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Samara Trip Report

Old Nov 17th, 2009, 06:46 PM
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Join Date: Jul 2009
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Samara Trip Report

We just got back from your first trip to CR and learned a lot by watching this forum before we went. I’m going to post a rather lengthy trip report because I hope it is somewhat helpful to other first timers.

First here’s a little about us for perspective. We are a couple aged 61 and 57. We aren’t globetrotters, but we try and take a nice vacation every couple of years, usually to someplace with a beach. Previous destinations include Barbados (a couple of times, we love it), St. Kitts, Kauai, St. Maarten (in 1981, before it was overrun), and multiple ski trips in the U.S. and Europe. We usually stay away from the big resorts, have no interest in cruising, and don’t want anything to do with “enclave tourism.” We like to be able to explore an area and get a feel for the local life.

We flew to Liberia and spent the entire week in Samara. This is not a destination for everyone. There are no megaresorts. While the town is certainly in the tourist business, I think the largest hotel is less than 50 rooms. Many of the accommodations are budget places and many of the tourists are young and on a budget. The town also draws a substantial number of Tico tourists.

Liberia airport is a typical small tropical airport. The trip through immigration and customs is relatively painless. One suggestion: avoid the far left line when you enter passport control. We got in it because it appeared to be a bit shorter. We didn’t realize that it is the line they use for VIP’s and disabled people. Several times we saw groups led past us on the far left and the immigration official stopped and dealt with that group before the rest of the line. It made it a slow trip through the line. When we got to the head of the line we did find that the left side of the podium was marked for disabled persons, however that sign wasn’t visible from the rear of the line.

We rented through Europcar and were very satisfied. They were waiting us at the airport and while they didn’t have the exact make and model car we had reserved they did have a completely satisfactory vehicle. The paperwork was handled efficiently, the agent spoke fluent English and was courteous, and the whole transaction was smooth. The same was true when we returned the car.

We did quite a bit of driving around in the Samara-Nosara-Carillo area. In addition I rented a bicycle (Samara Travel Center) and took a ride every morning. Roads in CR are every bit as bad as advertised. The road from Liberia to Samara is paved, however the vast majority of the local roads are dirt. In addition they are filled with ruts, potholes, washed out shoulders, dogs, and the occasional horse or cow. Get a 4 wheel drive vehicle. We noticed around Samara that there were no sedans on the road. Everything was either a pickup truck or an SUV. There is a reason for that. Also, your car rental company will have a GPS available. Get it. It is well worth the cost. While destinations are fairly well marked at intersections, road names and numbers are not.

We stayed at the Samara Treehouse Inn which, at least in my opinion, is by far the nicest place in town. Esther Diaz, the manager, is a gem. The property is extremely clean and well maintained and is one of the most unique places we have ever visited. The 4 beachfront units are built on stilts, completely of wood, and have full window walls facing the ocean. The area under the room is a patio featuring a table and chairs (for breakfast), hammocks, lounge chairs, and a grill. You are steps away from the beach. Breakfast is served personally by Esther and is delicious. We paid $130 per night, high for Samara but not bad by resort standards.

The beach in Samara is huge and for us, since it was still the end of the rainy season, almost deserted. Given the size of the beach and the number of rooms in town I suspect it never gets very crowded. It is really beautiful. The only disappointment was the water quality. It was extremely cloudy, however we were told that it was caused by high water in the rivers that empty into the bay and that it clears in the dry season.

Playa Samara is protected by a reef, keeping the size of the waves in the bay down and making it very swimmable. The reef is supposed to offer good snorkeling, but we didn’t go out there given the water quality in the bay.

Approximately 7 km up the road is Playa Carillo. It is one of the prettiest beaches you have ever seen. There is no development on the beach, although there is lodging and a small town in the area. We never saw more than 5 people there at any one time. The rood to Carillo is paved and a very easy drive, walk, or bike ride.

There are enough restaurants in Samara that you can be there for a week and not have to eat at the same place twice. Most menus feature a variety of local and international cuisine. We did not have a bad meal there and we had several that were very good. On the other hand, we didn’t have a truly memorable meal either.

Do not assume that you can use your credit card everywhere you go. Visa is the most widely accepted card. American Express is not as widely accepted. And be prepared to pay cash if necessary. In one restaurant, despite the signs on the door, we presented our card and were told by a server that it was “not possible.” Neither her English nor my Spanish allowed for further explanation. In a gift shop, the card swipe was “broken.”

I had heard that ATM’s on the Plus (Visa) network were much more common thatn those on the Cirrus (Master Card) network and I was a bit concerned that my Master Card ATM would be widely accepted, however there is a Banco de Costa Rica ATM right in the center of town that I used regularly. I also used ATM’s at Liberia and in Nicoya with no problem at all.

The local grocery store is Samara Super, located across from the Treehouse Inn. Think of a fairly well stocked U.S. convenience store. If you need a wider variety of shopping, head for Nicoya, about 30 km away.

Nicoya is a bustling, congested regional center of little tourist interest unless you enjoy, as we do, watching ordinary people live their lives. Be careful with the poorly marked one way streets.

Wingnuts Tours is a family run business offering canopy tours with two brothers as guides. The views of the beach are great and the brothers are extremely knowledgeable about the local area, plants, and animal. They told us that their parents moved from North America and so they had grown up speaking English at home and Spanish in school. They obviously speak both fluently. We took a similar tour on Kauai a couple of years ago, and our opinion this tour was better at half the price.

We considered prices in general to be very moderate for a resort area.

The longest line for departure was to pay the departure tax of $26.00, payable in cash or Visa (only) credit card. I understand that there are locations where this can be prepaid and I’d really suggest doing so. The small restaurant at the airport is small and crowded.

I hope this is helpful to anyone else heading to this area.
SteveH5863 is offline  
Old Nov 18th, 2009, 05:16 AM
Join Date: Nov 2004
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Steve, thanks for the nice report. That is an area we have not visited. Where to next?
parrmt is offline  
Old Nov 18th, 2009, 06:15 AM
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Thanks for the report. This is the area I've been looking into for our next trip to Costa Rica so the report is much appreciated.
AustinTraveler is offline  
Old Nov 18th, 2009, 06:33 AM
Join Date: May 2007
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Thanks for the details - you don't usually hear much about this area. Sounds like you enjoyed it.
volcanogirl is offline  
Old Nov 18th, 2009, 07:44 AM
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Yes, we enjoyed it greatly. It is not an area for everyone, and some people may just want to make it a stopover, but it is beautiful with friendly people and generally great.

One thing I didn't add: We were not, even once, hustled or hassled on this trip. I'm sure everyone has dealt with overly aggressive cab drivers, beach vendors, and timeshare sales people in other locations. We were not approached by anyone unless we entered their place of business. It was a breath of fresh air.
SteveH5863 is offline  
Old Nov 18th, 2009, 10:06 AM
Join Date: Aug 2003
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Thanks for the great trip report and details. I intend on visiting that area sometime and have looked at the Treehouse on an off for years. They look great and the town(s) seem like a nice place to chill and people watch. Do you have the ability to post pics?
hipvirgochick is offline  
Old Nov 18th, 2009, 03:55 PM
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This should let you see a few of the pictures:
SteveH5863 is offline  
Old Nov 18th, 2009, 04:57 PM
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Wow, beautiful!
volcanogirl is offline  
Old Nov 19th, 2009, 09:52 AM
Join Date: Aug 2003
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Looks like my kind of place! And, thanks for showing me you can post a link to Facebook albums!
hipvirgochick is offline  
Old Nov 19th, 2009, 11:25 AM
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I didn't know you could, either, but when you create the album there is an option to create a link for public access to the album. The only downside is that Facebook reduces the resolution of the picture (these were 8 megapixel pix) so much that if you want to download it and use it for something else it really doesn't work. You need the original.
SteveH5863 is offline  
Old Nov 19th, 2009, 02:35 PM
Join Date: Jan 2005
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Good report. We stayed at the hotel Belvidere which was nice. Question - what auto insurance did you purchase, if any, from Europcar? Did you use your credit card insurance for collision? Is there something beyond that?
Hoyas is offline  
Old Nov 19th, 2009, 08:11 PM
Join Date: Feb 2003
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Your report on this area is greatly appreciated. Samara is on my wishlist. Treehouse prices seem much higher than a couple of years ago.

MichelleY is offline  
Old Nov 20th, 2009, 05:59 AM
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I purchased liability insurance (mandatory) from Europcar. My credit card covered collision. They did call my credit card company to verify coverage.
SteveH5863 is offline  
Old Apr 3rd, 2010, 09:58 AM
Join Date: Feb 2004
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Thanks for the report. We are looking at that area for our Dec. trip. Unfortunately the Treehouse is booked. I loved your pictures.
travelingj is offline  
Old Apr 4th, 2010, 07:39 PM
Join Date: Apr 2004
Posts: 189
I'm a bit late on reading your report on your stay in Samara. It sounds like you had a wonderful experience on your first trip to Costa Rica. I visited Samara on a day trip from Nosara and was quite unimpressed, sorry to say. Were you able to visit any other areas and are you interested in going back to CR? BTW, I love St. Kitts..I got married there!
joeschmo is offline  
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