Posted by: luisabaldwin | November 13, 2009

PLAYA ZANCUDO, COSTA RICA

We’ve been in Panama for three months now and every three months you have to leave the country for three days to renew your visa. Of course, we were not exempt. So, along with two Boquete resident travel companions, we reluctantly left our little haven hidden on the slopes of dormant Volcan Baru and headed for the border with Costa Rica. Our destination? Well, after mountain life, we thought a little sun and fun were in order. We were interested in Hawaiian-style sunsets and it seemed like Playa Zancudo was the spot.

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Located on the southern Pacific coast of Costa Rica and near the banana port of Golfito is where the little village of Zancudo is hidden. This undiscovered area is considered by Costa Ricans to be at the end of the earth – very remote and hard to get to. As the Moon Costa Rica guide-book describes, “Today, Zancudo blends the rustic charm of a small Costa Rican fishing village (population: about 450) with the romance of coconut palms, thatched roofs, and the rolling surf. The bumpy sand road connects homes and small businesses down the spine of our peninsula – you won’t find asphalt nor sterile resorts in un-touristy Zancudo. In a beautiful natural setting you will find friendly Ticos and a cast of colorful characters. Relax and immerse yourself in the REAL Costa Rica.” Well, that sounded about right.

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Zancudo is located on the vast inlet of Golfito and goes on forever!

Maybe it was remote for Costa Ricans but for us, it was only a one and a half-hour taxi ride from the border. However, the last part of the ride took the most time and for good reason. We traveled on unpaved roads for what seemed like a bumpy forever. It was hot and sultry after the refreshingly cool mountain breezes of Boquete and I silently thought it was a good thing I had gotten us an air-conditioned hotel room.

Costa Rican Spanish is very different. I guess the best way to describe it would be to say that it sounds like a monotone – kind of like it’s so hot it’s hard to exert the effort of enunciation. Maybe it was just the taxi driver but I don’t think I’ve ever asked anybody in South and Central America to repeat themselves more. And then he slurred the words together and spoke very fast. It frustratingly felt like a foreign language and I’m fluent in Spanish. We drove through what seemed like endless coconut orchards that were so thick with branches it was mysteriously dark on the orchard floor. Shade ferns grew wild up the tree trunks. These are the kind of coconut trees that produce coconut oil and I was interested to learn that they are different from regular coconut trees. Interspersed with the orchards were beautiful pastures where Brahma cattle grazed. We passed the turn-off to Playa Pavones, a famous surf spot, and my sore rump said, next time – next time.   Finally our taxi driver announced we were in Zancudo. “So where’s the town center?” I asked as we drove down the road less traveled. He answered that this was it. It turns out that Zancudo’s town center was a grocery store! For Zancudo residents, if they want to go to a bank or a pharmacy they have to take a forty-five minute water taxi to Golfito. There isn’t even an ATM here.  There are few cars in Zancudo, golf carts and bicycles are the preferred method of transportation! Zancudo is truly at the end of the earth.

Playa Zancudo at low tide

It’s just a beach that goes on forever with businesses and houses dotted here and there. Our hotel was called Oceano and we had arrived. Basically, Oceano was a colorful outdoor thatched roof round house restaurant and bar and two hotel rooms set back from the beach.

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The colorful hand-painted mural restaurant at Oceano

After settling in, our proprietress announced that she had been making homemade pasta and had something special for our dinner so save our appetites. Before dinner we walked out to the beach to watch the sunset. It had been a while since I had enjoyed such a sight and I wasn’t disappointed. The black-sand beach went on forever and nobody was on it. The sky transformed before our eyes from vibrant colors to muted to dark – a sight that never fails to amaze me.

Playa Zancudo sunset

When you get this isolated your expectations diminish but we were pleasantly surprised. Dinner was delicious! The next day we were invited to the home of a local family, some of whom work at Oceano. Now I have to warn you, you may only see poverty in these pictures but no – these people were rich, very rich indeed. We all have a tendency to think of wealth as it relates to money but it’s more – a whole lot more.

This wonderful Costa Rican multi-generational family were happy - truly happy!

This huge family has what many with all the prosperity in the world wish they had – happiness. They live with genuine joy, celebration, and a sense of security that comes from a large cohesive family taking care of all its members every minute of every day. What was missing was stress! A little house had been built for each married adult and they all gathered in the dirt floored open area for multi-generation visiting and meals. The houses were immaculate.

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Making fish soup as they always have - outdoor and over a wood fire

Elena, the hotel owner had given the head and bones of that fish that we had for dinner to the family and the Mother immediately taught us how to make the most delicious fish soup I have ever had. Right there in the outside wood-fired stove. Onions, garlic, and bones boiled while she prepared the coconut milk by scraping out the meat. Then she washed the coconut meat, squeezed and removed it (later to be fed to the chickens) and the white milk went into the soup pot along with a variety of vegetables. At the end she added a huge bunch of cilantro and oh my, what a delicious lunch we all enjoyed.

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Grating the coconut for fish soup

But back to Elena, the new owner of Oceano. Elena and her husband Kevin bought Oceano only three short months ago. While she moved down with her two Great Danes, her husband traveled to Iraq to work as an electrician. Elena has one of those bubbly, happy personalities and she pulled out all the stops for our visit to Oceano. Of Italian decent, Elena had mastered the art of cooking and just pulled magic out of that kitchen the whole time we were there, including baking delicious bread. So, in large part eating interspersed with long walks on the beach and lots of great conversation as we shared so much in common. For Elena was raised in South America as I was, had lived in Colorado as I did and so on and so forth. We were very fortunate to have visited when we did because Elena’s eighty-three year old mother

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Elena and her wonderful Mother Mary

Mary had traveled all the way to this remote part of Costa Rica to visit with her daughter. And my, what an inspiration to the art of graceful aging she was! This woman was positive personified and it was a true joy spending time with her. On our last night, we took Elena’s golf cart down the bumpy road to Restaurante La Puerta Negra to enjoy a final dinner.

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La Puerta Negra

This topped off our little jaunt to Playa Zancudo. We had been told that the chef was good but we certainly weren’t expecting table cloths, cloth napkins, and delectable homemade pasta ravioli in a Gorgonzola sauce in that funky little out-of-the-way beach “town”. But that’s what we got along with good music and a flamboyant chef who jams with Taj Mahal. Who would have guessed.

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La Puerta Negra, Jim and our travel companions Sally and Sandy

We leave with good memories of lots of laughs and interesting conversations. And I think we lucked out with Oceano. If you’re looking for the rock and roll scene, Costa Rica has better options. But, if you’re looking for tranquility, the road less traveled, and a deserted beach that goes on forever, Zancudo has a lot to offer.

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Elena's two rescue Great Danes at Playa Zancudo

After looking at the other hotels, if Zancudo is your destination, Oceano Hotel is one we can highly recommend. Frankly, we thought we happened upon the best choice for Playa Zancudo!

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Responses

  1. I love Playa Zancudo too. It is paradise.

  2. We have vacationed in Zancudo several times and also love it. Next time we want to travel from Zancudo to Boquete for a week to go to a Spanish school. Is it difficult to hire a taxi to travel from Zancudo to the border?

    • Hi Deb,
      No, it’s very easy to get to Paso Canoas from Zancudo by taxi and takes about one hour. Your hotel proprietor can call you a taxi. If you scroll back on the website, you will find a posting on a Paso Canoas hotel to stay in, if you should choose to overnight in Paso Canos. From the frontera, take the “colectivo” to David (about 1 hr.) and from the bus station in David, take the Boquete bus which leaves every 20 minutes. Enjoy your class! The schools are pretty good.

  3. Found your Blog today, so funny, my wife and I stumbled upon Playa Zancudo in 2010 and stayed at Oceano. Became great friends with Elena and Kevin along with about 60 other people there. Found it to be where we want to start our journey in retirement…….so, this past January on our 1 month stay we bought a house at the south end of Playa Zancudo. We will start our new life there Dec 29, 2011. Yes, tranquility and the road less traveled is Playa Zancudo……can’t wait to walk that beautiful black sand beach at sunset again. Pura Vida!

    • Hello Cj and Sherry,
      Congratulations! So glad you stumbled upon Oceano and Elena. Boy, she’s a great cook, isn’t she? Welcome to your future and I hope it turns out to be everything you are looking forward to!

  4. Hello Bruce,
    Thank you for your comment. Oh yes, I remember the 72 hour thing! I hope you both are enjoying life in Zancudo. Please give my very best to the good folks at Oceano. Where did you stay in David? I apologize in not responding in a timely fashion but I am in the US at the moment or we would have come down to David to show you around a bit. Take care and we’ll talk soon.

  5. Hello Bruce,
    I’m sorry I didn’t get back to you sooner but I’m in the USA at the moment. Next time you do the 72-hr. thing, contact me and I’ll give you the name of a beach resort that is closer to Costa Rica and nicer than David. Hope you had a good time. At least you can get some shopping in David.


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