Ben: Talk about your own slice of paradise. The area of Playa San Miguel was our second and final stop out on the Nicoya Peninsula and it was absolutely breathtaking. It's rare to have every one of your "boxes" checked on your internal checklist (a checklist you probably didn't even know existed!), but that's what staying at the Cristal Azul boutique hotel in Playa San Miguel will do to you. Zene and Henner are the amazing hosts and the owners of both Cristal Azul and the beachfront restaurant/bar LocosCocos.
Lauren: Several people told us that we would be out in the middle of no where in this area, which we kind of were, but it was perfect. We were able to slow down a lot and just enjoy the area and not run into crowds at all!
Here is a map of our journey through the Nicoya Peninsula and back to San Jose:
Ben: Getting to Playa San Miguel was an adventure in and of itself and I wouldn't recommend taking our route there from the southern end of the peninsula without a 4WD vehicle. I say this because the roads can get a little sketchy, especially if it's rained recently. There will be streams going across the road at many sections and it's much safer, of course, in a good vehicle. We didn't really have too much trouble other than one particular area where there was construction work going on and we got close to getting stuck in some kind of gravel/mud mix. That was actually a lot more difficult than any water crossings, but I doubt everyone will go through the same thing. Also, many rental car agreements specifically state that you will not use the vehicle to cross any rivers. Just be aware of this before going off adventuring!
Lauren: Getting a 4WD vehicle for this trip was one of the smartest things we did. You will definitely put it to good use and will be grateful for it if you venture out of the city.
Ben: We were in contact with Zene for months ahead of our planned Costa Rica trip and so, in the days before arriving at Playa San Miguel, we coordinated for us to go to LocosCocos and meet Henner so he could guide us up the hill to Cristal Azul. This is a pretty sparsely populated area with all dirt roads and we were arriving in the late afternoon so we were a bit turned around when it came to finding Cristal Azul, but Henner showed us the way up and we were able to do it just fine on our own over the course of the next few days. Pictured above is the view that greeted us when arriving at LocosCocos for the first time. You could say we instantly fell in love with the area.
Lauren: Zene and Henner are amazing! I couldn't speak any more highly of them. They are both very down-to-earth and have the most relaxed attitudes while still getting things done and showing you a good time! (I don't think we would have been able to get there the first night without following Henner up the hill to Cristal Azul).
Ben: You may be wondering why we wanted Henner's guidance in finding the hotel and if you check out the picture above then you might be able to tell--it's located on top of a hill in some pretty dense forest!
Lauren: Seriously, just look at the place! The view was incredible and I couldn't believe how lucky we were to get to stay there for a few days.
Ben: Despite the trek up each time (it's really not hard and it's pretty dang adventurous if you ask me) it is more than worth it for the views, the company, the food, the pets, etc.
Ben: Enjoy a traditional breakfast each morning! Zene will be sure to accommodate you if you want something else as well.
Lauren: One of Ben's favorite things to do when we travel is to try the food from the area. We were so spoiled during this part of our trip and ate well for every meal.
Ben: Also, enjoy the company of Zene and Henner's pets. ^This is Tugo giving me the "be my friend" look.
Lauren: Seriously?! Look at that face!
Ben: Sunrise is quite early and also quite beautiful. Lauren was probably still asleep when I took ^this shot of the rooms. :D
Ben: At some point you will end up at the LocosCocos beachfront bar/restaurant where you'll probably see Henner hard at work. They are known for their ceviche and other seafood dishes, but if you're averse to food of the sea then they have some great non-fishy foods as well, like quesadillas!
Lauren: Whether you eat up at Cristal Azul or down the hill at LocosCocos, you are in for quite a treat. Sadly, I don't enjoy seafood, but they had amazing chicken quesadillas that I was able to eat!
Ben: There isn't a bad seat at LocosCocos when it comes to the view as that is the beach directly ahead right after the palm trees. I'm sure there's not a bad dish here either. We ate here 2-3 times and everything was delicious!
Lauren: You can easily go for a walk on the beach after you eat to walk off some of the amazing food you've been having ;)
Ben: For things to do in the area that's totally up to you. You can go out exploring, like we did, along the beaches and find cool spots for relaxing or photo opportunities. There are also multiple sea turtle sanctuaries in the area that run during certain parts of the year where you can have the unique and personal experience of seeing baby sea turtles let loose on the beaches where they'll scramble into the ocean.
Lauren: We were able to experience a turtle hatching earlier in the trip at another sanctuary. The first experience was amazing, but very crowded. When we went to the sanctuary here, we were the only people there other than the volunteers, so it was quite a different experience.
Note: These sanctuaries are mainly run by volunteers that come from all over the world to dedicate their time and efforts in helping the sea turtle populations of the area. The volunteers have pretty crazy hours since they have to go up and down the beaches looking for turtle tracks and find the turtle eggs before predators do. Once they find a nest they will transport the eggs back to the sanctuary for protection until they naturally hatch or they're helped in the hatching process. These volunteers don't have much and work hard and I'm sure they'd appreciate any help or donations you can give. Their website is http://turtle-trax.com/. Also, Kelsey was super helpful and informative when we visited their little camp.
Ben: One of my favorite experiences was going over to Punta Islita (a town up the coast) and checking out some sea caves with our local guide Marco. Marco is part of the Bejuco Authentic tour company and knows the area very well. He is very friendly and can speak both Spanish and English and has many activities available for those that are adventurous and those that are less so.
Lauren: Marco is amazing. He took some time out of his day to show us some amazing sea caves and hung out with us for several hours! We were able to talk a lot and get to know him a bit more. He's a great guy and very knowledgeable about the area and things to do.
Ben: Pictured above^ is the point of the Playa Punta Islita where you can go through a narrow channel and reach the other side and see some cool caves along the shore. This was done during low-tide, but we still got a little wet--which was fine by us!
Lauren: Getting wet made it even more of an adventure for us. This was one of my favorite days from the whole trip. The sea caves here were so amazing and we were the only ones around!
Ben: How cool is that^? We had a lot of fun with Marco traversing this landscape that he has grown up around and knows everything about.
Ben: If you're in the area of Punta Islita then you shouldn't miss out on the Ara Project and their beautiful macaws! The purpose of this project is to help reintroduce captive-raised macaws back into the wild and increase their population in general. There is a wonderful presentation and then you can walk down and watch the macaws feed. They are so much more vibrant than I could have imagined. This is definitely worth a visit. And don't forget to donate to this great cause!
Lauren: The Ara Project was really cool. I couldn't believe how big and colorful the macaws were. This is also run by volunteers from all over the world (we had a German girl lead us around when we were there). Zene set us up with many of the activities we did during this part of our time in Costa Rica and it wouldn't have been as good of an experience without her help.
Ben: We had the best time in the Playa San Miguel area of the Nicoya Peninsula and would highly recommend to anyone that they should come out this way. We mainly saw other couples in the area that were visiting, but I know the whole family would have a blast here. If you do decide to come then check out Cristal Azul and LocosCocos! Zene and Henner are phenomenal!
Lauren: We had the time of our lives in this area. Ben and I have so many places we want to go and see, but this is one I would return to in a heartbeat; especially to visit our amazing hosts Zene and Henner!