SOUTH AMERICA

THE GRADUATE

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STORY AND PHOTOS
  //   BY AIMEE COLON


As a gift for her graduation, I decided Costa Rica was a great destination to send my niece for her first foreign travel experience.  We choose the beautiful Papagayo Gulf in Northern Guanacaste, Costa Rica for its natural wild beauty, ecological resources, friendly people and large range of accommodations that vary from small, modest ecological cabins to five-star luxury resorts.


We started our adventure in the beautiful Papagayo Gulf in Northern Guanacaste at the Ocotal Beach Resort just a 25-minute drive from Liberia’s International Airport and a four-hour drive from San Jose’s Juan Santamaria International airport. This hotel offered a quiet setting for a small family like us, with comfortable rooms and even a small plunge pool in which to cool off after a hot Costa Rican day.  The hotel sits at the top of the bay, offering dramatic panoramic views of the water and the fishing and tourist village of Playa del Coco, where you can find supermarkets, banks, pharmacies, restaurants, stores, bars, nightlife and more.

On our first day, we started by enjoying the black sand beach just a few steps from our room. I have to say that the beach is not the best for swimming, but it offers plenty of water sports activities.  If you are looking for a larger beach where you can swim in comfort I recommend driving to Tamarindo for a much nicer selection of sand beaches that also offer water sport adventures, shopping and dining.  Playa Tamarindo is well known among young tourists for its great surfing, shopping, and nightlife. Families and students traveling on a budget will appreciate the fierce competition that has kept lodging prices reasonably low.  Another option is located to the south of Tamarindo. The beautiful estuary, Estero de San Francisco, and spectacular Playa Langosta are part of Las Baulas National Park.

If you are into sport fishing this is the place for you. Ocotal Beach Resort offers all the amenities and facilities you’ll need to plan a day of fishing all year around. The boats are all over 32 feet and feature comfortable fishing areas, twin diesels, shade tops, outriggers and cabins with toilets. For those less interested in fishing, scuba and snorkeling lessons are also offered.

If you want to end your day with a good dinner try the unique restaurant El Lagarto, in Samara Beach, Guanacaste. This rustic open air restaurant has a unique decor of wooden tables and chairs that creates a romantic setting. The ribs and steaks are slow-cooked to perfection in the traditional wood fired grill. The meat portions are just massive—in fact everything on the menu comes in large portions, so order accordingly.


INSIDER TIPS:

It rains all year round in Costa Rica, make sure to bring a light jacket and closed shoes. December through April are generally considered the dry season, and the rainy season starts in May. The busiest travel times in Costa Rica are during Christmas and New Years, as well as the week leading up to Easter Sunday, which is known as Semana Santa. For these weeks, hotels are often fully booked well in advance, so make sure to plan ahead.

To Do's:

The Springs Resort & Spa is located at the natural springs at Arenal, which are a real wonder. The resort has 18 landscaped pools that provide guests with great views of the volcano and amenities such as pool bars.

The Eats:

El Lagarto resturante in Samara beach offers many savory plates. My favorites were the ribeye steak and lamb ribs, in additon to its impressive portions. One serving could really be shared by two or even three people, seriously speaking. I recommend ordering one or two servings for a group of four.


EL LAGARTO

Samara Beach, Guanacaste
or Playa Manuel Antonio, Quepos, Puntarenas
P. 506.2656.0750
www.ellagartobbq.com

OCOTAL BEACH RESORT & HOTEL
Playa Ocotal, Guanacaste, Cost Rica,

P. 506.2670.032
http://www.ocotalresort.com/

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