After an exhausting marathon crossing in three days El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua we entered Costa Rica. We felt sheltered and rescued when at only 20km from the border we found a perfect campground to rest. We stayed only few days there as we thought the best was about to come: the reputable beaches and nature of Costa Rica!
Our quest to find the right beach spot and relax became a real saga with the heat chasing us. Luckily for us, we came across with a French couple that hosted us at their boutique bed and breakfast and had a Discovery Channel moment when we saw hundreds of crocodiles on Crocodile Bridge.
Exiting the country through the mountains was our best choice. We were finally in milder temperatures and surprised when we least expected to come across with the grand toucan.
Our adventure in Costa Rica did not happen the way we envisioned but we definitely learned from it, specially to manage expectations.
Recovering at Finca Canas Castilla
We arrived in Costa Rica at midnight exhausted after we had to cross Nicaragua in one day forced by the customs authorities. We were both emotionally and physically wrecked after being extorted by Nicaraguan officials. We were lucky to find on iOverlander the Finca Canas Castilla located very near the border. It was the first time we drove at night, and so late. Our luck was that the gates of the property were opened, and we could get in during the night. We were literally dog-tired and after we freshened up and had a small bite we slept like there was no tomorrow.
The following day started really encouraging. We were welcomed by the owners with a homemade breakfast made of tropical fruits, freshly squeezed orange juice, eggs and coffee. There were other overlander families with children from France, Argentina and Switzerland. It was a nice vibe in a large “finca” by the river with a lot of shade.
While indulging myself at breakfast I watched the beautiful river crossing the mountain valley, listening the bird sounds and breathing into the fresh jungle air. I had no idea what was hiding underwater in that peaceful river: crocodiles! I had never seen one in the wild! I was so curious to see them but at the same time my mind was wondering if any of them could sneak into the property since we were so close to the river.
We were told to relax as they were harmful and would not get into the property uninvited :))) It was beautiful to watch them swinging up and down the river. Somehow resembled the nurse sharks we swam with in Belize, although I would not be willing to swim with these reptiles. It takes a bit of time to be at ease with these animals near you, but once one does it the situation of coexisting peacefully seems quite natural.
In this meantime next to our truck a friendly slot greeted us from the palm tree. He was just there being lazy. What an exotic experience, and we just woke up! Costa Rica seemed already so promising.
As we were still recovering from our Nicaraguan ‘experience’ we decided to take some more time to rest and forget about everything taking the day off just like the slot.
Our saga searching for “THE” beachfront spot in Costa Rica
Costa Rica beaches and waves have a tremendous reputation. We were dreaming about finding the perfect place to park Brutus by the beach and just enjoy it. For that we needed to find the right camping spot so we looked at the iOverlander application and tried to set up a route. Our first stop was at Tamarindo.
Tamarindo is renown to be a beach resort with a buzzy and vibrant atmosphere, full of young travelers, a great place to learn surfing. We were in! We thought, this is the place! We chose Tamarindo Eco Camping since it was the only established campsite on iOverlander close to the beach.
When we arrived in Tamarindo and passed though the resort it seemed perfect: full of young surfers and families, lots of good restaurants and bars, people zooming everywhere, a large inviting beach. It appeared to be a good place to have fun and meet new people. We were excited to explore it and start our first surfing class.
To our disappointment, when we arrived at Tamarindo Eco Camping we discovered it was a hostel with a tiny parking lot. It was about 10 minutes walking from the beach on an unpaved and dusty road. We generally like hostels and their vibrant atmosphere of young and energetic travelers with many interesting stories to tell. The internet is generally good, and you always get a lot of information about what to do in hostels. But this time the camping spot was not as nice, the atmosphere was just not right. We were completely disappointed. We decided to move on and find another place that would fit our purpose.
We found another campground with an apparent nice setup at Samara Beach, 97 km ride from Tamarindo. We thought, let’s try it! JP an enthusiast for off-roading deliberately decided to take the back-country road rather than the highway and our trip became a 3 hours nightmare. It was incredibly hot and our AC was still not working. The road was full of potholes and very dusty with locals storming at high speed in pickup truck. Every time one car would pass we would close our windows so the dust won’t get in. So as you can imagine we had a lot of ‘cooking’ moments inside the truck. It was a tough, unnecessary and consuming journey. I was literally fuming.
We finally made it to the next camping ground which had good reviews and was right on the beach, Camping Los Cocos. The camping spots were pretty tight for a truck of our size, but JP managed to squeeze in through the palms and we got a nice place in front of the beach. Seemed to be the place we were looking for.
Well, wait until you see the toilets! After so many outdoor experiences, by that time I was not a fussy person with toilets, however that one exceeded my expectations. A very basic outdoor countryside toilet with a hole in the ground. Not clean, smelly and very dark. I felt disgusted when spotted the spiders everywhere. We would have to use only our toilet inside our truck.
To complicate things others arrived in what was an already tight campground. Everyone wanted to be facing the beach, so everyone was really near each other. No space in between, thus no privacy. We couldn’t open our owning, not even our chairs outside. We ended up spending a lot of time inside the truck as outside was getting crazy hot too. We soon realized that was not the place for us either, we could not relax. The next morning after we discussed over breakfast we decided to move on.
Beach or mountains in Costa Rica?
We were at a crossroad. As we would not settle, we could not rest properly and the tiredness started to creep up on us. Not so long ago we were in Antigua, Guatemala and since then we had been moving and changing countries almost every day. Our hope was to find the right beach spot to relax and enjoy what Costa Rica had to offer.
It was so hot at sea level, almost impossible to bear with it. The humidity super high.
We then thought about changing our plans heading up towards the mountains. Monteverde promised to be a great destination in Costa Rica and there would be cooler. However, with the Easter holidays approaching every single destination would be crowded. Uninspired, we decided to move forward south along the coast to reach a relatively new campground owned by a Swiss couple which was a bit pricy but according to a couple reviews had all the comfort and amenities we would need.
The Swiss campground near Parrita was more expensive than the rest, but at that point we didn’t care. Actually, we were glad to pay some more for quality infrastructure. Based on the reviews on iOverlander we imagined it would be a location where there would be space, good internet, comfort, a pool, and a lot of shadow, exactly what we needed to rest. As we were not very fast it took us almost a full day to get there. The road was tiring and often dangerous, it was very busy, lots of cars commuting.
The most interesting part of the trip was when we stopped for a juice and walked across the ‘Crocodile Bridge’ where dozens of huge crocodiles sunbath in the banks of the river don below. A Discovery Channel moment. They were massive and impressive.
I could not stop thinking what would happen if someone would jump out of that bridge…there would be no chance to survive! I did not feel at ease seeing so many of them this out in the open.
It was late afternoon and we finally made it to the Swiss campground. We saw it at distance, a large property considerably far away from the beach. It didn’t look what we were hoping for at first, but we wished to be wrong and to be nicely surprised once the gate would open. Well, it was definitely wishful thinking! The moment the gates opened two agile German shepherds came running and barking at us. We saw the courtyard with almost no trees for shelter, just some little palm trees here and there and on top of this some construction at early stages going on. On the left there was the owners’ house, where all the infrastructure was e.g. bathroom, shower, pool, kitchen. I was still hoping the owner would place us somewhere near and protected from the sun. To our disappointment there was no such place. We were positioned in the middle of the field in the open sun in between two palm trees smaller than our truck. To make things worse, if we wanted to get to the house, we would have to negotiate our way with the German Shepperds.
Entering their house, which was the common area we could use, it was nice as they had clean bathrooms, a covered pool, and a pleasant common kitchen. But the dogs were all over our legs and I don’t feel at ease with large canines around me all the time.
To make things worse we could not get a strong internet signal. There were no restaurants nearby, no shops and no beach. Gosh, if at least we would get a bit of shade. Nothing seemed to work. It was challenging even to go to the toilet considering that I am afraid of large dogs. I could not stop thinking of myself having to go to the restroom in the middle of the night with the two dogs sniffing at me and ready to bite my butt if I would enter the common area. Since I was pregnant I needed to wee very often, so we decided to leave as soon as possible.
Beso Del Viento
The next day off we went. Back on the road. We decided to change the strategy, gave up camping altogether and went for a B&B with AC, internet and proper bathrooms. It was over our budget, but we had to do it. We chose a place called Cocomar Villas just 20 km away from where we were, close to Parrita. JP wanted to book it right away for 3 days, however considering the special Easter holiday price, 100$/night, I wanted to see it first before booking. It was just 20 minutes away anyway. When we got there, guess what? the only room left was booked. JP almost had a crisis.
On our way back I saw another B&B from the road and proposed to stop the truck and check it out. I went inside and a smiley gentleman welcomed me. I asked about their availability, and he replied that he only had one room left for that day and the following, which would cost us 135$ per night. Boom! That would be a blow in our budget.
I went to see the rooms and they were indeed very nice and pretty, a breath of fresh air, really. I was hooked. Beso del Viento French guest house was what I needed! I was convinced to stay there, however the price was way above our budget. I explained the owners about our story and our latest saga, and Elisabeth and Bernard kindly enough offered to reduce their price if we would pay cash in US dollars, making 200$ for two nights. Bingo!
I run to tell JP but he was suspicious 🙂 he wanted to check the place by himself. He came in, saw the guesthouse, the pool, the rooms, realized we are just by the beach. I could literally see the sneaky smile on his face. He fancied the idea too 🙂 We were welcomed by a man named Paul who was staying at the guesthouse. JP got into a brief conversation about the place, and Paul mentioned that the owner was a French chef, and that he cooks amazing dinners. When JP heard about the good food, he was definitely in. We were finally all happy and in for the chic boutique experience. We checked in and for that rest of that day we didn’t move from our air-conditioned bedroom. We just needed to cool down from the heat we endured the past days. We were exhausted.
About 5pm we went downstairs to check out the beach across the guesthouse and afterwards to have dinner. The sunset was one of the most dramatic and beautiful we had seen in our journey. Simply charming, a golden ball of pure magic.
After our walk we returned for the much-awaited French dinner. When we came downstairs, the same loyal guest that welcomed us earlier, Paul was there at the bar and offered us a glass of champagne. WOW! It had been a while since we didn’t have champagne and when I took the first sip from that clean crystal glass of champagne, I felt in heaven. It went down so smooth, and I ended up drinking much faster than JP. Gosh! I must have been so thirsty (of champagne )!
It was a great start of the night. At the bar with our new friends, Paul and Maritza, Elisabeth, the owner joined as well while Bernard, her husband, was putting a cooking show in front of us. Soon the dinner was served. We had fish with some sort of creamy delicious white-yellow sauce and gratinated cauliflower. We were simply amazed. We hadn’t had such a sophisticated treat for a long time, since we probably lived in Dubai. There was a fixed price for the dinner: 29$/person for whatever Bernard would cook that night. We loved that element of surprise 🙂 Considering that our daily budget was 50$ and that we already paid 200$ for the accommodation we were way out of our planned expenditures, but hey! Bernard was a French chef; we wanted and needed that treat!
We had our dinner in good company, with lots of laughs and good chats. We ate and drank as if we were at a Michelin star restaurant. Perfect ingredients for happy and memorable times. We slept like babies that night with our AC working. For me the food had such a great impact that I woke up in the middle of the night with an upset stomach. It seemed that I overdid it with the rich sauce, but I was still not sorry about it 🙂
Next morning we woke up for a run. The beachfront was so inviting so we took that opportunity. It was a lovely jog on the black volcanic sand beach.
That evening Bernard spoiled us with roasted pork accompanied by a special secret sauce and grilled vegetables. Gosh, it was delicious! While we were having dinner, we told Bernard and Elisabeth about our drone story in Nicaragua. Elisabeth asked us if we could take some shots and film their property with our drone. We said, of course! Luckily, we still had the drone. So the following morning JP was on a small filming project.
Once JP handed over the shootings of Beso del Viento estate, we were ready to check out. It was time to leave that little paradise and we went downstairs to pay the dinners we had. Bernard and Elisabeth decided to surprise us and refused to charge us. Although I insisted, they were no way allowing us to pay. I was really impressed and touched by their generosity. They knew we were on a tight budget and for that little favor we did to them of filming their property with our drone they discounted almost 150$ from our bill. We couldn’t believe it! It was true generosity and kindness. We couldn’t thank more, and, on our departure, Elisabeth made sure to give us a bottle of cold water for the road.
Lovely people! One of those experiences you will never forget and will always talk about!
Exiting Costa Rica through the mountains
By that time and in that geographical point in Costa Rica there were not too many options left for us to stay before exiting to Panama. We wanted to give it a try to the reputable beach resort Uvita, but all popular places were taken with the Easter holidays.
We ended up resting in a small village at Palmar Norte where we found some simple chalets that would offer us AC, internet and clean bathrooms. Nothing fancy but would do the deal for a day or two. Walking through the village we were nicely surprised how cute and organized it was. Every house had a nice veranda, they were cleaned and in good order. The roads were large and well paved, there were colorful birds and tropical vegetation everywhere. Banana, mango and avocado trees were found at each street corner. How wonderful to spot these beauties so accessible in that small community.
It was Easter Friday in Costa Rica, and people started the procession at 7am walking on the streets of Palmar Norte caring the cross of Jesus Christ. Each family would wait its turn in front of their porch to join the group. It was beautiful to see the ritual of the procession there too.
After we had breakfast in the nearby restaurant we decided to move on towards the border and stay overnight in the mountains in an estate that would welcome overlanders, Cascada del Bosco. It was a place next to Las Cruses Biological Center. We were really hoping for some cool fresh air.
On our way up there we admired the beautiful landscape. In a way it was similar with what we have seen in the mountains of Oaxaca and Chiapas, Mexico as well as in Belize. The difference there was that the villages were much more developed, organized, clean and the people seemed more engaging, spirited and polite. They would ring the horn, wave and if we were stopped, they would come and ask us what were we doing in Costa Rica, where are we heading to and so on. We were pleasantly surprised. The “Ticos” (people of Costa Rica) were kind and accommodating.
After about two hours driving, we arrived at Cascada del Bosco. We were lucky to be received inside the property by the owner, since the restaurant was closing for Easter Holidays. The deal was that we needed to consume from the restaurant if we wanted to stay there. That was it. We were over 1000m altitude, so the temperature was cooler and nicer. The campground was pleasant and very green. On top of this we met other overlanders whom we previously met in Chetumal, Mexico. Perfect!
Gorgeous nature with exotic plants, birds and flowers throughout the property. Just in front of us there was the biggest bamboo tree we ever seen. An enchanting piece of nature. We found the peace, tranquility and fresh air we were looking for such a long time. Pity it was at the end of our stay in Costa Rica. We thought: “we should have chosen the mountains over the beach from the very beginning”!
On our last day in Costa Rica our morning was spent exploring the forest and the trails next to the property. l was still very hopeful to spot the exotic and colorful toucan before leaving to Panama. The jungle was green, fresh and abundant in flora and fauna. There were good chances. We went all the way, on several trails, but we hadn’t spotted anything we didn't see before. In any case it was a nice stroll on a pleasant day.
Suddenly as we were having breakfast a heavy bird crossed just in front of our camper window. It was fast and sounded like a large one. I could not see what it was, but I suspected it was something different than anything else I had seen before. Half an hour later the same bird passed by once again. We went outside the truck and to my delight, guess what it was? At a top of a tree just in front of us there it was! The grand toucan! We were looking forward to seeing this special bird since we arrived in Belize! My memories about the toucan go far back into my childhood as I grew up with the image of the German tropical gummies Haribo that imitate the colored bill bird . They were so delicious! I couldn’t miss the encounter with my favorite tropical candy bird :)). What a lovely creature! We were amazed. Really, one of the happiest moments of our expedition. We had quickly prepared the camera with the right lenses and JP craftily took a dozen of pictures of the yellow beak bird. A genuine encounter and a magic moment. The charm of the wild was embracing us once again.
Costa Rica, Pura Vida! That’s the slogan of the country, and it’s written on most of the touristic t-shirts one can buy in Costa Rica. We cannot disagree with it. With its generous beaches, stunning sunsets, mountains, jungle forest , a rich fauna, flora and a vibrant community of high-spirited Ticos the place has it all. The fact that it was too hot for us at sea level and too crowded during the Easter holidays it was just our bad timing and bad luck. We took away the hospitality and generosity of Bernard and Elisabeth, the relaxing times next to the slots at Finca Canas Castilla, the sight of hundreds of crocodiles and our camping experience in the mountains where we saw for the first time the grand toucan! Thank you Costa Rica! Pura Vida!