Ok, so I’ve lured you in with a bit of classic alliteration mixed in with some drug reference regarding Central America’s Jewel of The Crown, Costa Rica. Truth be told, I stay well away from the booga sugar out here, that shit’s not me, but underneath the roots of the picturesque palm trees shadowing perfect beach breaks, the San Diego ex-pats and their art cafes spreading the love with $10 smoothies and the pura vida lifestyle, lies a vicious little vortex intent on sucking you into the killer vida deathtrap.
Bit harsh actually, and only those with open eyes can see the seedy underbelly as you are blinded by the physical beauty of the country and only those with dark intentions will get sucked in. You’ve seen the perfect marketing pics used to promote holidays selling the “last few spaces” on surf and yoga camps and you’ve heard the term “Paradise” used in countless social media posts to describe the sleepy surf towns, but Cocaine capital of Central America aside Costa Rica is beautiful, its truly a place that you have to visit, to understand, appreciate and feel pure life; Pura Vida.
You step out of the airport and inhale a large lungful of the surprisingly un-humid and gloriously fresh air, you see that you are surrounded by the lungs of the earth; there are rainforest all around you, surrounded by active Volcanoes towering into the clouds extending as far as the horizon. It’s all really breath-taking stuff and you’re only in Alajuela, sweating in the Miami style sun with thirty Tico Taxi touts offering their services in Miami Vice accents.
Usually being a budget conscious surf traveller you would wave off such hassle with your Lonely Planet Guide but there’s no need to be so dismissive, on the contrary, from the moment you step out of the plane, you are in welcome arms, so enjoy the embrace. I’ve been in arrivals at San Jose Airport a dozen times and every time I’ve used this genuine service of getting guided to a legit taxi from an enthusiastic Costa Rican who doesn’t even expect, let alone ask, for a tip.
But don’t get me wrong, Costa Ricans can hustle and are seemingly pretty good at business as their country boasts the strongest economy in Central America, but they are also very helpful, kind and proud people who welcome responsible tourism, as the old saying (that I think one of my Wavelength brethren made up) goes; “act as a guest and you’ll be treated like a local” and to quote myself “master the vocals hang with the locals”, so welcome arms are always outstretched for respectful travelers.
Costa Rica is also a legend and pioneer of green energy. The richest and safest Central American country has generated 100% of its electricity from renewable energy sources for the past four months and aims to go a whole year running on 100% renewable energy, beating it’s impressive effort of 99% last year (according to the Costa Rican Electricity Institute).
Pura Vida is the national saying, it means pure life, which basically means love; love to the land, the ocean, the environment and the people. Fair enough there’s some seedy antics but for a country that doesn’t have an army, the hostility is low, the vibes are good, the people are passionate, friendly and welcoming.
As well as a lot of love, there’s a lot of incredible food. The history of Caribbean and Latin influences combined with the country’s natural treasures means that local dishes are delicious yet simple and traveller-budget friendly. Think the freshest fish caught straight from the ocean, organic local produce growing around your head and Costa Rican Coffee is the best in the world.
But we come here for the waves, so to summarise think Fistral at it’s best, every day and 29 degrees. As the country sits right by the Equator and is vulnerably open to the Pacific Ocean, this means swells from both the Northern Hemisphere (November – March), and the Southern Hemisphere (pretty much year-round). To put it simply, the Carribean Coast is pumping and offshore for six months of the year, and the Pacific Coast pumps all year round.
If you’re a Costa Rica virgin, you’re going to want to head down to the Pacific Coast for the daily offshores, solid swell and relentless sun. Tamarindo used to be the hotspot, but this is full of ex pat Americans trying to get their slice of the Casado and it’s pretty much tropical San Diego. So I’d suggest heading further south to the sleepy surf town Santa Teresa, or the ‘Bad Lands’ Mal Pais (stay at Don Jons Surf Lodge). The vibes here are good and genuinely hippy’esque, the waves are friendly yet challenging (Fistral firing every day), you will remember the food as much as the barrels and the local’s slightly gangster hold over property development means that there aren’t that many places to stay, therefore it still remains sleepy…ish.
If you want to get a bit more juice out of the waves and more grunt out of the nightlife, then head further south to Jaco and the ‘Beautiful Beach’ Player Hermosa. The barrels here really do live up to its literal name. Jaco itself is a bit sketchy though and all the druggies seem to hang around here, so be a bit more careful at night.
Then there’s the cream of the crop even further south, Pavones. This is probably the longest (warm water) left hander in the world, which works at 2ft and holds up to triple overhead. Unlike the majority of Costa Rican surf towns that have been engulfed by tourism, Pavones feels like you’re surfing back in time. It’s extremely desolate and simply hard to reach, so crowds aren’t a problem and if you do want to go on a real soul searching surf trip there are 10 miles of different beaches, with waves in the area, which lines the untouched Golfo Dulce region. Serious surfing in Jurassic Park shit.
To switch the vibes up completely, the Caribbean Coast cranks through our Winter, with the surf town Puerto Viejo de Talamanca being the best place to base yourself. It’s a proper Rasta town, with the aroma of chronic filling the air and Bob Marley’s greatest hits playing in most of the bars and sodas, but the waves are far from chilled. Salsa Brava is the scariest wave I’ve ever surfed, as it jacks up out of nowhere after hitting the reef then seems to break below sea level. It’s probably best experienced from the health food café that overlooks it, sipping a chai tea eating some organic banana and coconut bread. The more user-friendly beach Playa Cocles is only a couple of miles down the road.
There’s also some really cool nature stuff to do on this side of the country, with various animal protection organisations in the area. So you can surf a death slab in the morning, refuel with breakfast at a sloth sanctuary, help out at a Jaguar foundation at lunch, get some friendly afternoon delight at Playa Cocles, dance with the devil over dinner, then save some baby turtles from certain death by releasing them into the sea at moonlight, whilst dodging crocodiles. A pretty action packed itinerary for a charmingly chilled Rasta Town.
Basically I’ve fallen in love with this beautiful little country and its people. I’m in constant contact with the friends for life that I’ve made in Costa Rica which ensures that the Surf & Yoga Adventures I run for Ticket to Ride are the best they can be for our crew, whilst working with the local community, ensuring we put back into the local economy, meaning everyone’s happy.
To be respectful of the worries the locals have on tourism growth, instead of selling to the masses and getting the margins high, we set a limited amount of spaces and only run one trip per year due to the airports proximity to the rainforest, thus giving a handful of Ticket to Ride customers the true Pura Vida experience.
With the demand for Costa Rica being so high, this may not make great business sense, actually it definitely doesn’t make great business sense as my bosses pointed out but Costa Rica is a very precious place that it isn’t there to be exploited and I respect that. Pura Vida mang.