snorkeling at Playa Ocotal…
Last week, before our guests arrived, our neighbor told us that Playa Ocotal is one of the best snorkeling spots in the area, and it’s less than 10 minutes from our condo. So Andy and I load up with sunscreen and our snorkel gear and hit the beach for the day, arriving at low-tide.
Some of the most expensive houses in Costa Rica are built into the walls of jungle overlooking this spectacular beach. The sea is completely transparent, a looking glass into the underworld. I can imagine the view those millionaires must enjoy up there. I point out a miniature light house snuggled into the hill, most likely built by some rich guy who probably never uses it.
Playa Ocotal is a Blue Flag beach, which means it is certified by the Foundation for Environmental Education. This is awarded by the government of Costa Rica to the country’s cleanest and most eco-friendly beaches. People are committed to keeping the beach and the water in perfect condition. The sand is patrolled daily for litter and debris.
We snorkel around the rocks and admire the largest variety of fish we’ve seen while snorkeling. We’ve snorkeled in Mexico, Hawaii and Jamaica, but have never seen so many different kinds of fish as we do at this beach on this day. This free, unplanned last-minute snorkel day beats all the others.
Swimming amongst the surrounding sea life we admire trumpet fish, puffer fish, neon fish, clownfish, butterfly fish, snappers and so many more. In all shapes, sizes and colors. It is peaceful and thrilling, floating in the ocean, all senses dulled, vulnerable to the drift of the water and anything that may swim our way. Losing ourselves in the waves that envelop us and the fish that surround us. Swimming amongst mermaid kisses and starfish wishes…
Eventually we decide to take a break and walk to the other end of the beach, with our snorkel gear in hand. This end of the beach has vibrant green plants growing on the bottom of the ocean floor, making the snorkeling even better. We snorkel out to a small island, and then swim the entire coastline back to the opposite end of the beach. Along the way I spot a stingray swimming ahead of me and manage to hold it together and not flee the ocean in a panic. This one leaves me alone, no barb to the foot today.
It makes us sad that we only find this perfect snorkel spot during our last week in Coco. We promise ourselves we will come back at least once before we leave. We have fallen in love with this part of Costa Rica and don’t feel ready to leave quite yet. A month doesn’t feel long enough. There is still more exploring to do! The beauty about our new life is that our only plan is to have no plan. If we like a place, we can spend more time there and we’re discussing coming back to spend more time in this area. It’s hard to find a piece of Costa Rica that we don’t fall in love with.
50 beaches and counting…
Andy and I pull up a detailed Costa Rica map and decide to make note of every beach we’ve spent time at. We write down significant things about each beach, funny or memorable things that happened to us, our favorite things about each place. Some beaches we spent only 5 minutes at, some we have spent weeks at. Each one is special to us for a unique reason. I love the feeling of setting my eyes on a new beach. You can never see a beach again for the first time.
The entrance to Playa Ocotal:
We have driven by many more beaches, but we only add ones to our list that we have spent some time at and have some special memory of. The total of Costa Rican beaches we have been able to enjoy so far is exactly 50.
50 beaches in 5 months. An average of 10 new beaches each month. Not too shabby. I remember telling Andy that I want to leave here having seen every beach and we may just be able to pull that off. It will be a bittersweet day when we run out of new beaches to see for the first time…
if you ever see a Tico taking a picture...
The other day Andy came back from a beach walk and told me about a cool experience he had. During his walk he witnessed hundreds of pelicans and other birds gathered at one spot above the ocean, simultaneously diving down into the water. Their bodies were constantly piercing the surface of the ocean, like bird bombs being dropped from the heavens.
Andy stopped to admire the commotion. He said it was absolutely incredible and he wondered if this was a normal occurrence. Suddenly he notices a Tico man running down from the jungle, holding a camera, trying to recording the event. That’s when he knew this must be a rare and special event.
We laughed over this, because if you ever see a Tico taking a picture, stop what you are doing immediately and GO.GET.YOUR.DAMN.CAMERA. These people have seen it all, grown up in a lush, vibrant, jungle paradise, surrounded by the most spectacular beauty one can imagine. They are not numb to it, but they do laugh at us Americans as we take a million identical pictures of the howler monkeys, the pelicans diving and the gorgeous sunset over the ocean.
You rarely see a Tico taking a picture. But if you do, you are witnessing two rare events that are both worth documenting: a Tico taking a picture, and whatever the Tico is taking a picture of.
sharing our favorite things…
My dad and Jackie arrived, along with Doug and Helen. They rented a car and drove from San Jose, so they got to see a lot of the country while driving to Coco. We spent Thanksgiving Day at Llanos de Cortes waterfall, swimming in the water, jumping off rocks and exploring the bat cave. We are lucky and see monkeys at the waterfall entrance, so we can mark that off the list.
Llanos de Cortes Waterfall, you can see dad and Andy at the very top:
After the waterfall we head to Coconuts for an all-you-can-eat traditional American Thanksgiving dinner buffet. They served quite a feast of turkey, stuffing, potatoes, green bean casserole, and every other Thanksgiving dish you can think of. We all agree that Thanksgiving dinner tastes better when you don’t have to cook it or clean it up after.
The next day we decide to hire a private boat to tour us around the shoreline. It’s a gorgeous, sunny day and the water is crystal blue. We stop at a spot to snorkel and explore more caves. Costa Rica puts on an incredible show for us. As we are out on the ocean we spot dolphins swimming beside us, two massive sea turtles making love, flying fish, two yellow-bellied sea snakes and manta rays jumping out of the water. Our camera battery died so we didn’t get any pictures, but that helped us to be more in the moment and to take permanent mental pictures.
We enjoy leftover Thanksgiving turkey sandwiches while out on the water. Leftover Thanksgiving turkey tastes better on a boat in the middle of the ocean. And since it’s always necessary to spend a day doing nothing while on vacation, they spend their third full day laying by the pool and swinging in hammocks on Coco beach.
Day four is spent enjoying breakfast at Coconut’s Bar and then heading to Playa Ocotal for the day. It’s pretty windy and the waves are bigger than usual, but we still spend the day swimming, snorkeling, napping on the beach, drinking at the beach bar and building sand castles.
Now our houseguests are off to check into their timeshare, and we are getting ready to say goodbye to Coco and move back to Samara in a few days. It’s sad to leave Playa del Coco, but we’re excited to write the next chapter in our Costa Rican journey...
Kari Pinkerton Silcox
It would be a tragedy to die, having never really lived. Which is why my husband Andy and I quit our jobs, sold our house and decided to chase our dreams. We moved to Costa Rica without a plan, and this is the story of our adventure.