Nicoya Peninsula & Cruising with Friends
The Nicoya Peninsula of Costa Rica is separated from the mainland by the Gulf of Nicoya and the Tempisque estuary. From its northern base in the arid Guanacaste lowlands, the peninsula extends 140km to the south where the landscape progressively becomes more lush and rugged. We spent just over a month exploring the gulf and enjoyed sailing in the calm protected waters of the bay. It’s truly a cruisers play ground with its many protected anchorages and uninhabited islands!
The surrounding landscape is perfect for hiking and searching out wild animals of all sorts, and the beaches offer great surfing, snorkeling and plenty of room for shenanigans.
During our stay in the gulf we had three sets of guests come to visit. Shortly after arriving, our friends Matt and Ben, from Capture Film Co. flew in for a few days to do some filming for a project Rachel was to be featured in for A Sunny Space. Quickly followed up by our friends Ashley and Savannah, who flew in for ten days as we initially explored the Peninsula, then followed Patrick and Sara’s trip for another eight days.
Sailing around the gulf and taking time to enjoy all the fun little anchorages with friends was just what we needed after months of moving down the coast so quickly! So often when people come to visit, we really have no idea what activities we’ll be able to do once they arrive, or if it’s even a good place for them to visit. I think that most of the time our guests forget that we are traveling too, and we’ve usually only been in a place for a few days before they arrive. We are constantly moving to new places and often get overwhelmed with having to relearn even simple things like where the grocery stores, ATM’s, gas stations and port captains offices are in each new town. Every time we pull into a new port the search begins again, and it’s not always easy to research ahead of time, especially since most of the guides we have are 10 years old and we don’t always have access to internet.
Because of these reasons, we actually felt like it would be helpful to write a letter for our friends coming down to visit, explaining a little about what life is like aboard Agape, and a bit about managing expectations for their trip. We thought it would help our friends that were thinking of coming down to visit get an idea of what they were getting into. I tried to keep it lighthearted, but also keep it as a serious love note if you will.
If you are a fellow cruiser and have any other helpful advice for having guests on board, please feel free to fill us in with a comment bellow!!!
We are still getting this cruising thing dialed-in, but here are a couple of things that we like to share with friends that are coming down to visit:
We almost never make set plans. The weather is always changing and we have never been to these places before, so although we completely understand that you want to book your tickets as far out as possible, we ask you to be patient. You might also have to take a bus, taxi, shuttle, hoper flight, bike, hike or take a horse drawn carriage from the international airport to wherever we are. We will do our very best to be in a convenient location for you, but if the waves are good a little north, Rachel probably won’t be able to get me out of the water long enough to move the boat.
Provisioning/grocery shopping: It’s getting harder and harder now that we are out of Mexico and in more remote locations. We try our best to keep Agape loaded with good food, beer, rum and all the other important little things like toilet paper. We may or may not have access to a good store during your trip, but we’ll plan to have stocked the boat ahead of time, with as much good stuff as she can hold and still float! But since we are no longer working anymore and have finite resources, we ask that you help pitch in for all the pina-coladas and tacos you’ll be eating while you are here. We tend to eat most meals onboard and rarely splurge on eating out. $100 a week per person normally covers the extra cost, if you’re here more or less time do a bit of math. Cash, Venmo or PayPal works great, and we’ll lug the groceries before your get here to maximize the amount of time we have for fun. This goes towards all consumables on the boat, and to make sure you have clean towels and fresh bedding, since we can’t wash our big heavy towels and sheets on board. If you have any special food allergies or requests let us know ahead of time and we will do our best to accommodate them!!!
Luggage: I know the checkable rolling bags are awesome, but they don’t normally collapse and we can’t really shove them into a corner or away in a locker. Also, those same wheels that make that bag so awesome, make it a flying, sliding torpedo when Agape is really rolling. So please, try to bring duffel bags or backpacks, preferably frameless, but don’t feel like you have to go out and buy a new bag just for this trip. Whatever you show up with, we will be stoked to see you!
While we are on the topic of luggage, what should you bring? Two or three swim suits, a shirt for every day (it can get pretty hot and sweaty), sandals, some hiking/walking shoes, a hat, sunglasses and a light jacket that’s preferably water resistant. Also, bring your favorite sunscreen and if you get seasick, don’t forget your pills or patches. We read a lot onboard, so a good book or kindle is always nice to have. If you want to be able to relax with a movie or listen to music before bed, don’t forget your headphones, laptop or tablet. We have a hard drive with a million movies, books and audiobooks that you can pick from. We also have some extra masks, snorkels, sun shirts and fins, but they may or may not fit you, so if you have gear that you love, go ahead and bring it down with you if you have room.
Side note, Agape has about the same square footage as your cubical at work, so if you bring a ton of stuff you might just end up sleeping with it. Less is usually more, and then you have room in your bag for souvenirs!
Drugs: Not the fun kind… If you are bringing down any prescription drugs with you, make sure they are in the original bottle with the script in your name.
Expectations: In the modern world of Instagram and google, you will undoubtedly search the place you are about to fly into. Please keep in mind that these photos are usually taken in peak season and edited by a pro later. We have no idea what is around the corner, and although you might want to go surfing, snorkeling, or relax on a beautiful white sand beach, it may or may not be possible. The swell might be wrong, the water cloudy, or the beach might be infested with mosquitos and no-see-ums (google that!!!). We probably all want the same things, but if the weather is bad or something doesn’t line up, we don’t force it.
We know you’re on vacation and might, or might not want to work, but if you want to do some sailing tell us you want to jump in and crank on a winch or hoist a sail. If you don’t feel comfortable right away up on deck, we love it when people take turns washing dishes or cooking a meal. Cruising isn’t easy, and once you have settled in any help offered is always appreciated.
We want to give you a glimpse into our life and what cruising is like, and we have learned that we can’t sugar coat it. Water and power are always on our mind, as we don’t have enough of either to waste. So we go french, showers are not an everyday occurrence, and they are not long or hot. Given the choice between having the power to charge a laptop or make ice, my cocktail will always win. This means if the engine is running take advantage of the extra power and plug everything in.
We also have a satellite texting device that you can use, so if your friends or family are worried about how to contact you while you are away in a place with no cell service, we can hook you up with that info once you arrive!
We hope none of this detours you from coming, because we would love to have you. We just want to make sure that you know what you are getting into, because although this is your “vacation”, it is our chosen life.
I know there is stuff that I am probably forgetting, and you might just end up forgetting to pack something, but don’t worry about it. Agape is loaded with tons of extra stuff! We are so excited that you want to come and hang out with us and also get a peak into this alternative lifestyle we live. If you have any questions or requests let us know. We hope you are as excited as we are!”
Here are a few of our favorite stops along the gulf.
Tambor and Playa Los Vivos
There are many reasons this spot is a favorite among cruisers. Tambor, also known as Bahia Ballena, is a well protected anchorage with good holding and nice beach you can walk for miles, as well as a few shops for provisioning, a small airport and bus access to nearby towns.
Across the bay is the stunning beach of Playa Los Vivos. The land just off of the beach is owned by Heart Ackerman, the designer of Heart Inverters, he was kind enough to let us hang out on his property and check out his new glamping operation. There is also a nearby estuary where you can take your dinghy to try and spot some wildlife or grab a delicious ceviche at the restaurant located right on the water and at the edge of the village.
Don’t let the name deter you, it’s definitely more enjoyable than your normal bout of Montezuma’s revenge. A bus ride to Montezuma from Tambor is definitely worth the trip at least once. The town it self is another yuppy-hippy destination and you can find any sort of food you are looking for: Asian food, fresh baked goods, veggie burgers, pizza and even a restaurant that serves vegan ice cream. There is also a nice beach and plenty of souvenir shops. There is also a stunning waterfalll nearby that you can hike and swim at for free. If you follow the trail past the large falls and climb up the side of the hill on the right you can reach the top of the waterfall.
This is a beautiful bay that is nice to anchor in as long as there isn’t a large swell rolling through. The park is located only 10 miles from Bahia Ballena and is open from 7am to 3pm everyday and costs $10 per person. They also offer horseback riding tours and guides if you are not great at spotting wildlife yourself. For eco-tourists, animal lovers and bird watchers alike, the Curu Wildlife Reserve is one of the highlights of the Nicoya Peninsula. In this tropical paradise, visitors can see many of Costa Rica's animals in their natural and wild environment. Curu is privately owned and part of a large farm which combines sustainable agriculture and forest management, providing protection of it’s wildlife and the surrounding nature. The farm was originally established in 1933 by Frederico Schutt, and today it is still family owned and operated. To maintain the delicate balance between the natural ecosystem and their farm, the Schutt family sought governmental support, and in 1981 they obtained the status of "Protected Forest" for most of their land, and by 1983 the Curu National Wildlife Refuge was officially created.
Curu boasts rich and diverse wildlife in five different habitats, the reserve ranges from the underwater marine environment and mangrove swamps, to rainforest and their farmland. Here over 230 species of birds have been categorized and you can often see different types of parrots, woodpeckers, herons, egrets, hawks and ospreys. Even the large scarlet macaws have been successfully reintroduced after being almost hunted to near extinction within Costa Rica. The macaws can sometimes be seen and heard foraging in the almond trees or swooping over the canopy throughout the park.
Among the mammals listed to be in the park are rare species such as ocelots, pumas, margay cats, coyote, and anteaters. We frequently saw coatimundi, raccoons and deer, as well as howler and capuchin monkeys wandering the trails. If your lucky you might even be able to spot several species of snakes and crocodiles in the mangroves or estuary.
We anchored Agape in front of the park for a week in total. We loved the hiking there and the opportunity it provided us to spend so much time with the wildlife, especially protected life that has no reason to fear humans. Here we were allowed time to really stop and watch the animals move, eat and play since they did not see us as a threat. I think they viewed us more like an awkward animal, clumsily bumping our way down the forest path.
Located just north of the Curu Reserve, this bay has a great surf break right in the middle of beach where the estuary drains, creating a sandbar. Although, while we were here the waves were small, we had a great time surfing and paddle boarding. This is also a great place to have a big bon fire or do some beach camping!
Isla San Lucas
Since I love old buildings and historical sites, this island was a must see! A little further up in the bay you can find the island of Isla San Lucas. It’s like a small Costa Rican Alcatraz that also offers a very protected anchorage and some pretty fun hikes. From 1873 to 1991, Isla San Lucas was a penal colony for some of the worst criminals in Costa Rica. Being sent to the island was a terrible prospect, as prisoners lives were short and often spent in torture. The former buildings of the penal island are considered a “Patrimonio de Cultura”, or cultural heritage site, and the old prison cell walls are lined with pornographic graffiti, bible verses, signatures and drawings. There are also several old water pumps and a cemetery under excavation on the island.
The Gulf of Nicoya was amazing and we would’ve loved to have spent more time there exploring, but with limited time left on our visas and rainy season fast approaching, we thought it best continue on toward Quepos and Drake Bay.