Part one of our Central American adventure is arriving in Costa Rica. This ranged from the the good (surfing in Samara), to the bad (traffic in San Jose), to the ugly (concrete vs colonial charm in San Jose).
Arrival and traffic in San Jose
The first thing that hits you about the Costa Rican capital is the traffic. After a two hour hop to Madrid, followed by an eleven hour flight to San Jose, you ideally don’t want to be sitting for hours in the worst congestion you’ve ever seen. But guess what? That’s exactly what happened.
It’s only about twelve miles from airport to city centre but apparently two hours is a good time (Costa Rica is said to be most eco-friendly country in the world but at this point in traffic, this seemed pretty hard to believe).
Of course, we did have the fact our driver was clearly a frothing-mouthed sociopath intent on murdering everyone on the road to distract us. We’d been in Central America less than an hour and that cab ride is by far the most dangerous thing we’ll do all trip.
San Jose is not the prettiest of cities. If you’re expecting colonial charm then you’re bang out of luck. It’s a concrete jungle and lively enough to entertain for a day or so, but not more. Most people skip it all together, and so after a night in the perfectly lovely and calming Hostel Urbano (a welcome break from the mayhem out on the streets) in the lively San Pedro district, it was off to the beach at Samara on the Pacific coast.
Surfing in Samara
One of the few coastal towns unspoiled by big hotels and resorts, this laid back little place sits behind the palms just off a huge crescent of sandy beach. An offshore reef about a mile out spares it from the full battering force of the Pacific. It also means it’s a top place for beginner surfers – the bracket in which we very firmly sit.
You can get one-on-one lessons for about $60 (£40) from the beachside surf schools. These last a few hours but you also then get to use their boards for free for the rest of the week. Perfect for practicing what you’ve learned. Or, if you’ve already had a few lessons and feel like just taking to the waves for a bit of fun, you can rent boards for $4 an hour or $10 for the whole day.
The waves aren’t huge and can be a little irregular but the water isn’t crowded and warm enough to stay out there all day if you want to (no wetsuits or any of that malarkey here).
Bobbing about waiting for a flurry of waves, drinking in the Costa Rican sun and gazing along the palm-lined beach is not a bad way to spend the day. In the evening, you can ride horses into the sunset and at night, pop into one of the bars and restaurants hidden in the trees for a couple of bottles of the local good stuff.
Rent a bike and make the short and beautiful ride to the neighbouring Carillo beach. No bars or restaurants here, just palm trees and the ocean. Place like this surely only exist in TV adverts right? Wrong, and we’ve got the proof. See below.
In Samara, we stayed virtually on the beach in the incredibly friendly and accommodating Cuisine Miguel. Hosts Sarah and Miguel will make you feel very welcome, just like you’re at home. And food lovers should definitely try and muscle in one of Miguel’s evening dinners. Book in early as space at the table is in high demand.
Costa Rica cost a lot?
It has to be said, Costa Rica is not cheap (£6 for shampoo? I don’t think so). Certainly not cheap for Central America but neither is it going to cripple you financially. Expect to pay a little less than you would in the UK but don’t go thinking you can order the whole menu and still have cash in your pocket.
All in all though, a pretty decent start to the trip. Sun, sea, sand and surfing in Samara. Can’t see it getting any worse than this.
Check out the Central America discounts available to our members.