We had spent quite a significant amount of time on the Caribbean coast around Cahuita and in Tortuguero and as time was on our side and we had heard great things about the Pacific side of the country, we decided to pay a visit and see what all the fuss was about. We had been warned it was significantly hotter on the Pacific coast but that it was many people’s favourite area to visit due to the great beaches.
We made our way here after having a few days back in San Jose from Monteverde to do some shopping and to avoid the price hikes due to Santa Semana, the Easter holidays in Costa Rica (more on our experiences in San Jose in a later post). It was a one bus trip from San Jose with Alfaro bus company which took 4.5hr and cost just $8 each. We didn’t mind the idea of the long bus trips as our previous experiences of buses had been pretty good.
This one however was pretty awful as there was no air con and it reached 41 degrees on the bus with hardly any windows that opened – melting and feeling a little unwell at the end of the journey we departed and made our way with a little wrong turning or two to our hotel.
Where we stayed
The first thing we noticed when trying to book accommodation was that the cost on the Pacific side was more expensive than other areas of the country. We booked a week at the Hotel Belvedere Playa. It was more expensive than we would normally pay but did have a lovely swimming pool which given the heat would be very welcome. We had a nice room overlooking the pool and were delighted to be greeted within the first couple of hours by several iguanas and a Coati by the pool.
The property itself was well maintained and although we had some issues with our room initially these were rectified quickly. The breakfast on offer here was $10 per person so we initially declined; however after having a breakfast on the beach one day and it costing 23,000 CRC or $38 dollars for bacon, egg and toast and a coffee and orange juice each we realised this wasn’t so bad! The breakfast was nice here but still a little expensive. There was nothing wrong with the Hotel and we did make good use of the pool but for some reason despite being the most expensive property we had stayed at in Costa Rica it was the one we felt least comfortable in. We had stayed in a lot cheaper accommodation and felt a lot more relaxed and more at home.
The best thing about where we stayed was no doubt the wildlife which surrounded it. Just outside the entrance to the property we saw so many iguanas, howler monkeys, turquoise motmots and parakeets. We watched in glee one night as a troop of howler monkeys made their way rather noisily up the telegraph wires towards our hotel! The baby was so small his tail couldn’t coil around the wire so he had to get a lift from his Mum!
Samara Beach is 5 km long and is very popular with families and surfers. We witnessed many surfing lessons happening here despite the fact the waves didn’t appear to be the biggest we had seen. We didn’t actually swim in the sea at Samara but we had a couple of lovely walks along the beach. The first day we were there we had a walk towards the right hand side of the beach, enjoying the birds and laughing at the funny red crabs skittling along the sand. There is no doubt it is a lovely beach and very picturesque. For us however it was all about the wildlife…
We had another unexpected walk along the beach at sunset one night; we were trying to find our way back from the next beach along (see below) and ended up walking back from the left hand side of the beach to central Samara at sunset. The walk didn’t look far but it took a good 40 minutes. We had heard of amazing sunsets at Samara and until we got to that point near Chora Island we hadn’t understood what the fuss was about. It was a lovely sunset and although hot, sweaty and long, it was a pleasant walk back at dusk.
From online research and also from recommendations from our hotel, Playa Carillo was highlighted to us as a beach which is totally unspoilt. We grabbed a bus and headed there armed with our masks and snorkels. The distance wasn’t all that far (approximately 4km) and it cost us less than $1 each. To note the busses aren’t running to any kind of schedule it seems at the moment and we ended up waiting an hour and a half. So long we cpould have walked there faster, but it was very hot! The beach was as described; there was nothing, not a beach stall or bar in sight and only a couple of people on the beach with us – Bliss!
We had a lovely swim here, it was pretty wavy which unfortunately didn’t make for good snorkelling conditions but it was fun anyway. There are rumours that crocodiles have been seem at either end of the beach where the rivers meet the sea; however (un)luckily for us we didn’t see any and none had been spotted for quite some time. We were later told the crocs here are periodically relocated to places where there are fewer possibilities of human interaction. Our issue was however getting back – we had no idea where the bus stop was as we weren’t dropped off at a stop and there were no taxis about. We ended up walking back up the road as it was approaching sunset which is how we managed to make it to the far end of Playa Samara – If you do visit here without a car maybe prebook a taxi or at least find the bus stop/station.
Dolphin and Snorkelling Tour
We stopped at a tour operators in town and booked a couple of trips through Octopus tours at a good discount. The Dolphin and Snorkelling Tour cost us $30 each for a morning tour including transport to and from the boat and fruit and snacks. We were collected at 8am and taken to Playa Carrillo where we boarded our boat. There were 12 people on the boat which is the maximum allowed in covid times. The tour was really good – we saw so many dolphins and the captain and crew made sure that everyone had a place up front of the boat to take their pictures.
Unfortunately the snorkelling part was not so good; we had had a massive storm the night before which had churned up the sea and therefore we were taken to Snorkel near the reef in Playa Carrillo. We did see some fish but not really much of a reef; we were still buzzing from the dolphins though and still enjoyed the trip.
Night Turtle Tour
In hindsight it was a bad idea to book this tour; we were taken to a beach an hour drive away from our hotel on very rough dirt tracks for the majority of it. The beach we attended had evidence of turtle eggs but no sign of any turtles despite the guides spending 3 hours walking up and down the beach. It was a little early in the season and by their own admission the guides hadn’t seen any turtles for some time. On a plus despite sitting in the dark on a beach for hours we did see something we had never seen before, and that was bioluminescent waves. This phenomenon happens when plankton get stirred up and give off a blue light. We didn’t get to see them in Thailand so at least there was a silver lining to our failed turtle mission.
The town itself has quite a hippy vibe and is trendy with surfers, vegans and vegetarians and those into yoga. There were several adverts for yoga classes and a vast variety of vegan restaurants and organic stores. We didn’t quite fit that vibe and for that reason it wasn’t Nigel’s favourite place although I did enjoy our time here. It was also quite expensive in the restaurants although we did find some cheaper options in the local bakeries. Nigel left his hat on the bus on the way here – to buy a similar one in Samara was over 4 times the price he paid in San Jose.
The highlights were definitely the wildlife, nearby unspoilt Playa Carrillo and the Dolphin tour which was the best we had been on. If you’re into the hippy surfing vibe this would be your ideal place! The one word of caution however is that when we visited the end of March the sand flies were vicious and we got eaten alive so make sure you wear repellent during the day as well as at night.