Costa Rica bound: After a long 2 weeks in the Gulf of Fonseca, we were finally entering the waters of Costa Rica. With the black flag slalom through fishing long lines and nets behind us (temporarily at least), we were excited to raise our Costa Rican flag that had been sitting patiently in its bag for the past 2 years. You see, we were very close to going last year, but the additional fees and regulations associated with entering the country at the height of the pandemic prevented us. So, the excitement that had been building over the past year was palpable as we passed 11 degrees latitude and headed southbound for our first anchorage in Costa Rica.
To pull into Bahia Santa Elena, drop the hook, shut down the engine and listen to the sounds of silence…peppered with the distant call of parrots and howler monkeys…was a spiritual experience. We had opted for the overnight passage from the Gulf of Fonseca, recognizing the Nicaraguan coastline, while beautiful, offered little protection from wind and swell. Bahia Santa Elena on the other hand has nearly 360 degrees of protection and aside from some afternoon winds and squalls, we barely moved…just heavenly! We didn’t see another soul for 3 days except for our buddy boats and one fishing boat on entry to the bay. I hadn’t experienced stillness like this since Baja and it was what we all needed after a dynamic 2 weeks of dodging fishing nets, gusts, and squalls. We basked in the tranquility of the area and after having had our fill of Zen, it was time to officially check into the country.
We pulled into Playa del Cocos with plans to assess the beach landing for our dinghy to get to the airport for check-in, but it just wasn’t meant to be. Immediately after anchoring, the wind and swell picked up to an uncomfortable level (22+ kts), the beach looked untenable by dinghy, and it was crowded with some questionable looking boats on moorings on one side with a reef on the other. Surrounded by red tide, with the swell increasing, we decided to wave off and go with plan B for check-in: paying our agent as originally planned at the marina. We rounded the point to head further into Bahia Papagayo seeking a more comfortable anchorage near the marina until we could secure plans for check-in to both the marina and the country. What we found was incredible! Clear water, beautiful beach surrounded by lush greenery, and…could it be….recycling bins all along the beach?!?!? Welcome to Costa Rica!
Arriving at Marina Papagayo was complete culture shock after living primitively at anchor for the 3 weeks prior. Check-in was fairly seamless and not all the hype we had prepared for. Nestled in a tropical resort-like setting with fellow Panama Posse cruisers all around us, we felt fortunate to be settled in to work on some much-needed projects for the week. We weren’t on the docks long before I heard my first “¡Pura Vida!” greeting which just brought a smile to my face. Quincy, we’re not in Mexico anymore. We encountered our first white-faced capuchin monkeys in the surrounding trees and howler monkeys closer than I’ve ever seen; all at the marina – who knew?! After a week of finishing anticipated projects and starting a few unanticipated ones however, it was time to head south.
Six days of day-hop passage making does not a happy sailor make. Like many other passages, we choose whether to do overnights or day hops to get from one location to the other – both have their pros and cons. Some were short days and some were longer as we always seem to fall victim to curiosity about certain anchorages and therefore, make many more stops than one needs to. During these passages, everything we heard from fellow cruisers about Costa Rica and rolly anchorages proved correct. The flopper stopper was working overtime desperately attempting to keep our big girl from rolling side to side when the wind stopped and left us subject to the large rollers from the Pacific, cooking and dining was….sporty, and sleep…ha ha ha…who needs sleep?! Not to mention most bays were filled with red tide which collectively meant several days of staying on the boat. Like many passages, this one was wrought with engine “adventures”, a temperamental autopilot, an unexpected tow (by us), and a kitty that just wants to explore new parts of her rolling home at sea. The passage making reveals all vulnerabilities.
On the 6th day, we left Bahia Ballena (probably the least rolly of all) bound for Isla Tortugas where we hoped we could stay for a few days. What a treasure! We dropped the anchor around the corner from the main tourist beach and had a beautiful white sand beach with coconut palms and shade trees all to ourselves with decent protection from wind and swell. Thus far, this has been our favorite stop. In the cool evenings, we could smell the fragrant blossoms from shore. The red tide was somewhat transient out here and we managed to find enough clear water to swim and enjoy the beautiful beach. The kids meet up with kids from S/V Kyrie, all find an appropriate weapon (stick) and immediately pick up where they left off on the previous beach exploration game. We dinghied over to the main tourist drop off beach and made the landmark decision that it was time to officially shift gears from tequila to rum. The idea of drinking iced rum and coconut water out of a freshly macheted coconut, was just too irresistible. I smile as I sip shamelessly through my ecofriendly paper straw and think to myself “And so it begins, adios tequila, bring on the rum!” We sit at a makeshift beach bar and take in the scenery: The bartender shoos a colorful peacock away from the bar, the banana boat drivers intentionally dump their screaming crew into the water for a dip before pulling into shore, a bikini-clad girl asks if she can fit two people on her rental SUP to explore the bay and young bathing beauties – both male and female, attempt to take the perfect selfie with a pristine tropical beach backdrop (in some very entertaining poses I might add!). After so long of cruising in silence and isolation, with tourism shut down or avoided during the pandemic, it was a joy to see people enjoying life again.
The final day in this bay we woke up to crystal clear water. I should add that part of cruising in Costa Rican waters means doing the log slalom. Between the many rivers and abundance of rainfall, the ocean is often cluttered with not only logs, but branches, leaves, and other debris. But not this morning: still, crystal clear water – time to go paddling! Between the low tide and the clear water, we kept second guessing our depth sounder. Although anchored comfortably for the 8-9 foot tidal shift, we knew it shoaled up quickly and we were surrounded by a rocky reef which was now all too visible from my SUP. Both Teagan and Kellyn came with me for the brief paddle into shore for some beach combing and exploring. The turtles that we had been watching from afar on the surface were now right below us feeding on the sea grass. We dinghy Quincy in to shore for a quick run and by 0800 we’re all back on the boat with boards stowed ready for breakfast and school. Days like this are rare, but such a treat.
We broke up our island time with a quick stop-off to Curú wildlife preserve in search of animals and horseback riding. For $45, the four of us entered the park and for an extra $15 per person, we were able to horseback ride through the lush farmlands and jungle. We regrettably did very little trail exploration before it was time for our horseback ride. During that brief time however, we saw lots of deer, iguanas, and butterflies; and heard the cries of macaws and howler monkeys high up in the trees. The heat once again reminded us of our limits and after the hour-long ride, we opted for lunch at their cafeteria (comfortingly reminiscent of Girl Scout camp) and headed back to our very rolly Tulum V. The four-leggeds on board were so happy to be “rescued” from the pitching movement of the boat that they seemed to overlook our aroma of horses and cheeseburgers….CHEATERS! This preserve would be amazing to explore further in the right anchoring conditions from the boat or perhaps as a long term stay in their lodging facilities. But for us, the island was beckoning us back.
Cruisers’ views on Costa Rica have been very polarized; either loving their experiences and all the country has to offer (it IS amazing after all) or recommending bypassing it by boat and visiting by land due to the rolly anchorages, spirited beach landings, and costly marinas and anchorages. Thus far, we’re happy with our decision to visit in our boat. We braced ourselves for the rolly anchorages and will continue to do so down the coast, but just like southern Mexico, anything open to the Pacific is subject to significant swell unless you can find good protection. We also realize that our experiences may differ from other cruisers who cruised during “the dry season” as we experience the predominant swell from the south and just accept that the daily rain, as Luke Bryan says, is a good thing (but lightning still gets our attention). People are friendly, I’m impressed with the eco-conservation initiatives, and the beaches are clean. We’ve only scratched the surface on La Pura Vida, but I get the vibe and understand why so many love this country.
Tulum-5 is happily (and slowly) cruising Costa Rica, heading to Panama through the summer as we move through hurricane season before moving on. Not yet if we’ll turn south to South America, north toward Mexico or go east to Jamaica once hurricane season is over…we’re still working through best options.
The HelmsMistress loves writing these posts for you so that you get a taste of cruising through her voice and style and we continue to feed on your energy as we try to grow and expand this website. Wanna ask her questions or leave comments? Go For It! Wanna buy us a beer, check our our Patreon Site by clicking the link.
Have a great Weds!