Travel Blog: Kayaking in the Gulf of Nicoya

Kayaking Nicoya Gulf

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 trip was divided in two 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.

Gulf of Nicoya

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.

Boat Tour in Costa Rica

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.

Kayaking in Costa Rica

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.

Exploring the Gulf of Nicoya in Sea Kayaks

Costa Rica Kayak Tour

After a week of Spanish and guided sea kayaking, I set off with my husband, Tom, for an extended kayak trip on our own to the » Islands in the Gulf of Nicoya.
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.

Islands in the Gulf of Nicoya

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.

Kayaking in Curu

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.