Excellent Adventures: Costa Rica with Brandon Gouveia
The older we get, the more and more we realize that winter is not working for us. We are a couple that gets extremely worn down by the winter blues. Last year, we spent a week down in Florida; Miami and Key West. As much as we thoroughly enjoyed it, we felt completely unsatisfied with our 7-day escape from the gross Toronto winters that we endure.
Mid-July 2018 we booked our flights to Costa Rica for one month, with a few main goals in mind:
- Learn to surf.
- Chase the sun, stay warm.
- Remove ourselves from the pace of Toronto
- And, of course, as photographers do, shoot!
We landed in San Jose a few hours later than expected. We made our way out of the airport at around 11 pm. The rental car shop closed at 10, so we had to cab to our Airbnb and get the car in the morning. We woke up bright and early and headed over to the rental car shop because we had a big 4-5 hour drive to Tamarindo! We were feeling pretty good, it was a beautiful morning and we found a sweet deal online, we got our tiny 4x4 SUV for only $900 USD, for the entire month! It wasn’t long before we found out that it is by-law mandatory to get the insurance through your rental car company, which was another $750. Feeling down on our luck, we did the only thing that felt right, look for a little piece of home, which wasn’t hard to find. There was a Denny’s right next to our rental car place.
San Jose was not what we had in mind when coming to Costa Rica — we were trying to get out of the city and find a beach. After an omelet, coffee and some google mapping, we made quick work of being in San Jose. To the ocean!
We powered through our drive from San Jose to Tamarindo, only stopping for a quick bathroom break and some snacks. It felt incredible to finally get to the ocean!
We spent our first week at Witch’s Rock Surf Camp, waking up at 5:45am almost every day, for our 6 am surf lesson. As much as the thought of getting up that early every day while on vacation sounded a little daunting, there is something magical about sitting on a surfboard, watching the sun come up. If there was a morning when we weren’t surfing we would still get up early and go for photo walks, the light was beautiful. Witch’s Rock was an incredible place to spend the first week of our trip. The staff and surf instructors are very friendly and taught us everything we needed to know to continue surfing and keep progressing the rest of our trip. Tamarindo is a pretty busy and touristy town but because the camp is at the end of the beach and main strip, it was very easy to forget where you were and find our own little hideaway to chill out and read, do yoga, meditate or just have a beer. The best part about spending our first week in Tamarindo would have to be spending time with friends! We had a couple of friends that happened to be in Tamarindo that first week and we are so grateful for that time we got to spend with them.
Chill out by the pool, surrounded by some gnarly trees, good people and surfboards, outback behind a bar! Sounds pretty rad, doesn’t it? Well you can visit this spot too, La Oveja Negra! This was a surf hostel we stayed at in Tamarindo and it’s also a bar/restaurant. Live music almost every night of the week, good food, and the “volunteers” and employees all made for a good time. Maybe not the right spot if you’re a light sleeper though!
One of our favourite food spots in Tamarindo was La Bodega, a little café right across the street from La Oveja. Also, the Surf Shack, burgers and wings, run by a bunch of gnarly chicks that make the best burgers in town. Nogui’s was a fave of ours, one of the best bang for your buck restaurants on the beach, good food without the high cost. I am a huge coffee lover, so a good coffee spot is important to me. Nordico Coffee House, serving some delicious Tamarindo coffee roasters coffee. I couldn’t stay away from their cold brews and banana bread. If you are looking for another coffee option, a close second, PICO Bistro. The upside to this place, it is right on the beach.
Not food related but one of the most noteworthy places to stop in Tamarindo if you’re into surfing or are in the market for a surfboard. Whether or not you’re looking for a beautiful art piece for your wall or something equally as beautiful to ride, CHE Boards is the spot to go.
I had the pleasure of photographing and hanging out with Juan Diego (JD) the owner and head shaper of CHE boards. He took the time out of his day to get away from the busy day-to-day stuff that comes with running your own business and do what he loves doing — hand-shaping surfboards. Other than learning to surf, this had to be one of the most impactful moments from my entire trip. To be able to watch JD take a board from a beat-up looking blank to the finished product, all by hand! It was so mesmerizing, there were moments where I felt like I forgot to take pictures because I was so intoxicated by his passion and his focus. It’s a true work of art. I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to spend the day with him and his crew.
Playa Grande, a complete 180 from Tamarindo. One freshly paved street, which is hard to come by in Costa Rica. There is nothing on this beach, barely even trees to hide from the sun. This is a surfer’s beach, through and through.
We stayed at the Indra inn, run by Matt and Natalia. Such a cool/comfy place to crash. They gave us the perfect mix of comfort, good conversation and insight for the remainder of our trip. Also, check out El’Huerto, an unbelievable Italian restaurant, right next door.
Next stop, Nosara!
Thankfully, with some guidance from our friends at the Indra Inn, we took the “longer” route to Nosara. Turns out it is a lot faster than the “shorter” route because it is mainly paved roads. Whereas the “shorter” route looks like it was made with a jackhammer and limits you to about 30km/h.
Nosara was probably our favorite place. It is a bit more spread out than Tamarindo, a little less hectic. We stayed at Refugio Del Sol, in Playa Pelada. This place was a little cozy hotel, in what felt like the middle of the jungle. When in reality it was just off of the street, right across from a bodega, run by a girl who happens to be from Toronto, right next to one of the best bars in Nosara. So considering we were not in the jungle at all, they did a great job of making this place feel like you were. Every room had its own hammock sitting on your front porch, which became Jess’ happy place. We met some good people here which made our mid-day. We hide from the sun and that made the time a lot more enjoyable. Afternoons full of good hangs and conversation.
We had a friend of a friend invite us to do a yoga class at Nalu Studio. Which is a beautiful open concept indoor/outdoor space. Even though she completely kicked our asses, in what turned out to be a private session for Jess and I. It was a pretty special way to experience the sunset. Thanks, Sare!
For a beginner surfer having done lessons in Tamarindo, Nosara was a whole different animal. The breaks were a lot further out and a lot bigger than Tamarindo. This was a mixture of timing; a massive swell came in while we were there and the beach just created a different type of wave. I wish we had done lessons here because the few days we attempted to surf here, it was more of a paddle for my life trying to get out there for 2 hours and only catching one wave. In all fairness, it made surfing in Tamarindo again, feel like a cake walk.
Last stop, we decided to hit up the mountains before we left Costa Rica. Originally, we had only booked our first 12 days of our trip but had some soft plans of going down to Santa Teresa, Malpais and Montezuma. But turns out we didn’t really enjoy the driving, so we stuck to the these few places and decided to really just settle into these places instead of constantly need to pack up and switch spots.
So off to Monteverde we go. Getting there took us up a mountain, which we thought we may never be able to get back down. While driving straight up the mountains on what felt like the side of a cliff, we would pass little cars with complete amazement on why and how someone can drive a little two-door car in this terrain. We passed through the little mountain downtown area but we had to drive a bit past that, to arrive at our little boutique hotel!
Keith is the owner of this stunning place. After waking up early and enjoying the sunset in the mountains, we headed to the common space where Keith cooked us this unreal breakfast. He had hyped us up about it the night before and he did not let us down. We had enjoyed the relaxing morning on his property, using the yoga studio, taking in the view and of course, Jess took full advantage of the hammocks! We went for a 3-hour hike at the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preserve. We were so lucky on our hike, we were able to see Quetzals. We did not know anything about them before our hike but they were pretty rad looking and a super rare bird to see.
Unfortunately, our trip had to come to an end. But there was a massive silver lining to the end of our trip. We teamed up with our friends at Save Our Scruff and we agreed to be parents for 3 dogs, to come back to Toronto for adoption. Two of them were bigger dogs that had to go in crates and go into the cargo part of the plane. We brought this little black puppy on the plane with us in a small carrier. When we got to our terminal, we brought him out of his carrier to walk around and hopefully tire him out so that he would sleep on the plane. We ended up falling in love with him and adopting him. His name is Homie, and he’s now the piece of that Costa Rican sunshine that brightens our gloomy spring days here in Toronto.
Adopting Homie was the perfect way to end the best trip of our lives and to bring a little piece of Costa Rica home with us. We also plan to go back next year but for a little bit longer and our new family addition will be coming with us. Until then, Pura Vida.