From Conte, a bumpy potholed road clambers over the hills south of Zancudo  and drops to Punta Pilón and the fishing hamlet of Pavones, a legend in the surfing world for possessing one of the longest waves in the world—more than a kilometer on a good day. The waves are at their best May–November, during rainy season, when surfers flock for the legendary very fast and very hollow tubular left. Riptides are common and swimmers should beware.
South from Pavones, the dirt road crosses the Río Claro and follows the dramatically scenic and rocky coast about five kilometers to the tiny community of Punta Banco. About two kilometers south of Punta Banco you reach the end of the road. From here, the Peninsula de Burica sweeps southeast 50 kilometers to Punta Burica along a lonesome stretch of coast within the mountainous Reserva Indígena Guaymí.
Martial arts enthusiasts can sign up for workshops and summer retreats with The Yoga Farm (no tel., www.yogafarmcostarica.org ), above Punta Banco on the rough dirt road to the Guaymí reserve.
Farm. Nature lodge. Exotic-fruit station. Biological reserve. Seaside retreat. Tiskita Lodge (tel. 506/2296-8125, www.tiskita-lodge.co.cr ) is all these and more. Overlooking Punta Banco, one kilometer north of the village, Tiskita offers sweeping panoramas. The rustic old lodge is surrounded by 150 hectares of virgin rainforest laced by trails; one leads sharply uphill to a series of cascades and pools. Wildlife abounds.
Owner Peter Aspinall’s pride and joy is his tropical-fruit farm, which contains the most extensive collection of tropical fruits in Costa Rica. Peter is also involved in a scarlet macaw release program. Guided nature walks and bird-watching hikes are offered. Horse rides cost $35 for a half day.
Endangered ridley turtles (plus hawksbill and green turtles in lesser numbers) lay their eggs along these shores, predominantly August–December. The locals long considered them a resource to be harvested for eggs and meat. In 1996, the Programa Restauración de Tortugas Marinas (PRETOMA, tel. 506/2241-5227, www.pretoma.org ) began a program to instill a conservation ethic in the community.
It initiated a program to collect and hatch turtle eggs, and release hatchlings directly into the ocean, dramatically increasing their chances of survival. Poaching of nests has been reduced from 100 percent of nests in 1995 to less than 20 percent, and the hatcheries now achieve a better than 80 percent hatching rate for translocated eggs.
Alexander Outerbridge and Amy Khoo run Sea Kings Surf Shop (tel. 506/2776-2015, www.surfpavones.com ), which rents boards; and Shooting Star Studio (tel. 506/2776-2107, www.shootingstarstudio.org ), offering yoga classes. Venus Surf Adventures (tel. 506/2776-2014, www.venussurfadventures.com ) also rent boards and offers surf camps and lessons.
In Pavones, there are six or so budget options on the north side of the soccer field, including Cabinas Maureen (tel. 506/2746-2002, $15 pp with fan and shared bathroom, $50 s/d with a/c and private bathroom), with six small but high-ceilinged hardwood rooms in a two-story unit (each sleeps four people); cold water only. It adjoins Sea Kings Surf Shop. Very handy!
Cabinas Carol (tel. 506/8310-7507, $15 pp) also appeals, with eight charming cabins in an enclosed garden; four cabins have shared baths with pleasing mosaics. I like its friendly ambience, plus it has a communal kitchen and lockers.
There are half a dozen other budget accommodations of a similar standard within shouting distance, including the endearing Café de la Suerte (tel. 506/2776-2388, www.cafedelasuerte.com , $40 s or $60 d), which has one lovely, colorful room behind the café in the heart of Pavones. It has a double bed and bunk with Guatemalan spreads, tatami rugs, a bamboo ceiling with fan, WiFi, and a delightful bathroom plus a garden with hammock.
The Italian-run Soda/Restaurant La Piña (tel. 506/8871-6541, $10 pp room, $20 pp cabin, $50–60 s/d duplex), 400 meters north of the soccer field, permits camping and has one basic room with private bathroom, a more substantial cabin with tiled private bathroom, and a two-story duplex of timber and river stone. The restaurant serves Italian dishes, including wood-oven pizza, and the owners rent surfboards and kayaks.
The nicest place in Pavones village is Hotel La Perla (tel. 506/8347-1020, $60 s/d), a modern two-story structure with six pleasant air-conditioned rooms and lovely bathrooms, all with a coffeemaker and fridge. You can rock on the shared porch.
A popular budget option and a favorite of surfers, the Dutch-run Rancho Burica (tel. 506/2776-2223, www.ranchoburica.com , $15 pp dorm, $30–40 s/d room including breakfast and dinner), at the end of the road in Punta Banco, offers a great bargain. Set in trim gardens, the seven simple cabins have huge cold-water showers and large porches, and there’s a dorm in a circular rancho, plus a slightly more commodious “boathouse” room sleeping three people. Barbecues are made on the grill, guests have kitchen privileges, and there’s a fishing boat for trips.
La Ponderosa Beach & Jungle Resort (tel. 506/2776-2076, U.S. tel. 954/771-9166, www.laponderosapavones.com , $60–125 s/d cabins) is a surfers’ lodge run by Angela and Marshall McCarthy. It’s set in lush gardens and offers six handsome two-story cabins with varnished hardwoods, fans, large screened windows, and modern tiled baths with hot water; four have air-conditioning and two are suites. A dining room serves everything from burgers and tuna melts to seafood. It has a lounge with bar, TV/VCR, sand volleyball court, and swimming pool. It also rents a five-bed villa ($200 nightly) and a more upscale two-bedroom house with king-size bed and kitchen ($1,500 weekly). Trails lead into a forest with a waterfall. No credit cards are accepted.
The American-run Cabinas Mira Olas (tel. 506/2776-2006, www.miraolas.com , $35–45 s/d) has four beautifully decorated log cabinas with fans, and outdoor showers with warm water. One is rustic; the others are “jungle deluxe.” They’re set amid lush lawns and are perfectly comfy with no frills.
The three simply yet charmingly furnished self-contained cabins at Riviera Villas (tel. 506/2776-2396, www.pavonesriviera.com , $80 s, $95 d) will also satisfy. The private setting within lush gardens is the big draw here, and the villas each have a full kitchen, with maid service.
“Eclectic” and “Tolkienian” perfectly describe Castillo de Pavones (tel. 506/2776-2191, www.castillodepavones.com , $85–150 s/d including breakfast), in the hills behind Pavones. The rooms here will bring a smile to your face. This three-story stone-and-timber lodge has six huge individually themed suites with king-size beds hewn of lofty tree trunks, and quaint black-stone-lined bathrooms with waterfall sinks, whirlpool tubs, and homemade organic toiletries. The bi-level restaurant is a winner.
You’ll adore the Colorado-style Casa Siempre Domingo Bed and Breakfast (tel. 506/2776-2185, www.casa-domingo.com , $100 s/d including breakfast), a deluxe breeze-brushed lodge nestled on the hillside 400 meters inland, 1.5 kilometers south of the Río Claro. Owned and run by East Coasters Greg and Heidi, this beautiful lodge is set amid hibiscus-tinged lawns surrounded by six hectares of jungle-clad slopes. A mammoth cathedral ceiling soars over the lounge and dining room done up in evocative tropical style, with plentiful bamboo and jungle prints. The four rooms have two double beds or a double and single, ceramic tile floors, plus walk-in closets. The restaurant serves hearty fare. You’ll enjoy dramatic ocean vistas from the sprawling deck. Bring your laptop; it has WiFi.
I also like the rustic American-run Sotavento (tel. 506/8308-7484, www.sotaventoplantanal.com , $60 Casa Poinsettia, $80 Casa Vista Grande), which offers two simple two-bedroom wooden houses with tremendous views. The first, in a two-story unit, has a TV lounge, kitchen, mosquito nets, old wooden trunks for seats, and a large walk-in shower. The second has a massive dining table in the open kitchen. You can rent horses and surfboards, and boogie boards and fishing poles come free.
Joseph Robertson and his girlfriend Shirley are great hosts at Rancho Cannatella (tel. 506/2776-2251, www.ranchocannatella.com , $25–40 pp), two kilometers south of Pavones. This lovely four-bedroom villa with wings flanking a free-form pool can be rented in its entirety, but the air-conditioned rooms (which vary) are also rented individually; one has a king-size bed and rainforest shower. There’s also a simple wooden cabin. Joseph will teach you stand-up paddle surfing.
For an immersion in nature, check into Tiskita Lodge (tel. 506/2296-8125, www.tiskita-lodge.co.cr , call for package rates), in the hills above Punta Banco. It’s centered on a charming old farmhouse that serves as lounge and dining room. There are 16 spacious rooms in nine rustic, sparsely furnished but huge and comfortable wooden cabins in a combination of double, twin, and bunk beds (with rather soft mattresses). Each cabin has screened windows, wide veranda with hammock and Adirondack chair, plus a stone-lined outdoor bathroom with shower and solar-heated water. “Country-style” meals are served family-style at set times (don’t be late), and packed lunches are provided for hikers. It has a small swimming pool and a rustic bar. Two- to seven-day packages are offered; June through August the lodge is reserved for groups only.
Opt for a villa rental at Finca Estrella (tel. 506/8813-1343, www.southerncostaricaland.com , $850–1,250 per month) in the hills of Cuervito de Pavones. The four two- and three-bedroom villas share a huge swimming pool, and use of the owner’s horses is included in the rental rates.
The best place to start your day is Café de la Suerte (tel. 506/2776-2388, www.cafedelasuerte.com , 7:30 A.M.–5:30 P.M. Mon.–Sat., and until 9 P.M. Mar.–Aug.), on the plaza in Pavones. Run by a delightful Argentinian woman, this simple open-air eatery serves granola with yogurt and fruit, plus sandwiches, hummus, omelettes, cappuccinos, and fruit shakes.
Gotta love the hip vibe at La Manta Club (www.la-manta.com , noon–10 P.M. daily, $2–12), on the beachfront in Pavones. Sloping timber frames support a soaring thatched roof—a great space for lazing to cool music while savoring falafel, hummus, shish kabob, ice cream, iced tea, and iced coffee drinks (until 1 A.M. daily). Movies are shown on a big screen at 6 P.M.
The beachfront Restaurante Esquina del Mar (no tel., 6:30 A.M.–9 P.M. daily, $2–10), in Pavones, has simple breakfasts, plus casados and burgers. However, at night it draws roughnecks and reportedly occasionally turns violent. Far better is to head to the hills and the Blue Morpho Grill and Lounge (tel. 506/2776-2191, 6–10 P.M. Thurs.–Sat.), at Castillo de Pavones hotel. Hewn of sturdy timbers and natural stone floors, this bi-level restaurant-bar serves California fusion cuisine and seafood, such as ahi tuni and filet mignon on skewers. Look for the occasional Brazilian-style all-you-can-eat buffets ($15). The fantastic coast view is icing on the cake, but it’s a stiff uphill trek if walking.
Restaurante La Pina (no tel., noon–10 P.M. daily, $5–15), betwixt Pavones and Punta Banco, is an exquisite open-air Italian restaurant serving the expected fare (gnocchi, lasagna, and the like) of high quality.
A private airstrip allows direct access to Tiskita by chartered plane (55 minutes from San José).
Buses depart Golfito  daily for Pavones and Punta Banco at 10 A.M. (Pavones only) and 3 P.M., returning at 5 A.M. (from Rancho Burica) and 12:30 P.M. (from Pavones only).
The coast road that leads south from Pavones ends at the mouth of the Río Claro, one kilometer south of the village. To cross it and continue to Punta Banco, back up and turn inland at Escuela Las Gemelas, then right at Super Mares; you’ll cross a bridge, then drop back down to the coast.
A private water-taxi charter from Golfito will cost about $65 one-way. A Jeep-taxi from Golfito to Pavones will cost about $75.