Pacific coast / Nicoya peninsula
We headed north up to the Pacific coast / Nicoya Peninsula after Manual Antonio. The peninsula is made up of parts of the Guanacaste Province and the Puntarenas Province. We were starting with a seaside town called Samara but, even though we had a few ideas of where next, we had no fixed agenda. This “let’s see how the mood takes us” approach is good for flexibility but also means late bookings for accommodation. plenty to research and juggle. We had Jimny so we would just trail through the peninsula.
Samara – a familiar name
Samara was the first destination on our list. Samara, a name we are very familiar with as it’s my (Miko) niece’s name, stood out to us and was a logical starting point for the Pacific coast / Nicoya Peninsula tour. It is a little seaside town, with a good selection of hotels, bars, restaurants and shops. The draw for people is its long easy crescent beach backed, as so many coastal areas are in Costa Rica, by the jungle.
It was a 5 hour drive. Indeed we made good progress, better than the navigation suggested, and managed a pit stop for a bite to eat also. We followed Routes, 34, 27, 1 and 18 to get us into Guanacaste Province. This was along all generally good, paved roads. MAPS.ME then decided to take us along a mountainous provincial route, through Hojancha, rather than along 157 and 150, which would also have been tarmacked, through Nicoya.
Dirt Roads and Hazards
Our road degenerated quickly. Firstly, it became paved with lots of potholes. Then, it just became a rocky dirt track that slowed our progress as we rattled up a steep incline into the forest shrouded in heavy clouds. As those clouds burst in a torrential downpour, the dirt track became like a river. We drove with great care.
A Costa Rican road side hazard warning system is rudamentry but effective. A stick / post / whatever they can get their hands on with a red or yellow plastic bag stuck on top. Certainly makes one ask what is that?
We stayed at Samara Palm Lodge owned by a Swiss couple. It’s a small, neat complex of 6 rooms. Our room was fresh and comfortable and had a patio.
There were some lovely little touches, which we are going to steal when we open up to guests again! The pool was also a great feature and a lovely way to spend the morning when the sun was out. There was free private parking at the lodge in a gated courtyard. The location is a 5/6 minute walk to the centre of the town and only a 3 minute walk to the north western end of the beach.
We took a stroll down to the beach on the afternoon of our arrival. While the rain had stopped from earlier, the grey sky didn’t showcase Samara in the best light and conditions. The locals stated that the rains were earlier than normal. This prevented us from making much use of it. The water here is calm enough and good for swimming. There is also some surf activity. The beach does have a few bars and restaurants nestled in the trees.
Eating and Drinking
Franks (now owned by Simon)
As we came up from the beach into the centre of town, we stopped into Franks for a quick drink. Afternoon rain seems to come like clockwork and could last for hours. This was true on our visit as the heavens opened as we drank. It was a good excuse to spend a fun afternoon at the bar, which went into the night, with a bunch of expat Canadians!
Excellent little Italian restaurant. We went all in, at Mama GUI, with starters, mains and dessert, washed down with some fine vino Blanco and Tinto. We almost fainted when the bill arrived, but it was worth it! Firstly, a delicious take on the Caprese salad was fused with a tartlet. We also had a roasted cauliflower starter.
For the main we had Pizza that was a good standard. Rounding that off, we shared a delectable, homemade passion fruit cheesecake.
Suffice to say, we left very satisfied customers as our umbrellas were raised to protect us from the rain that punctuated our 2 night stay.
We would have loved to try Bohemia, due to its vegan and vegetarian menu, however, it was closed on Sunday!
Roots has a various selection of pastries, breads and sandwiches. The ciabbata was fresh and tasty. However, I’d avoid the ‘spinach and feta’ pastry, as there was no cheese at all in it, only loaded with spinach. As with everything in Costa Rica, the prices are expensive.
Nosara – A Pacific Coast / Nicoya Peninsula surf region
With the weather in the doldrums, we decided to saddle up and move out after 2 nights. Nosara was the next stop on our tour of the Pacific Coast / Nicoya Peninsula. It is a town sat up the hill a few kms from the main surf beaches. We choose, for a bit of difference; and home, to stay a few further kms up the hill and into the jungle.
A fuel stop was needed so we headed back up Route 150 for a few kms out of Samara. Then we took the road that would bring us back to the coast and Route 160. This was mainly paved with the usual few potholes to look out for. Its only 34km drive but takes about an hour. At the junction, where Rinde Mas and the Italian Discount Store supermarkets are, Route 160 becomes a dirt track. Luckily, this was only for the last few kms to our accommodation.
K-Raes Irish pub and Inn. An ‘Irish pub’ at the top of a mountain lol!
We were just gonna call in here, for a pint of the black stuff, to get a little taste of home. To allow for a relaxed drink, we decided to stay a couple of nights too. Kerry, the host, didn’t have the Irish tongue like we were expecting. However, in her American accent, she made it clear her parents were the real McCoy Irish. She was certainly an independent woman, who would stand for no nonsense, and was up to her eyes serving when we arrived. A few pints, and some good craic, was most certainly had.
Our room, the small double, was clean and adequate for our needs. The old style furniture is comfortable and makes it feel like you’re visiting your granny! There is no AC, and the fan slowly turns, so it can get a bit warm. All the windows, thankfully with netting, were opened to allow as much breeze as possible to draw through the room. There was also a fridge and a kitchen sink, with a work top, to prepare salads and breakfasts.
We woke up in the very early morning, with a fantastic view of the jungle, along with the noises of howler monkeys, frogs, birds, and all matter of insects.
The most bizarre, and one of the loudest in this continual concert, is the Emerald Cicada. These guys, the male bugs make the most noise, can cause serious damage to one’s hearing. It is absolutely astounding to hear the jungle concerto but it can interrupt sleep lol.
We made use of the pool, with our beautiful alsatian friend, Cyprus, and another little one who had wandered in. Why is it so easy to fall in love with a dog immediately, rather than humans? Lol
Nosara town is an unremarkable little town set up in the hills. It has a landing strip, humorously called an airport, for those wanting to make use of the close by beaches and don’t want to drive the bone crunching roads.
Playa Guiones is the main beach in the area and the one we visited. A small surf village with an expansive beach, the place is great for long walks, relaxing sunbathing, and of course surfing. Currents are strong here , so be very careful. The beach village has a number of bars, bakeries, and restaurants.
We generally just made salads up at K-raes but did have a pizza slice from Pura Pizza; Massive slices of tasty NYC style pizza for around £2 – a great snack after a day at the beach or to fill you until dinner.
On our last night, due to an issue (see below), we had a full pizza from Il Pepperone. It was a good pizza that hit the spot.
K-Raes Irish pub and Inn
K-Raes doesn’t just serve drinks. The pub has a good selection of food on offer too. The pub is open Thursday through to Sunday from 11am – 6pm (or later if guests are still looking served). Its only open to reservations Monday – Wednesday.
We had Jimny for a week now. It was running well, even over the crazy rubble roads. Fortunately, we chose to stay a 3rd night in K-Raes. The reason being, when we jumped into the jeep, heading to the beach on our extra day, the engine failed to ignite. Even when Kerry assisted with jump leads, there was still no life. Battery or alternator? I (Knox) made a video and messaged Wild Riders. The response was slow to start but quickened up when we called. After several checks etc, it was decided that the battery was the issue. A jump start was impractical, as any failure would have left Jimny stranded out on the dirt road halfway up a mountain. A new battery was needed.
Wild Riders organised this but we had to be patient. The day was wiped out and it was 7 hours later, and sundown, before the new battery was delivered. It was incredulous that Thomas, from Wild Riders, got the mechanic to shout up to me (Knox) and take the dead battery. Thomas wanted us to travel around for the next 2 weeks with a dead battery in tow. Apart from the fact that we had no room due to our luggage, the health and safety aspect didn’t sit well with us. We had to waste another hour sorting that issue out as we were not taking it with us. We were in no mood to make dinner, especially as we needed to go to the supermarket, hence the takeaway pizza.
Discount Italian Store
We got some delicious prosecco and red wine at the Italian Discount Store, as well as fresh mozzarella. They also do pastas, other cheeses, snacks, chocolate etc. It’s a great shop. It’s still a bit pricey but that’s what you come to expect in Costa Rica. However, the produce is good quality.
Rinde Mas is a good sized supermarket and has plenty of quality produce, fresh and packaged. You should be able to get most of what you need and want.
Tamarindo – Party Central on the pacific Coast / Nicoya Peninsula
Car back up to full power, we headed further north along the Pacific coast / Nicoya Peninsula to Tamarindo. A more built up place compared to Samara and Nosara. Tamarindo has an array of bars, restaurants, hotels and shops. A surfing town, there are many places to rent boards, buy new togs, shop for some clothes etc. It has a holiday / party feel about it and you really sense you are at the seaside, especially since the sun had come out to play!
Only 68kms up the road, the journey takes nearly 2 hours. Following Route 160, the first 40kms are all dirt road. Bumpy and shuddering, you will also encounter a couple of bridgeless river crossings. This was a driving experience first for me (Knox), and while not anticipated for this journey, it is to be expected in Costa Rica. Jimny was a right trooper and took the crossing in its stride. We were delighted to have the last 28kms on paved roads. I think our bodies had stopped shaking by the time we arrived.
Hotel in the shade
We did our usual and contacted, Hotel in the shade directly, giving us 5% off. Not a huge amount, but cheaper than booking.com etc. As mentioned before, Costa Rica is not cheap, so every little helps! It worked out approximately £50 a night.
The room was very modern and it had the bonus of a pool. The AC works very well and the Wifi is good. It was American owned.
Tamarindo beach has to be the best beach we have seen so far in Costa Rica. It’s approximately 2km Long; but add to that Playa Grande on the other side of the estuary for Tamarindo river, and it’s pretty wide, so plenty of space for peace and tranquility. Spend your day collecting all the colourful seashells, surf or just lounge. Check out more of my (Miko) pics on instagram
The middle of the beach, where all the restaurants/ bars are, is very busy, however walk towards the estuary and you will find a nice quiet spot.
Don’t swim in the estuary, though, as there are crocodiles!
It’s a big surf town so you will see upwards of 100 surfers out, of various levels, at a time. Lessons and board rental are in abundance. Swimmers need to be watchful of where they are in the water with regards to the surfers.
Horse riding is popular also. A ride an hour costs approx $25.
The Farmer’s market is every Saturday opening from 7am to mid afternoon. It’s not much of a farmer’s market. We only saw a couple of stalls selling fresh vegetables and fruit. Other stalls sell clothes, beauty products, smoothies, jewelry or handmade crafts. There is live music too. It had a great atmosphere.
Thursday night market
It sells lots of delicious food, drink, trinkets, crafts, clothing etc. One not to miss! Open from about 6.30pm through to 9.30/10pm.
Lola has sadly passed away, but there are two new additions called Ana and Ava. You can have a drink while staring at the Pacific Ocean.
Drinks are a tad expensive, but worth it to give the pig a good old scratch behind the ear!
Eating and drinking Tamarindo
The Volcano brewery
The Volcano brewery, part of Witches Rock accommodation, is a great place to taste local brewed ale’s. There are lots of picnic tables and lovely views of the ocean. A place to enjoy a pint and lovely sunsets.
There is sometimes live music too.
Masa Madre is truly a yummy bakery serving up, delicious veggie quiches, lasagna, pastries, bread, pizzas etc as well as sweet stuff. You’re spoilt for choice.
The staff are lovely too. Breads have to generally be ordered in advance for the following morning.
Antichi Sapori Sicilian Cuisine
This real McCoy Sicilian restaurant is excellent. Antichi Sapori a small establishment, with most of the tables set for al fresco dining. The owner waits on tables while his wife cooks up a storm in the kitchen. We had the Caprese salad, gnocchi, in delicious white sauce and vegetables, and vegetarian pizza. Our dessert was a shot of limoncello, which the owner gave on the house. All was washed down with our usual – Vino Blanco and Tinto lol. The hospitality is top! Highly recommended.
Montezuma – The hippy south of the Pacific Coast / Nicoya Peninsula
After 4 nights in a party town, a bit of rest and relaxation was required. We came back south down the pacific coast / Nicoya Peninsula to Montezuma. It is a small beach town that has a relaxed hippy feel. It’s a very friendly atmosphere and plenty of locals will wave at you, as they pass on their motorbikes or quads. We even had an offer of going to their house for dinner that evening! Very Pura Vida. The friendless and relaxed nature of people, reminds us of Donegal, Ireland.
Montezuma is quite rural, so in our book, transport is a must to have a little independence. There are loads of small coves and longer stretches of sandy / pebbly beach mix along the coast line. There is plenty of space to be far away from people and to breathe a sense of seclusion. We really enjoyed our steep hill walks to get some fabulous views of the coast.
The drive here was pretty straight forward. At 187kms, down the east side of the peninsula, this was the longest distance covered in the vicinity. It takes about 3.5 – 4hrs and the majority of that was over tarmacked roads. Praise and thanks were given to the heavens. It was only the last 15 mins that was over a dirt road. The journey was a beautiful scenic route, due to the lush jungle covered hills, flat green fields, and coastal glimpses snatched through the trees.
We choose L & L due to its top reviews and it’s kitchen facilities. We contacted the host directly and got a discount, bringing it down to £49 a night.
The setting of the 4 cabins is beautiful, surrounded by bushy greenery, mango, banana and coconut trees. We were also ecstatic on our first day arriving, to actually see Howler monkeys, as we have only heard their howls in other places. They were in abundance!
We also had an iguana greet us at the door! The accommodation has a pool too. The French (Reunion) hosts were very kind and generous, leaving us homemade, wholemeal bread, jam, a huge fresh pineapple from their garden, as well as doing a load of clothes washing for free!
During our 4 night stay, Knox’s cooking smelled so good that, when we opened our patio door one evening, we found a stray dog outside looking a bite.
Iguanas, birds, agoutis, and a racoon, all wanted share of our food at other times too lol
We spent our days here off the beaten track, writing, connecting with nature, hill walking and just lounging at the beach. We definitely could have spent extra time here. 4 days wasn’t long enough, but it did give our batteries a recharge.
Montezuma village and beach
Montezuma is small and easy to walk around. There are only a handful of restaurants, a bar or two and shops. It has a small stretch of dark sand beach, with a couple of restaurants overlooking the ocean. The beach is quiet, so it’s easy to find a spot. During the right season, July to December, it is also a nesting sight for Olive Ridley turtles.
Beach & Coves along the coast
We were about a 10 minute drive to Montezuma beach, so we were happy to find a beautiful bonus of a beach, close to our accommodation, only a few minutes walk away. It’s more pebbly than sandy, surrounded by palms and it is a long enough stretch to find some peace.
Infact, all along the road there are hidden little coves, where you can spend the day lounging, watching the hermit crabs and lizards go about their day. When the tide is out, you can climb over the rocks and let the spray of the sea cool you down, watching the pelicans as they fish for their lunch.
It’s not really a great beach for swimming due to the rocks, you can still have a paddle if you’re careful. The surf can be decent too so bring your board. Again, be careful of submerged rocks at high tide. These beaches are often for experienced surfers due to the rip currents and rocks.
A general observation about Costa Rica
It’s plain to see that most accommodation, and tourist focused restaurants and businesses, in Costa Rica are owned by expats from America, Canada, France, Germany etc. We had yet to meet any Costa Rican hosts. It seemed the Costa Ricans worked for the expats. Was this the reason everything was so inflated in price? For this reason, it felt harder to connect with the local population here than it does in many other parts of the world.
Check out our first step into Costa Rica at Manuel Antonio