Away from the two-lane highways, and paved city streets, I’ve discovered that the best hidden treasures in Costa Rica are found when you go “off road.” Beautiful natural formations, parks, nature, and wildlife. It’s absolute paradise.
Taking unmarked dirt roads has led to some of the most stunning things I’ve seen in my life. They’ve led to waterfalls so blue they look like a Disneyworld attraction; the homes to sloths, toucans, poison dart frogs, jaguars, and tapirs; palm-tree lined beaches where you won’t see a soul (except maybe a monkey); and beaches where tens of thousands of sea turtles converge to lay their eggs.
Twelve years ago, my husband Jorge and I resolved to retire by age 40, live by the ocean, and never have to face a cold winter again. At the time, we were buried in spreadsheets, budgets, and stress, a sure recipe for daydreaming about doing something different. We knew there was a way to adjust our lifestyle to be more fulfilling; some way to make a living and still love our work and our life.
A few years later we found the perfect place in Guanacaste Province, northwestern Costa Rica, one of the world’s five Blue Zones (where people live longest and happiest).
After years of saving, and a few leaps of faith, we were able to build our first modest B&B in Guanacaste. Work was sometimes hard, but it was always rewarding, as we shared our love of Costa Rica with our guests.
We eventually saved enough to build and move to a new luxury rental villa, Pura Vida House, at a beach resort called Hacienda Pinilla, closer to the beach town of Tamarindo. We still offer immersive vacation weeks, but this new location allows us more free time, as many weeks we open it as a typical vacation rental. We offer a personalized and helpful rental experience, recommending our favorite off-the-beaten-path beaches, things to do, and places to eat in the area—and offering to take them there in many cases.
We often take guests to one of our favorite local sodas. Sodas serve delicious and cheap meals; about $6 will get you a typical platter of rice, beans, salad, plantains, fresh seafood, fresh juice, and an arroz con leche (sweet rice and milk pudding) for dessert.
We are now 36 and 40 years old, and we’re living the life we envisioned a few years back. (Well, better than we envisioned it if I’m being honest.) We spend summers in Columbus, Ohio (my hometown), and the rest of the year in Guanacaste. We get to spend time with both of our families and enjoy living an endless summer, with time to travel and explore in between. This year we went to Peru, Ireland, England, France, and Japan…just like retirees.
We have loved every place we have lived and visited, but Guanacaste feels like home. It holds a huge place in our hearts, and brings a literal smile to our faces each year we arrive back.
Guanacaste contains the flattest part of Costa Rica (though it still feels pretty mountainous to this Ohio girl, as volcanic activity has had a large impact on the country’s terrain). Here, sweeping vistas of green and golden sugar cane, rice paddies, and pastureland as flat as a hand-ground corn tortilla, sprawl until they hit jagged mountains.
For most people these pastoral scenes are only secondary to the beautiful beaches here on the “Gold Coast.” Each mile of coast contains a beach different from the next—surfing beaches, isolated beaches, white-sand beaches, black-sand beaches, coves, beaches for snorkeling, sailing, fishing, and beaches where leatherback turtles come to nest. There is a beach or beach town here to suit anyone’s taste.
And there are plenty of festivals celebrated in Guanacaste. Our favorites are the local rodeos, Toros a la Tica, that rotate from town to town on weekends from December through April. We often bring guests of ours to show them part of the “real Costa Rica” that they might not otherwise be able to experience.
We’ve also started our own little tradition of swimming in the ocean while we take in the sunset every night that we can. We’re learning a lot about gardening, and growing many of our own tropical fruits (papaya, star fruit, limes, oranges, and coconut) Our days are usually spent on the tennis or pickleball courts, playing golf, or taking a yoga class overlooking the ocean. We wouldn’t trade it for the world.
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