Learning To Surf in Costa Rica.

For more on my surfing experiences, check out this article I wrote for the website My Costa Rica

I left Canada in November with a fear of water and an urge to surf. Interesting combination I know.

Within the first two weeks of our travels, I rented a board and Shaun took me out to “catch some waves.”

photo 3I wasn’t a total novice. I had taken a lesson during one of our first trips to Costa Rica, but that was in 2008 and I never actually stood up on the board. Needless to say, I wasn’t feeling all that confident! Shaun showed me the ropes and started pushing me into waves. After about 30 minutes I caught one. That is right, stood up, on a board, in the ocean. Woohoo! It was very exciting. My urge to continue surfing was overpowered by my urge for a celebratory beer, so after catching my little wave we headed in.

We went out again a few days later and I trudged right into the water with the utmost photo 1confidence.

It was short lived

I went to catch the first wave and distaster struck. I bailed off the front of the board (such a rookie move) and the board came down right on the top of my head. It was one of those moments, where I needed to do a body check. Anything broken? Are you concussed?

When I finally emerged from the water Shaun was standing in the waves with his hand over his mouth with that “eeesh, that didn’t look good” face. I put on my tough surfer girl bikini bottoms, wiped the tears from my eyes and headed out for more.

photo 2Despite my bravery, I didn’t surf much for the next couple months. The waves at several of the beaches we visited were really big. Not ideal for a beginner like me. It wasn’t until we were in Samara that I tried again. I took a surfing lesson with Samara Adventure Company and it was so awesome. I was riding waves like a pro at the end. You wrote an article about it, you can read all about it here. 

After a couple more sessions in Nosara, you could say that the surfing bug took a little nibble. I’m certainly not the hardcore 5 hours a day surfer like my husband, but I did fall in love with the feeling of catching a wave. Now that we are back home in Canada, I have promised I will sport a wet suit and try surfing at least once here in the cold water. Only time will tell how that will go!

I learnt a lot of tips about surfing during my learning process and I’ll be sharing them in the next post. Thanks for stopping by!

Pura Vida!

Kate

Coming Soon:
Stay tuned to the blog for the next chapter of Hostels and Hot Rollers. 

Advertisements

5 Months of Surfing in Costa Rica: My Experience

This post has been five months in the making. Shaun’s been surfing his heart out here in Costa Rica, and I managed to convince him to write a little something about it. So, without further ado, take it away Shaun!

These past five months travelling around Costa Rica have primarily been spent along the coast. This is partly because we love the ocean and mostly because I wanted to surf. Kate was a champ in booking so many extended stays at the various surf towns. She also took a bunch of photos and twisted my arm into writing this post.

Most of the spots I surfed were fairly well known breaks on Costa Rica’s west coast. Sorry, there are no secret spots or unknown gems to be revealed here. I surfed the main breaks with everyone else. If you are looking for uncrowded surf maybe go with some buddies and get off the beaten path.

Grande 1

Playa Grande- South End

Playa Grande, Guanacaste

The trip started and finished with Playa Grande. I love this beach and wave. Every time we have visited Costa Rica in the past, we have spent at least a few days here. Usually I surf Casitas, which is on the south end. It’s close to Tamarindo which is nice because we often stay there as well. There was the odd time I would make the trek to the main break on the north end of the beach. The main break is a much better wave and usually has better size, but also has bigger crowds and its a much longer walk if you are staying in Tamrindo. I liked the south end as it has both good lefts and rights and is way closer. It was typically small, but fun. I found Playa Grande to be best at mid to high tide. And if you can get 3 to 4 feet of swell it gets pretty sweet.

Playa Grande- South End

Playa Grande- South End

Santa Teresa, Puntarenas

We were in Santa Teresa for about ten days in early December and there was some pretty decent swells at that time. It got big some days and there were some pretty nice waves and a fair amount of paddling. It is quite a big beach break so there are peaks up and down the beach, but it gets super busy. I found I preferred the mid to high tides there as it seemed to clean up a bit and mellow out. I also heard that low tide is quite good as the wave hollows out more. That being said it was a low tide surf the day I busted a board there.

Playa Grande- South End

Playa Grande- South End

Mal Pais, Puntarenas

We hit Mal Pais aka Playa Carmen for a week after New Years. This wave was mellower then its neighbour to the north, Santa Teresa and didn’t seem to have the same crowds. It was still busy enough, but had more forgiving waves. Again, I would surf the mid to high tides and typically went first thing in the morning when there wasn’t any wind.

Playa Grande- South End

Playa Grande- South End

Matapalo, Central Coast, Puntarenas

The biggest regret I have on this trip was not spending more time in Matapalo. We were only there for three days of which I spent a lot of time in the water. I didn’t know much about this wave and the day we got there it was low tide, big, and unsurfable. As the tide rose, the waves cleaned up and peeled nicely left or right. While we were there it was high tide in the morning and evening so I could put a few hours in at dawn when it was empty and glassy and then surf again at sunset. Where we stayed I could check the surf from my window with out even getting out of bed. Kate came out to take pictures one morning and ended up awestruck by the humpback whales that were swimming behind me.

Playa Matapalo

Playa Matapalo

Playa Guiones, Nosara, Guanacaste

Guiones is where we spent most of our time this trip. We were there for about a month and it was great. It is easily my favourite wave from our whole trip. It is a huge beach break that seems to pick up a lot of swell. Two to three feet of swell there translates into decent waves whereas elsewhere it would seem small. It was also the most consistent wave of the trip. It seemed like it worked on any tide and when it got big it held up okay and would not wall up too much. I had some of my biggest drops there and it felt pretty good.

We were there for most of March and it almost always blew off shore in the mornings then switched to on-shore mid morning around 9:30 to 11:00. By about 4:30ish it usually started dying down and it would be good for an evening session. It was quite busy in the mornings and evenings and usually empty in the afternoons when it was on-shore. It was often crowded, but manageable; it seemed like you could always find some space and get plenty of waves.

Playa Guiones, Nosara- North End

Playa Guiones, Nosara- North End

So those are the spots I spent time at. We hit a bunch of other beaches and towns, but usually only for a few days. As for wild life, I saw a ton of fish, a humpback whale, a shark, a bunch of flying sting rays, two eagle rays, and I nearly paddled into a six foot croc.

Again huge thanks to my lovely wife Kate for letting me surf so much this trip.

 

Exploring in and Around San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

Alright lets really get down to our trip to Nicaragua shall we?

San Juan del Sur is often described as a “surf town”. It’s proximity to the Costa Rican border makes it a popular destination for both surfers, and people looking for a quick get away on their Visa run. Located about 1km from Lake Nicaragua, San Juan del Sur is home to a gorgeous 3km horseshoe shaped beach with fun beach side restaurants dotted along its shore.

The beach of San Juan del Sur

The beach of San Juan del Sur

The town itself has everything you need for a good time. Lots of bars, coffee shops, tour companies, souvenir shops and hostels. There is a great market in the centre of town where vendors sell all sorts of fruits and vegetables. The only thing that San Juan del Sur is missing, is the surf. There is actually no surf in San Juan..none at all.

San Juan del Sur tends to be the epicentre for those who are interested in surfing, as it has the most amenities.But the closest surf beach, Playa Maderas, is about 9km away.

Colleen and I on the shuttle

Colleen and I on the shuttle

There are tons of shuttles, vans and taxis that you can catch that will take you to and from San Juan to Playa Maderas. The cheapest option is by far the shuttle that leaves every few hours from Casa Oro. This tourista cattle car is 3 bucks for one way or 5 bucks for a round trip. Certainly beats the 15 dollars that the cabs will charge you!

I don’t blame the poor cab drivers for charging so much though, the road to Maderas is pretty brutal. Pot holes, tight squeezes, low hanging branches and extremely steep hills can make it seem more like a faulty ride in Disneyland then a commute to the beach.

Busy surf in Playa Maderas

Busy surf in Playa Maderas

Once you get to Playa Maderas, you will be greeted by a small but dedicated surfer community. There are a couple of hostels, restaurants and board rental shops on the beach, but other then that, it is pretty remote. You can certainly find a place to get a beer, bed, meal or coffee, but there are no grocery stores or other amenities nearby.

During our stay, the beach at Playa Maderas was always really busy. We aren’t sure whether it is always like that, or if it was because the other surf beaches nearby were really flat. Either way, with so many people trying to catch waves in a very small space, I opted to partake in a little beach side coffee time instead of attempting to surf. Although we left Shaun’s board back in Costa Rica, he did rent a board and go out one afternoon, but with the amount of people in the water and the lack of decent waves, he didn’t last long.

If you are an avid surfer, and are wanting to catch some decent waves, I suggest doing your research. There are tons of nearby beaches that have great waves, alot of which are relatively undiscovered. Playa Maderas is certainly the easiest surf beach to get to from San Juan, so I think that may be another  reason it attracts so many people.

A much less busy Playa Marsella

A much less busy Playa Marsella

If crowds and surf aren’t your thing, there is another beach option. In between San Juan and Maderas is another little beach called Playa Marsella. The lack of surf makes it far less busy then Maderas, but it is perfect for swimming or lounging in the sun. It also boasts several little hotels as well as one beach side bar. There is also a great authentic Nica restaurant on the road to Marsella.

We spent 9 days in Nicaragua, 4 in San Juan del Sur and 5 just outside Playa Marsella. There is lots more to come about our adventures there,  but I figured this was the perfect post to get everyone up to speed of the area I’ll be talking about for the next couple days.

What are you experiences with surfing? Ever tried it?

Pura Vida!

Kate

Follow me on Twitter:@caketress

Exploring Isla Carenero, Bocas del Toro, Panama

On our third day in Bocas del Toro, Shaun and I got up extra early to embark on an all day snorkel adventure.

We rode out bikes downtown, and marched up to the tour company booth to check in. We knew something was up when we presented our voucher, and the women looked at us like we had rocks in our head. She explained that the tour was at 9:30, and had already left. They had waited for us as long as they could.

We were baffled. Shaun looked at his watch…9:07. We showed it to her, and she laughed. “ahhhh, Costa Rica time,” she exclaimed.Yes my friends, we were unaware that there was a time difference between Panama, and Costa Rica. In fact, we had been living in the wrong time for two full days. It certainly explained why we were always to late for Happy Hour!

Those look like pretty rainy clouds overhead!

Those look like pretty rainy clouds overhead!

We were thankful that the company was kind enough to honour our voucher for the next day, but in the meantime, we had an entire empty day ahead of us.

We decided to take advantage of the opportunity, and head over to the small island of Carenero, right across from our island.

Shaun, hard at work, with our "light station" on Carenero

Shaun, hard at work, with the “light station” on Carenero

We asked a local if he would take us over, and we hopped in his boat. We actually felt pretty fortunate that we had postponed our tour, as the clouds overhead were looking fairly ominous.

From shore, Isla Carenero looks pretty busy. Several building dot the shoreline, and by looking at it, you imagine there would be a little town to explore. Wrong again! The few buildings you can see from the shore is really the extent of the activity on the island. That being said, it is still a pretty funky place.

Checking out my first barrel waves

Checking out my first barrel waves

We pulled up to the dock just as the rain started. Luckily, being from Vancouver Island, a little rain didn’t phase us, and we forged ahead.

The buildings on Carenero are mainly vacation rentals, and hostels, with a couple little restaurants scattered about. Unlike the busyness of the main island, Carenero is much more relaxed. People who stay there often find they have no need to go to the main island, unless they need to go to the bank or the store. It’s got all the basic amenities, with less of the hustle.

Wandering the path around the beach

Wandering the path around the island

We slowly winded our way along the shoreline, stopping to explore the little cove’s and beaches we discovered along the way.

During our walk, we certainly figured out where all the surfers had been hanging out. We spotted several reef breaks with tons of surfers in them. I saw my first barrel waves, and even saw a long boarder ride a wave while doing a hand stand. I may not be that interested in watching surfers, but even I was impressed!

Pretty busy surf spot

Pretty busy surf spot

Although we were told we could walk around the entire island, after about an hour we ran into barbed wire crossing the path. We figured we could have passed it at low tide, but decided to take it as a sign to turn back.

Before heading back to the main island, we stopped in at Bibi’s for a coffee, and a beer. Enjoying our beverages over the water was a perfect way to end our impromptu morning adventure.

Nothing like a beach side bar to top off your morning jaunt

Nothing like a beach side bar to top off your morning jaunt

It’s funny how things have a way of working themselves out. Had we not missed our tour, we would likely never have visited Carenero Island. Now that we have, we know that if we ever come back to Bocas del Toro, this is the island we would stay on.

Do you have any travel time change stories?

Pura Vida!

Kate

Follow me on Twitter: @caketress

A Quick Pit Stop in Domincal, Costa Rica

After our three glorious days in Matapalo, we headed down the coast a little further to check out the surf town of domincal

The town map of Dominical

The town map of Dominical

Hotel Domilocos

Hotel Domilocos

For some reason I was expecting Domincal to be bigger. Most likely because of the challenge we had finding accommodation. Trying to find our normal, mid-range private hostel room was impossible. All the choices were either cheap dorm style hostels, or hotels.

We ended up booking into Hotel Domilocos. It was over our price budget, so that ultimately sealed the deal that we were only going to be staying for the one night. We didn’t mind though, neither one of us were really prepared to leave the coast. We were really looking for an excuse to spend one more day by the seaside before moving inland.

The Lonely Planet book describes Dominical as a town full of pot, and surf. After cruising around a little bit, that seemed fairly accurate. Everyone is pretty chilled out. Even the surfing I watched seems more mellow down here.

The second little road. Shaun is checking out the surf

The second little road. Shaun is checking out the surf

The town is set up in two parts. The main road that runs through the town, then a small second road  that runs between the beach, and the main road. This second road is set up with all sorts of vendors, beachside hostels, smoothie shacks, and a couple bars. This area also sells the biggest Pipa’s I had ever seen!

Shaun, and I cruised around a bit, but ultimately called it an early night. We had air conditioning, and WiFi in our room, and planned on taking full advantage of it. In case you were wondering, we watched the Butler on Netflix.

Lots of people out for a sunset session on our first night.

Lots of people out for a sunset session on our first night.

The following morning, Shaun went our for a surf while I did my workout. He said the surf was mellow, but good. It wasn’t too busy for Costa Rican standards, but compared to the previous days when he had the surf to himself in Matapalo, it was much busier.

Although we were there for the blink of an eye, I’m glad we got to visit Domincal. It’s another place that we can cross off our list of places we’ve seen. If you are travelling down the coast, and looking for a place to stop along the way, I would suggest Domincal. It’s a sleepy little surf town, but worth checking out.

The travel inland, and to the Carribean coast begins today!

Pura Vida!

Kate

Follow me on Twitter: @caketress

El Coquito, Matapalo, Costa Rica

Sometimes life lands you in magical places, and you just have to take a moment to be thankful.

This is the state of mind we have been living in during our time in Matapalo.

The paragraph in our guide book on Matapalo is just that, a paragraph. A small excerpt describing a remote village, with few amenities, good surf, and a gigantic beach.

We were intrigued, and although it was challenging, I managed to track down a place to stay, El Coquito. The website didn’t really work, but after a couple of emails back, and forth, we had secured a place to stay. Our expectations were low, but we figured it would be an adventure.

As the days leading up to Matapalo neared, we began wondering what we had got ourselves into. Although Matapalo is located only 32km from Quepos, many cab drivers had no idea where it was. We eventually managed to track down a driver, and with the help of our map, and guidebook were on our way.

El coquito's little restaurant

El coquito’s little restaurant

Our ride was an adventure, with the driver stopping to ask directions whenever he saw someone. Eventually, we pulled into a dirt road, and saw a small grocery store, and a sign for El Coquito. We had arrived. I think the driver was just as relived as we were.

We headed up to the small outdoor restaurant where we were greeted by Enrique, and Mariella, likely two of the most amazing people we have met on this trip. Enrique is from Matapalo, but, after spending time in California, speaks perfect English. Although he worked primarily for a bank here in Costa Rica, he developed a passion for cooking while living in the states.

A view from the beach

A view from the beach

Now retired, he helps run El Coquito, and puts his love of cooking to good use. This would certainly work out in our benefit. Especially when Enrique informed us that the owner had called him earlier that day to tell him to provide us with free breakfast every morning. Bonus!

We were checked into our room which had a double bed, single bed, and a set of bunk beds. We had the pick of the litter for pillows and blankets, and even played a round of “the floor is

Our Cabina

Our Cabina

lava.” Although there are several  cabinas, on the property, we soon realized that we were the only guests.

We dropped our stuff, and decided to check out the beach. The first thing we were struck by was our proximity to the beach, it was literally our front yard. Shaun could lay in bed, look out the window, and check the surf. The second thing we noticed was the size. The beach was HUGE. Playa Matapalo spans 12km, and is virtually empty. We arrived on a Sunday, and there were a few locals camping on the beach, but after that we barely saw

The beach is our front yard!

The beach is our front yard!

anyone. 12km worth of beach to ourselves, sure, why not?!

I spent my morning running on the beach, while Shaun surfed. Then we would reconvene in the restaurant where Enrique would make us an amazing breakfast. The rest of our day would be spent going for long beach walks, and lounging in the sun on the beach or by the pool. By the end of our stay, we were so relaxed, and wished we could stay forever.

I find it surreal that I'm actually writing this post in this photo

I find it surreal that I’m actually writing this post in this photo

Shaun, and I talked alot about whether we were even going to write this post. Playa Matapalo is an untouched gem nestled between the touristy cities of Quespos, and Dominical. That level of seclusion is part of what makes it so magical.
The decision to write about it ultimately stems from our wish to bring business to El Coquito.

Enrique and Mariella put their heart, and soul into this place. Enrique’s passion for the food he cooks is contagious. He says his goal is to make people happy through his food, and with the amazing food that he cooks, it is impossible not to end each meal with a huge smile. Although Mariella spoke no English, she was always smiling, and teaching us new words in Spanish.

Sunset on the beautiful beach of Playa Matapalo

Sunset on the beautiful beach of Playa Matapalo

They provided us with so many little touches that made our stay so special. One day, I asked if they ever drink the coconut water from the trees lining the property, and from then on, I had a pipa every morning with breakfast. Every night they would give us a router to bring back to our room so we could get good WiFi reception. On the final evening they had several people coming to eat at the restaurant, but spent the time to make sure we were served first, and that we could sit at our favourite table.

P1020064

Shaun’s typical morning

Matapalo is not for everyone. There is nothing within walking distance, aside from a small grocery store. But, If you are looking to get off the beaten path, have great surf all to yourself, and get away from the tourist scene, then I would highly suggest El Coquito. If you are lucky, Enrique will make you tuna for dinner, and rice pudding for dessert. If that is the case though, you may never leave.

Pura Vida!
Kate
Follow me on Twitter:@caketress

Mal Pais Surf Camp, Mal Pais, Costa Rica

After two weeks of luxury, we were bracing ourselves to re-enter the life of hostelling. Luckily, our pick for this week couldn’t have been better for our transition.

P1010822

Mal Pais Surf Camp

Mal Pais Surf Camp is located, funny enough, in Mal Pais. It is about 500m left of the main intersection, on a huge property about a 5 min walk from the beach.

The surf camp is incredibly versatile, and can meet the needs of travellers of all budgets and walks of life. They offer apartments, cabinas with both shared, and ensuite bathrooms, open air, hostel-style ranchos, and camping. There is literally something for everyone!

Our little home this week

Our little home this week

Shaun, and I opted for the cabina, with ensuite bathroom. When we arrived we had an outdoor kitchen area with a fridge, and a sink. The property is so big, that it was a bit of a hike to the communal kitchen. Within two days, the owner had set us up with an industrial propane burner, and all the tools needed for a full kitchen. It is such a treat to have our own little house!

The restaurant/bar.

The restaurant/bar. Shaun loves that they are always playing surfing videos

A bonus of this place is their gorgeous pool, and delicious restaurant, a rarity for hostel life! Every night, Shaun and I have sat in the restaurant enjoying an Imperial, and Diet Coke, while chatting, using the Wifi, and watching surfing videos. It feels like we get to go out every night, without having to break the budget.

The entrance way, so gorgeous

The entrance way, so gorgeous

The atmosphere here is great. The diversity in their accommodation options, translates to a diversity in their clientele. There are families, couples, surfers, and hard core backpackers. Along with amazing food, the restaurant area also has a pool table, ping pong table, book exchange, and a never ending supply of interesting people to chat with. The camp runs on an honour system, so you can just head behind the bar to the cooler, grab your drinks, jot your name down, and your off. This system reinforces the positive atmosphere that this place emits.

Shaun has been really enjoying the surf. Although Mal Pais, and Santa Teresa are often thought of as the same place, there is about a 10km difference from where we were staying at Wave Trotter.

Our little kitchen area. Howler monkeys were going crazy when I took this!

Our little kitchen area. Howler monkeys were going crazy when I took this!

So Shaun had never had the chance to surf the waves on this side of the beach. Some days the waves have been better then others, but after his lengthy surfing hiatus in Playa Coco, I think he is just so happy to be back out there. The camp offers both surf board rentals, and surf lessons, for those who feel so inclined.

The only downfall is it is a bit of a hike to the grocery store, probably just over 1km. This is totally fine if you have an ATV/Bike/car, but as I’ve mentioned before, Shaun and I are walkers through, and through. We realized how spoiled we were at Wave Trotter having the store 200m away! On the other hand, it is only 500m from the main drag of town, so you have lots of restaurants, coffee shops, banks, and shops close by.

Other then that, this place gets top marks from us. Any place that I can be lulled to sleep by howler monkeys in the trees, and iguanas on the roof gets a high rating in my books! In fact, it might be one of the best places we’ve stayed so far! We’ve already talked about how great it would be to come back here years from now with family, and friends.

If you are looking for a place to stay in the Mal Pais area, we would highly suggest the Mal Pais Surf Camp!

Pura Vida!

Kate

Follow me on Twitter: @caketress