Throughout our travels we had heard about how expensive and overrun by tourists Costa Rica is, but nevertheless we found it to be a beautiful country. True, there are a lot of tourists, nearly everyone speaks English, and things are about three times more expensive than in the other countries we have visited, but Costa Rica is still gorgeous. Immediately as we crossed the border from Nicaragua, the landscape changed from brown and dry to a lush, tropical green. Costa Rica is in general wetter, greener, and in turn, buggier than all the other countries we visited.
Our first stop in the country was Playa Grande, a beautiful, protected stretch of flat, sandy beach with the most seashells we have ever seen. It was there that we happily discovered that free camping is allowed on nearly every beach in Costa Rica. Two friendly policemen on motorcycles dropped by and confirmed that we could camp wherever we pleased as long as we didn’t walk on the beach at night because of nesting turtles.
After one night of relaxation at Playa Grande we set out to find some waves. We made our way south along the coast to Playa Avellanas, a beautiful beach lined with mangroves and a number of surf spots. Aron and I had been to Costa Rica together four years ago and spent a week in Playa Avellanas at Cabinas las Olas, a surf lodge that Aron and his family have been visiting for many years. We decided to stop by although we had a feeling the rates would be out of our current budget. We figured we could at least ask about places to camp and maybe see if we could afford to stay a night or two. When we arrived and mentioned Aron’s mom and stepdad, Linda and Jim, the owner generously insisted that we enjoy a free night in their guest cabana. We were absolutely thrilled! Jim owns an awesome stand up paddle company called Uli Boards (www.uliboards.com) and has been visiting Cabinas las Olas regularly with Linda for years.
To top it off, we woke up the next morning to find out that Linda and Jim had emailed the owner and were treating us to three days and nights at the cabinas. After living in the van for all these months and barely shelling out $20 here and there for a room in a hostel, we were overwhelmed with happiness and gratitude. It was so nice that it actually brought tears to my eyes. And here we were, with three days and nights of luxury to sit back and enjoy. Our time in the cabinas also coincided with the start of the rainy season which hit Costa Rica like an open floodgate. It rained every evening and night for our entire stay and we were happy to be cozy in a nice cabina instead of stuck in the van. We spent the days surfing, lounging, and enjoying delicious, rich food. Thanks again Linda and Jim!
We thought it would be tough to go back to the van after living in such luxury, but we got back in the groove pretty quickly. We set out to take our chances on exploring the rest of the Nicoya peninsula, famous for its beautiful beaches but also its terrible roads that become impassable during the rainy season. Unfortunately, during this time it rained every day and night making the weather less than ideal for enjoying the beaches. We made it as far south as Samara and Playa Guiones where we enjoyed some free beach camping before we got tired of the rain and driving on rattling, muddy, pothole filled roads. Deciding to skip out on Montezuma and Santa Theresa, two little beach towns that we had wanted to visit but required a few more hours of bad roads, we found our way back onto the pavement and made our way south.
We stopped at Playa Hermosa, a dark sand beach with beautiful palm trees, scarlet macaws, and barreling waves. We spent two days enjoying the sun that had finally broken through the rain and Aron surfed some fun waves.
Further down the coast we set up camp at Playa Dominical, a mellow beach town along a pretty strand of beach. The waves were small but we enjoyed the location for a few days before continuing on.
Since a swell was coming in, we blew through the rest of Costa Rica and drove straight to Pavones at the southern end of Costa Rica, a beach famous for having one of the longest left waves in the world. A few people we spoke with in Dominical warned us that the road to Pavones was bad and that we might not make it in the van, but we decided to go for it anyway. The road turned out to be a little rough and very potholed, but nothing compared to the roads we tackled in Guatemala. Our standards of what constitutes a good road have definitely changed on this trip. Anyhow, we arrived in Pavones after five hours of driving. Aron headed straight for the water while I explored the coastline. After confirming with some residents that we could camp along the beach, we found the perfect secluded spot on the top of the point overlooking the waves rolling in.
The waves were consistently a good size for the first two or three days in Pavones and then peaked at maybe around ten feet on our last day in town. The waves peel all the way down the point and go for so long that three different people can catch sections of them. There were barrels all over the place! It was a little scary to watch because there were so many people in the water, getting in eachothers way and cutting people off. Despite the crowd, Aron caught some of the best waves of his life.
After a fun couple of days in Pavones, we backtracked four hours to Puerto Jimenez, the gateway town to Corcovado National Park on the Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica. The park is 105,000 acres of wild jungle lined by 20km of uninterrupted beach and has been called one of the most biologically intense places on earth by National Geographic. We planned to hike a 12 mile trail through the park, which would traverse both the beach and the jungle and involved river crossings and climbing over rocky beach points all while carrying all of our own supplies. We would then camp at a ranger station in the center of the park for two nights before heading back.
At the park headquarters in Puerto Jimenez, we made reservations to hike and camp in the park and then settled into a hotel room to prepare for the adventure. We sorted out food for three days and organized our packs in preparation for our early morning departure. We woke up at 5am and drove nearly two hours on a rough dirt road to the tiny town of Carate, the closest point to the entrance of the park reachable by car. And that is where the wildest adventure of the trip began.
We have done a lot of backpacking in California but hiking through a hot, humid jungle and through soft sand on a slanted beach slope was pretty difficult. Not to mention that we miscalculated the conversion from kilometers to miles so we initially thought the hike was only 8 miles instead of 12 miles. Oops. 12 miles is definitely the longest we have ever hiked in one day with a full pack. Anyhow, it was one of the most amazing things we have ever done in our lives. It was thrilling, challenging, and even a little scary. The full adventure is recounted in our Corcovado blog post Welcome to the Jungle.