Costa Rica is an interesting place. It is a huge tourist destination and unlike the rest of Central America, it is full of people that speak English and steep entrance fees to see anything. After our tense drive through Nicaragua and the nervous weeks leading up to that, we were mostly excited to have made it safely to the Switzerland of Central America.
Our first two nights in Costa Rica were spent at a nice jungle camp run by Swiss immigrants. This would be the first of many Swiss expats or Swiss run establishments we would run into in Costa Rica. According to Wikipedia there are just 550 Swiss expats here, but it seemed like they all owned a camp, bakery, restaurant or something else for us to visit.
Two nights of jungle bugs and heat we’re enough for us and we headed to the beach. One of the best features of Costa Rica are its beaches – clean, beautiful, and fully public. Our first night we found a beautiful white sand beach on the Nicoya Peninsula and parked for the night – for free. Before we arrived, we pictured that every night would be like this.
A note about safety though – violent crime here is very low, but petty crime sure isn’t. In the first week we heard from two separate overlanders that had their cars broken into. Popular beach destination like Tamarindo or Jaco are not safe to camp at night, or even leave your car unattended. We’ve already had some stuff taken from the car when we parked on an unattended but “safe-looking” street back in Oaxaca and didn’t want to lose more.
We chose therefore to stay in proper campgrounds for the rest of our time on the peninsula. Better to pay a bit for a safe night then to pay a lot to replace stolen goods or smashed windows!
Nicoya Peninsula had some lovely camps, our favorite of which was Elimar in Mal País. We stayed put here for a full week and really could have stayed longer. Every night we had a beautiful sunset, and during the days we took a couple surf lessons (more below on that( and watched World Cup games. We caught the Switzerland vs Serbia match at a sports bar in the nearby town and it was full of Swiss tourists. We haven’t seen this many Swiss people in one place in over half a year!
Surfing in Costa Rica really seems like something you just have to do. There are so many famous surf beaches and we passed by so many surf schools on our drive down the peninsula that Rachel had it in her head we HAD to try it. After finally talking Ben into it, we booked a lesson in Playa Santa Teresa. The instructor was great and it turns out Ben is a natural. All those hours on the Stand Up Paddle really paid off! Rachel was… Well, it’s the effort that matters. We took a second lesson two days later (giving our sore muscles a break) and then took boards out on our own two days after that (again, sore sore muscles!) Three days of this really wore us out. Who knew falling off a board (in Rachel’s case) could be so exhausting?! If we had it in us for more surf days, we definitely would have stayed in this lovely corner of Costa Rica even longer.
We finished up the Nicoya Peninsula by driving through the town of Montezuma, visiting a microbrewery, and spending the night in a quiet village at Playa Gigante. From there we were ready for some mountains and said goodbye for now to the beautiful beaches of Costa Rica.