Psst! This Is Where You Go To Avoid Tourists In Costa Rica

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

So you’ve been hearing great things about Costa Rica, and you’ve been wanting to head there yourself to experience some of the outdoor adventures and impeccable beaches the country’s known for. But, as the year’s gone on, you’ve started to have second thoughts: it seems like everyone who goes to Central America goes there . . . too many Americans these days . . . isn’t this the place Heidi Montag and Spencer Pratt were caught (read: posed) canoodling seaside?

But then you thought, maybe could help point me in the right direction, away from the four-star resorts and cruise ports and towards someplace in the country I’d enjoy. Cut to this week’s NYT, where they head way down south along the Caribbean coastline (and just across the way from the Panama’s Bocas del Toros) to Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, where they’ve uncovered a German hippie, ex-pat, local Indian population sharing land with a local population of sloths, toucans and monkeys. Now wouldn’t that work well on a brochure? I lived in Boulder, Colorado a few years ago and this sounds strangely similar . . .

This wild, often overlooked coastal stretch, an 11-mile-long necklace of small sandy coves located in southern Limón province, may be in one of Costa Rica’s poorest areas, but it’s also one of the most diverse, populated by a blend of Costa Ricans, English-speaking Afro-Caribbeans, indigenous Cabecar and Bribri Indians, and plenty of expatriates, from French fashion designers to old German hippies.

For soul-searching world travelers who tend to plant roots and stay, it’s this laid-back, untamed vibe that has made the Caribbean-side strip, between Puerto Viejo and the equally tiny town of Manzanillo, an attractive alternative to Costa Rica’s more touristy Pacific coast.

On the exact other corner of the small country is Sámara, located on Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula, which Budget Travel recently described as “a tiny town of about 1,000 people that’s stretched out along the edge of a wide, jungle-fringed bay, [and] a rare throwback to a time when Costa Rica’s beach towns were all about laid-back living, not all-night partying . . . Roughly one dozen square blocks — sandwiched between a hilly range and the Pacific Ocean — are dotted with low-key inns and beach cottages. Howler monkeys bellow from the treetops, iguanas scuttle across dirt roads, and carefree young couples stroll along the uncrowded beach.”

Not that there’s anything wrong with a little partying, but around these parts, surfing is more than just a pastime, which means early bedtimes and even earlier morning risings. With its sheltered bay, the waves here are free of strong undercurrents or riptides, perfect for beginners. Also, money-back guarantee of no Speidi sightings. True fact.

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