Everyone dreams about going to Costa Rica, surfers and non-surfers alike. For such a small country, its coastline is riddled with world-class waves and of course, pristine beaches. I was lucky enough to be shipped off to the tropical shores of this Central American nation for three weeks this August, two weeks for work and one week for personal vacation. After dipping my feet in the pura vida lifestyle, all I can think about is my next trip back.
My first two weeks Costa Rica were spent working at a surf contest in the coastal resort town of Jacó. Just an hour drive from the country’s bustling capital of San José, Jacó is known as a wild, party town and beach getaway location. As most of my time in Jacó was spent working between the hotel and the media office (with a few surf sessions here and there), I’ll just jump ahead to my final week in Costa Rica, as I made my way north up the Pacific coast.
With the original plan of not having a plan, I had found a ride up north to Tamarindo with the owner of a surfing magazine in Costa Rica. Due to a missing driver’s license debacle that my coworkers Megan and Claudia had found themselves in, my nonexistent plans took a last minute turn to renting a car and making a few stops on the Nicoya Peninsula. Having just a few general destinations in mind, this new plan was perfectly fine with me and I was more than glad to help them avoid being stranded in Jacó for another week.
So we embarked from Jacó with the remote town of Santa Teresa as our destination.
After a couple hours of driving and an hour long ferry ride over to the Nicoya Peninsula, we arrived in Santa Teresa late in the evening on our first day of vacation. Santa Teresa is quite a little bizarre surf town, with just one main dirt road that follows the coast for a few miles.
The town itself is largely inhabited by foreigners, each of whom it seems has opened an upper-end (and expensive) restaurant to make a living. It kind of reminded me of similar towns I have visited in Mexico, but Santa Teresa takes it to an extreme, as I could probably count the number of Costa Ricans that I saw in the village on one hand (Ok I’m exaggerating a little).
On the first morning I went out on the hunt for some waves, desperate for a surf after having watched people surf for a week straight while working at the contest. After asking some locals for advice on where to go, I pulled up to the local beach break in town and was quite surprised to find some punchy, chest to head high peaks peeling down the beach. Considering that it was such a small, isolated town, I was also quite surprised to see somewhere over 50 surfers roaming the lineup. The waves looked fun so I lathered on some sunscreen, looked for a relatively thin patch in the crowd and I was out there, getting my first good surf in quite a few days.
Due to either not wanting to get my phone stolen or not being able to take my phone with me to wet or sandy locations, I often had to leave it behind. As a result I didn’t get photos of some parts of the trip, just in case you are wondering why there are some gaps in the photos.
After a day in Santa Teresa, we were cruising north up the coast to another small beach town, Nosara. The girls had read that there were a few ways to drive through this remote patch of Costa Rica, a few that involved paved roads that took more time and some sketchier roads that debatably cut time off the trip.
We thought we were erring on the side of caution and taking the longer route to Nosara, avoiding dangerous muddy backroads, but we quickly discovered that we were on the very road that people online had warned not to take. After multiple steep muddy hills and river crossings, we were debating turning around and backtracking to look for the paved road. We hadn’t seen another car for hours and we were beginning to doubt our decision. Then as we stopped in the middle of the road, we surprisingly heard a honk behind us, a car that wanted to pass. Hoping to find a local Costa Rican who could direct us out of this mess, we instead found a fellow foreigner, a Belgian who had a very worry-free attitude about the situation.
What asked him if he knew how the road conditions were up ahead. He responded something along the lines of yeah, yeah they are fine. Let’s go!
As soon as he passed us he unhesitatingly floored it up the next mud hill. Feeling comforted by the presence of another car in case something were to happen, I attempted to keep up at his pace and stay within eyesight (which was proving to be rather difficult). Additionally, it was nice to have a car in front of us to test out the river crossings, slightly alleviating our fear of getting stuck in a stream.
Five hours later we arrived to Nosara, all anxious to get out of the car and plant our feet on solid ground. As I think we were all a little fed up with the unexpected amount of time spent in the car that morning, an evening surf, a nice meal and a few pura vida’s from some locals reminded me that we were in Costa Rica and there was nothing to worry about.
After a day in Nosara it was time to cruise up the coast to Tamarindo, making a quick pit stop in Avellanas. This time it was my turn to sit in the back and take a snooze until we arrived.
In Tamarindo I was kindly offered a place to stay with Fabian, the previously referred to owner of a surf mag that I was originally going to get a ride with. Fabian lives with his girlfriend, Lois, who also works at the mag and was working at the surf contest. They were nice enough to put me up on their couch for my remaining three days in Costa Rica, giving me a look into day to day Costa Rican life, which you don’t really get staying at hotels.
Throughout my stay in Costa Rica, everyone was telling me that I had to go to Roca Bruja. I had probably seen it in surf videos before, but honestly it wasn’t really on my radar. After some google searches and seeing the waves and beauty of the place, I decided that everyone was right. I had to go to Roca Bruja.
Located deep in the jungle in a national park north of Tamarindo, getting to Roca Bruja is no easy task. You have to drive an hour north to Playa del Coco and from there take an hour boat ride to the spot. Luckily, Fabian’s good friend owns a boat, so I was able to get a private ride over there free of cost. The only catch was that I had no way to get to Playa del Coco since the girls had plans to use the rental car. The result was a $100 cab ride round trip, but I figured that it’s not every day that someone offers you a free boat ride to Roca Bruja, so I had to do it. I’d say it was worth it.
Roca Bruja is a large rock formation that juts out of the ocean a couple hundred yards off the shore. It is recognizable from miles away, visible on the horizon as you motor over. Meaning “witch’s rock” in English, Fabian explained to me that it got this name because at high tide the rock makes a whistling sound as the water pushes air out from under it, creating a mysticism of sorts about the place.
Aside from the mystic roots of the rock’s name, the place really does feel magical. The surrounding foliage covered hills draw down into a valley that funnels offshore wind to the beach at Witch’s and something about the contour of the ocean floor molds perfect left and right hand barrels. I didn’t venture onto the land but I was told you can find gators, jaguars and lots of other creatures in the park.
Seeming too perfect to be true, of course there was a catch. As I jumped off the boat and eagerly started paddling towards the waves, I felt a sharp stinging pain on my left forearm. And then another on my other forearm. And another on my calf. The water was teeming with jellyfish. They were really small and hard to spot, but the welts on my forearms were a pretty good indicator that they were out there.
When I arrived to the lineup I confirmed that the waves were perfect. 4-5 foot offshore barrels with only 3 other guys out. I ran a quick risk/reward analysis in my head and decided getting barreled outweighed getting repeatedly stung by jellyfish.
After about an hour when I finally was feeling like I couldn’t bare the pain any longer, I was flagged over to the boat. We were getting kicked out by the park rangers due to some permit or registration that we were missing. It turns out the boat driver accidentally brought last year’s pass, but I was actually somewhat relieved that I was forcefully being torn away from the waves, as the jellyfish stings were getting to be too much and the waves were so good that I wasn’t about to leave anytime soon.
So we called the session short and headed back to Playa del Coco to eat with some of Fabian’s friends. These guys didn’t bat an eye at the gringo that showed up to their house for lunch and instantly made me feel welcomed, serving me some rice, fish, plantain and vegetables. It was nice to get a local Costa Rican experience after a few weeks where I felt like I saw more gringos than Costa Ricans.
As I headed back to Tamarindo later that afternoon, my last night in Costa Rica, I couldn’t stop thinking about Roca Bruja. It’s a magical place, spared from urbanization and civilization. All I could think about was when I would be able go back. As Fabian stated, surfing Roca Bruja for an hour was like having one lick of your ice cream only to drop it on the ground thereafter. I am sure that I will be back in the not so distant future, hopefully for enough time to finish the whole ice cream.
Overall, I unsurprisingly loved Costa Rica. I don’t think there is a place on Earth with tropical weather and good waves that I wouldn’t like, but all of the ‘pura vidas’, people that I met and beautiful beaches will gain a special place in my heart. Only time will tell, but I don’t think it’ll be too long before Costa Rica’s beaches are calling my name once again.
*Big Thanks to Fabian and Lois for putting me up, and to Jose Amed for hooking up the boat ride and lunch. Muchas Gracias!
** I know the title of this post may seem a little cliche, but hey, there’s no better way to describe Costa Rica.