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CR Trip Report- Playa Grande, Mal Pais & Coastal Route in between!!!!

CR Trip Report- Playa Grande, Mal Pais & Coastal Route in between!!!!

Old May 15th, 2007, 12:57 PM
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CR Trip Report- Playa Grande, Mal Pais & Coastal Route in between!!!!

Hi all- First off let me just say thank you to Shillmac, Floridafran, and everyone else for their always priceless advice before our trip. We just returned from our third trip to Costa Riva and it was as amazing as it's ever been! Overall everything was perfect, weather was great, and I absolutely cannot believe how much construction is going on (it's been 2 years since our last trip)! Guess we can't keep CR a secret forever. Onto the trip report (I'll try to keep it fairly brief).

On May 4 we flew from Salt Lake City to Houston, then Houston to Liberia. We landed two hours late (slight delay in Houston) at about 8:30 pm. We had debated whether or not to pick up the car that night and stay in Liberia or make the drive to Playa Grande. We've done it a few times in the past, so we know the route and the roads, but at night it can still be sketchy, and we had no idea how much rain they'd had lately. But, we went for it. Really wanted to wake up by the beach the next morning, not in some dive in Liberia. Wow, that new road to Playa Grande is like a super highway! Well, it's still only two lanes, and pitch black, but so smooth. Paved all the way to the door of Hotel Las Tortugas and I don't even think we hit a single pot-hole. Amazing! Spent 4 nights at Las Tortugas, and loved every second of it. We've been twice before and just can't seem to stay away. Our friends flew in on Saturday and met us at Las Tortugas for 2 nights. We had dinner in Brasilito at a wonderful place, right on the beach called Bar y Restaurante Camaron Dorado. Absolutely fantastic! Also ate at Zully Mar in Tamarindo one night. It was mediocre, but the setting on the beach was wonderful. Mostly we all surfed, body boarded and lounged for a couple days. Drove down to Playa Avellanas and Playa Negra. Both beautiful, mostly empty beaches and the drive to and from was an adventure on the dirt roads.

On Tuesday, May 8 we set out for Mal Pais/Santa Teresa. We spoke with the staff at Las Tortugas about our driving options and we had 3- the inland/ferry route, the inland/non ferry route, and the coastal route. We opted on our way down for the inland/non ferry route. So we took Highway 21 south through Santa Cruz and Nicoya to Naranjo and then through Paquera to Cobano to Mal Pais. It took us about 4.5/5 hours (two cars following each other) and it wasn't really that bad. It was paved most of the way. The road from Naranjo to Paquera was dirt and twisted up and over a mountain, but it's been really dry so the road wasn't too bad and it was a fun adventure. Then it's paved again to Cobano and then the dirt road into Mal Pais. It definitely was not as bad as we expected (I still think the Quepos/Domincal road was way worse) and took us much less time then we thought it would. We stayed within the speed limits most of the way, too afraid of the speed traps. All in all it was a lovely drive.

We stayed in Santa Teresa for 3 nights at the Tropico Latino and absolutely LOVED it. TL is an amazing hotel on the beach, staff was so nice and helpful, food was wonderful, cocktails were fantastic (highly recommend their Amaretto Colada- it was perfect! The only rain was a few hours early one morning, but basically the weather was gorgeous and dry. We loved the beach location of Tropico Latino. Great for surfing and even better for napping in a beach front hammock. Mal Pais is so lush and beautiful we really enjoyed our visit there. It was amazing to us the difference in the landscpae between Playa Grande and Mal Pais. Coming from Utah, where it's so dry, Playa Grande looked so lush to us, but then we got to Mal Pais and it was pure jungle. Just loved it. Ate at the hotel most of the time, but had dinner on the beach at Piedra Mar one night. Delicious! We did the canopy tour at Canopy del Pacifico and had a blast. It was a very cool course, spectacular views and it was just the 5 of us with 2 guides, who were so wonderful. It was definitely a highlight of our trip.

Friday, May 11- THE COASTAL ROUTE- it was time to leave Mal Pais and head back to Playa Grande for 2 nights. We really wanted to try the coastal route out of Mal Pais, at least as far as Samara. Ricardo at Tropico Latino was very helpful with directions, tide info, river crossing directions so we decided to go for it. We had our trusty little RAV 4's and went for it. Was glad we brought walkie talkies to communicate with each other (we had two cars). It was absolutely INCREDIBLE!!!! The scenary and the adventure was everything we'd hoped for and the route was really not that bad, totally doable. Though I imagine with much more rain it will be impossible, or at least very difficult. We had been completely intimidated to try this route and a bit nervous, but all for nothing. It's not for the faint of heart and you need a bit of an adventurous spirit, but I'm guessing if you're going to Costa Rica on a trip then you already meet the prerequisites. Thank you Shillmac for recommending the National Geograpic guide. I had it overnighted to me from Amazon the day before our trip and while the book as a whole I didn't find that great (just not my style of guide book), it very clearly details the driving route between Samara and Mal Pais and it got us through. We were quite surprised though how many road signs there actually were along the route, we only had to guess at a few forks in the road and I guess we have a good driving sense because we guessed correctly almost every time. Our one mistake was a perfect one. If you do it, make sure you have a good map and extra time. The guys at Tropico Latino said 2 hours from there to Samara, the book said 4 and it took us about 3/3.5 hours. Truly incredible. We drove north out of Mal Pais up to Manzanillo. Ricardo at TL had told us to avoid the beach and head inland a bit since the it was just past high tide and the beach is tricky, however this is where we went left instead of right and ended up at the beach. We scoped it out, and knowing that the tide was going down, and had just seen a pick up truck take the beach route we decided to give it a go. It was about 3 miles or directly ON THE BEACH and it was so cool. The pick up truck we had seen turned out to be going to help pull another truck out of the sand. Apparently they got stuck in the high tide. They were all locals and we helped push the truck out. They were all very grateful for the extra help and confirmed that yes, we were on the right "road". There's a small sign on the beach directing you back to the dirt road towards Coyote. Followed the dirt road towards Playa Coyote. Had to ford the Rio Bongo and it looked a little hairy, but wasn't all that deep. Once across the river we hit a big patch of mud (this was probably the trickiest part of the drive), we just gunned it and made it through. We followed the road right towards San Francisco de Coyote, do not go left to Playa Coyote or Punta Coyote (though I'm sure it's lovely). Crossed the Rio Jabillo, which was quite a bit deeper then the previous river crossing. Just as we were scoping it out a little SUV came flying through the river from the other direction. Driver stopped, said he drove it every day to work, pointed out the best way to cross and told us "go very fast, it's very fun!" So we did as we were told and crossed with no problem. And yes it was very fast and very fun From San Francisco de Coyote you contine towards San Miguel and Bejuco. The road twists and turns up and over the mountains towards Corozalito and past Punta Islita. We stopped to take pictures of the cliffs and ocean down below. Amazing! Drove past the Hotel Punta Islita, which looks like and incredible place to stay. Crossed the Rio Ora just before Playa Carillo and then it's paved all the way to Samara and up to Nicoya. It was well worth the extra hour of driving time and we made it in time to get some pizzas at Kike Place and eat our pizza while watching the sunset on Playa Grande. An adventure we will all never forget!

Spent 2 more nights at Las Tortugas. Spent an afternoon shopping in Tamarindo (which is not as sketchy a town as we'd been led to believe) and then celebrated a couple of our birthdays with a special, sunset dinner at Hotel Capitain Suizo.

We spent our last night at the Best Western El Sitio in Liberia and caught an early morning flight back to Salt Lake via Houston. Costa Rica has such a special place in our hearts and we had another incredible trip. I guess I wasn't that brief, but I know some of you are very interested in that coastal drive. If anyone has any questions or wants more specifics please let me know. Thanks again to all you Fodorites for all of your tips and advice. It really helped us out.
Pura Vida,
ardie514 is offline  
Old May 15th, 2007, 05:56 PM
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Wow! What a fun adventure that coast route sounds like! I'm filing this info away for future reference.

Sounds like you had a really wonderful vacation.

I've actually been thinking of Utah the past few days; longing for the mountains a bit, I guess. I live in Florida these days, but grew up in Bountiful, UT. How 'bout them Jazz! I'm a basketball fan and the Jazz will always be my 'home' team.

Thanks for sharing your fun trip report. I'm currently planning my second CR trip (Central Valley and the Osa Peninsula).
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Old May 15th, 2007, 08:21 PM
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Welcome home, ardie! What a great report you've done for us. Thanks a BUNCH for doing the coastal route and outlining it for the board. Good for you! Glad the map in NG helped a bit. I've had that book for years and we never used it much, but I enjoyed the pictures! And just happened to remember the detailed driving instructions. . .

And I am thrilled to hear about the new road to PG. As you know, we'll be there (Bula Bula) this July, and that new road is going to make my husband very happy!

Glad the inland route down the east side of the peninsula is better. Man it was just awful last time I was on it. Much worse than the MA-Dominical. But as you say, the rainfall and time of year do make a difference. Plus it sounds like they've paved more of it.

As cmerrell says, you've written a very helpful report for a lot of fellow adventurers. Thanks a lot! And I'm glad you enjoyed Tropico Latino. Not everyone does. It's gotten a few bad reviews. We thought it was a great place, though. Loved that beachfront bungalow!

cmerrell, we're big basketball fans also. It's been fun having the Hornets in OKC since the hurricane disaster in New Orleans. My husband, who is a retired coach (coached both our girls to a couple of state championships) has enjoyed having a pro team nearby. I think they're headed back to New Orleans soon, though.
shillmac is offline  
Old May 16th, 2007, 10:36 AM
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Thanks for the report! I'm glad to read about Tropico Latino. We are going to Mal Pais in a couple of weeks and had planned on staying there...until the recent HORRIBLE reviews on tripadvisor. We decided to stay at the Moana Lodge. I know it isn't right on the beach like TL but I hear its lovely.
Anyway, your description of Mal Pais has gotten me so excited about our trip! I can't wait! We are surfers (my boyfriend more than me) and this will be our 1st trip to Mal Pais (2nd to CR).
Thanks again!
Nolegirl0923 is offline  
Old May 16th, 2007, 11:05 AM
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I hope you love Mal Pais as much as we did. I can't even imagine what horrible things anyone could possibly say about Tropico Latino. Everything was really excellent and the beachfront location was awesome, truly a special place. We drove by Moana Lodge and it looks really nice as well, and really not far from the beach. Piedra Mar is a little shack of a restaurant, but it's right on the rocks at the beach and it's practically across the street from the Moana Lodge. The canopy tour was really fun, I highly recommend it, when not surfing Hope you have an awesome trip.
ardie514 is offline  
Old Jun 6th, 2007, 03:59 PM
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Thanks for the trip report. We are heading down in December to Mal Pais for the second time and are also from SLC.

Thanks again,
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