Hills recede in the distance as hazy orange light spills across a wide flat beach.

A mystical sunrise at Playa Matapalo. Photo © piccaya/123rf.

Playa Matapalo, five kilometers (3 miles) south of Savegre, is a beautiful gray-sand beach two kilometers (1.2 miles) east of the coast road; the turnoff is in the hamlet of Matapalo. The surf kicks in here (swimmers should beware of riptides), and fishing from the beach is guaranteed to deliver a snapper or a snook. The sandy (or muddy) beach track leads north into the Refugio de Vida Silvestre Ecológico Portalón (Portalón Ecological Wildlife Refuge), where there’s a marine turtle protection project (ASVO, tel. 506/2258-4430) that welcomes volunteers.

Hop in the saddle with Claudia Horseback Riding & Birding (tel. 506/2787-5133), by the Centro Comercial Locos de Mar. The Cabinas del Mar, in the village, offers Internet service.

South of Matapalo, habitation is sparse and the road is relatively lonesome all the way to Dominical.

Accommodations and Food

Surfers gravitate to Complejo Comercial Locos de Mar (tel. 506/2787-5278, $12 pp), with simple rooms. It has a tiny open-air restaurant (7am-6pm daily), laundry, and a grocery.

Bahari Beach (tel. 506/2787-5014, low season $85 s, $9 d, high season $92 s, $125 d) offers tastefully furnished safari-style tent-bungalows atop platforms, with tile floors, full baths, and canopied patios looking over a lovely garden, an exquisite pool, and the beach. It also has air-conditioned rooms in the main building. The restaurant is equally airy and serves European classics plus seafood.

Dreamy Contentment (next door to Bahari, tel. 506/2787-5223, low season bungalows $50 s/d, house $150 s/d, high season bungalows $75 s/d, house $200 s/d) has modern air-conditioned bungalows with kitchens and “luxurious linens.” Backpackers can also sack in simple rooms ($20 s/d year-round).

A stone’s throw away, the Swiss-run Albergue Suiza (tel. 506/2787-5068, low season $35 s/d, high season $40 s/d) has simply appointed rooms with balconies in a two-story hotel with a restaurant.

In the hills, El Castillo B&B (tel. 506/8836-8059, low season $75 s/d, high season $95 s/d), two kilometers (1.2 miles) inland, is a beautiful modern two-story house with a huge columned atrium TV lounge with half-moon sofa that enjoys views through the arcing doorway. It has four bedrooms modestly furnished in rattan, with raised beamed ceilings. They open to a wraparound veranda. There’s a spring-fed plunge pool. The turnoff is 500 meters (0.3 miles) north of Matapalo; you’ll need a 4WD vehicle. Rates include breakfast. A similarly priced option is Slice of Paradise Bungalows (tel. 506/2787-5059).

Another hillside delight, La Palapa Eco-Lodge Resort (tel. 506/2787-5050, low season $40-60 s/d, high season $65-85 s/d), inland of Portalón, has delightfully furnished rooms and spacious bungalows with kitchens set in landscaped grounds with a pool and an open-air thatched Peruvian restaurant.

Albergue Alma de Hatillo B&B (tel. 506/8850-9034, low season $55 s/d, high season $65 s/d), in Hatillo, is a pleasant option run by a personable Polish woman, Sabina. It has eight simple rooms in three cabins furnished with custommade bamboo furniture and original artwork, ceiling fans, coffeemakers, mini-fridges, and hot showers.

The Hotel E Coquito (tel. 506/2787-5031, low season $50-100 s/d, high season $65-125 s/d) has six cabinas (three are air-conditioned) and a large beach house on stilts (it sleeps eight people), cross-ventilated with huge screened windows. It offers surf lessons and board rental and has horseback riding.

Getting There

A bus departs San José for Dominical and Uvita at 3pm daily via Quepos (departing Quepos at 7pm) and passing Matapalo at 8:30am (Mon.-Fri.). An additional bus departs at 5am Saturday-Sunday (departing Quepos at 9:15am) and passes Matapalo at 10:45am. The northbound bus departs Uvita at 4:30am daily and Dominical at 6am, passing Matapalo at 6:30am. A second bus departs Uvita at 12:30pm Saturday-Sunday, and Dominical at 1:15pm, passing Matapalo at 2:30pm.

Map of Central Pacific Costa Rica

Central Pacific

Excerpted from the Ninth Edition of Moon Costa Rica.