In Search Of Our Final Destination, Province No. 4
Matapalo - Playa Real, Bahia de Los Piratas - Guanacaste
Province No. 4
From the hills to the beach, our fourth home was located in Bahia de Los Pirates on Pirate Bay (and some know the adjoining beach which is Playa Real). About 15 minutes (7 km) off the beaten path, this spot really is a hidden treasure. The nearest town is Matapalo (a small town that has a few stores and a small park) and only a 5-minute drive from the south end of Playa Conchal. Upon arriving, we were greeted with a beautiful beach with salmon colored sand. Although we didn’t plan on it reaching 117*F (47.2*C) during the middle of the day, we had the most spectacular view of the Pacific Ocean. Every evening we had the opportunity to watch the sun kiss the sea from the hammock that swung on the back porch Our dogs were beyond happy to be back on flat land, even if it was on top of a mountain.
Few travelers have heard of this gorgeous beach. Some of the locals have heard of it but have never been there and quite possibly don’t know how. This beach is not only beautiful, but is also offers great snorkeling, fishing, surf, kayaking and spearfishing. It is a short and pleasant walk to neighboring beaches which share the same charm as Pirate Bay. The reason for the name is somewhat mysterious. Some say it’s due to pirates visiting the area or it being a often stopping point for them, but to date, nothing has been found. Daily, we would take a 5-minute walk down the hill under the mango trees that sit alongside the paved road to the beach. Most times it being just us, we would enjoy what felt like our own private beach. Wildlife was much less abundant, although we had many different species of birds that flew over our yard to and from the beach several times a day as well as spotting several groups of howler monkeys along the dirt road that lead to the beach. Sloths and scarlet macaws seemed to gravitate toward the cooler climates. One species of wildlife that the warmer weather didn’t affect were the iguanas. It quickly became quite the norm for them to walk along the tile rooftops sounding like Godzilla with their nails as they scraped their way to shade or a better sunning spot.
‘I Am Not Going To Bed, Until It’s Dead!’
Costa Rica accounts for only 0.03% of the earth’s surface, however it contains nearly 6% of the world’s biodiversity. While I love wildlife and nature and seeing how everything interacts in its natural state, there are some things I’d rather not share an intimate space with.
One evening, while cleaning the kitchen after dinner, I noticed a shadow squirm underneath the microwave. Although I truly didn’t get a good look at it, I had a feeling it was nothing good. I was not leaving that area until whatever it was, was caught and placed outside, and no where near where I lay my head. I kept my eyes peeled in the last known location, waiting for him to make his next move. I was ready for a stand off. Quickly it came walking out from under the microwave and onto the stove. As soon as I noticed it was a scorpion, I knew no one was going to bed until it was dead. It didn’t help there was no kitchen lights, so we were using our lights from our cell phones trying to spot the intruder. By this time the kids have decided to climb on the back of the couch, half standing, half sitting, not really sure what was going on. We played ‘Find The Scorpion’ for a good 20 minutes before he decided to dart out from the stove and into the war zone of cooking utensils and oven mitts. There was no way I was going to lose that battle.
Guanacaste - Rich In Traditions
Guanacaste is rich in traditions and numerous cultural events are held in Nicoya throughout the year. Most celebrations have a religious background while others are testimony of national pride and folklore. No matter how solemn the event is, every celebration is a welcome opportunity for a party with native food, drinks and dancing.
While living near Matapalo, the timing was perfect and we had the opportunity to attend the local Fiesta, something we had wanted to do for a while. At the Fiesta, local food, local beer, fun games and rides line the pathway of the carnival which lead to the bull ring. During the event, brave (or crazy) members of the public can jump in the ring as amateur bull fighters. They provoke the bull, dodge attacks and get recognition from the crowd, which is sure to ensue an ego boost.
Costa Rican style bullfighting is nothing like the gory spectacles that take place in Mexico and Spain. Here the bulls are well cared for and almost never injured. On the other hand, human beings get the stuffing knocked out of them. The goal is to get as near to the beast as possible, even better to touch it, without getting gored or trampled. Some people succeed on both fronts, others not so much. There are a few professionals in the ring to help the injured hobble out. It is not uncommon to see tourists jump over the wooden posts with full glass bottles of beer while wearing flip flops, enticing the bull to come their way.
One of the calmer parts is watching the highly skilled horseman rope the bulls when it’s time for them to exit. They take great pleasure in showing off their skills with a lasso. Outside of the bullfighting ring, local fried foods, games and rides can be found. For two kids and two adults: tickets cost >$20 for all four of us.
Shopping In Tamarindo
Vacationing Vs. Living
Groceries and shopping were a bit more expensive than in Central Valley, but still not quite as high as in the most popular tourist town in Guanacaste, Tamarindo. As I’m sure most people do, splurging on food while on vacation can seem fun and mysterious. However, vacationing vs. daily living sit on two totally different spectrums, for me anyways. Coming from Ciudad Quesada, not seeing many name brand foods, entering a grocery store in Tamarindo can certainly light up all five senses. Like in Jaco, Guanacaste also features an Auto Mercado. From seeing samples at the ends of the aisles with meats and cheeses to finding almost anything that could be found back in the States. We walked down every aisle and looked at every item sitting on the shelves in astonishment at every turn. Not only because of the items themselves, but also the prices. After spending a good hour and a half enjoying the cool breeze and gathering half a basket of goods from snacks and cereals to frozen foods, we marched our way to the checkout. Weary of what the lime green numbers on the cash register would read, we both tried not to look at the total. After that $400 shopping trip, we spent most of our adulting (grocery shopping) days in Huacas.
Huacas has a population of 750 people and takes up an area of 31.5 km. It was about a 25 minute drive, depending on traffic. The land of Huacas has grown on its very own mountainous due to its being just 570 meters above sea level. This land has allowed locals to focus on agriculture, which is the major economic activity of the village and its people. This is an outstanding location to see the authentic side of Costa Rican life.
Having one of Costa Rica’s most beautiful beaches within a 5-minute drive from our home was beyond amazing. Playa Conchal is one of a trio of beaches that line Costa Rica’s ‘Gold Coast’. Saying it is beautifully stunning is an understatement. This is one that you’d have to experience and see for yourself. Not only is the sand a bit different than what the neighboring beaches offer, the water is crystal clear. With some of the clearest waters on the Gold Coast, snorkeling is a must-indulge activity. With a fantastic array of marine life on display, swimming with the many tropical fish that dwell here is like a dream. Instead of sand, what you will find along the shore is seashells. Playa Conchal, which gets its name from the sand found here that Is composed of hundreds of millions of tiny crushed shells. The simmering shells are a perfect accompaniment to the warm turquoise waters and this is why Conchal is one of the most beloved beaches in Costa Rica.
Up until April 2018, vehicles could actually drive onto Playa Conchal from Playa Brasilito. Locals would assist in parking (for a small fee) as well as offered tents with chairs, whole fish fresh hot off the bbq pit, drinks and snorkeling equipment. Fortunately but unfortunately, you can no longer park or drive onto the beach due to beach conservation. Although its a bummer most won’t get to experience Concahl ‘before April 2018’, I think it’s great to see what the government is doing and taking action for this beach, before it is too late. In order to access Playa Conchal, parking can be found in both Brasilito, which is a short 15-minute walk to Playa Conchal, or The Westin offers day passes which offer secure parking. For $100/per person, a day pass is good from 8a-5p, and offers numerous activities from water sports, to spa treatments. A nights-stay on the secluded 2,500 acre resort starts at $305usd.
Next door to Playa Conchal sits Brasitilo. This still very traditional beach community is named after the Brasilito tree. Brasilito (town) is a tiny fishing village that has 1km of sandy beach. Like Huacas, this town offers a true taste of Tico culture. With a very limited number of hotels and cabinas, much of this area is in it natural state. General stores line the fringes of the village as well as a soccer field sits in the middle of town. Playa Brasilito is an excellent beach for rest and relaxation. The town is nothing fancy to brag about, but more of a modest town. The town is so small, you can drive throughout the whole thing in less than 10 minutes! It is a small community but all the beaches in the area are very close to each other. Matter of fact, 20+ beaches can all be visited and explored all within a total distance of 50km.
Rounding out the beach trio is Playa Flamingo. Despite its name, it is highly unlikely that you will ever come across a flamingo on the magnificent crescent of white sand. This beach got its name from the sand turning a very light pink during certain times of the year in the right weather conditions. This stunning beach is one of Costa Rica’s Pacific coast jewels With blue crystal waters and sparkling white sand, it is no surprise that this is a great beach to watch some of the most beautiful sunsets. Playa Flamingo is the starting point of many ocean-going excursions and offers the only marina with full range of service between Panama and Acapulco. Starfish, coral reefs, eels, and reef sharks swim amongst the amazing collection of wildly colored tropical fish. Flamingo waters are also home to lots of beautiful Sailfish, Marlin, Roosterfish, Snapper and Yellow Fin Tuna. Catalina Islands are located just off the Playa Flamingo coast and are great for White Tipped Shark observation. Unlike many beach communities, Flamingo Beach has no village center. With its gleaming white sand and stunning waters, its certainly no surprise that Flamingo Beach is where wealthy foreigners and Ticos are developing Villas at an astonishing rate. Most of the town is elegantly perched on a hillside in the thick jungle vegetation that hugs the steep cliffs overlooking Flamingo. Boutiques, restaurants and bars tastefully line its streets. There are plenty of trees to lay in the shade, the waves are soft enough for swimming and the scenery is beautiful.
Oh, Tamarindo! Picture a tropical paradise and it’s most likely to resemble that of Tamarindo. While some of Costa Rica’s beautiful beaches might be difficult to access, Tamarindo has made its roads tourist-friendly, so that all visitors can experience the beauty of this Guanacaste beach town. Tamarindo offers a wonderland of adventure and has the serenity of a tropical getaway. Tamarindo is located in the district of Santa Cruz canton. The district and town has a population of (the last recorded date was in 2011) approximately 6,500.
From simple beginnings as a quiet fishing village, Tamarindo has developed into one of the most popular destinations in the Guanacaste Province. The mile-long crescent beach serves at the front yard of the town. The vibe of Tamarindo is best described as ‘party and play’. The town is filled with great swimming, surf, fishing and water sports during the day, and buzzing nightlife come sunset. From world-class golf courses (2), to snorkeling and sailing, Tamarindo offers it all. Tamarindo is situated just one hour away from Liberia airport. Not only does the town support a beautiful beach, but also a range of accommodations, and a number of restaurants and bars. The main boulevard includes various boutiques and art galleries. Tamarindo is the most developed beach on the Nicoya Peninsula. When in 1994 the surf cult movie “Endless Summer II” starred Tamarindo’s surf beaches and pure vida lifestyle, it lured the surf nomads and nature seekers to the secret beach spot. Only a couple of years later, Tamarindo evolved into a lively town . Today, more English can be heard on the streets than Spanish. It might seem confusing at first, but one interesting fact is that Tamarindo doesn’t have any street signs or street names. There are two main streets, one that runs parallel to the beach and the other that runs perpendicular to the first. This Pacific town is the ideal combinations of city meets nature - catering to anyone who carves an authentic Costa Rican jungle and beach experience with the comfort of knowing modern amenities can be found just around the corner. It’s no surprise that an abundance of wellness, nature, beauty and organic living has dubbed Tamarindo are a Blue Zone - where life expectancy is among the highest in the world.
One of the most popular outdoor experiences in Tamarindo, aside from the beach, is the Marino Las Baulas National Park. Costa Rica is a country that believes in preserving the natural beauty of the land and protecting endangered animals, and this park does just that. The National Park is a protected area that serves as a safe place for the leatherback sea turtle population. They are able to use this are as a nesting site, without fear of being captured or having their eggs stolen.
The estuary that divides the north of Playa Grande Tamarindo is quite large and it is possible to rent canoes to observe the wildlife. To the south is the beautiful and set off Playa Longosta, with its excellent Bed & Breakfast. Most costly hotels and B & B’s are scattered all along the beach at Playa Longosta and south of Tamarindo. With an assortment of beautiful beaches extending to the north and the south of Tamarindo, the bustling beach town is a strategic location for exploring Guanacaste’s sun-kissed coastline.
So … Where Did We Choose?
Although we had fun living in several different provinces and will continue to visit other areas, we chose the Esterillos Este on Playa Bejuco in the Puntarenas Province. We love this community and can see ourselves here, long term. After a year of moving around, life has seemed to settle down and we have all seemed to find our daily routines of school, surf and living the simple life. Costa Rica is not meant for everyone, but its definitely for us, for now anyways.
Where Would We Recommend To Visit First?
It really depends on what you are into and want to do while you are here. Often I tell first time visitors that they should spend half of their time at the beach (in Guanacaste), and the remaining half near the volcano (Arenal). Both are beautiful and offer numerous options to fit your needs. We enjoyed having the opportunity of seeing the northern pacific parts (Guanacaste Province) of the country first, following Central Valley (Alajuela Province) near Volcano Arenal, and onto south and southern tips (Southern Puntarenas and The Osa Peninsula) of Costa Rica where it is more remote and also seems to be the home to more wildlife than people. No matter where you choose or the number of days of your stay, you can’t go wrong visiting Costa Rica. Don’t forge to pack your sunscreen, mosquito spray and patience, and enjoy the ride.
Happy Trails + Pura Vida