In Search Of Our Final Destination, Province No. 1
Esterillas Este - Northern Puntarenas
Province No. 1
Even after fourteen visits within two years of traveling back and forth from the States to Costa Rica, we still had no idea where we could picture ourselves living long term. For that reason, we chose to rent homes via AirBnB for the first several months in different provinces throughout Costa Rica. We knew that if we could live in a certain area for a month or more, we’d get a feel of what the town had to offer, as well as keeping in the back of our minds, what we could offer that town. Located along the scenic coastal stretch of Ruta 34, Esterillos Este is a peaceful beachside gated community with a character of its own. We knew nothing of this area, and sort of landed here by, I guess you could say ’spinning the globe’. Having two smaller children, we knew that it would be much more of an ease out of the ‘American way’ (I know, poor choice of words) for them, if we could keep some of their daily activities in tow. Basketball courts, soccer fields and parks lined the main pathway leading to the beach from the main entrance. Although the housing was a little different that we were used to, we didn’t mind sharing the walls with our neighbors. The price of the home for 45 days was half of what our monthly house payment was in the States. This charming community is situated in between the beaches of Jaco and Quepos. With quite a bit of commercialism in Jaco, we were drawn to the feeling of a rustic beach town, where chickens crow all day and night, cows and horses roam freely in the pastures and police cars are nowhere to be seen. Visitors from all over the world come to Esterillos Este for its picturesque sunsets. Esterillos is a collection of beach communities named for the regions estuaries and rivers. This serene contiguous stretch of beach of Playa Esterillos (known as Playa Bejuco to the locals) is over 7km of gray sand which is divided into three sections: Este (East), Centro (Central) and Oeste (West). The part of Esterillos Centro and Esterillos Este boasts gorgeous mangrove swamps, while Esterillos Oeste has small creeks and headlands which are excellent points for observation of both wildlife and lush landscapes. Esterillos Oeste and Centro are inhabited by locals. The undeveloped area of Esterillos Este hosts several boutique hotels capitalizing on the seclusion and beachfront location. Head high waves break year-round, making it one of the most consistent surf spots in Costa Rica. Almond trees and swaying palm trees frame the shoreline. It is easy to spend the whole day at Beujco and not see another person. Less than a mile across from the condominiums (where our AirBnb was located) sit several restaurants from pizza to elegant five-star meals, a second-hand clothing store, furniture and house decor made for a beach-lovers dream, liquor store, frozen yogurt parlor, hair and nail salon, as well as coffee shops that offer local, American and Cuban breakfast. Town Center Market is where we did most of our shopping when in need of something quickly. Its size and contents in the store resembled at Town Center Market was one of a local Dollar General back in Texas.
Goodbye Waxing, Hello Tweezers - Learning To Live Simply, The Hard Way
(eyebrow wax: $10 .. the end result of having half an eyebrow: $ priceless)
For as long as I can remember, I have been getting my eyebrows waxed. Like other women, back in the States, I had ‘my girl’ that I would go to every so often for haircuts and waxing. The first three months came and went of living abroad, and before I knew it, my eyebrows were beyond needing just a little help. My kids told me I looked like Angrybird, which I could not deny. I was so glad that I was able to find a local salon and scheduled an appointment. I think the thing I was most afraid and procrastinated because of, was the language barrier.
I could hardly look at myself in the mirror, as my eyebrows slowly took over my face. I literally counted down the days until my appointment date. After being canceled on by over text message and rescheduled twice, I finally found myself lying on the massage table. When she finished, she handed me a mirror I could barely see my reflection in. Making it seem as though I could see and acknowledging she did a good job thanking her, I followed her out of the room to the front desk to pay. As soon as I got back into the truck, where my family patiently waited for me, I hopped in and immediately pulled the visor down to see her work. I think I wiped my eyes several times, making sure my contacts weren’t seeing something that wasn’t there. Each time I looked in the mirror I got the same result. While one side was perfect, the other had half an eyebrow. Like for real. Half. An. Eyebrow. As I turned to my family to get their opinions, they could hardly contain their excitement of how crazy I looked. I quickly realized there wasn’t much I could do, other than wait until it grew back. It was hard to look at myself in the mirror without laughing. Needless to say, not long after this wax, a pair of tweezers were bought, and although I may not do a perfect job at it, I can at least say I have both brows in the ending result.
From Muy Loco To Muy Tranquilo
The moment we landed in Costa Rica with our kids and dogs our lives completely changed. We chose to homeschool our children when we moved. Our daily schedule went from muy loco to muy tranquilo. Aside from the daily responsibilities of raising kids and dogs, our days were very easy going. They consisted of eating breakfast, doing school work (three days a week, for two-three hours per day), eating lunch, throwing boomerangs at the beach in the afternoon and playing in the sand, and dog walks during sunset on the beach, followed by dinner. Life quickly went from crazy hectic, not-enough-hours-in-the-day .. to simple, being-in-the-moment living. Not wanting, not needing, just being. The amount of peace gained has been absolutely priceless, I think to all of us. I must admit, just like every parent that wants the best for their kids, I was determined for each child to try every sport or extra curricular activity just once while living in the States. This meant being gone five or six nights out of the week, attending practices or games, most times missing out on one child. It was almost to the point no one was having fun, yet everyone was still going through the motions, because that’s what ‘everyone else was doing’. I don’t want to say that I took anything away from them by leaving the country, but I see it as opening their options to more possibilities and learning experiences. So far, our oldest has learned she loves to cook, write her own music (and sing), and wants to become a realtor and/or interior designer. Our youngest, well, wants to become a video game developer, thanks (or not) to MineCraft and Fortnite. Their minds are expanding daily and although it is definitely challenging at times being around them all day, everyday, I am super lucky to get to witness their growth. As their mother, all I want no matter what they choose, is for them to be completely happy. I don’t think I’ve ever met a parent that wants or has said different about wanting the best for their children. One day, I hope they look back and say that living abroad was one of the best experiences and times in their lives.
Patience Is Key
Sort of having to relearn how to live without rushing around was a challenge in the beginning. Living in such a slow paced lifestyle and country, there really wasn’t much choice of being in a hurry. We’ve learned to live by, “we’ll get there when we get there”. First come first serve is not always the case. Should a pregnant woman, handicap, or elders walk up to stand in line, they are to go straight to the front. During what was supposed to be a routine 30-minute oil change, I decided to remain in the vehicle, not really thinking much of it being an issue. After banging on a wrench that was wrapped around the filter to help loosen the old one to replace with new, we all had a little hope. Little did I know that I would be boosted up 2-stories in the air, for 3 solid hours. I no longer make the point to ask if I can stay in the vehicle during the process.
Although we make plans, sometimes they don’t end up as we think they should in our minds. Being as we don’t have residency, it is required of us to leave the country every 90 days. To do this, we travel every 3 months, 3 1/2 hours to Panama and 3 1/2 hours back to have our passports stamped. Although we look forward to it simply because of the fast food and shopping mall (where most things are 30% cheaper than in CR), any border crossing can definitely be mentally draining. But it’s something that comes with the territory. On the way from our required three hour stay in Panama, we were greeted with what we thought was a vehicle accident. After sitting in the same spot on the road for several hours, drivers and passengers started to get out of their cars trying to see what was created the stopped traffic. Come to find out it was the High Schools Teachers’ Association calling for an indefinite national strike to protest against the tax reform law. Costa Rica’s public unions as well as private sector unions joined the strike along with teachers, students, medical workers, telecommunications employees, and transportation workers. These unions also called for citizens to join the protest. The only way to get home, was to cross the bridge that was being blocked, stopping all traffic in all directions from going or coming. Buses loaded with tourists had to pack up their belongings and exit the bus so they could walk across the bridge carrying their suitcases and bags in hopes of finding transportation on the other side that could get them to their destination. We ended up sitting in one area for 7 hours total. Luckily, I had suggested each of us buy a 20oz. drink before leaving Panama. Once we saw others using the sides of the road for the restroom, we had no choice other than to do the same. No matter where we go, or how long we intend to stay, we always make sure to pack a ton of patience alongside our necessities, just in case.
A Peek Around The Area Of Esterillos
Moving north from Esterillos Este within just a few minutes drive, the next stop is Esterillos Centro. Centro is a quiet beach town that provides the chance to kick back and relax, Costa Rican style. One of the best things about Esterillos Centro is its charming, chill atmosphere. This area is undoubtedly one of the best-kept secrets. The turquoise colored ocean and scenic jungle encircle the beach, brimming with amazing wildlife. This seaside town offers the opportunity to enjoy the regions stunning views without the crowds. There are several beachfront hotels in the area that offer convenient access to the pristine beaches.
Esterillos Oeste, population of 300, is another little cute beach town in North Puntarenas, (driving north from Centro takes aprox. 10 mins) with luxury rentals, adventure tours and beautiful views of the Gulf of Nicoya. Wildlife provides this beach with a unique personality, as it has streams and rocky promontories where you can find exotic animals that are typical of this habitat, like crocodiles, iguanas and different species of birds. This is a nice beach to hangout at and relax, because it offers a lot of shade below the palm trees. There are also some almond trees that are frequented by scarlet macaws. A visit to Esterillos Oeste is not complete without witnessing the beautiful bronze mermaid sculpture sitting in the rocks looking at the ocean, whose base is submerged at high tide; thus, it looks like the mermaid rises from the surface of the sea. During low tides, it is possible to walk up to the mermaid for a photo. Another treasure of this beach are the natural swimming pools, where fossil remains can be found. Esterillos Oeste is very small and rural and the beach is not very crowded. This small typical Costa Rican beach town is definitely filled with delight.
Parrita - The Biggest Little Town Near Esterillos
In the opposite direction of Playa Bejuco (Esterillos area) sits Parrita. Parrita is the name of the ninth canton in the Puntarenas Province which covers an area of 478 km(squared) and has a population of aprox. 13,000. This little town is on the way to the famous Manual Antonio while sitting in the middle of an African oil palm farm. The area is surrounded by a number of rivers. The community’s economy is almost exclusively dedicated to producing African palm oil, an edible plant oil derived from trees, used for cooking, margarine, soap and other products. Most of these areas were formally banana plantations. There is also substantial acreage in rice and vegetable crops, without mentioning the large extensions of land being cultivated with cantelope, honey-dew and watermelon during the summer (dry) season. Teak plantations are also plentiful and have reached the age for harvest in some areas which is providing a new source of employment for the community. The nearby Damas estuary mangrove forest is home to a wide variety of animals, including crocodiles, pumas, the coatimundi as well as Costa Rica’s treasured monkey species. Parrita has less commercial tourism than the nearby towns of Jaco and Quepos. Visitors and locals often walk with tranquility up and down the streets when shopping. It is not unusual to see many walkers, bicyclist, or motorbikes throughout the town. It is emerging as a center for tourism, but still remains its small town “Tico” personality that is mportant to agriculture. A popular festivity of Parrita, called “Festival de las Mulas” (Mules Festival), takes place every February and includes concerts, food sales, exhibitions, tope, bullfighting and the traditional race of mules. We visit Parrita often for any pharmacy or grocery shopping runs.
Local Grocery Shopping - Parrita, Jaco & Heredura
Costa Rica has a range of supermarkets with a variety of items and brands and you can find most things you’d find in foreign or US grocery stores. However, we quickly learned that those cute little, brightly colored characters that are printed on the boxes and packages aren’t so cute when checking out. We do splurge every now and then, but it isn’t very often and is far in-between. Not all supermarkets have the same quality, carry the same items or have the same prices.
Shopping In Parrita
In a recent study of prices in 48 supermarkets across the country, the Costa Rica’s Economy Ministry (MEIC) found huge differences in prices of basic food items.
Pali, a supermarket chain owned by Walmart is a very basic market. Maxi Pali, the bigger version of Pali has more items and seems to be cleaner and more organized from what we’ve experienced.
Shopping In Jaco
There are also middle range supermarkets like Mega Super or Mas X Menos (also owned by Walmart) which carries some American and foreign products, is usually pretty clean and has a decent selection of produce. Mas X Menos is the most popular grocery store in Jaco, as it is right in downtown.
Shopping In Heradura
Auto Mercado is the most expensive retail chain to buy the basic basket (including prepackaged foods, fresh produce and personal care and hygiene). Although it is pricey, It is nice to know things that can’t be found at the local Pali or Maxi Pali can be found at AutoMercado. Auto Mercado is a popular Costa Rican owned store that is well known for being a high end supermarket with high quality items, a bigger range of foreign products and a wide selection of produce. They also have conveyor belts, air conditioning and misting machines, a few things that are not super common in other grocery stores in Costa Rica.
Costa Rica Grocery Prices On An Average From Mega Super / Auto Mercado: (A sales tax of 13% is usually included in the price tag, as well as the import tax on anything that is imported.)
1 kg sugar: $1.15
Yellow onions: $3.10/ kilo
Can of OFF family mosquito repellent: $9
1 loaf of white bread: $2.80
1 liter of milk: $1.50
Tomatoes: $3.5/ kilo
.660 kg (~1.5 lbs) of ground beef: $8.60
15 regular eggs: $2.60
1 kg of white rice (local brand): $2.25
1.5 lbs of chicken breast: $7.10
1 123 ml Colgate toothpaste: $4.60
Tampons (10 pack): $4.33
500 ml Listerine: $6.90
Local Turrialba cheese: $4.70
6 pack of Costa Rican beer: $8.10
Gouda/smoked/other types of cheese: $4.50-8
1 kg flour: $1.00
Special K cereal: $7.20
24 pack of water: $14.85
1750 ml of water: $1.70
1 L olive oil: $13.20
Kellogs Pop Tarts 8 count $5.25
Fruit Roll Ups 6cnt $6.00
10.5oz Can of Chicken Noodle Soup $3.00
Name Brand Cereal $5-8 (small box)
Single Can of Dr. Pepper $1.00
There are a lot of local products like peanuts, pepper, ice cream, spaghetti sauce, rice and things like that which can be found around half of the cost of the imported products. Lastly, most supermarkets in Costa Rica close by 8 PM.
The Central Pacific runs from Jaco to Manual Antonio. Roughly about 25 km north of Esterillos Este along Ruta 34 is Jaco. Jaco is a beautiful town that’s located within an hour drive of San Jose, Costa Rica’s capital. Located in the county of Garabito in the Puntarenas Province, the city has a population of aprox 10,000 residents. It is known for its carefree party atmosphere and exceptional aquatic activities. As a gateway to the lush Central and South Pacific, Jaco is an excellent place to experience adventure, nature and wildlife.
Playa Jaco is a very clean beach thats always brimming with tourists. It is a very beautiful and popular destination. The beach is a long gray arc that has a backdrop of palm trees, surfside hotels and the occasional mid to high rise condo complex. We make the drive as often as the tides permit us. Due to the long consistent waves, this beach is said to be one of the best for beginners. Many restaurants and bars also sit along the shoreline of the 2.5 mile long beach. Souvenir shops line the main strip, Jaco Walk. Pharmacies, ice-cream stands, casinos, a 4-theatre cinema, a skate park, grocery stores, liquor and appliance stores can all be found in town on or near the Jaco Walk, which runs adjacent from the sand. A few fast-food chains can also be found like Subway and Pizza Hut. Although parking always seems hard to come by along Jaco Walk, our favorite stop on the way to the beach is the panaderia (bakery) to get churros filled with caramel. They are so good, we’d actually order them by the dozens. From horse-back riding to catamaran tours, Jaco is sure to quench your thirst for adventure.
Hidden on the far south end of Jaco Beach sits Miro Mountain. This magical spot offers an incredible view point overlooking Jaco. It is said that this structure was initially built by a very wealthy man who wanted to have a view of the entire Jaco coastline. However, the structure was never completed and was abandoned to the ruins still seen today. Although the structure is very far from finished, the massive balcony with its three stories of white pillars is far more impressive. The hike up is quite steep, however it is very easy to get distracted by the beautiful wildlife. From monkeys, parrots to scarlet macaws, the surrounding flora and fauna is out of this world awe-inspiring. With rolling green hills and farm pasture in the distance, Jaco sits in a wide cove with rocky points on each end.
One thing that is sure to catch the eye are all the beautiful, brightly colored artwork in and around the town. Murals are painted ever so cleverly featuring wildlife and nature o buildings and restaurants. The town has developed a reputation over the years for its party atmosphere (mostly in the bars) and adult-only nighttime activities, but in the recent years has put a lot of effort into making it an attractive place for everyone to visit. Jaco is a great town that hosts an animated nightlife with many clubs.
Driving to Playa Jaco from San Jose, is a bridge that has become a big tourist attraction. Tarcoles River forms the northern boundary of the Carara National Park and is inhabited by crocodiles year round. Most don’t realize that the the ‘Crocodile Bridge’ is in a National Park. Despite the souvenir stands, t-shirt hawkers and police cars prominently displayed to deter thieves, many onlookers take in the sights of these massive reptiles. There is a small Tarcoles town nearby to explore a small Costa Rican community. The Tarcoles River winds through Costa Rica’s Central Pacific region before emptying into the Pacific Ocean. In addition to its agricultural significance, the river also helps generate electricity. Known for its abundance of American crocodiles, it is said that the Tarcoles River has one of the highest populations of crocodiles in the world - 25 crocodiles per square kilometer. Although it is a risky water to dip your toes in, the Tarcoles River more than makes up with a promising river safari adventure. The river is home to over 50 species of birds. These native, migratory and coastal birds have considered this rio their home. Reptiles, such as iguanas and the Jesus Cristo lizards can also be seen here, as well as anteaters, monkeys and bats to name a few. Mangrove trees are very abundant in the Tarcoles River. The entire watershed covers over 2000 kilometers and it one of the most contaminated and polluted rivers in Costa Rica. Along the river are some hikes and waterfalls in the valley but other than that, there is not much to enjoy at the Tarcoles River.
Carara National Park
The Carara National Reserve is located just 9.3 miles north of Jaco. In this area is where the last noteworthy portion of primary rain forest in the Central Pacific is located. The park is uniquely situated in between Amazonian and Mesoamerican habitats in a transition zone which harbors distinct flora and fauna from each respective habitat. White-faced monkeys and scarlet macaws are amongst the wildlife of Carara National Reserve. Normally only spotted in the southern regions of Costa Rica, spider monkeys are beginning to make an appearance at the park. Other wildlife luring in the trees include toucans, aracaris, kingfishers and herons. Inside the park, peccaries, anteaters and poison dart frogs hop tentatively around the moist forest floor. Apart from the 50 bird species that can be found near the river, this park is home to more than 400 more. The park entrance fee is $10 per person (kids free).
Just south of Jaco (5km) is Playa Hermosa. Much quieter than Playa Jaco, this black sand beach is loved by beach goers and surfers alike. Local surf competitions are held every Friday and Saturday and it is definitely the place to be. The tropical vibe of the music booming off of the palm trees, with the sound of the ocean and the sunset in the background, leaves a feeling of pure joy inside. Our favorite hang out spot is The Backyard Bar. The Backyard is a super chill spot for locals, surfers and tourist alike. The bar and restaurant back onto the beach, which makes this the ideal spot to watch the surfers and sunsets.
Even being as close to Jaco, Hermosa has established it’s own fame in surfing sub-culture. Playa Hermosa is known to have some of the most consistent surf breaks in the world and is rated as one of the best surf breaks in the country due to its regularity of huge waves. This beach is host to the annual Quicksilver’s International Surf Competition every August. This beach features waves that often reach as high as 13 ft. The beach currents are very strong and not suitable for beginners. The town is itself is sparse in accommodations and mostly home to locals, however there are a few hotels on and around the beach, as well as a few restaurants.
Driving south (roughly 50 mins) from Esterillos Este, brings us to what is known as the gateway to Manual Antonio, the district and the capital of Aguirre canton, Quepos. Quepos has a population of 22,000 and is very tourism-oriented with many bars, restaurants, souvenir shops and a vivacious nightlife. The streets of Quepos are easy to walk with a mix of local shops, markets and cafes. It has all the amenities of a tourism-hub, yet maintains that unique charm of Costa Rica with an authentic laid-back feel. As a tropical inlet backed by rainforest, Quepos is a small booming harbor town famous for being one of the best places in the world for big-game sport fishing. With a variety of outdoor adventure and nightlife, the village center composes of six blocks of restaurants, bars, hotels, art galleries and gift shops, all resting beside the main beach and sport fishing fleet. Quepos is now home to one of the prettiest and impressive marinas in Costa Rica. Marina Pez Vela is home to many restaurants and shops. There are many other draws, including canopy tours, horseback, kayaking, and surfing.
Just a stones throw south from Quepos (7km), is one of Costa Rica’s most famous parks, Manual Antonio National Park. Within a short hour driving distance from Esterillos Este, (57 min), Manual Antonio sits majestically in the mountains overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The park is internationally recognized as being one of the most biodiverse parks on the planet. Lush tropical forests, lagoons, mangroves and pristine white sandy beaches make up one of the most diverse ecosystems imaginable. Among the 109 species of mammals and 184 species of birds, some of the frequently viewed residents include white-faced and howler monkeys, two and three toed sloths and iguanas. The endangered squirrel monkey also calls this park home. It is one of the smallest parks in Costa Rica but the most visited due to its fauna. Walking trails surrounded by wildlife and resting on paradisiacal beaches are options that promise to captivate your senses. The magic of the beach and the greenery of the forest come together in one place, and the result is a natural paradise. In addition to the beaches, the Park offers a very humid tropical forest where flora and fauna in danger of extinction coexist, a mangrove, marine environments, islands and a lagoon of 14 hectares. In a short journey, it is possible to cross several paths that lead through a primary forest. The best option is taking the community tour with an ICT-certified guide that takes apron 2 hours (prices vary depending on group size). The national park entrance fee is $16 (kids are free) and operates Tuesday - Sunday 7am - 4pm. Manual Antonio is the jewel of the Pacific Coast that is home to one of the top beaches in the world. Manual Antonio beach is a short walk from the entrance of the park. It has a lot of trees for shade, fairly calm waters and beautiful views, it’s no wonder it’s usually the most crowded beach in the park. On the other side of Manual Antonio beach is Playa Espadilla Sur. From this area it is easy to see a wonderful view of Manual Antonio hill and Espadilla Norte. Playa Espadilla Sur is a less crowded beach and perfect for a laid-back family day. The other beaches Gemeles and Puerto Escondido can be reached by the trails. Gemelas is a smaller beach that is also suitable for swimming.
Espadilla Norte is right outside of the park entrance. Since it is not in the park, it is free. Playa Espadilla Norte is a unique beach destination that gleams with white sand beaches backed by evergreen forest that grows right up to the high tide line. This beach is about 3.6km in length, and is the largest and most popular beach in Manual Antonio. It is impossible not to fall in love with the views this beach has to offer. Its excellent environment, plus its exuberant natural beauty makes this beach a true paradise. The scenery is very well emphasized by its incredible amount of tropical vegetation with majestic palm trees, coral reefs and abundant wildlife with species such as raccoons, porcupines, sloths and monkeys. Vendors line the beach selling souvenir items from sunglasses to household decor, food and drinks, and tours of parasailing, banana boat riding, surfing and jet skiing. The brightly colored sunsets that seem to set the sky on fire are any beach lovers main attraction. The town is small, but hosts several hideaway hotels and luxury vacation rentals. Because of the environmental restrictions, the hotels in the area are not beachfront but set cliffside with sweeping views.