Gulf of Nicoya, Costa Rica
Travel Blog: Kayaking in the Gulf of Nicoya
On the Nicoya Peninsula, I found the ever-elusive combination of pristine beaches, undiscovered fishing villages, and enough tourism-savvy to allow for vacation extras like Spanish lessons and sea kayak rentals. For me, it was what travel should be: a chance to explore another culture and land, a physically and intellectually challenging adventure - and just plain fun.
My month-long trip was divided into three parts: I began on my own, with a week of Spanish lessons and daily sea kayaking sessions. After that, my husband joined me for a ten-day sea kayaking journey in the Gulf of Nicoya. Finally, the rest of my family met us to spend the week of Christmas in Montezuma.
I started from a small, bed-and-breakfast inn near Paquera which also offers fishing tours, sea kayaking and Spanish lessons. My individual Spanish classes were fun but challenging, so it was good that I had also decided to sea kayak two hours a day.
My kayaking guide took me to new places everyday: to Isla Pajaro, an island with hundreds of pelicans; to a small river running through an estuary; to an island where he introduced me to the local fishermen living there temporarily, and to the small schoolhouse for the fishermen's children.
On a longer excursion, we went snorkeling and then ended the day with fresh oysters seasoned with lime and chili.
Toward the end of my stay we went on a short, steep hike up a nearby hill and we looked down onto the sea where we'd been exploring all week.
From above, the green islands set in the blue waters of the gulf looked like a tiny map of the place where I would be traveling next.
See also: Islands in the Gulf of Nicoya
Exploring the Gulf of Nicoya in Sea Kayaks
After a week of Spanish and guided sea kayaking, I set off with my husband, Tom, for an extended kayak trip on our own.
Those ten days were filled with adventures: We talked with fishermen who proudly showed us what they were catching, and learned that some of these men had never in their lives traveled as far in the Gulf as we would in our ten days - they had no reason to leave.
We spent one night with the caretaker of Isla Gitana, a small island in Bahia Luminosa, who fried up a snack of plantains for us while he chatted away about the history of the island. In Tambor, we pitched a tent in a makeshift campground in the backyard of a bar and restaurant, and visited with the Tico tourists who had come to the beach for the weekend.
Another night, we stayed at a cabina in a little fishing village on Isla Venado and ate fresh fish and shrimp at a tiny bar/restaurant. We sometimes camped on pristine beaches that we had entirely to ourselves; now and then, we were forced to land on beaches covered with plastic trash washed up from Costa Rica's rivers and the rest of the world.
The Gulf was teeming with wildlife: Fish would boil up in circles, furiously jumping into the air for minutes at a time. Pelicans
and frigate birds pivoted above us or splashed down to retrieve fish. When we paddled close to an estuary, hundreds of herons and
sea birds perched in the trees or flew lazily overhead. Spotted eagle rays leaped into the air and, twice, we paddled close to sea
turtles before they dove back into the depths.
One day we stopped to hike in the Curu Wildlife Reserve and saw deer, iguanas, three species of monkeys, tropical birds, and a coati, all in the space of a couple of hours.
The water itself could be so glassy smooth that we felt comfortable kayaking in darkness to see the phosphorescent green algae, a stream of sparkles flowing from our paddles or lighting up the front of our kayaks. But in December, a north wind can also whip waves into dangerous swells, and we encountered rough waters a few times that doubled or tripled our travel time from beach to beach.
By the time our ten days were up, we were sorry to leave the joys of paddling and exploring - but guiltily looking forward to sleeping at a hotel.
Montezuma with a family of ten
For Christmas my family joined us in Montezuma. We were staying at the Hotel Amor de Mar on the beach.
Almost every morning, a few of us would get up in time to see the pink glow of the sunrise over the ocean, then go for a run up the
road or along the beaches, and return for a swim in the hotel's tidal pool and a dip in the river.
We went body-surfing in the waves, hiked to a 300-foot waterfall, and visited the nearby Cabo Blanco National Park, where we saw
very little wildlife but learned a lot about the trees and other plants from our guide.
Another day, we had a glorious horseback riding session on the beach, where we were allowed to canter for a mile at a time across the sand. We tried surfing the waves at the nearby beaches, and one day we took a cab ride to Playa Carmen for bigger surf. At night we sat in the lounging chairs of the hotel at the ocean's edge to watch the moon rise, and one night we saw a lunar eclipse.
For returning to San Jose we took a water taxi to Jaco. The sea was very rough that day and after a while we hit a huge wave and the captain stopped the boat. Right then, we heard a splash and saw the tail of a humpback whale disappearing into the water. A minute later, the whale jumped out of the water and twisted in the air, and then we saw that she had a baby with her. For the next 15 minutes, we sat in the pitching boat, watching the whales leap or raise their fins above the ocean.
For all the rest of our journey back to the United States, we had the memory of the two whales dancing in the waves.
Written by Jennie Dear, Dec 2010