My husband and I have always enjoyed being adventurous when we take a holiday. We like to take the road a little-less traveled, exploring towns and areas that aren’t overly populated with tourists. So when we went into planning mode for our 2-week vacation to Costa Rica we plugged our ears and avoided the siren call of the all-inclusive.
We began our trip in Samara (pronounced Sam-Ra), a small beach town frequented by Ticos (the local word used to describe native Costa Ricans). Located on the Pacific side, the beach is protected by a reef, making it an ideal place to swim without fear of an undertow.
If you are looking for a town with paved roads, loads of shops selling souvenirs, and beach bars blasting the latest dance music, then avoid Samara. This is a small, sleepy town. While there are bars and shops, the beach is the main attraction.
Samara has a wealth of accommodations for every price point. We chose to stay at the Fenix on the Beach, a small, mid-range priced hotel located a short walk (along the beach) from the centre of things. We preferred being slightly off the main strip as it was quieter at night and each room had a small kitchen. Plus, it came highly recommended by a friend of mine. In addition to having this end of the beach practically to ourselves, the Fenix is located close to a small grocery store and fish market.
For the first few days we laid low, enjoying the warm water on our boogie boards (the Fenix has them for guests) or reading in the shade while the kids played on the beach. But by day three we were itching to explore. So, for the remainder of our week in Samara we picked a local adventure we all agreed upon.
Day one was horseback riding on the beach. Easiest activity to plan. We walked onto the beach and flagged down a man with horses. He took us on an hour’s trip along the beach. Apparently we over paid, but I felt the $20/pp was good value. The next night we hired a boat and went out snorkeling. Not much to see underwater but we were graced by a pod of dolphins who swam alongside our boat. In the evening we attended an authentic Costa Rican rodeo complete with bull riding and carnival rides that I am sure were banned in North America some 20 years ago. The rodeo comes to Samara at the end of December every year.
After that is was surf lessons. While I was never able to hang ten, I did get up and rode a few waves. We took lessons at Pato’s Surf Shop, fair price and we got use of their boards for the next 5 days. Wanting to explore a little further a field, we rented a car and explored some of the neighbouring beaches. We had heard Playa Cirillo was beautiful; except the day we went it was packed and there wasn’t a free spot to be had. Usually the beach is empty but this being high season, we were out of luck. After that we ventured to a local Tico hang out we had been told about, Belen Waterfalls. After a short hike through some wooded area we found ourselves alongside a beautiful waterfall. Unable to resist the urge, my kids and husband joined the locals and went waterfall jumping. I opted to watch from the sidelines.
For the most part we cooked our own meals, preferring to make salads from the fresh produce we bought from street-side vendors and meat we purchased daily from the local butcher. I loved it when the fisherman would come by the hotel, offering freshly caught and made ceviche. But on the nights we did eat out – the food was okay. There are some hits and misses in Samara, so be sure to ask around before you settle in for a meal (we loved El Lagarto. The food is amazing).
Insiders tip… Located between Belen Waterfalls and Samara is a small roadside cafe called LaRoca. Do not skip stopping here. The food is good but the view is spectacular. See if you can spot the waterfall off to the right.