It was time for some down time, and the beaches were calling our names. After much deliberation, we opted to split our time between Samara and Mal Pais on the Nicoya Peninsula.
We lucked out and had the shuttle to ourselves for the 3-hour trip from Monteverde to Samara. It was a beautiful drive descending from the forests to the beach. Our coffee break location even had a few macaws to observe in addition to their delicious pineapple shakes and strong coffee.
Samara Beach is described in Lonely Planet as a â€œblackhole of happiness.â€ Also, it is supposed to be one of the best swimming beaches and an easy place to learn how to surf. It sounded like a nice place to spend a few days.
We stayed in a B&B that felt a little like The Twilight Zone, even though the place was nice enough.Â Our hosts were an American couple, Marlene and Allen, originally from Boston who had been married 65 years and had 6 kids and 30 grandkids.Â They retired here 15 years ago. Marlene is an artist, and Allen was a lawyer who was recovering from a recent heart attack.Â At some point, they had evidently been part of a travelling puppet show, and their grandchildren made it to Americaâ€™s Got Talent with their River Dance routine. They always had a story to tell or a song to sing, so it was a pretty memorable stay!
Breakfast was served family style in the garden. The breakfast crew included our hosts, one other guest, their neighbor/friend Murry, and us. Breakfast was an event lasting 1.5 hours with quite the daily conversation. Murry is a former smokejumper (his last jump was at age 60!), author of several books and built his own log cabin in Northern California near Ashland. He spends the winter here and enjoys chatting with the various guests at the B&B daily. He always had a good story to tell over breakfast. Despite the interesting company, it was always great to hit the beach afterward!
Samara Beach is a long, curved beach with white sand and gentle waves. The beach is protected by an offshore reef which makes for gentle but still fun waves. The water was a perfect temperature, so we spent a lot of time swimming as it was very hot on the beach! We did splurge daily for 2 chairs and an umbrella to allow us to read and relax while not in the water.
The town was very much an expat town with mostly expat owned restaurants. So, we opted for the locally owned sodas (small family owned) where Mike ate fish for every meal and I enjoyed the typical casado meal (rice, beans, meat, daily vegetables and plantains). Even though most Ticos speak English, we always try to do our best by speaking as much Spanish as we can, and my Spanish has improved on this trip! Well, Iâ€™m not as shy about trying!
Our main activity in Samara was taking a surfing lesson. The last time we surfed was 8 years ago in Australia, so we were rusty and needed help. Our instructor was excellent providing us feedback for both our successes and our failed attempts. As we continued to practice, he would help a little less to give us the confidence to do it on our own. By the end of the lesson, we were both catching a few waves on our own!
The surf lesson included free board rental for 5 days, so we took advantage of it the next day. We were both sore but wanted to try out our new skills. It was a rough start, but then we got the hang of it again and caught some on our own. By the 3rd day, we were both way too sore to go again.
After 3 lovely days in Samara it was time to head south to Mal Pais. We were not as lucky with our shuttle and were jammed into a van for 5 hours. The bus company was disorganized, so we had to shuffle at a gas station with a few other vans to make sure each of us were going to the right destination! It was a mess, plus our driver was more concerned about running personal errands along the route than getting us to the beach!
When trying to decide which second beach town to check out, our trusty Lonely Planet picked Mal Pais as the number one destination in all of Costa Rica, so we just had to give it a go. Looking back on it, we should have read the fine print a little more as it truly is mostly a surfersâ€™ destination, and the waves are not beginner level.
Since our shuttle took forever, we really only had one day to spend on the beach. The views were incredible, and it was fun to watch the surfers. However, the waves and rip currents made the swimming not so fun.
We did have one of our best meals of the whole trip in this town at a Basque tapas place called Bajo Arbol. The restaurant is set in a pretty little garden with views of the open kitchen. The food was excellent, and Mike said his fish was the best of the whole trip. We even splurged for dessert â€“ triple chocolate goodness!
The area near our hotel was home to a troupe of Howler monkeys. Every morning, we would wake to their howls which almost sound like growls.
We spent our last night watching an amazing sunset at the beachside bar. The sky was peach, orange and pink. Tons of people were out to watch plus lots of surfers in the water catching a few last waves. They made a cool silhouette against the sunset.
A week at the beach was truly a vacation from our vacation. I enjoyed our daily swims, long hours of reading on the beach and good food. Our time in Costa Rica was winding down, and we were rested to take on our last destination before heading back to the States.