seedy characters and shabby motels, and not really worth overnighting in. Catch the 90-minute ferry to Paquera (cars welcome) to explore the southern Nicoya Peninsula.
Montezuma is the Mecca of totally tubular surf towns, with sleepy-eyed white chicks selling sea shells by the sea shore. Without the tourists that crowd the beaches in the high season, it is quite the spectacular destination. The jungle stops where the sand starts, and you can hear the monkeys calling from your beach towel. Sunrise shell collecting and the short hike to Montezuma Falls are a must. We heard that nearby Mal Pais has better breaks and more secluded beaches, and if it’s good enough for Gisele, it’s good enough for me.
From Montezuma it is difficult to continue up the coast, so head inland until you see signs for Samara. This small, typical tourist town sits on a long stretch of sand that seems to never end. I recommend campground Los Cocos, located right on the beach and right next to a small hotel with fabulous food and even better cocktails. Going horseback riding was one of the trip highlights, and not to be missed. At just $20 for an unlimited ride, our local guide took us up the cliffs overlooking the town, through a river, and to a famous surf beach to watch hatching turtles. It wasn’t until after we had crossed the river that he told us we should return before the crocodiles emerge! The nearby town of Nosara is known as the place for turtle nesting, and after sundown during a full moon in October is when the magic happens. The local children will show you where the nests are – just be sure not to mislead the green sea and leatherback hatchlings with your flashlights.
The Highlights: Watching baby turtles hatch by the hundreds on the beaches of Nosara and bringing them, by the hatful, to the shore. Riding on horseback across the silvery sands by moonlight back to our campsite. Successfully towing our overheated 4×4 with hammock straps after being stranded in the jungle.
Worth Checking Out: Costa Rica, in the slow season. To be honest, Costa Rica sounded like another south-of-the-border destination with too many Americans for me, but I was pleasantly surprised at how inaccessible most of the country has remained. We went in October, and flights were cheap ($350 from NYC) and accommodations even cheaper. Locals are eager for business and you have many places all to yourselves. Come March and beaches such as Samara will be packed, so it pays to come when it rains. In any case, “rainy season” does not necessarily mean no sun – half of our vacation was spent catching rays – and if it does, there is always the rainforest.