Our First Trip to Guanacaste, Costa Rica: Playa Grande

Winters are long in Connecticut. By March, we are desperate for some sun and sand. This year we spotted cheap tickets to Liberia, Costa Rica. While we have often threatened to quit our jobs and retire in Costa Rica, we’d never been. There are plenty of articles about how you can retire early in Costa Rica for very cheap. We had to see for ourselves how much truth there was to this, and what kind of a living this would entail.

JFK_Airport_Sunrise

Early Morning at JFK

Our first glimpse of Costa Rica

Flying into Costa Rica for the first time was exciting. The hilly terrain of Central America with all the farms and forests was new to us. It was March – apparently the hottest month for the beach areas near Liberia. The landscape this time or year is of dried golden grasses and barren trees.

While the area around Liberia and to the west are very much like a savanna, to the east, the landscape changes to lush green as the mountains rise to the clouds. On the flight back out of Liberia, I caught this shot of the Maderas Volcano which rises up from a giant lake in Nicaragua.

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Volcan Maderas, Nicaragua

Exploring Liberia, Costa Rica

We like it hot, and decided to spend our time in the beach towns to the west of Liberia. Since we had also just learned to surf in Puerto Rico, we sought out a beach to experience some of Costa Rica’s legendary surf.

We ended up to staying on Playa Grande. We found a great place that was basically an efficiency apartment attached to a house with a very well landscaped yard and a swimming pool. Best of all, it was about a 3 minute walk to the beach. This deluxe beach side apartment was only $75 a night through Airbnb (get a $40 credit by using our link). Playa Grande is more secluded but there are plenty of amenities and towns close by.

Casa_Marina_Playa_Grande

Renting a car in Costa Rica

We rented a car which doubled in price to $50/day when the $25 mandatory insurance was added. We had already read up on the expensive rental cars, so this was no shock. What we were not certain about was whether we really needed a 4X4 vehicle.

Being cheap, we decided to go with the compact economy. Capable of carrying us and a surfboard, it was all we needed. Some roads were pretty much dirt and rock. We mercilessly beat the crap out of the car’s suspension, but it held up fine. Like us, most locals did not have 4X4 vehicles. While we were fine during the dry season, we’ve since returned to Costa Rica and found that driving can be a little more dicey during the rainy season.

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Our BYD F0 with board rental from Matos Surf Shop

Surfing Playa Grande Costa Rica

There are several surf shops in Playa Grande and we found the best deal with Matos surf shop. They rented us a newer long-board for $75/week and boogie board for $25/week.

On the second day, we got some zinc oxide sunscreen and rash guards. The sun can be brutal down there, and with the rough surf, most other sunscreens don’t survive very long.

Being so close to the beach, we could easily check the waves. When it looked good, we just grabbed the boards and went surfing.

Walk_to_Playa_Grande_surfing

Playa Grande Costa Rica

True to its name, the beach at Playa Grande is massive. Made of silky white sand, it has some consistent surf breaking over the forgiving sandy bottom.

The first few days, the surf was pretty big and rough with a lot of closeouts. The beach drops off very slowly however, so you can catch some really nice long rides in the whitewater after the waves break. Being a beginner, I was fine starting out like that, and the boogie boarding was awesome.

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Playa Grande

As the week went on, the surf mellowed out and we got to catch some nice waves. Our accommodations were far down the beach from the public access, so we pretty much had the place to ourselves.

There was also a local fish monger who did rounds through the neighborhood. We caught up with him one day and got a kilo of fresh tuna that we pan fried up for a few meals. There were great ingredients to cook with, but we also found the local food to be amazing and cheap!

How is the food in Costa Rica?

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$5 Fried Chicken Casado

We always like to do the local thing, so we sought out a small soda the first day we were there. We ordered some casados which are basically a standard lunch/dinner meal that comes with rice, beans, salad, fried plantain, and one type of meat. Our casados turned out awesome! The beans were well seasoned and delicious, the fish was fresh, the plantains nice and caramelized, and the salad refreshing.

On average, we paid $6 for a casado at local sodas, including tip! The meals tasted amazing and provided nutrition packed fuel for our adventuring. I could eat casados everyday and we pretty much did.

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$6 Casado with Corvina

At another soda, Mrs Crazy Kicks ordered a fish casado. We were not sure what kind of fish it was when it came out, but it was amazingly good. With a nice chewy texture and some rich tasty fat on it, this was the BEST fish either of us had ever tasted! Then we hit a big bone in one piece and after double checking the menu realized that Mrs Crazy Kicks had really ordered the pork… Our Spanish could probably use some more work.

Tamarindo water taxi

Playa Grande is nice and quiet, but still has some good amenities close by. There are several restaurants and a local grocery in walking distance. The touristy town of Tamarindo is about a 40 minute drive, or you can take a 5 minute water taxi across the estuary.

Water_Taxi_Bula_Bula_to_Tamarindo

The water taxis seem to run on their own schedule. It cost us $3 per person for a 10 minute ride down the estuary to Tamarindo. On the way back however, we could only find one guy, and he would only take us straight across the estuary rather than up the estuary to where we had come from.  Maybe not the most reliable, but that shorter trip only cost $1 per person and it made for a nice walk back along the beach.

Playa_Grande_Costa_Rica_Beach_SunsetIs it cheap to retire in Costa Rica?

As far as living in Costa Rica, it can be cheap but this depends on how you live. The food at local sodas was delightful and inexpensive. We also caught up with some of my friends who moved to Costa Rica, and are living in Playa Flamingo. They rent a nice apartment near the beach. With utilities, including A/C, they’re paying around $700 a month in rent.

Local fruits and vegetables are cheap, but imported snacks and chips can be expensive. The beer was pricey, even for local brews. Imperial, which is a light lager, went for $10 a six pack. Craft beers were obviously hard to find and much pricier.

From talking to our friends, cars cost about double or triple what they do in the States and this seems to be true for anything imported. So if you want to live a typical American lifestyle, it could be more expensive than living in the States. But if you can live like a local, nice surf and stunning beaches are here in spades.

While we haven’t moved to Costa Rica yet, we are still making regular trips down to surf and chow down on casados 🙂 You can see what we thought about Costa Rica just after the rainy season here.

3 thoughts on “Our First Trip to Guanacaste, Costa Rica: Playa Grande

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