Playa Ocotal was the most interesting beach we visited in Costa Rica.
The surf was very strong while we were there, so we didn’t go in the ocean much. The beach itself had dark gray sand and there was a lot of rocks at the surface, which was kind of scary considering how rough the waves were.
There were a lot of tidal pools, and places to walk around and see fish and crabs and things. We saw a couple of iguanas – one was in a little cave in the rocks, and several others were just jauntily walking around the beach like they owned the place.
One of the tidal pools was quite large, and we swam in it more than we went in the actual ocean, because it was very calm and warm. Dave got some bread from the lunch we’d packed and using little bits of it we were able to attract a bunch of fish.
In the morning, a tarantula was waiting for us by the car.
This guy was such a cool color!
Dave’s feet, a coconut, and Playa Ocotal
Exploring the tidal pools and splashy things
Lizard of the cliffs
About to probe this pool with my GoPro
This tidal pool is my jam!
Late afternoon on the beach
Our home away from home
Another delicious sunset
In late afternoon, when the tide had come in more, we saw people coming in with wetsuits, flippers and snorkels. I’m sure there was a lot to see with all the rock formations beneath the water, but I wonder how people don’t get smashed up against them with such a strong surf?
As we were leaving the beach at the end of the day, two young women approached us and asked for a ride back to Playas del Coco. They spoke to us in English, so I began talking to them. Soon, they admitted that their English wasn’t very good and they couldn’t understand what I was saying. We found out they were from Spain and they were spending two months in Costa Rica! Lucky them!
For dinner that night we went to a taco stand that we’d seen in a little shopping center in town. It was called Chorotacos and the tacos were SO good! They had a vegetarian one which was chickpeas with roasted tomatoes and roasted red pepper salsa. Dave got a meaty one, which he said was really good too. I’d definitely recommend this place if you’re in Playas del Coco and need a quick dinner!
One full day in Costa Rica was ahead of us… would we go back to Playa Hermosa or would we try a new beach?
When researching places to visit in Costa Rica, we came across Playa Conchal. A beach made of shells! This video , from the travel blog My Tan Feet, also got us interested in checking it out. Since the video was taken, there’s been some major beach erosion, so we were not able to drive onto Playa Brasilito as they do in the video (jump to 2:19).
Instead, we had to leave our rental car, Blue, parked on what I perceived to be a sand bank, and then walk the rest of the way to Playa Conchal. Only people with SUVs could really drive all the way there, or extremely brave souls who weren’t concerned about getting their car stuck in sand.
After parking the car, we gathered up all our stuff – cooler, tent, towels, bags of sunscreen and snacks, and headed off to walk across Playa Brasilito to Playa Conchal. It was strange to me that Playa Brasilito was basically just a road to get to Conchal.
After walking across Brasilito, we entered a wooded area and the road narrowed and went up over a little hill, and there we were in Conchal. Immediately locals began approaching us to sell us drinks or to rent us shade tents. I’m sure they looked at me and thought “Damn, this whitey is going to need some shade!”
We could have lost Blue entirely in this puddle!
We fended off their offers and made our way onto the beach. There were a lot more people here than at Hermosa. There’s a Westin Resort too, so there was an area set up with lounge chairs and tents for the guests. We found a somewhat secluded spot beneath some trees and set up our tent.
Cautiously, we removed our shoes. How would walking on billions of shell fragments feel? Not bad, it turns out! The shell pieces are worn very smooth. It’s not as soft as walking on sand, but not as jagged and uncomfortable as one would imagine.
The water at Playa Conchal is that gorgeous turquoise color everyone imagines when they think of beach resort vacations. I really don’t know how Conchal could be covered with shells and have turquoise water while right next door Brasilito is just regular old sand and regular blue/gray ocean water color.
After a little while we noticed the tide was creeping closer and closer to our tent, until finally a wave nearly washed it out. We quickly dragged it higher up the beach and deeper into the trees. Which made our view even more interesting…
All through the day, locals kept stopping by to ask if we would like to buy pipa fria (chilled coconut), pottery, flutes, jewelry, and even massages. A guy came by to try to entice us to rent out his jet skis, and another offered a boat ride. We declined all of them. We just wanted to chill on the beach and not spend any money!
The waves were rougher than we had expected, perhaps that was due to Otto still swirling about offshore, I don’t know. We examined handfuls of shells to see if we could find any intact ones. We didn’t, but the small, worn out pieces were pretty neat to look at and try to figure out what they once were.
We decided to wrap it up around 3:30 or so – even though Playa Conchal is only 20 miles away from Playas del Coco, it takes over an hour to get from one place to the other. When we got back to Hotel Chantel and took a shower, we found tiny pieces of seashells stuck EVERYWHERE on our bodies. It was possibly even worse than trying to get sand off your body.
For dinner that evening, we wanted to go to an Italian restaurant. As we didn’t have GPS or cell service, I’d taken to using Waze at the hotel and then screen-shotting the route so we could still find our way. Well, in this case, it did not help. It was like the place didn’t even exist. We figured out later that it wasn’t open that night.
Instead, we ended up going to to one of the sports bars that’s in Playas del Coco. It was called Zi Lounge and it was good. It was relatively quiet and our waitress was attentive. We really weren’t impressed with Playas del Coco in general. There was a lot of American influence – lots of ex-pats and lots of sports bars with loud music and loud American TV. After we ate dinner, we just drove back to the hotel, up in the quiet hills, and relaxed by ourselves.
Next up: We take a day off from the beach and go spelunking instead!
The next morning, we ate Cheerios on our balcony and gawked at the view. This area reminded me a lot of the Southern California coast – except way less developed. Maybe this is what Southern California looked like 50 years ago.
We saw all kinds of fun things from this balcony. Dogs wandering happily on their own. Dogs wandering with people in tow. Cats running from dogs. Retired Americans out for their morning constitutionals. We even saw a flock of bright green parrots! At night we saw a strange, fox-like animal which we never figured out what it actually was. We also saw (and heard) a nightjar.
The hotel has a restaurant on top, so we also overheard conversations from the diners and waitstaff. One night, after the guests had departed, we overheard one waiter laughing with another because a drunk woman had written on her receipt “I love Puerto Rico!”
To save money and time, we bought a styrofoam cooler to take to the beach with us. Thanks to our hotel kitchen, we were able to make our own ice, and we took sandwiches and lots of drinks to the beach with us every day.
Another thing we did (months before our trip) was buy a little pop-up sun tent. We weren’t sure how hot it would be, or what kind of shade options we would find on the beaches. In case you haven’t noticed, I am extremely fair skinned, and I do not like being hot. We were really glad we brought it because even though there were trees on the beaches, the tent provided more sun protection, and gave us some privacy too.
Playa Hermosa, as the name suggests, is a beautiful beach. The sand is fine and soft and clean. When we were there it was pretty quiet, with most of the other people simply out for walks. Only a few people came by trying to sell things, but after we declined, they left us alone. We probably interacted with more dogs than people, now that I think of it!
Chillin in my tent
A little dog stopped by to say hello.
This dog made me think of Ren from Ren & Stimpy
Dave with yet another dog admirer.
We returned to the hotel to shower and change before heading into Playas del Coco for dinner. We found a lebanese restaurant called Le Coq, so I wanted to eat there based on the name alone. We got wraps – Dave got a chicken one and I got falafel. It was so good!
Next up – Playa Conchal – the beach that’s made of shells!