At its very tip is Punta Burica, which consists of a stretch of sandy beach broken by occasional wide slabs of striated rock that reach out to sea. The shoreline is fringed by palm trees and the occasional fisherman’s house. That’s about it.
The beach itself isn’t all that great. The only draw for visitors—other than the area’s extreme isolation and the adventure of getting there—is the surf. This is still a spot little known to all but a few pioneering surf dudes and dudettes. Long, tubing waves break left along the tip of the point.
I’ve been told there’s usually something to ride, but the one time I visited the tip the sea was like glass, and at least one ex-pat who lived out there for years says the quality of the surf is overhyped.
Have some kind of backup entertainment planned (picnic, games, cooler of liquid refreshment) in case the surf’s not happening, as there is absolutely nothing else out there but sand and sea.
There are two places to stay way out here. The first is a simple nature reserve called Mono Feliz, run by a gringo character named John Garvey, better known locally as “Juancho.” It seems to be living a twilight existence these days. Try emailing Juancho at juancho_3 [at] hotmail [dot] com or mono_feliz [at] hotmail [dot] com for current information, or just show up and take your chances.
A newer place is Tigre Salvaje (davidteichmann [at] yahoo [dot] com, vielkateichmann [at] hotmail [dot] com, www.tigresalvaje.com, US$50/person, including meals), a wildlife reserve and rehabilitation project at the end of Punta Burica. Talk about remote: After driving along the beach to the village of Bella Vista, it’s a 45-minute hike or horseback ride to the reserve. I have not yet made it out to Tigre Salvaje, but it looks like a pretty cool project, with surprisingly modern guest facilities.
Its aim is to help endangered species, particularly sea turtles and the red-backed squirrel monkey. The couple who run it are only able to check their email every couple of weeks; they say they will accommodate anyone who shows up unannounced, which is the spirit of adventure and flexibility you’ll need to visit this remote spot.
Those planning just to camp on the beach should bring a tent, food, water, and supplies. There are no stores or restaurants of any kind in the area.
Getting to Punta Burica
Access to Punta Burica is through Puerto Armuelles, a surprisingly tidy little town considering the especially rough times this sleepy little place has been through in recent years. It holds little of interest for visitors, though it has been the center of quite a bit of international economic activity as a port town fueled by the banana business and a nearby oil pipeline.
Note: This area is near the border, so remember to have all your papers in order, as there are frequent checkpoints along the Interamericana.
Buses to Puerto Armuelles leave from the David bus terminal every 15 minutes 4 a.m.–10 p.m. (US$3, 2.5 hours). Buses makes the return trip to David 4 a.m.–9:30 p.m. Those driving should head west toward the border. At Paso Canoa, about 50 kilometers from David, make a left. Puerto Armuelles is another 40 kilometers south.
From Puerto Armuelles there are two ways to get to Punta Burica: by boat and by car. At the waterfront in Puerto Armuelles, it should be possible to hire a fisherman and his boat to go down to Punta Burica. Expect to pay about US$40 each way, just to get to the point. The trip takes about 1.5 hours.
It’s also possible to get to Punta Burica by land, but this is even more of an adventure than a boat trip. A road is gradually being extended toward Punta Burica, but chances are good at least part of the trip will still involve driving on the beach itself.
There’s a big old Ford pickup “bus” that makes the trip between Puerto Armuelles and Punta Burica at low tide. In central Puerto Armuelles, ask around for el carro de la costa. The fare is US$1.50.
It’s also possible to drive oneself, but until and unless the road is completed the whole way, this requires some tricky off-road maneuvering. Only attempt it in a high-clearance four-wheel drive with a powerful engine. Don’t go alone. For one thing, you’ll need a second person to scout out the route at some points.
Drive west from Puerto Armuelles through the Petroterminal complex. The road ends at the beach. Drive on the damp sand, which is more solid and holds traction better. To make the trip the whole way, the tide has to be quite far out. Otherwise, you’ll round a bend and find your way blocked by the sea. This is a hairy drive at times. There are some wide stretches of slippery, jagged, volcanic rock that have to be navigated. Here’s where the scout comes in; have him or her hop out and plot a course.
Some of the worst bits toward the end can be avoided by taking a detour up a dirt loop road between the microscopic villages of Limones and Puerto Balsa. Ask anyone you see to point out the road, which can be hard to spot from the beach. The road is rough and steep, leading through some desolate fields, but it’s better than the rock obstacle course. Be sure to park well above the high-tide line.
Punta Burica itself is the tip of the peninsula. Costa Rica begins on the western side of the tip. This is a rather pretty spot, and it’s certainly away from it all, but there’s just about nothing here except a palm-lined beach and the sea. It may be possible to hire a fisherman at Puerto Balsa to run you out to Isla Burica for another US$30–40, if you’re so inclined.
© William Friar from Moon Panama, 3rd Edition