02.04.2011 - 09.04.2011 32 °C
From Nicaragua we crossed into Costa Rica by bus, pulling into Tamarindo near 7pm, and in the dark with our packs on we began the hunt for a place to stay. Andrew had been to Costa Rica ten years prior and remembered a quiet strip with one hotel and a few restaurants along the beach, but the now overpopulated and touristy Tama-“gringo” is nearly unrecognizable. With large hotels, resorts, bars and expensive restaurants, the quiet charm of Central America is somewhat lost in this one-week get-a-way tourist town. While Tamarindo is a beautiful place, perfect for the easy and mindless vacation, we felt a shock after having spent our time in much less developed countries for the past three months. Prices rival those at home and the gringo population far outnumbers the locals. When a hostel room with no amenities was quoted at $25 we began to worry that Costa Rica may just be too expensive for the long-term traveler on a backpacker budget. We worked our way off the main strip and couple of blocks away from the beach, finding an apartment that, while above our needs and means, boasted a kitchen, living room, balcony and pool. For the slightly higher price we jumped on the deal as preparing our own meals not only saves our wallets, but as vegetarians in a meat and fish eating part of the world, we often eat much better when we prepare meals ourselves. Settling in to the room we decided to make the 20 minute walk out of town to the large supermarket, stocked up on a few days’ worth of groceries and came home to crash on our couch and relax after having spent over ten hours traveling that one day.
Tamarindo is located on the north end of the Península de Nicoya. This peninsula is known for long stretches of tropical beaches fringed by lush jungles full of wildlife. The idyllic beauty of this coast line once was the place where turtles returned for a place to give birth but with tourists soon catching on to the splendor of the Nicoya peninsula, the leatherback turtles have mostly stopped coming to the populated shores. The main problem of the area is sustainability with the incredible growth of the tourism industry with little thought to environmental concerns. Tamarindo is one of these long stretches of white sand beach that once was a paradise, and for some may still be if looking for a short-term vacation spot. Full of beginner surfers learning to stand in the white wash, with bath-warm waters and endless room for tanning, crowds are drawn to the area as the turtles once were. We walked as far as we could down both ends of the beach and on to the further beaches south of the main stretch, only to find that around every bend another section of perfect white sands exists.
We spent our few days here taking turns between sunning on the beach and beside the pool, making ourselves the meals we have been missing after weeks upon weeks of burritos, and enjoying the relaxed pace of having little else to do or worry about. In the evenings we wandered the town to find little restaurants and bars crowded with tourists drinking overpriced cocktails and decided “When in Tamarindo….” treating ourselves to a few drinks too. We are constantly reminded how small our world is as walking down the street we heard someone yell out “Eric?” and soon realize that it was a guy Andrew’s brother had gone to high school with, but in recognizing Andrew had guessed the wrong twin. We met him and his lovely girlfriend for an evening of drinks and laughs, marveling at how often we run into people in the most unlikely places.
We stayed in Tamarindo for three days, reveling in having our own kitchen and plenty of sun and beach time. Our next stop took us from Tamarindo to Montezuma, another beach town further south on the tip of the Nicoya peninsula. Inquiring into shuttle buses that would take you directly to Montezuma we were baffled by the $100 price tag for two travelers and opted for the local bus system, ignoring the long hours this would mean on the road. Rising at 4:45am (and wondering why we ever do this whilst on vacation), we took two buses until reaching the bus station in Puntarenus –a port town used mainly as a stop-over for the local ferry services to and from the Nicoya peninsula. From here we took a taxi to the ferries, a one-and-a-half hour ferry boat to Paquera, and then another two hour bus to Montezuma, arriving nearly ten hours later. The longer route saved us approximately $70 and we felt this was worth the long day of travel.
Montezuma has all the charm that Tamarindo lacked. A tiny town that has similarities to Tofino on the west coast of Vancouver Island, what with its health food restaurants, countless yoga classes, surfers and dread-headed hippies that are permanent fixtures to the area. The town feels like a place where doors wouldn’t need to be locked and everyone knows everyone’s name. Unfortunately, the simple life-style still comes with a hefty price tag, but we managed to find a reasonably priced hotel room after a bit of searching.
Our first day in Montezuma we decided to walk to the large waterfall, only a twenty minute hike up a river into the jungle. The 75 foot cascade drops into a greenish, cool pool that is perfect for swimming; unfortunately, all tourists think so and this swimming hole can be overcrowded when trying to snap a photo of the falls. We splashed around, climbed under the falls and leapt from rocks, enjoying the sunshine and waiting out the tourists to find a lull of people and a moment of quiet. From here, another twenty minute hike upwards takes you through the forest above the first large waterfall, only to bring you to two more, slightly smaller, falls that each forms a swimming hole below. The second set of falls, an approximate 50 foot drop, has a ledge ideal for jumping if you are brave enough to make the leap. Andrew, reveling in such adrenalin rushes, made the jump repeatedly. The third, smaller set of falls has a rope swing from a lower branch of an overhanging tree, which made for the perfect place for Andrew to practice his backflip techniques.
The next day in Montezuma we decided to walk down the coastline, reading that the nice beaches are found to the North of the town. A small stretch of white sand beach had a rocky point at its end and we thought we’d walk to the point and see around the corner, only to find another similar stretch of beach. We continued walking; finding that after a few beaches there was another set of small waterfalls and an enormous stretch of endless beach with nearly no one there. The rocky points of shoreline are so similar to the west coast coastline, with their tidal pools and crashing waves, that only the white sand and palm trees remind you the beach is not Long Beach. Finding pretty shells and a sand dollar and nothing but peace and quiet, we hiked nearly 7km of beach and felt what this coastline must have been like before the tourists took over. As we settled in for the evening, heavy rains began ending in a lightning show, making a great excuse for a night in.
From Montezuma we needed to retrace our steps back across the water on the local ferry, and then catch a bus further south to the next beach town –Jacó (pronounced Ha-ko). Again, the option of taking a fast tourist ferry for $40 a person (for a one hour ride) existed, but we took the local route and made it six hours later for only $16 for the two of us. Arriving today, I’ll leave details of Jacó to the next blog, but I’ll give you a hint –more beach time!
We hope everyone is doing well back home. Sending love to friends and family,
Ana and Andrew