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Trip Report -- part 2 – Brasilito, Guanacaste -- March 2009

Trip Report -- part 2 – Brasilito, Guanacaste -- March 2009

Mar 30th, 2009, 12:27 PM
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Trip Report -- part 2 – Brasilito, Guanacaste -- March 2009

Part 2 of 2
Brasilito, Playa Conchal, Playa Penca, Playa Grande, etc.

Part 1: http://www.fodors.com/community/mexi...march-2009.cfm

This part is way longer, but it seems that there is less information out there about this particular area -- thought I'd give a bit more detail.

We had originally planned on going back to Manuel Antonio (for a 2nd time) after our three nights at BdC. Long story short, but we were never able to confirm our reservations at a particular hotel and then the sewage contamination story came out. Though it was technically cleaned up and the beaches retained their Blue Flag status, etc, we just decided to take it as a sign to go somewhere else to get our beach time. Honestly, I sort of wish we had just stayed in PJ for that, but, again, I was a little worried about how we would have done without a/c at night. It was no problem at all at BdC, but I’m still not sure what it would have been like down at the beach. Possibly totally fine, and the next time we make it to BdC, we will more than likely stay on the beach for a few days before or after – now that I know we can deal (we’ve just recently really started to travel, so we’re still learning about our preferences, what we can live without, etc.). Since I had researched Brasilito in the past, we changed our plans about three weeks before coming, and I quickly made reservations, changed our flights, etc.

So, as I said before, the trip back to the Puerto Jimenez airport was much less uncomfortable. On the way back, we were able to practice our very elementary Spanish skills with Kevin – it was more like Spanglish really – but we all got our messages across for the most part. Also, on the way back, we kept passing these trees that were releasing these brilliant yellow blossoms into the air – it was like yellow snow (not the bad kind either ) covering the ground and filling the air. Unfortunately, I was paranoid we’d be late to the airport and I didn’t ask Kevin to stop for a photo.

At the PJ airport we talked with a young woman from Canada who had just spent four or five days hiking through Corcovado Park with a guide. She looked very happy and said it was the best experience of her life. I felt like a wimp that I had just spent three nights in a comfy king size bed, but, who knows, maybe one day. She also gave my partner a line about how smaller planes are safer than big ones – not sure if this is true – but it made the rest of our internal flights much less stressful!

When we got to SJO we went straight to check in for our “connecting” flight to Tamarindo and was told it had been canceled and there were no other flights that day. Surprisingly, I dealt with this very calmly – I think four days in the rainforest had chilled me out quite a bit. But it was a bit like The Amazing Race. I asked if Nature Air had any flights and they got on the phone, got us tickets, put us in a cab, and before we knew it, we were at the Pavas airport. All in all, we ended up getting to Tamarindo about 30 minutes earlier than we would have on our original Sansa flight (and I have since been reimbursed for the Sansa tickets!) – so it all worked out great.

Based on previous reviews and proximity to Playa Conchal, we had decided to stay at Conchal Hotel in Brasilito. We wanted somewhere affordable, comfortable, close to a swimmable beach and a town. Simon, the affable British owner of the hotel, picked us up at the Tamarindo airport and drove us the 15 minute drive to Brasilito. Once there, he showed us the room, the hotel, the rancho, the honor bar. Told us to make ourselves at home, etc. You can read my complete review on Trip Advisor.

Conchal Hotel is on the main road through Brasilito. I think after having spent four days in paradise with almost no man-made noises, getting used to the regular traffic noise was very difficult at first. I think it’s probably hard to go anywhere after BdC, and by the end of that first day, I was cursing my decision! But, as often happens, a good night’s sleep helped tremendously. I began to accept the area for what it was, and eventually we came to really love the Conchal Hotel and the surrounding area. The traffic noise began to fade into the background, and the personal service, intimacy, quaintness, etc. of the hotel and its staff began to take precedence. I was even surprised by the sound of howler monkeys in the distance when we woke up and by the presence of all kinds of birds and bird noises surrounding the hotel (as well as an up close bat sighting!).

This area – at least in March – is very, very dry. It would be blazing hot from about 1 PM to 4 PM, but then it would cool down tremendously after that. There was a constant breeze from the ocean, and we never really needed a/c at night – we would use it to cool down the room a bit but never slept a whole night with it; the ceiling fan was more than sufficient. The mornings were pleasant and breezy – again, until about one in the afternoon. Even then, though, the humidity was always pretty low, and our clothing would dry within a couple hours after hanging it outside.

The hotel is about a 5 minute walk to the ‘center’ of Brasilito – which, like many of the little towns in that area, consists of a soccer field/square surrounded by a school, various grocery stores, bars, sodas, etc. Playa Brasilito, as is often said, is nothing to write home about – certainly not appealing to swim in for these gringos and maybe even a little stinky at certain times of the day – but it has its own beauty. Another 8 minute or so walk from there is Playa Conchal, though, purportedly one of the most beautiful beaches in CR. From what I’ve seen, I’d have to agree.

Playa Brasilito and Playa Conchal technically share a bay and they are separated by a small headland. But, they couldn’t be more different. It’s the weirdest thing I’ve ever experienced. You go over this little hill and you’re suddenly transported to most people’s idea of a paradise beach. In Playa Brasalito, the sand is dark, therefore the water’s dark, and it seems a little creepy at first. Playa Conchal, on the other hand, has very light, almost white, sand. About the first quarter of it from the north is made up of coarsely crushed shells, but the rest of it has ‘normal’ finer sand. The water is clear and turquoise and just begs to be swam in and photographed. There isn’t a whole lot of shade, but there are some small trees here and there where you can set up. We ended up preferring to go about halfway down the beach – fewer people and nicer water – and found a little tree to which we returned each day.

The beach is backed by a mega resort, and I assume they own all of the land behind the beach. But, to their credit, it’s a very discreet resort, not made up of high rises. You wouldn’t even know it’s there from the beach – so it didn’t interfere with our enjoyment of the beach and water at all. In spite of the resort, it felt pretty undeveloped and peaceful. Who knows, maybe the fact that this one resort company owns all the land keeps it from becoming high rise city -- it certainly would otherwise. Basically, it was even better than I had anticipated, and we were very happy campers!

We were at Conchal Hotel and Brasilito for five nights. I managed to get to a beach five days in a row – even squeezing in a quick trip the morning we left. I just wanted to get it out of my system, and I really did. It was great. An average day consisted of getting up by 6:30 or 7, having breakfast in the 2nd floor of the hotel rancho, walking to Playa Conchal and staying there till about noon or 1 PM, heading back with a stop at Soda Brasilito for lunch (seriously, we ate lunch here EVERY single day – we’re such creatures of habit and when we find a good place, we stick to it), and then hanging out at the hotel, napping, pool time until dinner.

We at dinner twice at the hotel’s restaurant – which was amazing, and we had two dinners at Il Forno, the Italian restaurant down the street. Very good brick oven pizza – and this coming from NYers. We didn’t really try any of the other restaurants in town for dinner. We love the ocean, but neither of us like fish, and I don’t like seafood (go figure) – so we felt a little limited, though I’m sure there are plenty of other choices in town.

We rented a car one day – my first time doing this in CR. It turns out I was SO unnecessarily nervous. It was very easy, and we only went about 20 miles away at most, so getting lost wasn’t even an option. I did take photos of every little nick and scratch on the vehicle, just to be safe. In the morning, we made a quick little drive to Playa Flamingo about 4 miles north. We only stayed there for about 10 minutes though. It’s a pretty beach but just a bit too developed for what we were looking for that day.

We then headed off another few miles north to the town of Potrero and Playa Penca. This beach, on the other hand, was my ideal of a paradise beach. I loved this beach and liked it more than Playa Conchal even. It’s a smaller beach, half moon shaped, and pretty deserted. There were only about three or four houses (at least visible) backing it, and a couple of them were darn cute. There’s a lagoon (or are they called estuaries?) behind the beach and the houses, and I think this contributed to giving the vegetation a lot more green (plus, I’m sure the home owners water their yards here). There were palm trees and just an overall wilder feeling here (definitely not as jungly as Playa Manuel Antonio, but very beautiful in its own right). The beach had a nice 45 degree slope into the water – making it very comfortable to lay right there and do stretches. The water was very clear, and, unlike at Playa Conchal, you could really walk out pretty far. I hope to return here one day, and I hope it retains its low development (I even hesitate talking about it, but I don’t think I hold that much power!).

That evening, we drove down to Playa Grande to watch the sunset. It’s about a 20 minute drive. It was very beautiful as expected. A very different beach – super wide; big, loud, crashing waves; no shade at all. Definitely a surfer’s beach. I believe the turtle nesting season had gone by, but it’s nice to see there were not many hotels close to the beach – they seemed to be honoring the need to keep light away from the beach. After the sun set, we ate dinner at Hotel Las Tortugas (cute place!) and geared up for the ride back in the dark. I think we were both feeling some anxiety, and when we got outside, we thought the car had been stolen – turns out we just hadn’t gone far enough (idiots!). I think the main reason I was nervous was because of all the stories and warnings I’ve read about driving in CR in the dark. Note to self and others – it’s basically the same as driving any country roads anywhere. It’s dark, there are animals, maybe some people – but certainly not difficult. We had built it up way more in our heads, and it was not a problem at all. I am now no longer afraid to rent a car in CR – though I doubt I would want to drive long distances still.

I think that’s about it for now for this area. Overall, it was a great choice for beach and easy exploration. It definitely wouldn’t be for everyone – we weren’t ON the beach, it’s not lush, the hotel wasn’t super cushy. But, it really was a perfect place for us – we felt very comfortable, and we really liked being in a town. The store and restaurant workers and owners had started to recognize us, and five nights gave us a nice amount of time to get to know the place. We both said, though, that four nights would’ve been fine.

I should also add that though I had researched this area a bit in the past, I basically didn’t feel a big attraction to the geography and climate of this area. I just thought it would be dry and boring, no wildlife, etc. It was dry, but I have to say it does offer a lot. It’s just different. It’s not the lush rainforest of my fantasies, but there is plenty of wildlife to spot (sometimes easier without all those leaves in the way!), places to see, people to meet. It’s also not as widely developed as I imagined. I’m sure there are pockets of this – particularly north and south of Brasilito – but it’s still generally undeveloped (Tamarindo from the air looked a bit scary).

We returned to Pavas on Nature Air and stayed our last night in Orquideas Inn. I had thought of staying at El Cafetal Inn, but ultimately passed it up on this trip. Maybe next time. Orquideas was really a great choice, but I wasn’t so happy with it at first (see a pattern here?). It was a little rundown in places as recent reviews have stated, and I was expecting more from the ‘nature trail’. But, in the end, we really liked it here a lot also. Honestly, by then, I was tired of looking for creepy crawlies.

We stayed in the Mountain View Suite (I’ve just submitted a review over at TA) which has a king bed and a Jacuzzi tub (and an actual couch and large TV). Though I don’t regret this decision – that tub was nice – next time we would stay in a less expensive room. I just don’t think it was really worth what they are charging – unless you really, really want a Jacuzzi bathtub. The paint was cracked along a portion of the wall, one of the slats in the huge walk-in closet was broken and just sitting there, the toilet seemed clean but stained – but, as strange as it sounds, this all added to the charm for us. The room is very weird – it’s HUGE, feels like a ballroom – and not really a great use of space. It has a cool lavender and gold color scheme, also. Funky is how I described it in my review. My partner was pretending it was part of some grand palazzo – maybe a little rundown in places.

We left the next morning after bingeing on one last breakfast buffet spread (the one at Orquideas Inn rivaled the one at Tulemar last year – I think it was even better, actually). The flight home was pretty uneventful, though we did have a TV actress on the plane – just a little reminder that Costa Rica attracts all kinds.
plumboy is offline  
Mar 30th, 2009, 01:30 PM
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Plumboy,
You've hit Brasilito right on the head, such a neat little town, but sorry you didn't try out some of the other restaurants. For a small town, it really offers quite a variety. We stayed at Hotel Conchal last March while volunteering at Escuela de Brasilito. Hot and hotter, dry and windy - no a/c at the school so we worked until noon, then hit the pool to cool off. Simon is just the best, such a nice guy and was the catalyst for our volunteer project. The hammocks in the rancho were great to chill out and listen to the howlers and birds. Your report has brought back lots of great memories for me - thanks!
Is that huge resort being built nearby yet? Greg Norman had just been there designing the golf course last year. The teachers and parents we met weren't happy about the expected surge of tourists once it opens - seems like it was on the other side of Camaron Dorado.
colibri is offline  
Mar 30th, 2009, 02:50 PM
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We did stop in at Cameron Dorado for a minute to look at the menu, but I honestly can't say I looked past it. We also never walked down Playa Brasilito in that direction -- I'm embarrassed to say. I wanted to, but it just didn't happen. Yeah, I'm sure it will change there eventually -- it's too bad, but that's the way of the world it seems.
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Mar 30th, 2009, 03:28 PM
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Nice report, Robert.

So glad you both had a great time. Brasilito and area hold a weird fascination for us. I spent a week at Brasilito alone once when I was in school at Playa Flamingo--Hotel Brasilito. This summer we'll try Il Forno. We'll be at Playa Flamingo and Flamingo Beach Resort for 3 nights, complimentary as I raised a good deal of "cain" after they tried to refuse to honor our reservation last year. They do a good job there, but seem to be too interested in the $$. Last year it seemed to get in the way of excellent service (something that has always been a little lacking). Conchal Hotel sounds like a neat place to stay.

Agree Playa Penca is really special. That little area around Portrero has certainly seen a lot of development in the past 5 years. Good that P. Penca doesn't seem to have been affected so much. There will soon be mega resorts in that area, I believe. Yuk.
shillmac is offline  
Mar 30th, 2009, 03:46 PM
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plumboy--I am really enjoying your report, especially the Flamingo, Potrero, Brasilito portion. I was there twice last year and loved the area. We volunteered at the schools in Brasilito and Potrero, with 8th graders from our middle school. They had a wonderful time and so did we.

Playa Penca is a wonderful beach, and we walked from Playa Potrero to Playa Flamingo one afternoon. I am glad that we were able to see it before any more development.
cgenster is offline  
Mar 30th, 2009, 04:38 PM
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Colibri, that's great to hear that Simon was the catalyst for your involvement in the school. I had actually bought pencils and colored pencils to bring with us, but I had to axe them at the last minute -- we just simply didn't have any more room. I've sent an email to Simon asking if I can mail the supplies to him.

And, yes, those hammocks were wonderful!
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Mar 30th, 2009, 06:57 PM
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plum hope you post your pics soon, the ones of Playa Penca are lovely, put the place on may radar at least! Maybe try kodakgallery? Or a separate album on Picasa? Have to laugh at your experience at going from Bosque to there and dealing with the noise and activity. I did the same thing years ago, Bosque then MA and thought I was going to lose my mind, even the ac bugged me
tully is offline  
Mar 30th, 2009, 07:11 PM
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Plumboy,
Please tell Simon that Vicki from Friendship Force says hi to him and to Ginette - they are both great! The school can always use supplies since there are many children from poor households. Brasilito gets children coming in from Nicaragua without any sort of supplies or uniforms when their parents come to work in the fields.
I'm dreaming of the rancho and that hammock right now - wish I would have had time last month to head over that direction, but this past trip was strictly around Central Valley and Caribbean lowlands along with Tortuguero. Oh well, already planning out trip 3, just don't know when it will be....
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Mar 31st, 2009, 05:11 AM
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I'm working on those photos. Will probably open a new Picasa account and go from there -- but all that captioning! Oy! Maybe sometime this week...

I'll tell Simon you said hello. He just sent me the mailing address so I'm going to get some school supplies to him for the schools -- hoping they make it.
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Mar 31st, 2009, 05:25 AM
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Thanks for the report on Brasilito, Plum. Enjoyed reading about an area that isn't reported about too often.

Wow, I am impressed that Sansa already credited you for your canceled flight. As of yesterday, I still haven't received a credit for our flight time mixup.
janenicole is offline  
Apr 14th, 2009, 10:24 AM
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By the way, colibri, I packed up some school supplies and clothing to send to Brasilito for the schools there, and I discovered that a 4 lb box was going to cost almost $50 to send to Costa Rica! I had NO idea! Needless to say, it's not going to be sent. I'd do much better just sending a check for $50. It's crazy -- I had no idea it was so expensive to send stuff to CR.
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Apr 14th, 2009, 11:12 AM
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Yikes! $50 for a 4 lb. box that may or may not ever reach the destination?! Your heart was in the right place, but I agree that's too much. There will always be another trip and a little room in your suitcase. I had to pay another $25 on Continental to haul down a suitcase full of supplies for the school in Poasito destroyed in the earthquake. You would think they could give me a break, but no....
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Apr 14th, 2009, 03:36 PM
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Plumboy--When our schools adopted the schools in Brasilito and Potrero one of the things Brasilito wanted was whiteboards. We can buy them up here really cheap but to ship them would have been $700. It was ridiculous, and they couldn't guarantee that the whiteboards would even get there.

All of our students took an extra suitcase full of school supplies but that was before the airlines charged extra for a second bag.

Hi Colibri. Are you going back to Costa Rica next year with FF?
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Apr 14th, 2009, 03:49 PM
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Hey cgenster,

Good to hear from you - I would love to go back to Costa Rica next year for any reason! If my trip to Japan doesn't pan out this fall, I'm thinking about a volunteer trip with EARTH University in Guacimo, followed by a stay at two different ecolodges, neither has electricity so that could be challenging for me. When is your next trip to CR?
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Apr 14th, 2009, 04:08 PM
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I don't want to hijack this thread so I will go to your picture thread and post.
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Apr 14th, 2009, 04:22 PM
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I haven't sent anything down there for a couple of years, but yes, very expensive. The thing is, you really need to send by registered mail in order to insure that the package is received. Lots of corruption in that area, unfortunately. THAT is where the expense lies. And the packages have to be taped just so-so in order to ship them registered. I have to buy special tape from the post office. It has to be moistened and used to seal all exposed edges. The requirements are stringent. You can't send registered (and have the guarantee of delivery) and use just any old packaging tape. I've even cut strips of paper sacks before and used cement glue or spray glue to seal the packages. There are a lot of USPS rules to deem the packages tamper-proof. It's crazy. And crazy expensive.

Colibri, your volunteer trip sounds interesting. Which places without electricity?
shillmac is offline  
Apr 14th, 2009, 05:23 PM
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I don't even send regular mail to Costa Rica, so unreliable. If I can't e-mail it, then it doesn't get there.

Shillmac - one of the ecolodges is Selva Bananito in Limon Province, near the eastern border of La Amistad. I can't remember the other one, all the info's at the office. Sounded interesting, but I'm hoping that fall will find me in Japan.
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Jul 21st, 2009, 09:32 AM
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WAY overdue, but a link to the photos from this trip:

http://picasaweb.google.com/rdc121/CostaRica2009#
plumboy is offline  
Jul 21st, 2009, 11:02 AM
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Plumboy,
Loved your view from Congo - colors are just amazing! All your Brasilito and Conchal photos make me want to go back to that quiet little part of Costa Rica. I wore my earrings yesterday that I bought at the shop across the street from the hotel and thought about laying in that hammock up on the top floor of the rancho and walking along the deserted beach. I need a Costa Rica fix!
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Jul 21st, 2009, 12:11 PM
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Yeah, I really, really, really miss that view. Believe it or not, I visualize it almost every night when I go to sleep (I've read that if you visualize the horizon, you'll fall asleep a lot faster -- and that's the one I choose every night!).

My partner LOVED that little store across the street. We got a cute blue morpho t-shirt for our 'niece', a friend's baby, from there.

It's funny, it's like a totally different country and experience in that part of CR from somewhere like the Osa Peninsula -- so much variety in a small package.
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