Beach and Mountains: The Best of Both Worlds in Costa Rica

In the U.S. or Canada, a road trip to the beach can be serious business. Depending on where you start, it can take several long days in the car to get to the water. With the cost of gas, hotel stays along the way, and a hotel once you get there…you have quite an expensive little trip.

In Costa Rica, it’s a different story. When I lived on the slopes on the Poás volcano, in the mountains of the Central Valley region, I took plenty of spur-of-the-moment trips to the Pacific coast. I’d start at my home, just outside Grecia, a market town surrounded by fincas (estates) growing some of the best coffee beans in the world (you can bet I had a cup of local stuff every morning).

A bit less than two hours later, I’d be sipping on a cold Imperial cerveza and enjoying a heaping bowl of ceviche at my favorite seafood restaurant in Playa Herradura. From rural Costa Rica to a palm tree-fringed bay glistening in the tropical sun…along well-paved roads…before lunch.

My wife, Liz, and I always made that our first stop before planning the rest of the journey. If we were in the mood for surfing and a bit of après-surf fun, we’d head to Jacó, Costa Rica’s premier central Pacific coast resort town. It’s set on a long, gracefully curving bay. There are beginner-friendly waves. And the Avenida Pastor Diaz is a long avenue paralleling the beachfront that has no shortage of restaurants, stores, surf shops, cafés, and more.

Jacó’s beach is a perfect place to relax and wind down
Jacó’s beach is a perfect place to relax and wind down.

An alternative is Playa Esterillos, about 20 minutes’ drive to the south. This is a more low-key community…a village in the jungle by the beach. No big resorts, hotels, or condo towers here. Just you, the sand, the palm trees (perfect for hanging a hammock), and a couple dozen other people (during the week, maybe nobody else).

Plenty of expats I know in the Central Valley do the same. Everybody has their favorite beach. Their favorite little hotel or guest house to spend the night if they don’t feel like driving back. For those who like to visit the beach but prefer to live in the spring-like climate of Costa Rica’s highlands, it’s the perfect situation.

On the flipside, there are plenty of expats living on the central Pacific coast who head up into the mountains on a regular basis. The capital, San José, is just two hours away, after all. That makes getting to the international airport, as well as the best hospitals in the country (though they have pretty highly rated facilities at the beaches too), easy.

Not to mention, you have plenty of big city amenities like big box stores, shopping malls, multiplexes, and more. Many expats schedule a specialist medical appointment for the afternoon, do a bit of shopping for items not available in the smaller stores at the beach, see a movie, have dinner, and stay the night before heading home the next day.

It’s the best of both worlds.

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