Jolene goes to Costa Rica: Brasilito, Conchal, and Tamarindo
After our very adventurous time in the cloud forest, it was time for us to make a trek to the Pacific Coast. Even though I am a Californian, I am seriously not a beach person, so a big part of me was sad to be leaving such a magical place. I had plenty of reservations and, if I'm being honest, expectations of disappointment.
I booked a private shuttle to take us from Monteverde to Brasilito, where we were staying. After our rough beginnings, both Melody and I were concerned about the upcoming drive down the mountain. The good news? Despite the unpaved roads and harsh driving conditions, the trek was much more reasonable and considerably less scary. The views were also quite stunning!
Upon our arrival, I immediately felt that familiar lurch in my stomach - my own internal aversion to swimsuits, sunshine, sand, and the whole 'beach vibe.' I face this feeling every time I'm faced with a beach situation back home; perhaps it's a combination of my own insecurities (I sincerely feel uncomfortable being in a swimsuit or wearing revealing clothing) and how my personal preferences directly contradict what people love about the beach.
Our shuttle driver dropped us off at the front of our hotel, a charming, beachfront budget hotel complete with hammocks, picturesque palm trees, and an open-air restaurant/bar area. I wasn't disappointed by the look of it, so some of my nerves calmed a little.
We were shown to our room, where we freshened up a little, and headed to a pre-wedding dinner in Playa Grande, about 20 minutes away.
When we got back, nothing could have prepared us for the rough night ahead. There was a local rodeo going on less than a block away, and in addition to that, there was a club across the street from our hotel. Music BLARED from both locations until past midnight, then a cranky pup barked literally almost all night. Once that was done, we were serenaded by a very interesting rooster. Needless to say, we did not sleep well, but were ready for a better day when the sun rose.
The day of the wedding! Since we didn't have to be ready until 3PM, we had some time to explore locally.
Brasilito is a pretty quaint town with just a handful of bars and restaurants, just a couple small supermarkets and souvenir shops. However, it is only about a 20-minute walk to the more popular (and more beautiful) Playa Conchal. We stopped by a souvenir shop, then were advised to take a "shortcut" to the beach. While it may not have been the smartest idea, we walked to the shore, then along the shore, up the pathway and arrived in Playa Conchal!
The water was so clear and split into layers of pale gray, aquamarine, and cerulean. For the first time in a long time, I was really taken by the beauty in a beach. Playa Conchal is just as gorgeous as everyone had described it - its beach was full of tiny, smoothed-out shells in place of sand, and there was nothing commercial in sight. The shell beach was gleaming white in the sunshine, and many had flocked to this beach to relax in the shade or get a massage (like we did!). We chose one of the many massage tables right on the beach, paying a mere $20 for an hour of relaxation with only the sound of the waves flooding our ears.
We spent the early afternoon watching the waves and taking a breath. I really wanted to get into the water, but couldn't risk messing up my hair on the day of the wedding!
We walked back to Brasilito, grabbed a quick beachside lunch across the way from our hotel, then got ready for one of the most special weddings I have ever attended.
Out of respect for the couple, I don't want to go into too much detail, but we were literally shuttled in via motorboat to a far point on Playa Conchal, where we witnessed an intimate, loving ceremony before watching the sun set and enjoying each others' company. From there, we spent the rest of the night at Hotel Conchal & Papaya Restaurant, dancing the night away, tropical drinks in hand!
On our last full day in Costa Rica, I decided to dedicate the entire day to the beach and the sea. Before our trip, I wasn't sure how I'd feel about that decision, but since adjusting after the wedding, I was looking forward to spending the day actively getting my dose of Vitamin Sea.
I'd grown to like our rustic hotel, and spending the morning there actually relaxed me. With the sounds of the waves in the background, I had high hopes for the day ahead.
Our hotel called us a cab, and about 30 minutes later, we had arrived in Tamarindo, a comparatively larger beach town known for it surfing and population of ex-pats. In contrast to Brasilito and Conchal, Tamarindo has a long strip of shopping and restaurants, plenty of tour companies and activities. The overall feeling is quite different from the smaller, less populated beaches we had been acquainted with the day before.
Although it was still pretty early and we were just having breakfast, the sun seemed even more intense in Tamarindo. A walk down the long, main street seemed almost impossible in the heat, but we had to make our way down to the far side of the beach to catch our catamaran. With frequent stops in shops (and a lot of shopping on my part), we made it to the meeting point.
One particular honorable mention in Tamarindo goes to a shop called Girlfish. We wandered in by chance, and I almost immediately fell in love before we even entered the shop. Its exterior is everything a dream beach house wishes it could be, including a crocheted swing on the front porch. The shop is full of beach-themed gifts, from handmade soaps to jewelry to trendy bikinis. Girlfish is the shabby chic beach shop of my dreams, and it was a joy to converse with its owner and meet its resident pup. We also returned once more after our catamaran tour!
Since indulging in one of my favorite terrible reality shows, Below Deck, I've had a very strange desire to spend some time out at sea. I may not be able to afford time on a luxury yacht like on the show, but I found the next best thing: spending the day on a catamaran. After quite a bit of research, I chose Blue Dolphin Sailing, a reliable sailing company that offers half-day cruises from Tamarindo. We chose the afternoon cruise, meeting on the beach at 1PM, getting shuttled to the catamaran via motorboat, sailing for about an hour, anchoring near a private cove, enjoying some quality water time, then being served a full lunch on the boat before sailing back to Tamarindo to watch the sunset. Sounded pretty great, and the experience was even greater.
I was so incredibly relaxed for the entire cruise - it was a relief not to have to worry about anything. The drinks were flowing, and the service was amazing. Unlike some of the other cruises, Blue Dolphin cruises are not known as "booze cruises," even though there is an open bar. We had a great group on our cruise, which included families, young couples, and others who were looking for a relaxing time.
I sat towards the front of the boat as we pushed further away from land. Our captain played a local radio station as we let the bounce of the waves lull us into a carefree state. I laid out until the sun became too much, then I moved into the shady covered area of the catamaran, picking at chips and salsa and a special Blue Dolphin cocktail. The world melted away as we gazed out onto the horizon.
Eventually we anchored and I snorkeled for the first time! It was challenging at the beginning, managing my flippers and trying to overcome the current. I saw little fish, bigger fish (that looked like trout), and even some sting rays! We swam to shore, had some fun in the sand, and went back into the water to cool off again. It was a great first experience for me. Unfortunately all of my snorkeling videos didn't turn out (there was an issue with the files), and it seems that my friend didn't have much luck with her phone, or else I'd post some photos for you all. At least in the photo below, you can see our catamaran in the background (the white boat!).
We were served lunch shortly after, while we dried off and admired the scenery. It was so secluded and felt very special. Our lunch was just the right amount of food to tie us over without being too full.
We made our voyage back to Tamarindo, and the sun was starting to set. I loved watching the crew control the sail, harnessing the wind in the most incredible way. Our catamaran coasted along with some other sailboats - it was almost like being in a painting.
The ending of our catamaran tour was incredibly magical. I'd been dealing with a lot of personal issues before and during my trip to Costa Rica, and for the first time on the trip, I was free of any burdening thoughts. I was able to let go of what I was internalizing to fully appreciate the beauty of what I was seeing. It took four days, lots of new experiences and dealing with discomfort to bring me to a point where I could enjoy Costa Rica in a pure way. I didn't have to worry about anything while being on the boat, and I finally tasted the "pura vida" life.
As my legs dangled over the side of the catamaran, the sun set, and our tour came to a close. We were shuttled back on the same little motorboat as before, eventually reunited with our shoes and land. The sky was painted with the afterglow of the already-set sun, washing over the beach in pinks and purples.
Not only was the day ending, but so was our last bit of time in Costa Rica. I'd finally come to terms with this country, and we were finally forming a bond. It was like meeting someone and learning to overcome a bad first impression, or the poor circumstances in which you met. I had a lot of things working against me, but in the eleventh hour, I learned to appreciate Costa Rica in all of its beauty, adventure, and "pura vida."
We finished off our evening at Pangas Beach Club, enjoying a luxurious meal before heading back to our hotel and preparing for our journey back home.
In summary, Costa Rica is an exceptional country, full of incredible wildlife, adventurous activities, good food, hospitable locals, and gorgeous sights. I would gladly return for a longer period time, and under better circumstances. I've seen the true allure of this beautiful country, and I hope many others have the opportunity to get to know everything that is Costa Rica.
Until next time,
Happy wandering + pura vida!