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Three Perfect Days: Costa Rica

This eco-paradise is the perfect place to embark on a Central American safari, and if you plan well, you can even have the monkeys mostly to yourself

Author Jacqueline Detwiler Photography Al Argueta

A surfer pulls tricks in Dominical

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DAY THREE | Standing barefoot and bleary-eyed before an enormous picture window, you experience a sense of calm that remains with you until the very moment you remember that you have to drive back down the mountain you’re on. But you make it, one quaking hand on the emergency brake, and stop for a celebratory banana, pineapple and papaya smoothie at The Dome Drive-Thru to soothe your nerves. You’re going to need them unfrayed for today’s activity—rafting the Class II-III rapids on the Rio Savegre.

Compared to the double-decker sandwich of rafts on its roof, the riverbound bus from Dominical Surf Adventures is a delicate thing, a hippie van with flap-out seats and windows that let in the slap of head-high branches and leaves. Jeudy, one of the two river guides, can’t resist sticking an arm out periodically to grab bits of vegetation and demonstrate their functions. In short order, he hands you peppercorns, lemongrass, cinnamon bark, citronella berries and teak leaves, the last of which were once used by Native Americans to make ceremonial paint.

Covered in red teak juice, you emerge from the van at the put-in. A few instructions are dispensed. “Adelante” means paddle forward. “Alto” means stop. If you hit a dangerous rapid—you’re a little nervous about one called “gringo eater”—you are to lean toward the center of the raft and hold on to the side to avoid being tossed into the drink. This all sounds very ominous, but it turns out to be one of the purest distillations of fun you’ve ever experienced. Rounding a bend, you pass a horse standing alone in a field. It observes you placidly. You observe it boisterously. You stop at a waterfall (of course), and take turns jumping off a ledge behind the water sheet into the roiling plunge pool.

On the way back, the van stops beside a thatch-roofed restaurant overlooking an African Palm grove. It’s the sole eatery in the wonderfully named co-op farming town El Silencio. The whole roast fish with rice and beans, cheese and salad, with a tasty glass of mora—a traditional drink made of blackberry juice, water and sugar—is almost as refreshing as changing into dry clothes.

When you return to Dominical, the sun has gilded the ocean on its diurnal slide to the end of the waves, which means the surfers are eking out a few last rides before heading home. About 30 locals have turned out to watch them, sitting on bony washed-up logs with plastic cups of wine. A few dogs pace anxiously in the sand, each finally yelping in happiness and pairing off with a surfer when he takes his last wave in.

At twilight, the sunset-watchers head to Tortilla Flats, which is such a consummate beach bar that it seems to have achieved peak beach bar–ness. Less than 100 yards from the waves, it’s shaded by a clutch of greenery and a sheet-metal roof. Dreadlocked surfers laze on wooden stools, drinking Imperials and munching on guacamole. You take a seat and order one of the casados—a plate of roast meat with salad, rice and beans—with your own side of guacamole. You’ll save the drinking for after the drive to the hotel, thank you.

Back at Rancho Pacifico, exhausted in the best possible way, you settle in at the high-top bar by the pool. A pair of excitable bartenders is creating spirited takes on mojitos and gimlets just for you, watching closely to make sure you approve. You lean back, breathing in the rainforest mist and listening to the chorus of frogs. Though the restaurant, pool and bar are uninhabited save you and the barkeeps, upon closer inspection it’s clear your surroundings are pura vida.  

Senior editor JACQUELINE DETWILER absolutely did not take one of those adorable red-eyed tree frogs back to New York with her and, furthermore, has no idea what you’re talking about.

4 Responses to “Three Perfect Days: Costa Rica”

  1. Costa Rica Curious Says:
    December 1st, 2013 at 7:59 am

    Thanks for the great 3 day tour. I love reading about all of the beach areas. I retired early with my wife to the hills of Grecia, a small coffee farming community, in June of this year and other than Jaco have not ventured too far out. Your descriptions are motivating.

  2. jay friedman Says:
    December 8th, 2013 at 9:20 pm

    great article. we have owned our home in ojochal since 2007. very well written and researched. just scratched the surface of the costa ballena. you should have eaten with marcella at citrus! anyway, our little 25 mile stretch from Dominical to Ojochal, is, as the author suggests “magico”!

    pura vida.


  3. Nikki Whelan Says:
    January 13th, 2014 at 1:44 pm

    Great article about our area! Keep it coming! Check out more about our area: http://www.ballenatales.com. The local news and travel guide magazine!

  4. sibbald doan Says:
    February 12th, 2014 at 8:38 pm

    So great to read an accurate promotion of the central Pacific. It is such a glorious lace with the best people in the world

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