Located on a four-mile long sand peninsula, Puntarenas is a coastal fishing town that also supports a lot of tourism. While there we happened to stumble upon this magnificent mansion turned hostel on the northern shore, the Perla del Pacifico, my most highly recommended lodging option in all of Costa Rica. This place will shock and amaze you, instantly transporting you to a tranquil environment far from Central America -- you have to see it to believe it, there is no other way to put it.
As Puntarenas is lacking in both hostels and hotels, Perla del Pacifico is the only one you will find without having to taxi it back 30 minutes further deep into the mainland. Even more conveniently, it is located on the same block as the Calypso Cruises office and dock. Right after we came back from Tortuga Island we were able to walk 60 feet and be at our new home.
Walking through the front doors you are greeted by a beautiful marble staircase that leads you either to the main level with the jacuzzi and outside courtyard, amongst other things, or upstairs to the kitchen and dining room, two guest rooms, and wrap-around balcony.
As if the house itself was not exquisite enough, it is stocked full of artwork and collectibles from all corners of the globe. This is undoubtedly due to the the owners, Michael and Elisabeth, connoisseurs of the world. Be it canvases of Audrey Hepburn, old Asian artwork, rare drawings, original pictures of Salvador Dali and his wife, or any one of a thousand other exquisite -- yet perfectly placed -- collectible pieces of artwork and sculpture, everything seems like it is in just the right spot.
Sound good? Well, it gets better. How do you become world connoisseurs? By traveling the world. And that is exactly what Michael and Elisabeth have done. From the minute we walked in the door the conversation just flowed endlessly! Michael has some of the most fantastic stories to tell, Jared and I frequently got lost in the most random yet intricate conversations with him and his wife. Regardless of whether you are a first-time traveler or cultural enthusiast, travel blogger or gap year adventurer, you will feel instantly at home here, I guarantee it. Make sure to view the many pictures below.
From the owners, Michael and Elizabeth
We - French/German artist couple - just finished restoring a historical mansion - national patrimony - that has been build in 1920 and graciously combines Venetian & Caribbean architecture. To support the project, we rent two exquisitely furnished bed rooms, each containing a modern bath room. You are going to have free use of our kitchen, dining room, salon, jacuzzi, a lovely garden with grill-pavilion and petanque-court and many other amenities of our palace.
Noteworthy I cannot stress enough how highly we recommend this place. If you are a fellow world traveler and you should find yourself in Costa Rica, I urge you to make a stop by Puntarenas, even if solely to swing by Perla del Pacifico and meet Michael and Elizabeth. The conversations alone are worth swinging out of your way to Puntarenas, we promise. You will not regret it, I assure you. I stake my name and reputation on it. Tell them Derek @ the HoliDaze sent you and you may even get a li'l extra loving ;)
Also, if you are going to be in the neighborhood, read about our trip to Tortuga Island with Calypso Cruises. Their dock is located one building down from Pearla del Pacifico and its a great way to kill two birds with one stone.
Located in the Gulf of Nicoya, Tortuga Island is actually comprised of two islands with a combined total landmass of only about one square mile. But despite its small size, Isla La Tortuga is one of Costa Rica's most popular tourist destinations and a great day-trip. We went with Calypso Cruises in a group of nearly four dozen, but there was also another similarly-sized group with a different excursion company further down on the island.
The island is home to a total of 12 residents. They are native Costa Ricans who subsist entirely off renting out beach chairs, jet-skis, snorkels, and other beach- and water-related goods to the flocking tourists. As such you can expect to pay a nice price for everything. They even offer wifi: $15 for 15 minutes. Undoubtedly these islanders make more than the average Costa Rican citizen, but life there is not as perfect as it seems. As one island tico informed me, it is 9 guys and only 3 girls, so "we need more girls...tell more girls to come visit."
The beautiful and nearly unihabited Isla La Tortuga!
The island itself is quite charming. It is comprised of a nice beach area with smooth sand but one end does have a rather a sizable amount of coral chunks and other small rocks mixed in with the sand. There are a couple small wooden structures on the island, one used as a kitchen, another as a bar, and yes of course a final one featuring a pair of restrooms. There is also lots of picnic tables and beach chairs set up in advance, although the beach chairs cost $7-8/hr through the local islanders, not your tour company -- but I'll get back to that shortly. The island is thickly wooded. Supposedly there is a trail you can take that leads through the brush out to a very picturesque area, or so I've been told.
We booked the trip through Calypso Cruises and it just so happens that their office/dock is located literally just a few dozen feet from Pearla del Pacifico, the only hostel/hotel in Puntarenas and hands-down the best hostel in all of Central America!
Calypso Cruises will have an air-conditioned van pick you up early in the morning from a few of the nearby towns -- San Jose, Jaco, Quepos / Manuel Antonio, Monteverde -- and transport you to Puntarenas, where you will be served a traditional Costa Rican breakfast. The CC boat is a two-story 71 ft long catamaran named Manta Raya that is equipped with two giant hammocks stretched between twin hulls and two fresh water pools. The lower deck houses the bar and lounge as well as dual restrooms / changing rooms.
At precisely 9am the ship leaves port and begins the hour-long trek towards Tortuga Island. Along the way you will pass by local fishing boats out on the hunt, have fantastic views of the western coast of Costa Rica, and maybe even glimpse the occasional family of dolphins that will swim alongside the boat during the final stretch before Tortuga Island. They are fast and can be tricky to photograph though. Along the way you will also be served a light snack (most likely pineapple) and have the option of buying alcoholic beverages at the usual inflated tourist rates.
Once disembarking the ship, you will have a couple hours to swim and/or sunbath while the staff prepares lunch. The bartender and booze from the ship is unloaded and set up underneath the trees, so after a brief ten minute or so pause, you can resume killing your liver with booze. For those of you who really like to drink, I recommend smuggling in a little liquor of your own. It is very easy to do and turns what easily could be a $200 on alcohol day down to just $40 or $50.
The warthog and I become fast friends
The first group of snorkelers is also taken out shortly after arriving on the island. The remaining people mingle and drink on the beach, swimming and building sand castles (or at least attempting to). Calypso Cruises provides everyone with a very basic two-piece wooden beach chair, but there are also fancy reclining chairs covered in towels and protected from the sun by umbrellas -- those are the ones that cost $7-8/hr and are rented out by the dozen locals that live on the island.
The lunch is served at the picnic tables under the shade of the trees, in the fresh breeze of the ocean. It consists of wine, a ceviche appetizer, salad, vegetables, and bar-b-qued chicken, and will leave you completely satisfied. Be on the lookout for local wildlife that could come wandering by around feeding time, most notably the wild hogs. They are nice critters, surprisingly tame thanks to all the tourists -- you can even pet them! They feel a little strange, more bristly than I would have thought, kind of like a porcupine.
After lunch the excursions begin. Included free are snorkeling and the banana boat, but extras like jet-skis are available only upon paying a hefty fee to the islanders. The second snorkeling expedition (provided there is enough demand) sets out after lunch, while meanwhile the banana boat is pulled out and the rides begin.
Finally as the afternoon winds down the catamaran is brought back to the shore and slowly the masses re-assemble on the boat decks. Due to the large group of people combined with the large amounts of alcohol consumed and topped off perfectly by the fact there is only two bathrooms on-board, expect bathroom lines to be in the ten to twenty minute range.
Arriving back at the docks, the fun is over. Usually at this point you would take your air-con van back to your city of origin, be it Jaco or Quepos or whatever, but we recommend instead you just walk a couple dozen feet to the east and spend a couple days at the Pearla del Pacifico (view photos). The whole trip, not counting van rides, lasts about eight hours but is definitely worth it -- if you don't mind being surrounded by tourists all day.
Case in point: This nameless individual here on the left kept to himself all eight hours. I don't even know why he shelled out $125 for a ticket in the first place! I kid you not, this guy's earplugs never once left his ears! He had them on at the beach, on the boat, even while the band was playing at lunch! Seriously, WTF!?!? People, this is why I started the HoliDaze, this is why I am trying to convince people to open up their eyes and experience the world! It is people like this that confuse and frustrate me, and I'm sorry if that describes you. Get out and live! See and appreciate the world, before its too late.
Here are some more photos from the drunken cruise back to the pier at Puntarenas. And for videos, check out the HoliDaze YouTube page.
What would you say to the guy listening to his iPod all day instead of enjoying the moment? Share your feedback after the photos.
Check out the map below for some of the easiest cities to visit in Costa Rica if you only have a short time. Each of the markers is complete with information on what all that particular city offers.
Which one of these Costa Rican cities was your favorite and why? Tell us below!
When I first entered the country was this place is straight up the Latino Philippines. From the house shacks to the crazy ass driving (saw three guys straddled on roadster motor cycle from the 80s today) to eve some of the food. Also a bit more expensive then originally thought even at the sodas etc in certain cities. Except for the landscape my god the hills craters mountains it feels sometimes like im in Avatar (no I don't remember the planets name sorry the story line sucked) or dragon ball Z just crazy mind blowing land. Of course these are just initial thoughts things change.
Just chattin' with some fellow backpackers
So one of the best parts of hostels is socializing with people from around the world. A couple of things I noticed way more girls especially from Europe strange even stranger or disturbing they know more about US politics and real news then most of us do. Met a guy from Holland smart savvy know exactly what going on in US and Europe. Met a girl from Germany and was asking me about the Israel pm visiting congress, certain lobbyist groups in the US etc. Now I knew what she was talking about but seriously doubt many Americans know about that or really get it or research it. I was amazed at how smart and informed these people are and they have nothing invested in it!
Even a Tico girl new so much about the North America trade agreement and so on. Every American I met here is just like back home just want to party or buy stuff talk about trending things this and that. Which almost made me think fuck it maybe we deserve whatever Palin, the Koch Brothers or just being screwed by corporations. If we don't care why should we if others countries citizens spend more time thinking about the important things that really matter in America. Do we deserve the classic American lifestyle and is that one of the reasons the American dream is eroding before my eyes. Just glad I could meet regular people who are not activists or political junkies that still get it, gives me hope. also they still are making sure they are informed about their own country.
Climbing down over 1000 stairs to the waterfall...
definitely need to be in shape to hang in this country!
Now this is an experience not a sweeping accusation I know people care in the US. US Uncut just started perfect example but its not enough. My point in all this is their is something to be learned about actively caring whats going on in the world and always looking to make it better for ALL OF US.
One thing I have learned really quickly is if you see all these pictures and think Ive got to go. Make sure you are in good shape and by that I don't mean be skinny or an athlete. Typically most places your going to miles and miles everyday. Then after all the walking for food fun drink etc then the activities hikes, canopy tours, cave tours you name it all of it takes endurance. I have been so since the second day I got here and I don't see that changing at all. Don't get me wrong out of shape people can come here but you either going to take a taxi everywhere all day and not do half the activities. On the other hand you can spend a crap load of money and stay at an all inclusive resort and have the most unauthentic time possible.
So last night we went to this bar saw a awesome cover band playing everything from Pink Floyd to Muse which was fucking awesome. Then things really got good mosh pit broke out I ran up in of course as soon as I saw a little shove. After it got going good I noticed that these girls were getting like a 5 foot head start and running in taking out people then would go out again. Well one of these crazy little Ticas took me and someone else out. I remember going up in the air then of course right before my head and back hit the ground 6 people grabbed me and threw back in... Fuck Yeah.
Saw this badass band & partied with locals til sunrise!
Then we got invited to a Tica's house for a party. We were the only non locals there. I am not going to go down to dirty details and ill leave it to your imagination but trust it was fucking crazy until sun up. I could not trade those conversations that night for anything not a zipline or massage etc. There is something so beautiful about people coming together to passionately get to know each others and their culture. You can just feel the energy and then at the end you all say your goodbyes give your hugs then on the next one. Traveling can be truly bittersweet sometimes but such is the cost of living life to the fullest.
All-in-all, I was unimpressed with Costa Rica. I guess I just had seen all the scenery before and felt like a lamb being led to slaughter amongst all the tourists. That and the fact locals quadruples the prices to foreigners. Gets real old real fast. Oh and the local food is bland and unappealing -- except for the ceviche of course. That and fresh fruit and eggs were at the core of my diet the entire time we were there.
But if you have never seen a volcano or hiked the jungle, if you have never experienced hot springs or tried a zipline, well then I am sure you will have a grand time in Costa Rica doing the touristy thing.
The last full day in Costa Rica Jared and I went balls to the well and double-dipped into the world of Timothy Leary hehehehe ;) It was a daytrip and we spent it wandering around downtown Puntarenas and then out to the beach. Eventually after eating and just as we were returning back to Perla de Pacifico a huge lightning storm came in that lasted for a good six or eight hours.
Derek chattin' with Michael, owner of Perla del Pacifico
As the storm was raging all around us, Jared and I joined Michael and his wife and two Nicaraguan workers on the newly completed back pavilion. From our covered spot we had a grand old barbeque of some meat we had purchased from the local market that morning while the storm raged all around us. It was fantastic!
I tell you though, I love immersing myself in a foreign language that I hardly know and trying to communicate with someone else. The past couple weeks so much Spanish had been coming back to me (I took three years in high school just hadn't used it since) but I tell you, trying to speak and understand a foreign language while tripping is a whole different ballgame! I pulled it off okay, but Jared definitely had a rough time. But then again he didn't take it in high school like I did.
This day and night made it for me, made he whole damn trip to Costa Rica worthwhile. And you know what? Shortly after returning home I realized I accidentally still had my front door key to the mansion. Guess that gives me an excuse to return to Puntarenas and see how Michael is doing somewhere down the road...