Pura vida

Vamos a la Playa: Exploring the beaches of Costa Rica

More stories from Alanna Huggett

Pura Vida
May 15, 2019

Third time’s the charm.

That’s what I told myself as I sat on the cool air-conditioned coach bus traveling once again to Manuel Antonio — a beach my friends and I love to visit here in sunny Costa Rica.

With it being my third time traveling to Manuel Antonio, the place was familiar to me as if I were going to stay at my cabin up north in Wisconsin. We all knew where to eat, the best hostel to stay at and who to haggle to buy beach chairs and umbrellas.

I’ve been fortunate now to have visited both the Pacific Ocean side and the Caribbean Sea side of Costa Rica. Here’s what I’ve learned:

  • It’s hot. Whether chilling on the beach in Jacó or swimming in the waves at Puerto Viejo, it’s hot and humid. The only clothing a person will want to wear is a swimsuit, and I highly recommend layering on the sunscreen as the sun’s rays are muy fuerte (very strong).
  • The water is warm. Both the Pacific and the Caribbean have beautiful sand beaches and the water, for me, was surprisingly warm the first time. I’m used to refreshingly chilly lakes, so the warm waters of the Pacific are more than welcome.
  • Respect the waves. I learned the hard way that you should watch out for some the waves. They can be a lot of fun to swim in but some of those whitecaps can just as easily take you out. It’s easy to avoid the more dangerous waves — just keep a weather eye on the horizon (Pirates of the Caribbean reference, anyone?) and everything will be pura vida. I’ve also seen people surfing here and the waves seem perfect for it.
  • People will bring you food right to your beach chair. At Manuel Antonio, we were frequently approached by local ticos selling their wares, which could vary anywhere from ceviche, pulseras (bracelets), wood bowls, painted bird calls, necklaces, coconuts and snow cones. There’s a lot of variety.

My favorite place to visit on the Pacific side so far has been Manuel Antonio. There’s a beautiful national park there and you can see sloths — real, live sloths. It’s wild.

I didn’t think I’d actually see them (kind of like how you never actually see a moose or a bear), but I saw several sloths, both inside the park and outside. Manuel Antonio also has cheap peanut butter (an expensive item here) and several restaurants and touristy-shops to buy souvenirs.

My favorite place on the Caribbean side so far has been Puerto Viejo. The town itself is literally right on the ocean.

A person can walk 5 feet and dip their toes into the warm water. However one should probably bring a raincoat as it’s more likely to rain there.

There are many places to buy handmade jewelry, and bikes are a popular method of travel here and relatively inexpensive and easy to rent.

Whether soaking up the sun’s rays on the Caribbean or catching some waves on the Pacific, both are great ways to enjoy the pura vida lifestyle here in Costa Rica.

Alanna Huggett can be reached at [email protected].