Beach-hopping from Vista Azul (Linda)

For the last two weeks of our stay in Costa Rica we are living in a house up on a hill. For the first time since we have been here, we have to drive (vs walk) to the beach. As a result, we kept our rental car, and we have a couple of different options when we go to the beach. Here is a quick overview of the beaches we have explored so far:

  1. Playa Domincalito: This lovely beach is just south of Playa Dominical, but it feels much less touristy and more natural. The waves are also a bit smaller, as it is a somewhat protected cove. We went there one morning last week before school/work, and I really liked it. That said, even though the waves are not huge, they can pack a punch, so the girls didn’t love it as a swimming beach.
Cassidy reading at Playa Domincalito
Sierra and Noah at Playa Dominicalito

2. Playa Linda On Friday morning we made our first family trip to the beach named for me, which is actually the closest beach to our house. The waves are similar to Dominical — meaning rather strong, and what Noah calls “close-out”, which makes them not so great for surfing. Sierra and I started off by taking a long walk along the beach — which was longer than intended, as we got to chatting (about equity vs. equality), then totally overshot our car and walked pretty far in the wrong direction before realizing we needed to turn around. When we finally made it back to Noah and Cassidy we were SO happy to get in the water and cool off. We had fun playing a family game of freeze tag in the shallow water — boy is it tiring to sprint on water and sand!!

Noah and Cassidy heading toward the ocean at Playa Linda

Playa Linda is gorgeous, and totally undeveloped. It goes on for at least 2 miles in each direction I think, so is much longer and less rocky than either Dominical or Dominicalito. There was almost no one there on Friday morning, although Noah did say it was much more crowded when he went on Saturday afternoon. We have noted that Costa Ricans do head to the beach in droves on the weekends, and they tend to start early!

3. Playa Dominical: Dominical is a total surf beach/town, although Noah’s take (confirmed by some other surfers we met in Uvita), is that it really isn’t a great wave for surfing. I feel bad that he rented a board here but really hasn’t been able to use it much. Anyway, we went to Dominical for sunset on Friday and were really surprised at how crowed it was. Dominical definitely attracts a much more gringo crowd than Playa Linda, and I guess for this reason there are tons of vendors with stalls set up right by the beach — mostly selling sarongs, hats, and other cheap-o beachy stuff. It’s definitely not my favorite beach vibe, but the sunset was – as usual – spectacular!

Cassidy watching the sunset at Playa Dominical

4. Playa Uvita: Yes, if you’ve been paying attention to this blog, we actually spent the previous two weeks in Uvita, before we came here. But when we ‘lived’ there we would walk to Playa Colonia, a bit further south from Playa Uvita. We decided to drive back to Uvita yesterday (about a 30-minute drive), as Noah and Cassidy had not had a chance to walk out on the Whale Tail — a cool sand bar that is only accessible at low tide, and that (duh!) is in the shape of a whale’s tail.

We started with having breakfast at Vista Ballena – high up on the hill overlooking the Whale’s Tail.

View of the Whale’s Tail (in the distance) from Hotel Vista Ballena

Then we went down to the National Park to walk on the sand bar. It is absolutely gorgeous, though once again, we were surprised at how many Costa Rican tourists arrived – like us – just after 8am!

Cassidy walking up the Whale Tail at Playa Uvita
Sierra running into the ocean to cool off at Playa Uvita

After walking the Whale’s Tail and a refreshing swim, we found a lovely spot of shade under the palm trees to play Hearts. We are so psyched that Cassidy has returned to the fold; after playing TONS of hearts on our last big family trip, she has been boycotting the game for some time now. But the last few weeks she’s back at it, and she really holds her own (though she still objects to keeping score)!

Vista Azul (Sierra)

The trade-off of being on a hill: you can’t walk to the beach, but there are stunning views. At Vista Azul, it’s in the name. We can see all the way out to the ocean from our infinity pool.

Cassidy loves that pool- she would probably be in it 24/7 if we didn’t have other plans during the day! We’ve spent several sunsets lounging on our pool float, watching the sky turn orange…

The inside of our house is equally nice. It has two bedroom wings, with a living space in the middle.

View back at Vista Azul from the yard

Cassidy has a bunk bed room to herself- she gets the top bunk, the stuffies that aren’t sleeping with her get the bottom bunk. I have my own queen bedroom (!) and mom and dad share a bedroom on the other side of the house. 

I love the living room because it is so colorful! There is a bright lime green rug, and the white leather sofas have yellow and blue pillows. The kitchen is small, but nice. The counter stools are also bright colors- lime green and orange. The orange one is my favorite. I kidnapped it for school. 

Living room at our house, looking out to the pool

The school situation is… not ideal. Dad and Cassidy are usually in the kitchen/living room area, which kind of maxes out that space, so I use my bedside table as a desk, which is enough room for my laptop, but not really any room for writing. It works out okay, though. I mean, you can’t really complain when you use your ten minute break in between classes to jump in the pool!

Cassidy at our pool at sunset

Welcoming Neighbors (Cassidy)

On Friday night at about 5:00, we were all ready to go to the beach for sunset and then out for dinner. Now outside our cute little house that we are staying in near Dominical, has a small hill behind it with tons of gorgeous flowers, so of course there are birds and butterfly’s everywhere. Me and Sierra decided to walk up the small hill while we waited for mom and dad to come. Then we saw them, there must have bean 8 all perched in their trees, flying about. But I haven’t told you what these creatures were, have I? They were Toucans. A lot of toucans. Me and Sierra called mom and dad as quietly as we could without scaring the animals away, but after a while I decided to go get them. When I came back with mom and dad I saw some fiery-billed-aracaris but no one else saw them, just me. I’m pretty sure I saw three of them but i’m not sure.

One of the many Toucans we saw

Monkey Pee, Monkey Do (Sierra)

On Sunday, we went to Manuel Antonio National Park. We probably picked the worst possible day to go, because it was INSANELY crowded! So crowded that when we first entered the park, there was a sloth way up in a tree, and about 30 people, some of them guides, were clustered under it, trying to get a look. We steered clear of that mess, and took a hike to a small waterfall viewpoint instead. We didn’t see any interesting animals, but the plants were cool and the waterfall was pretty!

Taking a break at the waterfall

After that hike we stopped for a snack. We got some pizza and a sandwich at a cafe in the park. The cafe had fresh juices that were pretty good! We had to find a table far away from everyone, because you weren’t allowed to bring food out of the cafe patio area. Then we headed to the beach.

Before stopping at the beach, we took another hike around the point, where we actually saw both Howler monkeys and White Faced monkeys! We saw the Howlers first, towards the beginning of our loop. They were up in the trees. There were about 4 or 5 of them. We continued on our hike, stopping at some viewpoints with gorgeous views of the ocean and islands. 

As we came back to the beach, we ran into a bunch of white faced monkeys right next to the trail! There were more like 10 of them this time, and they were in all different funny poses!

White-faced monkey in Manuel Antonio

There was one sleeping splayed out on a branch, there were a couple eating leaves, and there were even two babies that would occasionally get on their mom’s backs!

We also witnessed one adorable interaction between mother, father, and child. The baby was on the mom’s back and they wanted to jump to another structure. So the dad picked up the baby off of the mom’s back, the mom jumped across, and the dad jumped across after- carrying the baby. That must’ve been a hard leap carrying your baby!

And then, of course, there was this interaction:

Sierra: “I swear, he’s like, which human should I pee on?” 

Monkey: “That’s a great idea!” *pees*

I think I am a monkey mind reader. And I’m lucky I moved, too, because if I hadn’t known it was going to pee, it might’ve actually landed on me!

After our hiking, we stopped to cool off at the beach. It was nice to have normal sand. After Uvita, we had gotten so used to what we called “mand,” which is a mix of mud and sand. The sand at Manuel Antonio was nice, whitish, and soft.

Playa Espadilla in Manuel Antonio

The water was a welcome relief from the scorching heat. We were all sweating buckets at that point, not just dad! Cassie and I also discovered that there were a lot of cool shells on the beach shaped like unicorn horns. 

Despite our snack, we all were hungry for lunch when we left Manuel Antonio, so we went up to Cafe Agua Azul. We got some delicious smoothies, lots of chicken for mom and Cassidy, fish for dad, and shrimp spring rolls for me. The cafe also had a beautiful ocean view to look down on while we were eating. That seems to be a theme for favorite Costa Rica restaurants!

View from our table at Agua Azul

Great Memories in Uvita (Linda)

We had a great week in Uvita and will be leaving Casa Mia on Saturday to spend the final 2 weeks of our Costa Rica adventure (sniff, sniff) in Hatillo, a small village about 40 minutes north of here. Uvita has really grown on me, and I think I’ve concluded that it’s quite a good home base for an extended stay… or a Costa Rican retirement!

Our walk to the beach from our house was super easy and flat, with very little traffic, and the sunsets were just extraordinary.

Thursday night sunset at Playa Colonia in Uvita
The start of the sunset — vibrant blue and glowing gold

On our walks back and forth to the beach we often stopped to greet our new border collie friend, She-Ra, who looked a lot like Koa from Santa Teresa, but sandier!

Sierra and Cassidy with She-ra — on the street we walk to the beach

She-Ra has adopted the crew (people and dogs) at Cafe de La Luz, a very informal cafe run by the Israeli owner Dror (a surfer), his Serbian cook, and his super friendly friend Matt from Austin, TX.

We also started fairly regularly seeing (or should I say hearing?!) a pair of scarlet macaws doing a fly-by right by the beach. This must be my favorite sight in Costa Rica, there is just nothing like it.

The waves at Playa Colonia were just barely big enough for Noah, but he definitely got some decent surf sessions in before work this week. I loved that the ocean stayed shallow quite far out, and the waves were consistent and rather gentle — e.g. less likely to knock over our string bean Cassidy! The girls both got to practice surfing a few mornings this week, and the waves were about the perfect size for them.

Sierra catching a wave at Playa Colonia

Although there is not much beach here at high tide, low tide is glorious, and the sand is so flat and hard that it’s actually good for power walking…or running (in theory). The girls started calling the sand “mand”, because it is kind of like sand mixed with mud — very dark in color and rather sticky. This was NOT a selling point for Sierra, but Cassidy really liked it and was unperturbed by having it all over her face and body.

Cassidy and Sierra building a wall made out of MAND

The other great feature of Uvita is its proximity to the best grocery store we’ve found in Costa Rica so far: the large, modern, and air conditioned BM less than a mile down the road. It was fully stocked with many imported products, including the all-important Nutrigrain Eggo frozen waffles — a vital staple in Cassidy’s diet.

I believe I’ve already mentioned the foodie town of Ojochal, just 15 minutes south of Uvita (remember the French patisserie??) On Friday night we went to a delicious restaurant in Ojochal called Exotica, recommended by food connoisseur Jill Cochrane, among others. I failed to get a good picture of the restaurant itself (a lovely setting, complete with Asian-inspired lanterns and orchids), but here is a picture of my maracuya daiquiri, garnished with a real flower!

On Saturday morning we packed up all our stuff, and the girls and I headed to the beach while Noah walked into ‘town’ to pick up our rental car. After a nice swim we walked to El Hornito to get authentic Argentinian empandadas for lunch – YUM! The caprese empanadas were even better than the ones we would always get in San Martin de los Andes (see Argentina blogs from 5 years ago!!)

Our final stop in Uvita was a short hike to Catarata Verde, a lovely waterfall that you can actually slide down and swim in.

The Corcovado Excursion (Cassidy)

Sunday morning was an amazing experience for us. We started out our day having to wake-up at 5:45. (Well that’s when mom & Dad woke us up, I don’t know when they woke up, but I can tell you it was early!) Anyways, we quickly changed and made our way down to breakfast. After eating a delicious meal of pancakes, eggs, and Gallo-pinto, we walked to shore to get on our 6:30 boat to Corcovado national park.

When we got off the boat we were-of course-on a beach with a bazillion hermit crabs so of course I stepped on one. Sierra decided we had to give the hermit crab a funeral, so we put it on a rock, put a shell over it, and said the eulogy. Then we started our hike.

First our guide spotted a bird called a trogon. We looked at it through his scope. We saw both a male and female.

 This is the Male:

And this is the female:

While we were watching the trogons, we saw about five peccaries (like a wild boar) run across the trail! Peccaries can be very dangerous, our guide said if a peccary came too close to you, you should climb a tree!  And he said they have really sharp teeth and claws. We kept going and found some spider monkeys!

Spider monkey through the scope

After that we saw a toucan that must have been ten feet away from us and at about eye level for Dad!

Then we saw a huge scorpion that Mom still hates. On the hike there were mosquitos everywhere so we decided to use big leaves to swat them away. Thank goodness we put on extra mosquito repellant!

When we were about to turn around our guide led us to a river that we could swim in and a log we could walk across like a balance beam.

When we came to the beach to keep walking there, we saw a hawk sitting right next to its nest.

Our guide, Manuel, on the beach

Going back we saw a huge family of coatis, and later a sloth. It was way up high in a tree; there’s no way we we would have seen it without our guide and the scope. Also pulling back into Drake Bay Wilderness Resort we saw a crocodile on the river bank! AHHHHHHHHHHH!

Solitude and Crickets (Linda)

I may have mentioned this already, but there were very few tourists in Drake’s Bay. There were just two other groups at our hotel while we were there: a group of mostly Swiss ‘charter pilots’ (who flew these ridiculously small helicopter things that looked like go-carts), and a couple who we never spoke to.

On Saturday night we had one of those magical Mother Nature moments that seems all the more special when there is no one else around. The four of us sat down on a gorgeous rock perch near our cabin to watch the sunset, and Cassidy spotted two scarlet macaws in a tree right by the beach. I am in awe of these birds, and there is nothing like seeing their scarlet wings flapping against the bright green of the palm trees.

Scarlet Macaws at sunset

I had a long conversation with the owner of Drake Bay Wilderness Resort, and they are clearly really struggling after going nearly 10 months with hardly any guests and essentially negative income. It’s so incredibly sad for these areas that rely so heavily on tourism, and it strikes me as particularly challenging for a family-run business that must have huge maintenance costs here in this extremely remote corner of the country.

Selfishly, of course, it was lovely to find peace and solitude on every walk we took — and it made the sounds of the rainforest seem that much louder. I am not kidding when I say that the combination of crickets and cicadas is practically deafening when you are walking alone through the forest. It’s honestly hard to hear yourself think! And then you add the howler monkey roar and the numerous birdcalls, and it truly is a natural symphony — or cacophony depending on your perspective…

On Monday morning we took a canoe down the Aguitas River and saw not another soul on the out and back — though we did see numerous ‘Jesus Christ’ lizards (so named because they can walk on water!) It was so incredibly peaceful, and we saw lots of birds, including a toucan. I will admit I was a bit nervous about running into a crocodile, but fortunately we didn’t spot one until the very end, and he was quite far away.

Canoeing Rio Aguitas

After the canoeing I walked solo into the town of Aguitas, and I really enjoyed the walk — again, passing almost no one on the 25-min walk from our hotel to town.

River crossing on my walk into Aguitas
View looking down on Drake’s Bay from Aguitas

When I got to town (sweating and parched after climbing the hill!), it also felt eerily quiet. There were a few people around, but lots of the restaurants seem to be closed, and most of the hotels and hostels looked pretty empty.

All in all, it was amazing to find solitude in this special place, but for the sake of the local community, I sure hope the tourists will return soon — vaccinated and ready to listen to the cricket symphony.

Drake Bay Wilderness Resort (Sierra)

Remember our Orcas Island blogs from last summer? We were saying how the grounds of our hotel reminded us of Orcas Island in terms of flowers.

For our two-night stay on the Osa Peninsula, we stayed at a hotel called Drake Bay Wilderness Resort. It’s not a big place in terms of rooms, there were 20-25 rooms in the entire hotel, but there is a lot of land, and it is covered in flowers!

View from one of the pathways at Drake Bay Wilderness Resort

The rooms were in a cabin style, so they were very spread out.

Cassie, Dad and me on our front porch

If you walked out of your room and twenty meters forward along a grassy field, you hit the rocky beach.

View from our cabin

All around the paths from room to room were gorgeous hibiscuses (hibisci?) in all different shades of pink and red. There was one tree that was dropping hot pink bottlebrush petals! 

If you walk all the way to the edge of the property, there is a tide pool area. On Monday, while Mom went into the little town of Aguitas nearby, Cassie, Dad and I went to the tide pool and swam around in it for almost 3 hours! It was so relaxing.

Our private tide pool on the grounds of the resort

The water was super warm and there were little rock benches to sit on. There were some cool fish swimming around too. We saw some tiger-striped fish, and even a bright blue fish! Cassidy made a sea slug friend in the pool.

Back on the other side of the property is the office area, where we had meals and checked in and out. Sometimes, when we passed the office, we would see an orange cat.

Happy the Cat

There were apparently two cats that looked similar named Happy and Tigre. Happy was a very friendly, sweet kitty who had more white on him, and Tigre was the not-as-friendly brother who sometimes bit. Luckily we mostly saw Happy!

Some more animal friends we made were the hermit crabs. They were everywhere on the beach! Cassidy accidentally stepped on one, so we had a funeral for poor Johnny. I found him a coffin.  We loved carrying them around, and even rescued a couple that had fallen into the swimming pool! 

The Journey South to Osa (Linda)

On Saturday morning we packed our backpacks for a weekend adventure in the Osa Peninsula, home of Corcovado National Park. Corcovado is a huge and remote area of primary rainforest, home to half of all of Costa Rica’s wildlife species. There are two main entry points to get there: Bahia Drake (Drake’s Bay — yes, the same Sir Francis Drake of San Anselmo fame) and Puerto Jimenez. I decided we’d stay in Aguitas, the main town on Drake’s Bay, partly because the journey there involved a boat ride down the Sierpe River.

Our first stop on Saturday morning was the little town of Ojochal, which is about 15 minutes south of Uvita. For some reason a lot of French people (and other Europeans I think) have settled here, and it is therefore known as the culinary capital of the region — or maybe the whole country for us Francophiles… Check out this authentic French patisserie — a little taste of Paris in the middle of the jungle – YUM!

Sierra ordered a maracuya meringue pie, and said it was the best thing she’s ever tasted!

From Ojochal we drove another 35 minutes to Sierpe, a very small town surrounded by palm tree plantations and bordered by the wide green Sierpe River. We parked our car at the Las Vegas Restaurant, which was also where the boat dock was. Most of the boat ride was through one of the largest mangrove forests in Central America.

It was pretty, but not that interesting (except for a caiman spotting) until we came out of the river into the ocean. At that point things got a bit more exciting as it started to rain, and the captain had to navigate some rather choppy waves in a relatively small boat. Luckily we all had life vests! Even through the rain the views of the Osa Peninsula coastline as we traveled south toward Drake’s Bay were stunning — nothing but vibrant green hills covered in palm trees rising backing the rocky coastline — with pelicans and frigate birds soaring overhead.

The boat was like a taxi, in that it stopped at various locations to let people off. Each time the captain had to navigate the waves to pull in close to the beach, and then passengers would wade in from the boat while the crew hefted suitcases and back packs into shore. It was quite an operation! I was relieved when we finally got to our dock at the Drake Bay Wilderness Resort around 1:30 pm.

From the moment we arrived, I loved the property — it has the perfect location, oceanfront out on a point, with a riverside dock on the Rio Aguitas that dumps into the ocean. It is run by the Michaud family, and has been for almost 20 years.

Rocky beach at Drake Bay Wilderness Resort
The pool (that had crabs in it…) at Drake Bay Wilderness Resort

We started off by having a yummy lunch (meals were included with our stay) at an old school wooden dining room with a view of the ocean. We were the only ones there, which was lovely! Then we took a 10-minute walk along a small jungle path to reach Playa Cocolito. The girls and I spent some time in this little tide pool until the tide got too high and we had to get out.

Playa Cocolito on Drake’s Bay

When we got back from the beach it started to rain again, but it had pretty much stopped by dinnertime. Fortunately, we have gotten Cassidy to play Hearts again (not sure how or why), so we’ve been playing a LOT of cards when we eat out, which is great. By the end of dinner Cassidy was begging to go to bed, so we all turned in quite early.

Pristine Beaches in Uvita (Linda)

On Sunday we drove from Monteverde, pretty much due south to Uvita. The roads were quite windy at first, but paved the entire way. Overall an easy drive.

Our rental house is in a quirky neighborhood. It looks like our street was developed fairly recently by one developer — as Cassidy pointed out, it’s almost a bit like the gated retirement community where Marji and Ron live in Florida, but without the gate. Oh, and much smaller, no golf carts, and no alligators 🙂 Probably only about half of the small, manicured lots have houses on them, so there are maybe only 6-8 houses total on the street, which ends in a cul-de-sac.

Our Airbnb – Casa Mia – in Playa Colonia neighborhood

Meanwhile, the ‘main road’ is a mish mosh collection of small modest motels & hostels, Costa Rican-style ‘campeos’ (campgrounds), and somewhat dilapidated houses next to small mom and pop farms. Quite a few of the motels and cafes seem closed, most likely due to COVID, and the whole area has a rather abandoned, unkept but authentic feel — in such contrast to the super modern homes on our street!

Entrance to El Campeo (Campground)
Our neighborhood cows – about a block from our house

When you get to the end of the street (just a 5 minute walk), there is an entrance to the Parque Nacional Marino Ballena and one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen. I would say this beach tops Playa Santa Teresa for pure natural beauty — it seems much more desolate and pristine, with tons of lush green palm trees lining the coastline as far as the eye can see, and hardly any people.

There are waves here for sure, but they are fairly gentle and super evenly spaced. And because the beach is so flat, the water stays pooled on the beach as the tide recedes. As a result, the reflections of both the palm trees and the sky in the wet sand are mind boggling. Check out this one of the double sky!

The one trick with having our main entry point be the entrance to the National Park is that we have encountered some challenges getting onto the beach when the park is technically closed. The park (and therefore the beach) closes at 4pm every day and is closed all day on Tuesdays (related to COVID). However, setting a bad example for Sierra, I easily scoped out another way onto the beach on Tuesday. The two of us took a quick dip in the ocean before the park guy on an ATV started kicking people off the beach. (Sierra was incensed.)

Early yesterday morning Sierra and I walked out to the Whale Tail – a long sandbar that you can only walk on at low tide and that is actually shaped like a whale’s tail (better appreciated from above — I’ll try to get that picture for a future blog!) It took us a good 45 minutes to get there, so we had to cool off in the ocean along the way. Wow – what a gorgeous walk, and so few people! The ripples in the sand are so cool, almost looks like pictures I’ve seen of the Sahara…

View back toward the shore from the Whale Tail

Last night we managed to see our first sunset on this beach. I thought for sure it was going to be a bust, as it was super cloudy right at 5pm. We couldn’t even tell where the sun was it was so cloudy! But just after the sun went down, the clouds in the West turned first pink, then coral, and then flaming orange. It was incredible, hard to capture in photos, but I tried!