Central and Southern Costa Rica

Wednesday, March 12, 2014
Costa Rica

008-41.876 N
083-40.000 W
Marine forecast for this location

Ahoy from the crew of the BlueJacket!

Lush greenFor the past two weeks we've been in an area loosely defined as central and southern Costa Rica. Depending upon which guide book you read, is covers different areas, but for the purpose of this blog, it's basically from the Gulf of Nicoya to the Panama border. This is a very wet area, with some locations getting 15 feet of rain a year. Luckily we're here while it's still dry, as I sure wouldn't want to deal with the heat in boat that's closed up due to rain. It's a very lush area, with intense green from all kinds of plants and trees that certainly aren't local to the northeast US!

We've been told that March is the hottest month and I can believe it. Just before sunrise it's still 78F with a dew point that closely matches the temperature. During the day it typically reaches the low 90s. The water temperature is around 85, so getting into it doesn't provide much comfort. The good news is that there are no flying bugs! I'm sure that those of you suffering through this intense winter are having a hard time feeling sympathy, but just think about dew points in the upper 70s and low 80s...

Fishing villageOur first stop in the Gulf of Nicoya was a place named Bahia Ballena. We originally dropped our anchor in front of a small fishing village, but Sue didn't like the look and feel of it, so we moved a quarter of a mile around the bay and anchored in front of the town of Tambor, which was quite lovely with a grocery store that had an amazing number of products and a hotel constructed out of exotic woods which were varnished to perfection.

Hand-lining fishOne of the interesting things that we've never seen before is that the locals wade chest-high out into the water and hand-line fish. There is an amazing number of seabirds filling the sky all of the time. and there's a river that you can enter at high tide with your dinghy which has a large amount of wildlife. Unfortunately the outflow of the river clouds the water, so you really don't want to swim in it.

MontazumaAfter a good night at anchor, we wanted to travel to the town of Montezuma. We had sailed past it on the way the Ballena, but the anchorage is much more exposed, so we decided not to stop. However, it's a quintessential Costa Rican surfer town and we wanted to see it. Luckily another boat had arranged for a van to take them and some friends there, so we hopped aboard and headed there. When we got there we found exactly what was described: a town full of surfer covered with ink. You could wander down the streets filled with surf shops and restaurants and see people people smoking joints on the street without a care in the world. Very laid back!

Montazuma fallsThere's a series of waterfalls which are located outside of town, so we headed towards them. The first waterfall is a bit of a hike over boulders and the river, but nothing extreme. The next waterfall requires a LOT more effort to get to and we decided not to do it in the mid-day heat. However, the first waterfall was absolutely beautiful with a wonderful pool at the base of it where people swam. Some locals provided entertainment by jumping from extremely high points along the waterfall. I guess that several people a year kill themselves doing this, so I decided against it...

After lunch in town overlooking the beautiful shown above, we headed back to the boat and found that our nice anchorage had turned quite bumpy. We had our flopper-stopper out, which kept us from rolling too badly, but a 29' Hunter sailboat was rolling side to side. I went over and asked if I could help them by putting out a stern anchor or something, but they declined and moved across the bay to the N anchorage. A little while later another boat did the same and as the sun was going down, we decided to do the same. Just as we arrived we got a call from yet another boat who asked about the conditions. They moved over and finally after dark, Neil and Peggy from Night Sky, arrived back at their boat only to find the anchorage deserted. They called over and I help guide them into a safe location where we all enjoyed a peaceful night at anchor.

Preserve at CuruThe next day we headed further up the Gulf of Nicoya to Bahia Curu which has a private nature preserve. Peggy, Neil, Sue & I headed ashore to explore it and we hiked some of the trails in the preserve. Some of them were wonderful and had quite a bit of wildlife and at one point we could hear Howler monkeys calling to one another from the tree canopy, but we could never find them.

FishAfter exploring Curu we headed a few miles out into the bay to a set of islands known as Tortugas (turtles). The diving and snorkeling were supposed to be good and I had some new underwater photo equipment that I needed to test out, so I immediately fired up the dive compressor and filled some tanks. Once that was done we headed out to the smallest of the 2 rock spires and I did some photography while Sue snorkeled. Visibility wasn't great, but it served my purpose and Sue got to see some nice fish. After reviewing my photo results and making some equipment changes, we headed out to the larger rock and I did some more tests, which turned out much better.

After spending a couple of nights at Isla Tortuga we headed across the gulf to the town of Herradura which is also home to Marina Los Suenos, which is home to a large fleet of sports fishing boats. Believe me, they don't want us sailboat riffraff in there, as they charge something like $4/ft and charge dinghies from the anchorage $50/day to come in and use their restaurants or shop in their chandlery. No thanks! Unfortunately the anchorage at Herradura doesn't offer anything either, so we departed the next morning for Quepos.

White faced capucian monkeyQuepos is located near the Manuel Antonio national park, which according to the guide books is one of the must-see attractions in Costa Rica. Unfortunately this area is also known for a lot of petty theft (and as one cruiser put it, petty theft is a national sport), so we pulled into the Marina Pez Vella so that we could easily get to the park and safely leave the boat.

Baby iguanaBased upon our other nature tours, we headed to the park at 7 AM so that we could see the animals and birds when they were most active. A guide coordinator approached us immediately upon arriving and for the sum of $20/pp we joined a group of 3 other people and started hiking down the main road which leads into the park. This is the only road in and out of the park and all of the park vehicles use it as well as all of the other tourists. These tours are supposed to last 1.5 hours and it appears that in order to make it last that long that the guides stop and show every minute piece of nature that they can find in the 1.3 km that you have to walk. Perhaps I'm a bit jaded by all of the up close and personal tours that we previously had done, but this wasn't for me. I will say that other cruisers who hadn't done the touring that we had very much enjoyed the tour and park. For me the best part was the White Faced Capucian monkeys that we had never seen before.

From Quepos we headed to Dominicalito which is just an anchorage to break up the trip to Bahia Drake. It provided a good night's sleep, but if I were to do it over again, I would head to Uvita and check out the snorkeling and diving there.

White Tipped Reef SharksAfter Dominicalito we made the 40 mile jump to Drake Bay, which is next to Corcovado national park and Isla Cano, which has some of the best diving in Costa Rica. Immediately after arriving we headed ashore to book diving for myself and snorkeling for Sue, Peggy and Neil. The next morning the dive boat stopped at our boats and picked us up on their way to Isla Cano.

The snorkelers got in first and then they took the 4 divers to our first location, which strangely was the shallower of the two. I guess that they wanted to check us out before heading to the deeper, more difficult dive. We were treated to lots of White Tipped Reef sharks which were mating and in pursuit of a female. That was really an awesome sight and not a bit scary for me.

Manta RayThe second dive was Bajo el Diablo, which is the premiere dive site and we had a LOT of surge and current, which made photography challenging, but we were visited by several Manta Rays, which probably had wind spans of 10' or more. I've never seen a Manta Ray before, so seeing that was quite special. The snorkelers all reported seeing lots of small to medium fish and were very happy with their guide, but they all had stings from some sea life, so wear a full skin if you have one.

Scarlet MacawsSUnset at Bahia DrakeOne bird that Sue really wanted to see was the Scarlet Macaw, but we had been told that they weren't this far south. Sue was all smiles when we arrived at Drake and saw the trees filled with them! They're really noisy birds, squawking all of the time and quite messy dropping partially eaten fruit on the ground. At one point we had a flock of 14 pass overhead.

From Drake we made a 65 mile passage to Golfito, which is our final port in Costa Rica. This area gets a ton of rain and the locals state that they have two seasons: Wet and Wetter! We'll be here for a few days while we do some projects and clear out. From here we'll head to Panama.

You can find photos from Central Costa Rica here and photos from diving here.

-- Geoff & Sue

For the cruiser:

In Bahia Bellena we anchored in about 12' MLW over mud/sand. Holding was very good. The north anchorage was surprisingly large and handled 5 boats without any issues. It is reasonable deep towards shore, but shallows quite a bit when you head towards the reef. We had an excellent, reasonably priced meal at the wood resort just N of town on the beach.

Marina Pez VellaIn Herradura there is nothing close to the anchorage. If you walk a couple of km out to the main road there's an Auto Mercado where you can provision. Note that we didn't go there, so no report.

Pez Vella marina charged $2.75/ft which included power & water. Lots of construction and associated dust. The 2 restaurants were quite good. You can take a taxi to Manuel Antonio Park for $10 or you can take the bus from downtown for $285C ($0.57 USD) and walk about 1/2 of a mile from the end of the bus line to the park. The marina charges $4/kilo for laundry, but if you find JC on m/v Top Notch, he'll arrange to get your laundry into town for $2.40/kilo. He speaks good English and is looking for work on days that the sports fish that he maintains isn't going out. The going rate seems to be about $50/day and we can recommend him. In town there's an excellent Italian deli/restaurant and nearby there's a very good bakery.

Bahia DrakeWe spent 3 nights at Bahia Drake. We anchored in about 15' over sand/mud. We used Osa divers (located on the beach about 50 meters W of the school). They charged $100 for a 2 tank dive (I had my own equipment) and $60 for snorkeling & lunch. If you walk up the hill into town, there's a Soda restaurant where we had a very good lunch and had great views of Macaws. Next door is the grocery store and next to that is a very good smoothie shop. Across the street is bakery with OK expensive pizza. The bread from there was just OK. To the E of the anchorage you'll see a river that boats come in and out of. Watch where they go to avoid the shallow spots. You can take your dinghy up this river at high tide for about 1/2 of a mile. You can also leave you dinghy at the hotel's dock and walk into town or head the other direction and cross a suspension bridge and walk to another resort and beach.

We're currently at Fish Hook marina in the Golfito where we're paying $2/ft/day which includes power and water. The Internet is quite good. The docks are in OK shape, but I've seen pilings with holes worn through them. I wouldn't want to be here during a major weather event. Petty theft from the anchorage appears to be a major concern.

Log ID: 2233

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Photos/Video: Photo Album Central Costa Rica 

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