It’s been a whirlwind month of traveling down the Central American coast. We left El Salvador in late March and spent a couple of weeks in Nicaragua. We had a wonderful, albeit short, visit with our good friend, Kevin, who lives on the Caribbean side of the country and traveled by planes, buses and foot to meet us in Puesta del Sol on the Pacific side, just in time to celebrate Wags’ birthday.
From there it was a crazy slog in 30+ knot Papagayo winds (Papagayo literally translates to “parrot” although we’re still not sure where the similarity lies) to the charming town of San Juan del Sur (AKA SJDS), which is a mix of backpackers, expats and Nicas (local Nicaraguans). The one thing about SJDS is that it really funnels the wind. We never thought we’d be comfortable leaving Gadabout anchored in 25-30 knots of wind to go ashore but the lively scene during Semana Santa (Holy Week), confidence in our Rocna anchor and, frankly, our craving for a good wood-fired pizza gave us the push we needed. Our friends John and Michelle on S/V Pineapple came along for the wet, windy ride and we had a fun weekend of exploring, eating and hiking – we even went to a carnival (although none of us had quite enough “confidence” to set foot on any of those rides). We checked out of Nicaragua with much left on the table… perhaps a future visit is in order.
A brisk day sail brought us to Costa Rica and we were welcomed with the protection and calm water of Bahia Santa Elena. Costa Rica is fairly laid back about checking in to the country right away so we were able to spend our first few nights fully relaxing (after too many days of high winds), hiking and racing hermit crabs, as one does, before doing the international paperwork shuffle at the official port of entry.
We tend to lose track of which day of the week it is (occupational/cruising hazard) and arrived in Playas del Coco too late on a Friday afternoon to check in, so we enjoyed the weekend and attacked the aforementioned paperwork shuffle – immigration office to port captain to customs (requiring a bus ride to the airport, 45 min each way) and back to the port captain – on Monday, a process that took the better part of the day from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The next few days were spent in a marina where we gave Gadabout some washing, polishing and maintenance love while we had the benefit of shore power and, hence, air-conditioning (aaahhh…). We then we continued south to Tamarindo (or as it’s called locally, “Tama-gringo,” because there are so many gringos living and vacationing there).
Much like Playas del Coco, Tamarindo is very touristy with party boats ferrying vacationers to nearby islands and beaches, tons of restaurants and trinket shops, and lively nightlife. It’s also a surfing mecca, which is why we went, although, sadly the one day we were there it was so windy and the surf so blown out, not even the beginner surf classes were in the water. C’est la vie. We enjoyed a couple of good meals and headed on our way.
One overnight sail brought us to beautiful Bahia Ballena in the Golfo de Nicoya. This is the Puntarenas province of the country, where the true Costa Rica, at least in our minds, began to reveal herself. The local villages are small, with Ticos (local Costa Ricans) focusing on everyday life outside the tourist trade, the vibe is more relaxed, and the vibrant green landscape and abundant wildlife offers the scenes we had imagined. We spent calm, quiet nights in nearly empty anchorages. In fact, the only other boats, if any, were typically fellow cruisers with whom we explored and swapped stories over sundowners.
We woke to the sound of howler monkeys in the trees – and boy, are they loud! We watched scarlet macaws fly overhead in pairs. We visited nearby towns, hiked to jungle waterfalls (and even swam in what can only be referred to as a mud hole), dined at eco-resorts reachable only by boat, explored by dinghy and on foot, and marveled in the beauty of our surroundings.
Our last anchorage before entering the southernmost gulf in Costa Rica was Bahia Drake on the Osa Peninsula, home to Corcovado National Park. This was the most rural Costa Rica yet, where mud paths are the main thoroughfares and the main mode of transportation is by foot, horseback, dirt bike or by boat. People come here to experience the beauty, solitude and wildlife of the peninsula. The Osa Peninsula also produces its own unique weather system, which equates to one thing, rain… and lots of it. We held our breath as the daily thunderstorms rolled in, bringing with them plenty of lightning, but tried to look at the bright side – it was a free boat wash every time and we identified all our new leaks!
From Bahia Drake we rounded the cape and explored Golfo Dulce, the most remote area we’ve seen. Many places are accessible only by boat and there are plenty of secluded anchorages to satisfy the secret hermit in both of us.
Aside from the stifling heat and humidity we loved this entire area. Its natural beauty and remoteness soothe the soul. How can you not love a country whose whole ethos is captured in two words you hear everywhere you go: “Pura Vida” (pure life)!
Here are some more highlights:
Curu Wildlife Reserve where the monkey to person ratio was at least 20:1.
Squirrel monkeys in Manuel Antonio National Park putting on a show.
Osa Wildlife Sanctuary in the Golfo Dulce.