After spending 1 month near the Volcano Arenal, I decided to explore the Nicoya Peninsula, situated on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. The south tip of the peninsula is known for being very remote: jungle beaches and dirty roads. I have 10 days ahead of me and no plans. I am going to let my intuition guide me.
PUNTARENAS. Here is the terminal to go to the peninsula. I just bought my ferry tickets and I wait in a bar painted with Jamaican colors. From the terrasse I can see the sea and the jetty. Before arriving here, I felt asleep in the bus. Fortunately Puntarenas was the terminus of the line, the driver woke me up… I drink a cold milk chocolate, it’s golden hour on the wooden table and in the smelly harbor.
In the bar, a friendly brown-hair guy looks at my backpack. He asks where I am going. I start chatting with him and his girlfriend. I am actually still hesitating on where to go tonight. I didn’t find any cheap hostels in Paquera, where I thought I was going to stop first. He tells me to go to Montezuma. He’s a Tico, that’s where he lives. He knows I am going to love it. (NB: Costa Ricans are proud to call themselves Ticos and Ticas. Female Costa Ricans are Ticas.) I cannot realize yet how great the advice is, but I will soon. The hostel my mom just recommended me has a bed available for me. The universe is calling me there.
It is 5 PM when we embark on the ferry. Right on time for a sunset show in the Nicoya Bay. (Those who know me know the power sunsets have upon me...) The silhouette of the coast lays down on the sea. The sky is preparing its prettiest colors.
The landscape turns its lights off, the sky turns its lights on. A shade of blue-pink-orange-yellow die the sky that now looks like a palette. It’s pure beauty.
When we arrive in Paquera, we need to hurry up to exit the ferry. There are not many buses left at this hour, got to catch it before the others do. I follow my « guide » and jump in a crowded bus. I feel confortable right away in this atmosphere. Everybody is joyful and smiling in the bus. The night is soft as velvet. I breathe in the smells of this peninsula through the open window. 1h30 later we arrive in the small lively village. I fall in love with this place instantly: “Montezuma mon amour ».
1st stop: MONTEZUMA
The best season to go explore the Nicoya Peninsula is during dry season, from December to April ; when it’s sunny and warm everyday 🙂
- Hostel « Luz en el Cielo » : This hostel is a little outside of the village, on an overlooking little hill. It’s quiet and friendly. The sun rays play in the palm trees and the bamboos surrounding the dorm’s balcony. The breakfast are plentiful and shared around a big common table. Every morning I meet new interesting people to talk to and to go explore with. The hostel managers are really nice and helpful. I feel at home and end up staying 5 nights here. (Private rooms or dorm bed)
TO DO & SEE:
- Playa Piedras Coloradas : If you walk from Montezuma’s main beach 15 minutes towards the North, you will find this little beach filled with multicolored pebbles. There are hundreds of anonymous artistic stacks of pebbles. They look like petrified rainbows facing the sea. Their precarious balance is a beauty. I walk around like in an open-air museum, staring at each of those small sculptures to absorb their energy.
- Playa Grande / Romelia National Wildlife Refuge : Walking a little further after Piedras Coloradas beach, you will find a beautiful wide flat beach lined with banana and palm trees. When the tide is low, the stretch of sand is huge. Squadrons of pelicans patrol the sky diving head first into the water to fish their lunch. There is usually very little people on this beach. It’s the perfect spot to read, tan, do yoga, meditate, learn how to surf and feel away from everything.
- Main beach : The beach that is directly in the village is great to hang out in the evening. People go there bare foot to drink around a pit fire, to talk with strangers, to star gaze or to smoke pot and laugh in the long warm nights. (The affectionate nickname the Ticos gave to the village is « Montefuma »)
- « Cocolores » Restaurant : A terrace with view on the ocean and delicious sea food pasta, what else!
- Releasing of baby turtles : During the season, a releasing of baby turtles is organized everyday around 4 PM at Montezuma’s main beach. Look for the painted signs on driftwood stacks to find the location.
- Montezuma Waterfalls : When it’s too hot to go to the beach, you will find some coolness and chilly water at the waterfall. It’s easy to access, there is a trail that follows the river through the forest. People go there to tan, to paint or to sell hand-made jewels. The bravest ones jump from the heights and everybody applaud them.
- Isla Cabuya : This small island off Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve is a cemetery. I do not specifically love cemeteries but this one deserves a visit ! Before going make sure to check the tides schedule, since the island is only accessible during low tide. Take a bus that departs from Montezuma center and ask the driver to drop you at « Isla Cabuya » (it’s only 4 miles away but it takes around 25 minutes to get there by bus).
2nd stop: SANTA TERESA
Despite all good things people had told me about Santa Teresa, I will be honest : I didn’t enjoy this place. One big advantage though : the village is located on the western coast of the peninsula, so you can watch sunset on the ocean. That’s actually one of the main reason I left Montezuma to come here. I was really missing sunsets on the beach. And I also wanted to discover more of this peninsula besides Montezuma.
Santa Teresa is a surfer paradise and full of Argentins. The beach is vast and the waves unfold perfectly. It’s one of the top spots to surf in Costa Rica and is very well known by surf lovers. Whether you are a beginner or an expert, you can surf here all year round.
Here the village is not compact as it is in Montezuma. All restaurants, shops and cafés are lined up along the 3 miles long main road. There is no center to the village and the main road is full of dust as it is not paved.
Covered with a thick grey layer the vegetation along the route looks like an abandoned house. A few hibiscus flowers stand out of the grey with their bright red hue. Buses, quads, moto bikes, SUV and pick-up transform the road into a big messy dusty cloud. To ride a bike, you need to cover your face and eyes with a bandana and googles. It’s like being at Burning Man or in Mad Max.
3rd stop: SAMARA
A bit further North in the peninsula, Samara is a small preppy town more frequented than its two wilds neighbors from the South. Located closer to the region’s capital (Nicoya) it is easier to access by bus or car.
Samara is bursting with yoga studios, organic restaurants, sunny terraces, clubs to dance all night long in all languages, and bohemian beach style stores. It also has a lot of luxurious resorts and spas. It’s the capital of wellness. Clearly this place is for richer hippies than Santa Teresa or Montezuma. But the village is very charming and full of good vibes.
TO SLEEP & EAT:
- Vegetarian Hostel and Restaurant : Casa Paraiso Ahora Si : I found this very cheap hostel on internet right before arriving in Samara and I loved my stay there. Far from being chic, it’s mainly very unexpensive. I like the courtyard with the hammocks and the palm trees, the dreadlock guys hanging out, the tiny cats playing with giant grasshoppers, the Italian owner keeping an eye on everything, and the smell of home-made pasta. (Private rooms or dorm bed + full-board possibility)
- Hostel Las Mariposas : I didn’t stay in this hostel, but I spotted it while walking around. I had a big crush for its little pink cabin in the middle of a luxuriant tropical garden full of flowers and hammocks. And it’s only a few minutes away from the beach. I promised myself I will stay here if I ever come back to Samara.
- Main beach : Sunsets are majestic there, even more during low tides when the sky finds a mirror on the wet sand. Go there to look at people biking on the beach, family gathering, horses trotting and people playing frisbee.
- Playa Carillo : A few miles south of Samara’s main beach is another beautiful pristine beach. I went there hitch-hiking and it didn’t take me more than 10 minutes. Playa Carillo is a postcard beach with its white soft sand lined with high palm trees inhabited by colorful parrots.
Here the Dolce Vita is called Pura Vida.
Books to read while tanning
–Mobile, Michel Butor
–The invention of nature, Andrea Wulf
–The Way of the World, Nicolas Bouvier
Tips to travel by bus in Costa Rica
-Download the app : Yoviajocr (buses, hours, routes)
-The website Thebuschedule.com : it gathers all the information you need about buses in Central America. Very useful and always very up-to-date, you will find everything: the transfers between buses, the names of the buses companies as well as the bus stations’ addresses.
-Join the Facebook Group « Costa Rica by bus » to see what other people do and ask, and to share with people travelling in the country at the same time.
-Work on your basic vocabulary (parada = « stop » / ahorita = « soon » but also « in a little while », it’s a very popular concept in Costa Rica, it basically means « don’t worry, it will come, no need to know exactly when »
-My article: « Tiles for the dead »