have family. Will travel. Visiting the Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica with 2 teens, a baby and grandparents

This was our third visit to the country but first to the Caribbean Coast. We visited the area of Jaco in 2012 and Tamarindo in 2013. The differences between the two coasts were apparent as soon as we drove down from the mountain region around San Jose and headed towards Playa Chiquita. The Pacific side is sunny and pretty accessible. Climate on the Caribbean side is more tropical with unpredictable, with heavy rainfall, and the area is undeveloped in comparison. So, why would we want to put ourselves through a 5 hour flight and a 6 hour drive to our destination? With an 11 month old baby! It all seemed a little crazy but when there is a will, there is a way as they say. Little Alicja is not a fussy baby and proved to be a very patient and generally happy traveller.

There are a lot of banana plantations near the coast. Lots of trucks too...hauling wood, fruits and animals.

Staying in rental houses for a few weeks is currently our preferred mode of travel. It offers a good compromise between a few comforts and the ability to experience the local surroundings and culture. We couldn't rough it too much (remember...the baby!) during this trip. Besides, we already did that when we went tent camping to Algonquin Park two weeks before Costa Rica. Traveling in a group is all about compromises and I was willing to make a few, as long as the area offered ample photo opportunities.

This is us in front of our house and pool. Alicja can't believe her parents were crazy enough to take her into the jungle.

Visiting new places makes me feel like a kid in a candy store. I love the planning, especially when it's somewhere we haven't been before. Come to think of it, I work and live for these trips. They awaken my sense of wonder and fulfill my curiosity for the unknown. I hope that some of this rubs off on our kids and they not only rest and have fun but also learn and appreciate the different people, cultures and places. Moving on...

First day in our house. It had a wrap-around veranda on the first floor with a hammock and a couch. The view was beautiful.

Even though we knew that the area we were travelling to was pretty remote, we were still surprised just how vast, beautiful, and humbling the jungle is. The noises, the smell and the lushness of the vegetation are simply overpowering. There is so much life everywhere, all that's needed is to stop, look, and listen.

Pura vida!

We brought a stroller but it was pretty useless, even in the town of Puero Viejo. We ended up carrying Alicja or carrying the stroller with her inside, which, by the way, she liked a lot. Note to self for next time...city strollers are for cities. A jogging stroller with big wheels is much better suited for Costa Rica.

The trail leading to the beach. Very rustic and lush.

Costa Rica is known for it's stunning beaches. Playa Chiquita, the one closest to our house, definitely did not disappoint.

Playa Chiquita
Pura Vida!

Playa Chiquita is secluded and it stretches for as long as the eye can see. Actually, walking along the shore in both directions will take you to other beaches which are all unique.

Heading south towards Punta Uva, which usually has calmer surf and is wider than Playa Chiquita.

Playa Cocles is on the way towards Puerto Viejo de Talamanca. Here, the waves get bigger, making the spot a favourite with surfers and boogie boarders.

Playa Cocles in the distance.
Playa Cocles is characterized by the small rocky island a few hundred meters off the coast.

One day, I headed towards Playa Cocles hoping to see some surfers in action. I met a group of 3 guys looking for good sorf and asked if I could tag along and take photos.

The people I've met on this trip are drawn to the area because of it's ruggedness and remoteness. They come here to get away from the hustle and bustle of cities. Some stay for months picking up odd jobs and chill out on the beach. Others come here to get away from crazy politics of their home countries and start new lives. Everyone loves the climate, the ocean and the the laid back life. Pura Vida! Here are some of the people I've met and photographed during our two week stay.

Costa Rica is also known for it's abundant wildlife. During our previous trips to the Pacific Coast of the country, we had to seek out the animals, go to a refuge, or the animals could be heard from the distance. Well not this time. Our house was right in the middle of the action.

One of the highlights of our trip was our visit to The Ara Project, high up the mountain top, above the tree tops of the jungle. It was an awesome educational (and photographic) experience seeing these colourful and majestic birds in the wild.

The Ara Project was a great learning experience.
Our driver Gregorio (black T-shirt) talking to the manager of the Ara Project and macaw guru.
Veronika and Isabella give the tour a "thumbs up". Gregorio is happy to drive us back and go home to rest.
A view of a canopy of a mountain almond tree. According to the macaw guru, this tree is at least 250 years old. The macaws are drawn to the area because the fruit is their preferred food source.

We also learned how to make chocolate. We traveled to the Bribri Indigenous Reserve, located in the stunning foothills of the Cordillera de Talamanca Limon. The reserve is one of the most distinct cultural communities in Costa Rica. It is estimated that there are only about 10,000 to 35,000 Bribri descendants still living today!

The process of chocolate making out of cacao beans.

Catato, our Indigenous guide is also a herbalist and shaman. He showed us how his people used (and still use) the trees and plants of the jungle in everyday life, to treat ailments and to hunt.

Harry was our driver and translator on this trip. His car was very rustic but he made up for it with his sense of humour and willingness to answer any questions we had.

Our next trip was to Cahuita National Park. We were finally able to put Alicja in her stroller. The trail is very walkable and it's parallel to the beach. It was a beautiful and hot day and the shade from the giant trees was a welcome relief.

After Cahuita National Park, our driver Gregorio suggested checking out a waterfall within the Bribri Indian Reservation. I was a bit concerned about the weather as dark clouds started to gather in the mountains. Gregorio assured us that no rain was in the forecast and the trail to the waterfall is very walkable with a baby ("no problem" he said) I later told him that he a good driver but a bad weatherman.

It was an exhausting day. Despite the loud reggaeton music playing in the house, Alicja was out. Gregorio picked us up right after the downpour stopped. He said that the weather in the mountains is pretty unpredictable and he was just being optimistic.

The closest town to our house was Puerto Viejo de Talamanca. This is where we came to shop for groceries, get cash, Sunday mass, and buy souvenirs.

One of our favourite local spots was "Chocorart". The plantation is "owned and operated by a Swiss couple who harvest, ferment and cook cacao in the same traditional manner that the Mayan Indians used for thousands of years." We skipped the cocoa tour since we already did one a few days earlier. Instead, we went to their cafe before hitting the beach. THE MOST DELICIOUS LIQUID CHOCOLATE EVER!

I had a double shot of pure cacao with ginger, cinnamon and a hint of hot paprika. Very rich tasting and the hot pepper flavour just tickled my throat enough, very subtle.

We made a travel budget before leaving home and the only way to stick to it meant that we would stay away from restaurants and cook at home. This is where my wife's father stepped up to the plate, kept us fed, the fridge stocked with necessities and the kitchen tidy. Ladies and gents, I give you chef Bogdan and his meals.

To be fair, everyone helped out in the kitchen. Veronika make some delicious desserts...

And I made breakfast burritos.


We established some kitchen rules on day 1 (eg. everyone has to wash their own dishes) and the rest of our vacation was conflict free and smooth.

Shopping for groceries was sometimes an eye watering experience. We knew that it wasn't going to be cheap because of the low Canadian dollar and the remoteness of the region. But we weren’t prepared for 4 avocados for $10 Canadian in the fancy air-conditioned supermarket. We did find a cheaper alternative store with pretty good selection and better prices but it felt like a sauna in there. An acceptable compromise in our books. Playa Chiquita also has a local supermarket that carries all the basics but is somewhat expensive. There is also a local baker, an ice-cream shop and a few restaurants catering mostly to expats and tourists. Below are pictures of the neighbourhood.

The first five photos are of a local restaurant we went to. It was expensive, the food was mediocre and the service was crap. They had a live band though and a few neighbourhood drunks who were entertaining. The last two photos are of an ice cream shop called "Alice". It's owned by an American family and their treats are organic and made in-house. Delicious!
The top four photos are of a house on the way to the beach where one can get a massage.
The area is rustic and beautiful. However, change seems to be on the horizon; land is being parcelled off and sold to developers.

Here are some more photos of Playa Chiquita.

In closing, the trip was a huge success. Although I wish we could have stayed longer, two weeks just about hit the spot. Maybe we can come back here when Alicja is a little older. In the meantime, I started thinking about our next little adventure.

Created By
Robert Dombaj


Robert Dombaj

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