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Surf & Taste of Pura Vida

Guanacaste Hotwash Report:  March 16-31, 2009


Transportation
Several airlines service Liberia International Airport (LIR) out of the DC, Baltimore and Philadelphia areas. None are non-stop. WAS airports fly American, Delta and Continental (DCA or IAD) which provide connections through Miami or Dallas, Atlanta and Houston, respectively. This year we selected American out of BWI because it was the most convenient for the price (much easier flying out of BWI at 6am than DCA). Flights were very expensive although we could have saved a couple of hundred dollars per ticket if we had waitted until Feb or March to buy out tickets. Next year we will seriously consider flying into San Jose, CR, if it means we can save a couple of hundred dollars per ticket.

American Airlines was our provider again this year. The seating was okay and we were provided with free soft drinks, but only pay-for snacks. We bought a sandwich in Miami during the layover and a sandwich in Liberia at the German Bakery for the return flight. Check-in and security lines on both ends went quickly. Immigration in Miami went smoothly this year, but customs was a mess -- totally unorganized mass of people funneling between the luggage bins into 4 ill-defined lines for customs. It also helped arriving 3 hours before flight departure in Costa Rica to buy your exit card and check your luggage. No problems with luggage making it through this year. The only gripe was Rod being charged to check his paipo board -- he must have caught a miserly old lady as she even went into the back room to get a key for a tape measure and then proceeded to measure his paipo board bag -- $100 charge was the first charge since flying USA3000 six years ago and first time by American in memory (probably about 20 or 30 flights). The irony is that Brett wasn't charged for his surfboard out of Miami.

Connections in Miami usually mean a cubano sandwich and cafe cubano at the La Carreta Restaurant (Terminal D- 2nd Level). At the Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport (Liberia's international airport) there is an upstairs cafeteria accessible before clearing security and migration.Counter service in the waiting area includes drinks and sandwiches (typical airport prices and lousy food). This year we stopped at the German Bakery on the way to the airport to order sandwiches to take away. Very tasty, large enough for two people to share and decently priced.

Other than the return segment from Liberia, check-in and luggage pick-up went smoothly on both ends. No charge for my paipo board. Surfboards were charged $100 each way. All board bags and boards were fine. Pack well and smartly.

Car rental
The past five years we have rented with Dollar. Four years ago we rented three 4WD vehicles and the process went slowly because we needed racks on each one. Three years ago we rented a large 4WD and an intermediate sedan and everything went very smoothly and quickly. Two years we rented a large 4WD and a small 4WD. Last year we rented three large 4WD vehicles (all were diesel). And this year we rented two large 4WD, both diesel. Rates were very good (less than last year); Dollar was at the airport ready to pick us up; and there was no haggling over insurance coverage (we used our credit cards and bought the mandatory Costa Rica insurance, of course, about $15/day). The 4WD was a premium turbo diesel, automatic. The 15-day rental for the large 4WD cost was just under $1,000, inclusive (car, LSI, tax/fees and credit card transaction charge) and Brett's was $520 for 9 days All vehicles were in good shape although mine had alot of mileage; Brett got the last one on the lot on his arrival day - lucky he zoomed out of the airport straight to the Dollar lot. BTW, keep your eye out for diesel/gas wherever you are staying. We did find diesel in a small fishing village. Look for signs as you travel around.

Consider these guys next time: http://www.acerentacar.com/resdetail.aspx (Toyota Rental Car). Other rental car links at this blogspot.

Hotel
This trip we stayed at a villa set above a semi-secret spot we discovered during a previous trip. The villa overlooks several reef breaks in our cove and another reef break about one-quarter mile away. The villa is not fancy but basic air conditioned rooms are available and the setting is perfect, beautifully landscaped and affordable. Benefits inlcude free internet Wi-Fi and a common use internet computer in the lobby. For breakfast, a continental plate is included (it is either a fruit plate or gallo pinto with eggs) with your room and coffee is available all morning. We often ordered something extra off the breakfast menu, e.g., the excellent gallo pinto, huevos rancheros, or excellent homemade pancakes. The home fries are excellente as was the egg, bacon and lettuce sandwich. A safe box is an extra $3/daily. We ate nearly all of our reasonably priced meals at the villa. Several excellent restaurants are nearby, both pricier and less expensive, serving a wide range of foods. The setting was excellent for a group like ours spread over 3 or 4 rooms. All rooms opened to a small walk (30 yards) to the pool. To the east of the pool was the bar and open air dining area and to the west was the ocean with a large grassy area. It was easy to find everyone - we just hung out around the pool, in the bar/dining area or on the grassy green overlooking our surf breaks awaiting for the incoming tides to form up the waves. This year we received preferred customer and cash discounts.

Roads
There are some paved roads from Liberia towards the coast but expect much of the ride to be on graded dirt roads. I like it that way as it keeps out the casual tourist! Green season can be a completely different ball game (as I know so well from my October 1988 trip). Regardless, 4WD is needed to make it through the stream beds we travel to reach some of our surf spots.

Destination
The Guanacaste coast is a good choice for our group because of its easy access by air (Liberia International Airport) and car; a wide range of lodging; diversity of local or nearby surf break types and conditions; and other amenities such as surf board rentals, ATM, bank and other recreational opportunities. The region is varied, offering a wide variety of restaurants and bars plus some shopping opportunities make it an ideal location to take a non-surfing spouse or girl friend. March and April have been good choices since it is the beginning of the season for south/southwest swells but still in the dry season, and usually the offshore Papagayo winds are still blowing. There is a medical clinic in Tamarindo that is adequate for tetanus shots and medicines. Beyond that we can't comment on the quality and access to medical facilities in Tamarindo or Liberia.

The Tamarindo area is experiencing explosive growth: Burger King, KFC and other chains are now in the town. Shops and boutiques galore. Century 21 and other realtors are everything. Beach access along Langosta and Playa Grande is evaporating as houses and villas are built next to each other with endless walls. Other parts of Costa Rica are experiencing similar development. Areas like Tamarindo, Nosara, Jaco and Hermosa have become Little California's, evening touting their SoCal legends as drawing cards such as Robert August, Corky Carroll, etc.
 
Weather
March and April are the hottest months. Expect the Papagayos to blow hard and steady heat across Nicaragua into the Guanacaste region. We survived by taking plenty of dips in the pool or ocean, chilling in our a/c'd villa rooms, drinking lots of cold beer and fruit juices at "sodas" or other places, and slowing down our pace. And drinking copious amounts of water. High temperatures averaged in the upper-90s to low-100s. Lacking rain it makes for very dusty conditions.

Surf conditions There was ridable surf everyday, ranging from waist high to overhead south/southwestly swells -- surf sizes ranged from 2 to 4 feet on the smallest days to solid 8-10' at the standout, outer reef SW exposed breaks. We surfed a range of point and reef breaks -- no beach breaks on this trip. The reef breaks are mostly lava, but include some coral, from smooth to jutting. We lacked the normal Papagayo's strong offshore winds (20+ kts) this year (maybe because of La Niña?); winds tended to start flowing on-shore by mid-morning and could be strong in the afternoon, but we usually had some clean-up late in the afternoon. Water ranged from the upper 70s to 80s. However, we did experience a couple of days with periodic upwelling where the water probably dipped down into the mid- to upper-60s. I remember this one wave that would chill my spine everytime I made a bottom turn on the ride!

Food
A breakfast was included with our room (see "Hotel" above). If you eat comida tipico, i.e., local Costa Rican cuisine, you can do very well. Casado plates are inexpensive, tasty and filling - usually include a choice of meat or fish, rice and beans, a vegetable, potato or yam, and maybe banana chips or egg). There was usually fresh dorado and tuna available. The food is reasonably priced, tasty, and nourishing. You can also eat gringo food for much more.

Water was good and people ate salads and vegetables at the hotels without problem, but caveat emptor wherever you might be.

Crime It exists. Petty crime. During a prior trip, friends had their sandals ripped off during dawn patrols at the Tamarindo Bay beach. Some "kindly" thieves broke into our vehicle at Playa Langosta, relieving us of our backpacks, including some binoculars, lotions and a throwaway camera; relieving me of $40US plus some colones, a large Aloegator and some lens solutions, all these in a plastic bag -- that was my stupid error.  However, they did leave my regular prescription glasses and prescription sunglasses, my lens case and driver's license.  They also locked the vehicle when they were finished! There is also an very evident drug and prostitution business in Tamarindo. Plan accordingly. Nicer out in the country where we stayed early during this year's trip but there was a night watchman with rifle nonetheless.

Money
USA dollars were accepted everywhere, but stick to small currencies for facilitating change (a mix of crisp $20, $10, $5 and $1 dollar bills are best). Some places don't accept large currencies of colones or dollars. If you want to change dollars to colones in the bank you can expect the process to last an hour or more. There are several ATM machines in Tamarindo and at some other places. Warning: the ATM did not accept all ATM/debit cards so you may want to take a couple, i.e., one VISA and one Master Card (my VISA ATM card worked).

My average daily costs (not including airfare) were $105 (this includes car rental and gas share, lodging [I shared a room for 6 nights before my wife joined us], food and drinks at the villa, a few meals at nearby restaurants, and incidentals (water, misc. supplies and tips for the villa housekeepers, waiters/bartenders, cosinera and other staff).

Other expenses You need cash for items like fuel (out in the country), beer and water, and for any meals you might want to buy outside the villa. Many places do not accept credit cards.

Other activities
What else is there besides surfing, eating, reading, drinking and storytelling? DirecTV access was rumored to be available in a recreation room -- none of us ever ventured over there. The open air bar next to the dining area had a TV (if you needed it!).

Surf gear Every one had everything that they needed. We had ample supplies of wax, sunblock, ding repair patch stuff,  towels, duct tape, medical equipment, etc. But, next time I will take a back-up pair of flippers, back-up skegs and plenty extra pairs of contact lenses and lens solutions. Everyone should pack basic medical supplies (see Surfer's List of Supplies below) and ding repair supplies. There are no rental boards near where we stay.

Other gear Don't forget a flashlight and fresh batteries... you will probably need it. It's one of many items on my Traveling Surfer's List of Supplies. Could have used a 3-prong to 2-prong adapter -- Costa Rica used standard USA electrical currents and plugs but our villa did not have a 3-prong outlet.

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Last updated on: 09/14/18