Playa Lagarto and South
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If driving south from Tamarindo or west from Santa Cruz on the Santa Cruz–Junquillal road, you must turn south four kilometers east of Paraíso—the turnoff is signed for Marbella (16 km) and Nosara. Note: There are several rivers to ford, and a 4WD vegicle is essential.
Fabulous beaches lie hidden along this lonesome route, though they are out of sight of the road most of the way. Things began stirring about 2005, however, and this area is now abuzz with real estate development, including hotels. You can still watch local fishermen casting their weighed nets in time-worn tradition—for now!
About 10 kilometers south of the junction, the road briefly hits the shore at Lagarto and Playa Manzanillo before curling inland to Marbella, from where a side road runs down to Playa Lagarcito and black-sand Playa Marbella.
Four kilometers farther you’ll pass golden-sand Playa Pitahaya the black-sand Playa Azul. About eight kilometers farther south, a turnoff from the coast road leads to the fishing hamlet of San Juanillo. Ostional is five kilometers farther south.
Hotels and Restaurants
Surfers are served by Los Anomalos Surf Camp, 600 meters inland at Playa Marbella. It has free WiFi. Casa Mango (tel. 506/2682-8032, donjim [at] racsa [dot] co [dot] cr, $12 pp), on a hillside three kilometers south of Marbella, has four handsome yet bare-bones wooden cabinas with fans, and shared bathrooms with cold water only; there is also a thatched casa with kitchen ($60 up to six people). It has a restaurant and bar with pool table and veranda with rockers.
New in 2010, Cabinas Cada Luna Café Bar (tel. 506/2682-8093, www.cadaluna.com, $25 s or $30 d low season, $25 s or $40 d high season), inland of Playa Marbella, will appeal to young-at-heart travelers with an appreciation for hip architecture. A young French couple run this bargain-priced beauty, with garden lounge and lots of poured concrete. Its tapas bar (8 A.M.–10 P.M. Sun.–Thurs., 8 A.M.–10 P.M. Fri.–Sat.) draws the many expats who live hereabouts. It hosts an “electromoon” party each full moon.
At Marbella, the two-story Marbella Surf Inn (tel. 506/2682-8206, www.marbellasurfinn.com, $40 s, $50 d) has neo-colonial styling. Its spacious air-conditioned rooms with terra-cotta floors are furnished with handcrafted wooden pieces and include small flat-screen TVs. Owner Joe Martella and manager Matt Banes are big-time surfers. A restaurant was in the works at last visit. Meanwhile, the Aloha Grill and Marbella Pura Vida pizzeria, the first atop the other in Marbella community, will appease your appetite.
At San Juanillo, the Hotel El Sueño (tel. 506/2682-1311 or 8834-9986, www.sanjuanillo.com, $55 s or $65 d) is a charmer with 10 simply appointed rooms with private bathrooms. Its Buddha Bar serves vegetarian and seafood lunch and dinner, and it has WiFi and an espresso bar. Kick back in the Buddha Lounge and enjoy movies shown on a big screen; live music includes jazz, reggae, and salsa.
Hotel Villa La Granadilla (tel. 506/8810-8929, www.hotellagranadilla.com, $30–50 s/d low season, $50–70 s/d high season), two kilometers south of San Juanillo, is a two-story Spanish colonial–style hotel with three suites, a one-bedroom apartment, and a suite. There’s a pool and thatched restaurant.
Most impressive is Hotel Punta India (tel. 506/2682-1250, www.puntaindia.com, $100 s/d), with six self-contained two-bedroom, two-story villas. The lovely layout includes poured-concrete sofas with colorful cushions; furnishings are comfortable and simple. I like the thatched open-air restaurant overlooking a pool.
Upscale travelers who prefer a resort layout might check in to The Sanctuary (tel. 506/2682-8111, www.thesanctuaryresort.com, $110 s/d rooms, $135–160 cottages low season; $140 s/d rooms, $175–210 cottages high season), a full-blown “Key West–inspired” resort at Playa Azul. It has condos in a gracious contemporary take on colonial plantation style. There’s a spa, tennis, swimming pool, and water sports.
One of my all-time faves is Tree Tops Bed & Breakfast (tel./fax 506/2682-1334, www.costaricatreetopsinn.com, $125–145 s/d), a secluded and rustic one-room bed-and-breakfast tucked above a cove at San Juanillo. This charming place is the home of former race-car champion Jack Hunter and his wife, Karen, delightful hosts who go out of their way to make you feel at home. There’s one basically furnished room with orthopedic mattress, luxe linens, WiFi, and outdoor hot-water shower (appealing enough that almost every living Costa Rican president has stayed here). You’re the only guest, here for spectacular solitude and a setting that includes a horseshoe reef with live coral (great for snorkeling) and a private beach for that all-over tan. Monkeys cavort in the treetops. The couple offers turtle safaris to Ostional, a swim-with-turtle excursion, plus sportfishing tours; if you catch your own fish, Karen will prepare sushi. She also fixes gourmet three-course lunches and five-course dinners ($34 pp), including homemade ice cream; by reservation only. Rates include a real English breakfast. It specializes in three- and five-day honeymoon packages. Reservations are essential.
At Tree Tops you’re just steps from San Juanillo hamlet and Ancient People (tel. 506/2862-5064, ancientpeople [at] gmail [dot] com), a delightful open-air café with WiFi, as well as an organic food store.
Another delight is the Swiss-run Luna Azul (tel. 506/2682-1400, fax 506/2682-1047, www.hotellunaazul.com, $80 s or $95 d low season, $120 s or $145 d high season), high on a hilltop between San Juanillo and Ostional. Its colorful aesthetic appeals, as do the killer views from the mezzanine open-air restaurant, overlooking a lovely infinity pool and sundeck. It has seven spacious cross-ventilated cabins with garden showers. Health treatments are offered. A lovely place!
© Christopher P. Baker from Moon Costa Rica, 8th Edition