Pura Vida “pure life” or the “simple life” is the term Costa Rican’s use to describe their way of life. It’s completely accurate.
This post was requested by my friend Suzanne Goldman of San Francisco, CA (U.S.A.)
By way of background, Bruce and I have several friends who own property in the Brasalito and Playa Flamingo area so we’ve stayed in this area four times. Our stays have ranged from five to fourteen days per visit. All of these trips have been over the last three years.
Costa Rica is most know for beautiful, unspoiled beaches
Playa Danta (featured above)
- Smaller, quiet, secluded beach
- Fantastic restaurant called Limonada on the beach
- Hammocks in front of the Limonada restaurant are available for the pubic
- Paddle boarding, kayaks, bicycles, boogie boards, and other water sports equip avail for rent here
- Las Catalinas is a luxury development located here
Playa Flamingo (below)
- Gorgeous white sand, mile long beach with Mangrove trees
- Vibe is upscale though relaxed
- Restaurants on the beach (Coco Loco) and many within walking distance (Angelinas)
- Paddle boarding, jet skis, boogie boards, kayaks, snorkeling, diving, deep sea fishing and other water activities
- Chairs and umbrellas are available for rent
- Oceanica, 360 Flamingo and Flamingo Beach Resort properties are located here
- Most popular and most touristy
- Young vibe with surfers and more of a party destination
- Has surfing, water sports, swimming, horseback
- Numerous shops and restaurants
- Chairs and umbrellas are available to rent on the beach
- Water activities and rental equip here as well
- Beautiful white beach for swimming and snorkeling
- Westin Playa Conchal which is an all-inclusive is nearby
- Water activities and rental equip here as well
- You can drive your car on part of the beach
Playa del Coco
- Similar to Tamarindo though there is a white sand and black sand beach
- A lot of shops, tons of restaurants (ie Hard Rock is here).
Costa Rica is also known for hiking, waterfalls, national parks:
Miles of hiking trails with varying levels of difficulty. We hiked 10 miles roundtrip to see a phenomenal waterfall. Fairly challenging though totally worth it. Pack water. Volcano trail has steam pots, mud pits and beautiful waterfall and scenery.
Llanos de Cortez Waterfall
Only 13 miles from Liberia airport. Short hike in with a lot of stairs down. Can swim at the base of the waterfalls. Small donation required that benefits the local school. Worth seeing either as a day trip or better yet headed to or from the airport
Palo Verde National Park
Guided river boat rides to view wildlife including monkeys, birds, crocodiles. We have been on this tour twice. On one of the tours the Capuchin monkeys came on the boat and climbed all over us including on our heads.
How to get to the coastal area and where to stay
Recommend flying to to Liberia International Airport. By car it’s approximately an hour drive to reach most of the beach locations mentioned.
The three couples we know who own property in Costa Rica are in the same complex in Brasalito. It’s an eight-plex condo building with a pool and outdoor cooking area It’s comfortable and affordable. After reading this write up if you’re at all interested let me know and I’ll connect you. This location is a short drive to most beaches including Playa Flamingo and Playa Conchal.
We have also stayed at a very nice property called the Oceanica. It’s a high rise condo on Playa Flamingo. Much more expensive however significantly nicer building and pool. Secure parking here as well as co-location on the beach. If you’re interested in this property you may need to look at VRBO as they are individually owned. We do know the property manager there so if you can’t find something on VRBO I would be willing to make an introduction.
A new property next door to the Oceanica is called the 360 Flamingo and was about to open the last time we were there. The property and views were phenomenal. http://360flamingo.com/development-team/ We will be going back to Costa Rica in Jan 2018 and can provide an update thereafter.
The Flamingo Beach Resort and Spa is located on the beach at Playa Flamingo. There is a fabulous pool, swim up bar at this all inclusive resort as well as an on-site restaurant and bar.
Finally if you want a high-end all-inclusive the Westin Golf Resort and Spa at Playa Conchal is closely located to Playa Conchal. Costco has the Westin included in their 2018 travel brochure so you can book through Costco at a discount. If you’re not a Costco member look at other online discount options (ie priceline, kayak, et al).
Thirteen Tips for your Costa Rica getaway:
1. Learn some Spanish it will go a long way. Locals appreciate it if you are at least trying.
2. Bring a beach “sail” for shade and a hammock. There are Mangrove trees on many of the beaches and beach goers string up their ‘sail’s’ for shade and hammocks. They fold up small enough to fit in a suitcase.
3. Rent items you need at the beach. Most of the beaches offer rental of boogie boards, kayaks, paddle boards and any other equip you might need. Chairs and umbrellas are available for rent. You can sign up for other activities at the beach as well ie horseback riding, ATV’s, scuba, snorkel, et al among other.
4. Zip lining is popular in Costa Rica. Several zip lining locations some located near the popular beaches and some near national parks that will have you zip lining through the forest canopy.
5. Beach parking is public. Sometimes locals will wear traffic vests to try to look official and try to charge you. Don’t pay them just say “Lo Siento” meaning “sorry”.
6. Look for a local experience. For example, Brasalito is a small local town that is not touristy. They have an authentic Latin/Costa Rican Bar called “Don Brasalitos” which we love to go to for a genuine experience. Locals go here as families to sing Karaoke all in Spanish and the screen streams dated MTV-like videos from decades ago. Very unassuming place, it’s an outdoor restaurant/Bar. These kinds of experiences are available in each town. Have local experiences.
7. Consider doing some of your own cooking. There are small format grocery stores that we find have fantastic fruit, veggies and staples. Fresh fish is available in fish markets. We buy fresh tuna (and it’s inexpensive), ceviche and lots of local foods at the markets from vendors and supplement our eating out with home cooked meals. This keeps costs down while giving us a more immersive experience.
8. Christmas and New Years (as well as Easter) are the busiest times because the locals are off and the tourists are there. Everything is very crowded. That said, New Years on the beach in Costa Rica, is bar none the best New Years’ experience I’ve ever had in my life. The fireworks go off on the beach in a huge display that is close proximity to spectators and a phenomenal reflective display over the water from the beach. Unbelievably impressive. The offseason is fantastic. WE’ve been on Playa Flamingo beach when there are less than ten people.
9. Sport fishing in Costa Rica is a thrill. We’ve caught Tuna, Billfish and other fish. Quite an exciting experience. The fish are plentiful and the scenery is spectacular. We’ve seen spinner dolphins following the boat, sea turtles and even a killer whale.
10. Enjoy the diverse options available to the travelers on your trip with all that Costa Rica has to offer. It’s one of the few destinations that has everything from the beach to the jungle. Bring SPF and insect repellent. Hiking is fantastic so bring appropriate footwear. Bird watching and animal watching is extremely popular so consider bringing binoculars.
11. Safety is something to consider. Do not leave anything in plain sight in your vehicle. Don’t leave any valuable possessions on the beach while you are walking or swimming. At the waterfalls watch for ‘spotters’ where one person tries to draw your attention while another takes your belongings. Overall the biggest concern is theft and so use good judgment.
12. Car Rentals. Suggest you do rent a car and when you do take out the full insurance. The infrastructure is not as developed as other parts of the world and some roads are rough and unpaved. Carry a copy of of your driver’s license and passport with you as there are an occasional road side checks throughout the area.
13. This ain’t New York City. The beauty of Costa Rica is that it is less developed than other parts of the world. Look for the intrigue in that and leave your type A personality at home. You will likely not have all the amenities you are accustomed to at home. Periodically you may encounter electrical, water or other outages depending on where you are staying. The roads in some places are dirt and not maintained. Overall the unique experience will outweigh any minor inconveniences you may encounter.
Costa Rica is one of my favorite destinations. It’s not commercialized like so many other destinations. The people are happy. It’s one of the happiest countries in the world and that, my friends, is contagious!