Coast to Coast to Coast
After 2 1/2 years in Costa Rica, I decided to return to the US in March of 2019 to pursue a Masters degree. Before I left I spent two weeks traveling along the Pacific and Caribbean coasts. For the first week I traveled with a Tico friend of mine (Joaquin) and during the second week, my best friend (Becca) from the US flew down to join us.
Together we traveled to beaches, national parks and waterfalls. It was an awesome good bye to Costa Rica and a road trip I would recommend to anyone traveling through Costa Rica with a car.
A reflective moment
After 3.5 hours on the road, we decided to stop at the beach outside of the Manuel Antonio National Park before heading to our Air BnB in Quepos.
The beach was pretty crowded, but we found a nice spot under a tree branch to set our towels down. As I layed out on the warm sand and looked up at the leaves and breathed deeply. This was the start of my last two weeks in Costa Rica. I didn’t want to miss a minute of it.
I ran my fingers through the sand, closed my eyes and took in the moment.
We decided to stay in Quepos because it’s centrally located and cheaper than hotels closer to Manuel Antonio, Dominical or Uvita. Our Air BnB was a beautiful house in a good location. We were slightly miffed with the owner because he advertised parking and a kitchen, but when we got there neither of those things were available. However the house was clean and in a great location, so we just bought a lot of cacique and resigned ourselves to three days of cold sandwiches.
Quepos is a tiny town, but it’s a great place for picking up supplies. There is a Pali so you can buy ice, drinks and snacks. We also got Chinese food one night and coffee and pastries at the Musmanni. It’s a nice place to stay if you’re traveling on a budget.
A funny moment
Our last night in Quepos, Joaquin and I were having a drink in our Air BnB room. The door was open so we could see into and hear what was going on in the kitchen. Another guest walked into the kitchen and pulled out a glass from the cupboard. The Air BnB host appeared out of nowhere next to her and asked “do you want a glass of water?”
“Oh ok” the host cut her off. “Well let me help you.” He took the glass from her. “First you put the ice in the glass, then you pour the water into the glass” he explained as he filled the glass and handed it back to her.
An awkward silence followed.
For about 1.4 seconds.
Joaquin and I tried to hold it in, but we almost immediately exploded into hysterical laughter.
Our Air BnB host looked back at us, confused.
We spent the rest of the evening bursting into random fits of laughter at the thought of the host explaining to a grown woman how to make a glass of water.
On the second day of our trip we got up early and headed to the Marino Ballena National Park. The drive to the park is gorgeous. Grids of palm trees line both sides of the road and in the distance all you see are green mountains and clear blue skies.
We stopped at a nearby town to pick up ice for the cooler and a few snacks for the park. When we reached the park we found cheap parking 1 minute away from the entrance. Alcohol is not permitted so we did some last-minute rearranging before we headed inside.
Walking in is pretty incredible. The beach is huge and bordered by towering palm trees and dense foliage. We wanted to get away from the entrance, so we walked for about 10 minutes before finding a few trees to settle under.
For the rest of the morning we just relaxed, watched small groups filter into the park, and enjoyed the company of a little dog who joined us.
Matapalo was one of my favorite beaches in the Uvita/Domincal area. Not only is it easily accessible, it’s huge and uncrowded. It’s not an ideal tourist beach (which is why I liked it), but it is great for laying out in the sand and relaxing. Joaquin obliged me and we went back to Matapalo twice to watch the sunset.
I walked across the dark sand towards the water. The closest person was at least 100 meters away. I turned for a moment to look back at the trees. In the distance a bird flew over the beach and away towards the mountains. I turned back towards the low tide and kept walking until the waves washed over my feet.
We turned off the highway and onto the gravel road leading to the Nauyaca waterfalls and I instantly grabbed the door handle and held my breath. The first hill was steep and full of potholes. However the lady behind the desk assured us that any car could arrive to the parking lot, so we kept going.
One of my biggest fears is driving off the edge of a cliff to my death, so when we came to a sharp, steep corner, I squeezed my eyes shut and took short shallow breaths as I grabbed the door handle with both hands. Thankfully Joaquin navigated the turn smoothly and a few minutes later we pulled safely into the parking lot.
The hike to the falls was challenging, but definitely worth it. Along the way we saw toucans, scarlet macaws, capuchin monkeys, a pizote and even some peacocks. It took us about 45 minutes. When we finally arrived to the falls, we were sweaty and tired, but excited to go for a swim.
We went to the lower waterfall first.
There were a lot of tourists, but not very many swimming so it did not feel overly crowded.
We shed our socks and tennis shoes, left them on a tree branch and clumsily climbed over the rocks into the water. I’m generally a wimp when it comes to jumping into cold water, but I was eager to get away from the tourists so I dove in right away. The signs weren’t exaggerating, you shouldn’t get in the water if you can’t swim. The water is really deep.
I flipped over onto my back to float for a minute. The sound of 3 dozen tourists faded away and was replaced by the sound of echoing water. All I could see were the tree tops; all I could hear was the water. I watched the trees above, let my limbs relax in the water and willed time to slow down.
After about an hour we decided to see the upper waterfall.
We climbed over the rocks and found a nice one to settle on. Joaquin decided to swim and I leaned back and enjoyed the waterfall view and warm sunlight.
The following morning we turned onto another gravel road that we probably should have had 4-wheel drive for. This one is less terrifying, thankfully, and surprisingly beautiful. We’re going to Playa Ventanas (Windows Beach), a beach that Joaquin knew about. It’s a small beach with dark sand and caves through which you can see the ocean.
We settled under a couple of trees, ate our sandwiches and watched a little French family play football in the sand. After a little while we decided to go look through the “windows” and reenact the Little Mermaid.
After Nauyaca Waterfalls, Los Chorros and Finca San Gerardo, the Uvita Waterfall isn’t the most exciting waterfall to visit. However it was a good place to stop, take a dip in the water, use the restroom and buy a smoothie. The Envision crowd was just beginning to arrive, so we saw a lot of dread locks and yoga tattoos as well.
I was content to stay dry, so I let Joaquin swim while I people-watched and continued trying to slow down time. I had about two minutes to be reflective before the waterfall was overtaken with a less-than-bathed group of Envision attendees. We watched one slide down the waterfall (and jam a few fingers along the way) before we left to look for some lunch.
Limon: Puerto Viejo
After 4 days in the Central Pacific, we headed back to San Jose to pick up my best friend, Becca, before we headed to the Caribbean side of the country.
She was the first friend to visit me, so I was a little excited. We got to the airport almost an hour early and I got scolded by an airport official twice for being in the way.
The next day we got back on the road, drove through the Braulio Carrillo National Park to get to Guapiles, where Becca got her fast taste of Gallo Pinto.
After a filling breakfast, we continued on towards Limon Center and Puerto Viejo. Still on a budget, we stayed at a hostel in Puerto Viejo right on the ocean. After checking in we went straight to the beach so Becca could see the ocean for the first time.
After splashing in the water, watching crabs and spotting a sloth in the trees above us, we headed across the street to a small convenient store and bought sandwich ingredients and most importantly, Cacique. We ate sandwiches and drank cacique on the beach until sunset and then turned in early to get ready for a day of exploring the Caribbean coast.
Cahuita National Park: Where we got the s*** kicked out of us
On our first full day on the Caribbean we went to Cahuita National Park. The park is beautiful, but rather crowded. Becca wanted to swim by I was worried about the strong currents. The park official told us that unsafe spots were marked by red flags, safe spots with green. We stopped at a red flag spot for a bit to take pictures and enjoy the view. Becca went swimming (just to stress me out, I’m pretty sure). She had a great time body surfing and getting pushed around by the waves.
After a while we decided to walk further into the park and find a green flag area. We found a good spot and all three of us got in the water.
Joaquin, Becca and I were standing in the water, laughing as we jumped over/got pummeled by the waves. Becca commented that the waves in the green zone were more intense than the red zone. The words were barely out of her mouth when a huge wave appeared behind us. None of us reacted fast enough and it hit us head on. I grabbed my glasses so I didn’t lose them as the wave hit me and dragged me several feet. After it passed I stood up quickly to Joaquin and Becca laughing.
“Yeah you’re right these waves are way worse.” I tell Becca.
Suddenly another, bigger wave forms. I swear as Joaquin yells to jump under it. None of us have time to dive under the wave and this one hits us all even harder.
My legs flipped over my head and I struggle to find the surface. I panic slightly, but after getting slammed to the bottom I get my feet under me and stand up, coughing.
Joaquin and Becca are up doing the same.
“Oh shit I lost my glasses!” I scream (like a nerd).
However, by the grace of God I felt them hit my leg and I scooped them out of the water. We all burst out laughing at my luck and spend the next hour trying to get the sand out of our swim suits and hair.
After getting knocked around at Cahuita, we stopped to get Becca her first pipa fria, before heading to the next beach, Punta Uva. Punta Uva was one of our favorite beaches. The water was turquoise, the sand was white and the waves were perfect for swimming. There were a lot of people there, but the beach was large enough that you could find a spot in the shade. We ended up spending two afternoons there because it was so peaceful.
We start our decent to the waterfall with the warnings about snakes still ringing in our ears. Becca and I make Joaquin go in the front with the snake stick. Luckily it’s only about a 5 minute walk to the waterfall and there are no snakes to be found. We found the shallow river and follow it a lower and upper set of waterfalls. Becca and Joaquin swim in the frigid water. At the upper waterfall Joaquin and I sit on a rock in the shade while Becca swims under the waterfall, laughing.
Back to the Pacific Coast
On our last few days in Costa Rica, we leave the Caribbean side and head to the Pacific side. We make sure to stop at the Tarcoles Bridge along the way so Becca can see the crocodiles with all of the other gringos.
A perfect day
We spend an entire day on my favorite beach. We relax, drink, eat, swim, take silly pictures and watch the sunset. It’s a Monday, so the beach is basically empty. The weather is perfect. It goes by too fast.
Jaco: The Abandoned Hotel
On our last day, we visit Jaco Beach in the morning, travel to nearby overlooks and hike to an abandoned hotel that looks over Jaco city.