I’m in Playa Negra, on Costa Rica’s southern Caribbean coast, in a house in the jungle. The black sand beach, empty save for a few guests from a nearby hotel lounging on beach chairs, is a five-minute walk down the trail.
It’s an open-air home, Balinese inspired. No walls, thatched roof, polished concrete floors, tropical hardwood beams. A lazy ceiling fan keeps the air circulating. It’s not hot or humid. Just pleasant, even in the middle of the day.
A landscaped garden surrounds me with palms, bougainvillea, hibiscus, and papaya and banana trees.
It’s how many people live here, seeking to stay in tune with their surroundings and catch that sea breeze. Believe it or not but the bugs aren’t a big problem. I’m a mosquito-magnet, but here I haven’t been bitten.
I’m answering emails from friends and family back in the U.S., where fall foliage has already made its appearance (I love to brag that I’m in shorts and a tank top when they’re digging out winter coats), when a flash of color catches my eye.
A Keel-billed Toucan, with splashes of green, yellow, orange, and red on its long beak, lands on a palm tree right in front of me. A moment later, a Collared Aracari, a smaller toucan species, alights on an adjacent tree. It’s like a nature show right in front me.
I watch for a moment, then throw my laptop down and run for my camera. But when I get back they’re gone.
It’s a typical moment in this region and a great lesson in the need to disconnect from the online world when you’re in a place like this… or you might miss something beautiful.
Just four hours’ drive from the country’s capital, San Jose, this stretch of coast is worlds apart. Head south of the port city of Limon on the two-lane coast road, and you’ll see no large resorts or hotels, no chain restaurants … not even any buildings taller than a few stories.
With nearly 88% of the land in this area, the Talamanca canton, protected by national park there is a distinct lack of development. Wildlife and pristine natural areas are abundant here, with human settlements melding with the surroundings—not overpowering them. Three-toed sloths, howler monkeys and more are your neighbors.
It’s sparsely populated by a mix of Costa Ricans of European and mestizo descent, Afro-Costa Ricans (descendants of Jamaican immigrants who came to the area 100 years ago), an indigenous tribe called the Bribri, and a mix of expats of nearly 50 different nationalities.
This off-the-beaten-path destination has always attracted a different sort of traveler, more bohemian let’s say. And many of them have stayed on permanently, opening clothing stores, arts and crafts galleries, yoga studios, and restaurants.
The towns of Cahuita, Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, and Manzanillo and the jungle and beaches in between are the main concentration of expats in this region.
On either side of the beach road, you’ll find their little businesses in buildings alternating between whimsically decorated, rustic, and brightly-painted—sometimes all three in one.
And along the whole coast, there are beaches that are straight off a postcard. Palm trees lining white sand, with clear blue water to the horizon.
All the factors combined make this a perfect place to get away from it all and to disconnect from the world.
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