South of Piñuela and Marino Ballena National Park , Playa Tortuga sweeps south to the mouth of the Río Térraba and the vast wildlife-rich mangrove swamps of the Delta del Térraba; the estuary of the Río Térraba is awesome for fishing for snapper, catfish, and snook.
One kilometer south of Tortuga Abajo, and stretching inland from the highway, Ojochal has a large community of French Canadians and some of the best dining on the Pacific coast.
The Costanera Sur continues south via San Buana to Palmar Norte , gateway to the Golfo Dulce and Osa region . This region is booming. (The first golf course in southern Costa Rica is planned in San Buana.)
Adelante Hotel (tel. 506/2786-5304, www.adelantehotel.net ) is the local party-central and hosts Jungle Fever, Full Moon, and theme parties. Check in on Sunday nights for Movie Night, and for its weekly poker and blackjack tournaments.
Mystic Dive Center (fax 506/2786-5217, www.mysticdivecenter.com ), in the Centro Comercial Los Ventanas at Tortuga Abajo offers dive trips, snorkeling, and fishing. Villas Gaia (tel. 506/2786-5044 www.villasgaia.com ) offers excursions and activities from sea kayaking to sportfishing, and diving.
The confusingly named (it’s nowhere near Osa) Osa Canopy Tour (tel. 506/2788-7555. www.osacanopytour.com , $45 adults, $35 students, $30 children) has 11 zip lines, 15 platforms, and three rappels, plus waterfall rappelling. The office is at Kilometer 196 on the Costanera highway, south of Ojochal. The tour, however, is at Osa Mountain Village (tel. 506/2772-5258, www.osamountainvillagecostarica.com , $35 adults, $10 children), a sustainable farm community on a 383-hectare forest reserve.
The 18 hole, par-72 7,100-yard championship San Buenas Golf Resort (tel. 506/2786-5553, www.sbgr.com ), designed by golf-course architect Dan Lavis, opened its first nine holes for play in 2010. A hotel is also planned.
Tortuga Abajo: I’m enamored of La Cusinga (tel. 506/2770-2549, www.lacusingalodge.com , $118–176 s/d suite), about five kilometers south of Uvita  at Finca Tres Hermanas, a farm involved in reforestation and sustainable agriculture. It has huge and delightful albeit modestly appointed all-wood cabins with terra-cotta and river-stone floors, screened glassless windows, and exquisite stone-faced bathrooms. The restaurant is fabulous, with staggering views, and trails lead through 250 hectares of primary forest ($5 for day visitors).
I also like the German-run Finca Bavaria (tel. 506/8355-4465, www.finca-bavaria.de , $57 s or $64 d standard, $74 s or $87 d superior), in the hills one kilometer inland of Playa Ballena and 0.5 kilometer south of La Cusinga. It offers five bungalows with a beautiful aesthetic that includes louvered glass windows, raised wooden ceilings, bamboo and rattan furnishings, halogen lamps, mosquito nets over the beds, and hot water in clinically clean bathrooms with glass-brick showers. Trails lead through the forested 15-hectare property. Filling and delicious meals are served, washed down with chilled German beer served in steins (dinners are offered for nonguests by reservation). There’s a swimming pool in the landscaped garden.
Also inland of Playa Ballena, the Swiss-run Cristal Ballena Hotel Resort (tel. 506/2786-5354, www.cristal-ballena.com , $79–165 s/d low season, $85–179 s/d suites high season) is a Mediterranean-style two-story hotel on 12 hectares of lovely grounds. It has 16 junior suites, two suites and four simple “adventure lodges,” all colorfully furnished with four-poster beds, ceiling fans, air-conditioning, and TVs. The lovely open-air restaurant overlooks the ocean, and there’s a vast pool.
An adorable bargain-priced option is The Lookout (tel. 506/2786-5074, www.hotelcostarica.com , $69–89 s/d low season, $89–109 s/d high season), at Tortuga Abajo. This hilltop hotel exudes a bold and beautiful contemporary aesthetic. Paths weave through lush landscaped gardens to 12 bungalows with delightfully bright color schemes (such as fresh lime or turquoise and mint, with crisp white linens), cool tile floors, raised wooden ceilings with fans, huge louvered glass windows, and terraces with hammocks. A mirador offers fantastic views over both beach and jungle. Gourmet meals are prepared by a professional chef. There’s also a spa.
The delightful Dutch-owned Villas Gaia (tel. 506/2786-5044 www.villasgaia.com , $75–135 s/d) is another good option. The 14 colorful wooden cabinas dot the forested hillside; they feature muted pastel decor and minimalist furnishings, a double and single bed with orthopedic mattresses, and solar hot water (however, it charges $10 for air-conditioning!). One cabin is wheelchair-accessible. A sundeck and open-sided thatched bar overhanging the pool boast views down over the forest and mangroves. The restaurant is recommended, and boat tours, snorkeling, fishing, hiking, bird-watching, horseback riding, diving, and excursions are offered.
Ojochal: Sitting in beautiful gardens, the French-Canadian Hacienda de los Sueños (tel. 506/678-9720, http://suenos.netfirms.com , $40 s/d) has two rooms in a two-story house, with bamboo and plastic furnishings, ceiling fans, and a simple kitchen. There’s a pool, and trails lead into the forest.
The Dutch-run Hotel El Mono Feliz (tel. 506/2786-5146, www.elmonofeliz.com , $45–94 s/d), in the heart of Ojochal, is a fairly simple charmer with choice of no-frills but perfectly adequate rooms and self-contained wooden cabins (two of which share a bathroom), as well as fully furnished apartments. It has a swimming pool.
The best bet here by far is Diquis el Sur (tel. 506/2786-5012, www.diquiscostarica.com , $55–100 s/d high season, 15 percent discount in low season), enjoying a breeze-swept hillside setting. This is another French Canadian–run option. The two twin-bedroom cabins amid tree-shaded lawns and lovely gardens are cross-lit through huge louvered windows and feature handsome fabrics and modern bathrooms. Meals are served under a lofty palenque. And there’s a nice pool and sundeck, plus Internet with library.
If you’re seeking a private rental for a week or longer, consider Rancho Soluna (tel./fax 506/2788-8210, www.vrbo.com/162538 , $700 s/d per week low season, $800 s/d high season), which has two simple rooms and two cabins with private bathrooms. It also has a small pool in the garden and is barely a stone’s throw from Citrus restaurant. Alternatively, check out the dramatic Spanish colonial–themed El Castillo (tel. 506/2786-5543, www.elcastillodelsur.com , $100–125 s or $125–140 d low season; $150–175 s or $175–200 d high season). It rents for a whopping $7,000 per week. It also doubles as a hotel, with six spacious rooms and a huge infinity swimming pool.
This coast is in the throes of unbridled development. New lodgings at last visit include Adelante Hotel (tel. 506/2786-5304, www.adelantehotel.net , $30–100 s/d low season, $50–150 s/d high season), on the highway 0.5 kilometer north of Ojochal. Its colorful rooms exude romance with indigenous fabrics and mosquito netting; it also has “budget rooms,” cabinas, and a casa prefábricada (prefabricated house). This is one of the liveliest spots around, luring locals for its regular parties.
Cabinas Filibustero (tel. 506/2786-5118, http://filibustero.net/cabinas , $42 s/d), at the entrance to Ojochal, is another winner. You gotta love the wooden two-story cabins, saturated with natural light and colorful fabrics. Swing seats on your porch are a great touch. Its Le Bistro is a lovely spot to dine on chicken kebab or fresh seafood dishes, or maybe a delicious banana split.
Villas Gaia’s (tel. 506/2786-5044, www.villasgaia.com , 7 A.M.–9 P.M. daily, $2–20) is an elegant roadside restaurant serving filling breakfasts, creative sandwiches, excellent casados (set meals), and international fare such as Thai curry and macadamia-crusted fish fillet. Friday is tapas night.
Belying its boondocks locale, the open-air Restaurante Exótica (tel. 506/2786-5050, 11 A.M.–9 P.M. Mon.–Sat., $3–22), at Ojochal, is a hole-in-the-wall with world-class cuisine. You dine by candlelight at tables of hewn tree trunks. I enjoyed a green salad with raspberry vinaigrette, Tahitian fish carpaccio, fish filet with banana curry sauce, and shrimp with Pernod Ricard and garlic sauce. It has WiFi.
Exótica’s founder opened another winner. Citrus (tel. 506/2786-5175, restocitrus [at] yahoo [dot] ca, 11 A.M.–10 P.M. Tues.–Sat.) sets a new standard for sophisticated dining beyond San José. In fact, it’s sublime: take the stylish contemporary-themed lounge with Balinese elements, and rattan chairs beneath wrought-iron chandeliers. Belgian owner-chef Marcella Marciano and business partner/spouse Sylvain Fillion sold the restaurant in December 2010, but the French couple (Henri and Aurelie) who bought it are also accomplished chefs. I salivated over a gazpacho ($7); other winning appetizers include goat-cheese salad with glazed apples ($9) and a Caribbean seafood and coconut soup ($8.50). Entrées include filet mignon with white wine and wild mushroom sauce ($19) or sea bass in saffron and white wine sauce ($14.50). The wine list is equally impressive. It serves tapas throughout the day and holds monthly special events (including belly dancing, tango, and flamenco), plus a fresh produce market every Tuesday (9 A.M.–1 P.M.).
For a spicy tongue-lashing, head to the fun and funky (and small and intimate) Madras Restaurant (tel. 506/2786-5524, 5–10 P.M. Thurs.–Tues.), whose French owners conjure up delicious French-Asian fusion dishes. Start with a spicy Thai beef salad, followed by curry or pineapple pork. The turnoff from the highway is one kilometer north of Piñuelas.
Where you find lots of French people, you find great bakeries. Start your day with fresh croissants and coffee at Panadería Francés.