Santa Rosa National Park was our last Costa Rican camp spot before we headed north into Nicaragua. Billy and I were both very excited for it after the disaster that was our previous night near del Coco, plus the internet and our outdated guidebook promised it to be teaming with wildlife, and most importantly, hosting an in season beach for sea turtle egg hatching! The drive from the del Coco area was just a short hour and fifteen minutes so we were quite on time to stop and catch some wifi at the Liberia McDonald’s. Keeping your eyes peeled for the Golden Arches was something we learned before we set out on this trip, as most all Central American McDonald’s have free wifi, with the exception of Guatemala.
Santa Rosa was the only paid camping area we stayed in throughout Costa Rica, coming in at $12 a night for the two of us, which included our park entrance fees. The park has two different camping areas, one near the main offices and facilities of the park and one down near the beach. Unfortunately, during rainy season, they close off the beach trail to cars so we didn’t have a choice as to where to stay.
Deer and monkeys populated the camp area.
The empty campground was absolutely teaming with mosquitoes. Billy and I tried out some different spots to see if some areas would somehow have less about. It was miserable. Looking back on the trip and our first set up here at Santa Rosa, I hold my biggest regret that we did not take out all of our tent equipment and set every single thing up. We would have then learned that we owned a really cool mosquito netted pop out area which would have saved us from looking like chicken pox victims when we left the park.
Me looking like a maniac after receiving my 150th bite of the day.
A couple of these dudes liked to hang around the site and wait for a hand out from some Tico families who came in to picnic for the day.
The morning after our first nights camp we set out early to tackle the 24K walk to and from our campsite to Playa Naranjo, the turtle nesting beach. Though the trail was muddy and went through a couple rainy season rivers, we believed that with our four wheel drive, we would have easily made it to the beach. There were some nice lookouts along the way off of separate paths that gave us a good view of ‘Witches Rock’, a famous surf spot. I think that there was some 90’s surf movie filmed there with like Harrison Ford starring it or something?
Witches Rock from afar.
To actually step out onto Playa Naranjo there was a guard at the entrance to the beach taking our names and passport information and checking to make sure we had paid our park fees. We jumped in the water and the swimming was great, big waves and the perfect temperature. It started to get stormy soon thereafter but there were nice big trees in the beach camping area to take refuge under.
When it dried up a little bit we took a wander down the beach in hopes of spotting some turtles. We came across one or two nests but without eggs. There was some soft egg debris scattered about on the beach. Walking south down the beach we came across a swampy area where we could see the trails of what we guessed were baby Caiman swimming about. Information boards around the park showed this area dried up with crocodiles lounging in the sun during the summer.
The 12K walk back got a bit boring and exhausting, but we saw our first Spider Monkeys as we got back to camp!
Overall, Santa Rosa was just alright. I think that you could find the same natural area to camp around for free in other places around Costa Rica. I’m sure we would have enjoyed it heaps more had we put up our mosquito net. I was itching from that place for the next two weeks.
Leaving the southwestern part of the Nicoya Peninsula in rainy season is a nightmare. Billy and I spent hours trying to navigate a way to the main road without having to back track only to end up leading ourselves in a circle. The road we think we were meant to take had been washed out by a river and started our day out incredibly stressed.
After we gave up and drove back through Paquera, we were able to get on a dry rocky road that led us to Playa Naranjo and then the highway. Since we were mentally prepped for the worst, the road didn’t actually seem that bad.
We planned on staying around Playa del Coco for the night and were cutting close on time when we finally arrived in the area. del Coco, unfortunately, was a shit hole. We were warned by locals that the beach area would fill up with drunks and druggies in the evening, and even around 5pm we could see some undesirables start to creep up onto the sand. We tried many beaches around the area and beach camping wasn’t available for any. Finally we semi-lucked out and found Playa Ocotal semi-deserted. A sign had been posted ruling no vehicles were allowed on the beach so we set up camp in the parking lot. It rained the entire night and the parking lot seemed to attract some straggling visitors at every hour. It was our first bad camping experience, and from then on any bad thing that happened we would relate to “del Coco”.
Me being miserable. At least we didn’t have to pay, unlike parking around the other beaches surrounding del Coco.
After Dominical we drove up to Puntareanas to take the ferry over to the Nicoya Peninsula. The peninsula itself is a pretty popular tourist destination, home to surfing hot spots Mal Pais and Montezuma. From what I can remember the ferry ride was around 2 hours long at a price of $25.60 for both Billy and I and the car.
We had been warned by the crazy Canadian guy “protecting” the ferry cars that violence and break ins were an issue around the surf beaches by local Ticos. He then gave us a map and told us we could park in his mate’s hostel’s parking lot so we decided to take his advice with a grain of salt.
Besides, Billy had found a seemingly awesome secluded spot for our goal destination via the wonderful internet.
The Nicoya Peninsula roads are just not good. Especially in wet season. Fortunately the roads towards Montezuma weren’t washed out, but they were time consuming. The ferry dropped us off around Paquera, a good place to stock up on groceries and the lot, though we didn’t. We then drove towards Montezuma and it was an incredibly time consuming process. The spot Billy scoped out for us was a beach called Playa Las Rocas, it was just a 15 or so minute slow drive past Montezuma beach in between that and Cabuya. Supposedly the road forks in between these two places and you take the left turn, but we didn’t recognise the fork but luckily enough saw a ‘Las Rocas’ sign.
There is a house/hostel/hotel at the beginning of the beach entrance, and other than the couple that lived there amongst their dogs and chickens, we were the only ones there.
Las Rocas turned out to be one of our favourite sites of the trip. It was gorgeous, quiet, and full of wildlife.
There is space to camp coming onto the main beach area, full of big trees for copious amounts of shade. The actual beach itself is known for it’s “Whale Tail” formation.
One of the best moments of our trip happened our first morning here. Billy was reading facing the water, and I cleaning up our breakfast dishes. I looked up towards him and saw what I thought were two dolphins swimming just off our site. I rushed down to tell him and hope for a resurface. When they did we realised they were much too big to be dolphins! They were two humpback whales. We ran out onto the rocks along the beach and followed them as they swam into our bay and then out again. We figured it was a mother and her baby coming in to look for food. As they retraced their steps back out towards the ocean, they put on a little bit of a show, breaching for us as though they knew we were close and watching. It was magical.
Nothing can ever top that.
Throughout the rest of our time at Las Rocas we were visited by other wildlife we hadn’t gotten up close and personal with before. I’m not a fan of birds but in Costa Rica and surrounding countries I fell in love with the cheeky White-Throated Magpie Jay who came to nibble on our leftover rice. Quite a few of them flocked into the trees when they realised I was a sucker for their cooing. It literally sounded like they were trying to flirt, they made the most gorgeous noise. I, in turn, and I know this is horrible, would put out a couple cooked rice kernels for them to munch on.
Things became quite comical when we were also visited by a family of Howler monkeys one afternoon. The male, the only one that we heard howl, came pretty close to us, bouncy around the trees with his massive ballsack hanging low. We stunned that as he jumped tree to tree that his package didn’t smack up against any branches.
After two days at Las Rocas we ran out of food and had to pack up. If we had had more time I would have easily wanted to go back to this spot as it was just magic! The beach is supposedly good to snorkel off of but it was quite rough when we were there, though it made for a nice swim. There is also a fresh water creek running into the ocean that was good for showers and cleaning up water. Pura Vida for sure!
Campsite number two was only a 3ish hour drive from Matapolo. We headed to Dominical, a very popular surf town big with backpackers and Overlanders looking for surf.
It didn’t matter much to us but the two days we camped there things were pretty flat. The spot was again recommended by the people we bought our car from, along with anyone I’ve ever known who has gone to surf in Costa Rica. Campers can just pull up anywhere along the beach and set themselves up. Gotta love free beach camping! It turned out the people we bought the car from were actually in Dominical hanging around themselves so we got to spend the nights with them and their surfing friends.
For us, Dominical was nice, but it wasn’t anything special. We didn’t see much wildlife other than the big iguanas that hung around the hostels. The beach was nice to walk on but the water at the time wasn’t too gorgeous of a colour, just murky and brown.
We sort of realised here that we didn’t love being around other people. We preferred more solitary spots versus being amongst the crowds of surfers and other overlanders. We did however meet a local guy who was quite impressed with our set up. So much so that he asked to take pictures and then offered us free fruit that he had been selling from the back of his truck. “Te gustas frutas?” he asked us. “Si, claro!” We scored some perfect papayas and MANGOSTEENS! Neither of us had ever tried a mangosteen before and I have to say, they are my favourite fruit ever, I think. You crack the harder purple outside shell and inside are these super sweet silky white sections in them resembling a non-stringy tangerine. I found a Snapple flavor this past week that was peach and mangosteen and was pretty pumped about it.
Our first camp spot was our best camp spot.
It came highly recommend by the people we bought our car from and was only a short drive away from the border. It wasn’t too easy to get to as it was just a small surf spot on the edge of the Osa Peninusla with nothing much else to mark it than a hard to see sign. There are a couple of small hotels and places to stay around it but otherwise no shops or restaurants so we filled up the eskies with groceries in nearby Puerto Jiminez. The drive down was mostly dirt road with a couple of small rivers to cross. It was hard to tell where the camp sites were so we ended up parking in the first open space we came across, which we learned from local and slightly disgruntled surfers was the parking area only after we completely set up. We spent one night in the parking area and then moved down the way a bit to a more secluded camping area, which was just perfect.
We only spent three nights here but if we could go back anywhere, we would go back to Matapolo. It was an amazing surf spot and had locals out on the waves at all hours of the day. The beach was a rock beach and which was quite noisy as the waves were strong and shifted around the rocks each time they came in and out. The wildlife in the area was spectacular! Scarlet Macaws, Toucans, dolphins, whales, and at least three different species of monkeys.
Billy and I befriended some German tourists who were staying at a house nearby and spent our nights drinking rum and water with them on their porch. They showed us how to knock down coconuts and which ones flesh you could eat and which were the best to drink out of.
There were some waterfalls a short hike away to explore and a beautiful tree, I think it might be called a Banyan tree? Where the roots all come up and form different parts to the tree.
There is almost too much to say about how great Matapolo is that it has taken me awhile to even write this post because I didn’t know where to start. And the best part? It was free. All beach camping in Costa Rica is actually free because the beach is public land.
A is Matapolo, B is Puerto Jiminez where we bought groceries and C is Paso Canoas
One of my favourite pictures of our whole trip!
Paso Canoas, Costa Rica
Before I write about any cool camp spots or any great adventures we had in our car I need to get the most awful border cross ever out of the way.
It took us nine hours to be admitted with the car into Costa Rica. To put the problem simply, Costa Rica had given the car we bought a visa when it first entered the country. The car visa is separate from the owner visa. There is some fucked up Costa Rican law held that the car could not come back into Costa Rica under a new ownership with the same visa, and the old visa cannot be terminated to create a new one. We spent nine long hours arguing with unhelpful ‘Aduana’ officers about letting us through. They persistently stated that the car could not come back into Costa Rica for “tres meses” or three months, until December 19. If there is one thing I learned from this border cross, it is that there is always a way.
After hours of internet searches, begging, fake tears and butchered Spanish conversations, there was a staff shift and the two new Aduana officers seemed to take a little pity on us. All in all, Lilliam who works at the Paso Canoas Aduana is a saint. We ended up getting a lawyer in the border town to write up a document that somehow terminated the previous owners visa so that we could get a new one. If you are ever stuck in this dire situation, seek out Senior Freddy, the lawyer with the grungy office on the upper level of a run down house next to a gym. It cost about $130, or really whatever we had in cash, for his assistance, but after his paperwork was accepted we were free to go into Costa Rica. Costa Rica’s Aduana insisted on keeping a copy of the document, which was really some sort of bill of sale of the car. Being in a dazed and delirious mindset after nine hours arguing in Spanish, we let them have it, with only a shitty copy of the original left for us. This was a mistake, we learned as we tried to cross the border into Nicaragua some weeks later.
The night ended with a celebratory Imperial with the couple who sold us the car, and a stay in a disgusting hotel that had boogers smeared all over the wall.
Paso Canoas hotel room- Cabinas Hilda: $20
Costa Rican Insurance: $24
Sn. Freddy’s assistance: $134
One of two local eateries worth going to, Kiosco Angeles. Run by a sullen woman who didn’t seem to appreciate our regularity here. Still one of our favourite meals of the trip, bistec con huevos y tortillas. Panamanian tortillas are so delicious. Thick and hot and made of corn.
Billy and I were very lucky people getting the car that we did for this trip. Shout out to Billy actually, for doing great research about what to look for and finding this beauty, and then negotiating down to a good price for her.
Billy found the car for sale on the mecca of a website, drivetheamericas.com. Though the forums on the site often don’t see too much action, it is still an incredibly resourceful page to get your overlanding news and needs met on. A couple that had done the trip over the past 7 months (so jealous, we only did 3) had perfectly equipped the car for the journey. Included in our undisclosed price tag along with the car was a complete set up for cooking, first aid, tools, bedding…just everything! I don’t think we ever bought anything extra for our car. Notably best item included by Billy was the broom and the dustpan, as he liked keeping everything clean. Notably best item in my opinion was the grater. Nice sharp and not rusted, it was perfect for shredding up the garlic chunks that ended up in almost every meal of ours.
Billy and I planned to meet up with the seller’s of the car in David, Panama at a hostel called Bambu. There are only two hostels in David and I can both highly recommend staying here, as well as highly discouraging it. The place is a zoo run by alcoholics and addicts. It was hilarious, but they were the rudest and most vulgar bunch of blokes you can imagine. Luckily, the people we bought the car from were the sweetest couple in the world. I still have major couple envy of them. The guy was an Irishman and the girl an Aussie and they met working on boats. Their life is so cool.
Our first full day with them the boys went into town to try and do the deed of sale at a notary office while the girl and I just sat by the pool and she graciously wrote out a huge set of notes for us about great places they had gone. The bill of sale went so/so in town, when the boys came back they were still unsure if it had been done correctly. Apparently it had to be validated by someone, but the Panamanian notary refused to do it saying that the Costa Ricans could do it at the border instead. Typical, really of Central American office workers in situations like these. We came to realize and joke about it a lot, that they really would not care to lift a finger for you, as most ladies are really too busy inspecting their nails while working anyways.
The boys decided when they came back to make a break for the border the next morning. That night we took the big journey across the road from our hostel to a cheap fish shack for dinner. We had fried fish and plantains and ceviche. The restaurant was dimly lit with cheap beers and we had so much to talk about with the other couple and their adventures. Then they pulled out a deck of cards. What!? I only play cards when I’m like, super, super, bored. I wanted to talk about the coolest waterfall they saw in El Salvador or something like that. I avoided all card games almost entirely for the rest of the trip.
Private room for 2 people at Bambu Hostel in David: $27/night
The last time I posted anything towards this blog other than that accidental Instagram image at Chichen Itza (that photo is a fake small scale version of the ruins) I was in Boquete, Panama and it was the very beginning of Billy and I’s Central American overland trip. That was 4+ months ago. Today I sit, on my mattress on the floor, in my new house back in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It is my goal that throughout these horribly dreary winter months, I can stave off boredom by recounting my overland trip here.
I will try to do a post for every campsite we had, along with every border cross we did, with as accurate information as I can remember about where we were, how much things cost, and any tips that could help other overlanders. I surprisingly almost kept up with a spending spreadsheet that tracks our first day in Panama to our last day in Mexico, so specific dollar amounts will be noted towards lodging and border cross taxes.
These are the basics of our trip:
- On September 20, 2013 we officially bought our car to begin our trip.
- We travelled in a 1991 Toyota 4Runner with a Cascadia Vehicles rooftop tent. Color: Pacific Blue. Name: Kavinsky.
- We were able to camp 74% of the time we were on the road until we crossed into the United States, that’s 56 days out of 76.
- My spreadsheet shows that minus the cost of the car and personal expenses, which also includes car services, we spent $5,541.18. Though there was one big day we had when our friend Wills came to visit in Tulum where things got out of control and money seemed no object and I was too off my head to record our finances. Whoops. Of those costs, 34% was spent on food, both groceries and eating out. 15% was spent on accommodation. And 23% was spent on fuel. It is to be noted that this is merely a rough spreadsheet and that when we tally up our credit card payments, we have spent way more. I don’t know where that money went, but shiiiiiiiit.
- We went to every country in Central America and then we drove all across Mexico, with a night ferry ride from mainland Mexico to Baja. In total 8 countries before we hit the USA. Those countries are: Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Belize and then Mexico.
- On December 5, 2013 we entered the United States of America, my home country. We spent time driving through California before bolting through middle USA to try and get home before Christmas.
- Our Instagram hashtag for the trip is #KavinskyOverland.