One of the first things I did when I got to Playa Potrero, even before hitting the beach, was to visit The Shack – an open air restaurant on the main drag through town. It had great reviews online and just looked like a cool place. Guess what? It is.
Owner Jay Macy-Moore has been operating it for just a year and a half but it’s been around for more than a decade. He and his wife, Becca, found it on a scouting trip and snapped it up. It’s been his pet project and you can tell. There’s a lot of love in the little hangout.
The food’s good, the prices reasonable and the service with a smile is wonderful. There are activities to enjoy every week like the Sunday morning jazz or the monthly trivia contest, but honestly, it’s just a great place to hang out.
On my third visit, I met this great family on vacation from Britain. Lovely people and they were enjoying The Shack as much as I was. You’ll see business men conducting meetings, families, singles, and couples there … oh, and the occasional cow trotting by.
I’m giving you another “must visit” if you get to this part of the world. I guarantee they’ll smile and make you feel welcome!
You don’t have to talk long to convince me to go to the beach. I’m a California girl, born and bred, and grew up with Santa Cruz as the destination of choice if you were cutting school. Hard to believe, but I was such a rule follower back then that I never did that myself but it always lingered in my imagination as I stared at chalkboards and tuned out teachers.
Now, I believe I’ve had the perfect beach vacation here in Costa Rica (where the way of life is called Tico) at a quiet surfer’s beach – Playa Grande. For me, a beach has to be uncrowded to really enjoy it, and this one is just that. There are a few families, some singles, a dedicated group of local surfers and those that have come from far and wide to try the waves, and that’s about it. It stretches a long way, I’m guessing about 2 kilometers and the white sand is littered with shells.
We lucked out in our choice of hotels with Sugar’s Monkey, a cool little hotel decorated with panache and carrying the coolest vibe I’ve seen in a long time. Our room was cute and comfortable, but it was the outside area that I felt so happy to be around. There were little touches everywhere that felt unique, including the ball they tossed in the pool each night that was actually a pool light and changed colors every couple of minutes.
Besides just enjoying our beach, we took two day trips – one by taxi boat to Tamarindo Beach, and another a sunset catamaran cruise with snorkeling – both of them terrific.
In Tamarindo, we found the typical glitzy tourist beach with vendors and souvenir shops, but also with a lot to look at. We enjoyed searching for a backpack for me (so I could discard my second and broken rolling suitcase) and had a wonderful meal at Gallo Fino, where roasted chicken is their specialty. It was reasonably priced, too.
But it was our day on the ocean that topped off our vacation and Vanessa’s stay with me before she had to head home. We were ferried aboard a big catamaran, smiling and happy as we headed out towards the Catalina Islands where all the snorkeling crews go. It was relaxing just to ride along, feeling the water, chair dancing to the music, and if you were so inclined, drinking to excess. I had a rum punch and a gin and tonic, but felt no effects, happily.
For Vanessa, snorkeling was a blast and she filmed underwater at least an hour’s worth of fish and rocks and so forth. Unfortunately, I got a broken snorkel but didn’t figure it out until I was quite a way from the boat. My face mask didn’t fit either and when I finally got back to boat to exchange them, the snorkel was fine but the face mask still leaked – so no real snorkeling for me. I returned to the boat and had great conversations with those still on board who hadn’t chosen to snorkel in the first place. A great time was had by all.
As I always do when I have to leave a place I find enchanting, I felt a little sad to leave Sugar’s Monkey and Playa Grande. But, hey, I’m just down the coast a bit…in Playa Potrero for a month – maybe I’ll return for a visit.
The secluded little tourist town of Monteverde lies in a dip of the “Green Mountain,” with battered dirt roads leading to and away from its busy center in all directions. Getting there was an experience in itself.
My daughter, Vanessa, and I took a shuttle bus from Brasilito – stopping along the way at a beautiful bus stop, where we saw brilliantly colored parrots – eventually transferring to another shuttle bus – and finally being dropped at Nina’s Place – our home away from home while in Monteverde.
We were fortunate to meet Leeane (an Australian transplant to the US for many years) and her daughter, Olivia – who had just completed two weeks at a sloth preserve in Costa Rica. Mother and daughter were very sweet and interesting, and a taste of home.
The first word that came into my mind when I saw the surroundings that Monteverde was nestled in between was “primal.” Of course, man has intruded into this wonderland of nature, but far less than in other spots around the world known for their fabulous flora and fauna. Monkeys, sloths, lizards, frogs and all kinds of creatures are literally just a step away as you wander down any of the paths, or even roads, while exploring. Sloths are in high in the trees and only descend about once a week to eliminate waste, so they are a little more difficult to spot but they are there.
However, you can be surprised – as we were – by other animals and insects at any moment. We hiked through one of the canopy parks with swinging bridges – not to be missed – when a coati (an animal resembling a large raccoon with a long snout) started down the bridge towards us. We must have been standing still for a few moments because as soon as we excitedly noticed him we started moving slowly towards him and he hastened a retreat.
There is so much to do here, you could easily spend a week trying out different things – zip-lining, canopy tours, night tours, coffee plantation tours, hiking to local sites like a hollow fichus tree, eating at some of the interesting little coffee shops and restaurants around town or just traipsing from shop to shop in search of the perfect souvenir.
They have definitely created a cute little town to house the thousands of tourists that descend on it in every season. It is literally packed with hostels and the occasional hotel, which scale the hills surrounding it. It’s a wonderful place for the young and healthy, but I honestly had a bit of trouble with all the hills and heavy exercise. It’s not a town for a wimp or the physically challenged and a word of warning to all tourists, make sure your accommodations are close to the city center. We saw some that were way off the beaten track, so that hiking into town wasn’t practical no matter how much in shape you are.
Finding a good restaurant in Costa Rica is often challenging, so here are two recommendations: Sabor Tico in their little mall was excellent, reasonably priced and the portions of arroz con pollo were so large that we ate a full second meal on the leftovers; and we highly recommend stopping by The Treehouse for decent food but great atmosphere as it is literally built around a huge tree.
If you’re coming to Costa Rica, make a trip to the wilds of Monteverde. You won’t regret it!
I had my first hostel experience! I was waiting to travel again with Vanessa, my daughter, since she did hostels in Europe. I felt like this was something foreign to me and I was a little bit right and a whole lot wrong.
In reality, growing up in a large family, not poor just not well-off, gave me the skills to handle sharing space, putting up with noise at all hours and dealing with a minimalist approach to life. You have what you need, but little else.
That’s pretty much what life was in Nina’s Place, a very cute but bare essentials hostel in Monteverde, Costa Rica. I talked Vanessa into bunk beds, not remembering what that was like. She took the top bunk, because there was no way I’d be climbing up and down all night. I took the lower.
There wasn’t even a chair in our walk-in-closet-turned-hostel-room, so things like tying my shoes had to be done on the bench outside, or I’d be a hunchback by now. We laughed every time Van had to climb up because there wasn’t a ladder and the bed was already a rickety mess. I told her I was fully expecting to die in the middle of the night from a bed collapse. I did hit my head frequently.
On the plus side, we got to meet several really nice people! Met Morgan – a firefighter from Merced – and Jalen, a burgeoning writer and artist (you go boy!) Then there were the three lovely girls from England – I loved listening to them talk! I’m an admitted anglophile. Basically, it was young people from everywhere bonding around the tiny kitchen table, listening to music (much of it from the 70s!) You truly have a sense of community and I was amazed at how willing the younger crowd was to spend time talking to an old broad like me.
Also we were grateful for our own bathroom and after seeing how many of the hostels in Monteverde were way off the beaten path, glad that our hike into town was a short one. AND the view from the back porch was amazing; looking out over the treetops and plush green everywhere.
The staff was very friendly as well and helped us out when I got really sick the day we were supposed to go zip-lining and arranged to cancel our reservations. Actually, I was sick basically the entire time – actually tossing my cookies at the beginning of the coffee plantation tour and struggling to stay in the game on the other three days. Never did figure out what was wrong.
Anyway, this was an experience I’ll never forget and now I feel comfortable doing a hostel on my own, but I’ll be very careful to check it out a little better before committing to a bunkbed again! I chalk this one up on the plus side overall!
As part of my travel writing career, I’m forced to endure touring facilities like the Westin Golf Resort in Playa Conchal on the Pacific shores of Costa Rica. Tough duty, but somebody’s got to do it!
My daughter accompanied me, and became a second photographer in the process, when we were shuttled around the property by Kevin, a tall, friendly young man who treated us to the royal tour.
The rooms were very nice, but was honestly the pool and the poolside services that sold me. Who hasn’t dreamed of swimming up to the bar, sitting on a stool firmly planted in the water and ordering a fruity drink – preferably with an umbrella on it. Of course, I’m a sucker for a pool, and the more luxurious the better.
The fabulous Reserva Conchal Golf Course, inaugurated in 1996 and designed by the renowned Robert Trent Jones II, brings a strong golfing contingent, but there’s truly something for everyone, with an entrance to Playa Conchal – a beach famous for its white sand, rocky tide pools and snorkeling opportunities. You can also ride a banana boat – which I highly recommend.
There are facilities and activities for family excursions, romantic getaways and even business conferences: pampering at the Spa, shopping at a small retail center, or eating at 7 different cuisine themed restaurants plus a barbeque pit – there’s something for everyone.
Shuttles will take you anywhere you want to go on the property, although the spacious grounds allow for a comfortable walk or even a workout run, if desired.
As an all-inclusive resort, this place will truly lend your life a bit of splendor, if you can afford the stay – which prohibitively expensive for me but might be just right for your budget. Check it out online!
Well, I finally made it to Costa Rica! The people and their ways are called “tico” and I’ve been here just long enough to have a tiny bit of it rub off on me. It fits! I love this little beach town we landed in – Brasilito.
My daughter, Vanessa, is along for the ride – for the first two weeks anyway – and adding a ton of fun to my initial in-country experiences, just like she did when we went to the Philippines last year.
After flying Southwest Airlines and landing in the northern city of Liberia around 10:30 pm, we discovered the airport has no ATM! Luckily, they take US dollars or we would have been in trouble. All over SE Asia, I had become used to grabbing some local money in the airports.
A restless, uncomfortable and ridiculously expensive overnight stay in a very basic “airport” hotel in the middle of nowhere, was replaced in the morning by a shuttle ride through lush, green country roads and finally being greeted by Marcello at Hotel Brasilito, directly across from a mile-long stretch of sand.
We have had four fabulous days in this little town – strolling the beach, seeing a whale slapping its tail just beyond the beach, riding a banana boat, spending a few hours playing with the underwater GoPro, visiting nearby ritzy Playa Flamingo, and touring the fantastic Westin Golf Resort (the next post detailing that will blow you away) and tasting the local cuisine – trying a total of six different restaurants. But perhaps the greatest undertaking was learning the true meaning of “Pura Vida”, the national motto which means literally “the pure life.”
Relaxing was the goal for this portion of our trip and boy, did we succeed. Just take a look at the lady in the hammock. Next up Monteverde – monkeys, sloths, aerial canopy walkways and zip-lining – oh, my!
As I traveled around SE Asia for eight months, and even before I left, I was frequently complimented on my bravery for going solo and asked how I was managing to do it. Whether or not I was rich was the number one question (to which I answered a resounding “No”) followed by questions around logistics and finally some form of “I wish I was a brave as you.”
In my fifth month, I began to realize that some people just needed a little push to get out of their everyday grind and into a more exciting life and then decided I was the gal to do the pushing.
I spent two months writing a book, holed up in the little town of Melaka, Malaysia, pouring my heart out and trying to capture as many of the ways a person could pump up their life as possible. The product of that endeavor is Hug a Pink Elephant: Simple Ways to Add Adventure to Your Life.
I filled the book with some exercises, many stories of adventures of all kinds (some of my own and some of my friends’), quotes and action plans. I worked hard at making it light-hearted, a fun read and inspiring.
I hope if any of you are looking for a way to put more adventure into your lives, you’ll give my pink elephant a try!