This is part two of a series of three articles about our time on the Nicoya Peninsula.
Our first couple of days on the peninsula proved harder than we imagined. The dust lifted by cars zipping was unbearable at times and the tough climbs saw us pushing our bikes on several occasions. We arrived in Samara tired but could rest a couple of days and celebrate NYE. I go in more details in the first part of this series of 3 articles, so I would recommend reading the first part before continuing on.
After arriving in complete darkness at Playa Islita the night before, we were woken up by warm sun rays touching our face through the meshing of our tent. Before us was a bright orange sunrise over a quiet beach. This place was magnificent. Amongst the apps we use to navigate and find places to stay, iOverlander (link here) proved very useful to know where to spend the night. Reviews for this little paradise said there was a hotel with a public area where we could collect water, have an outdoor shower and access toilets. There was even wifi. Some people have reported staying for a week. As we ate breakfast, Tiphaine looked at me and said: “Why don’t we stay here today?” Why not, indeed. As we made our decision, a red macaw came flying and grasp a branch on the tree right above us. There were a rescue and rehabilitation centre for the large colourful birds nearby and they often came to have breakfast on the beach too.
Our neighbours, Carlos and Diana, both from Spain, had stationed their van and hadn’t move for a month. Carlos offered to recharge our electronics if we needed to; his solar panels we laid facing the sun the entire day. Staying several days suddenly sounded pretty good. This was the perfect place to recover from the gruelling hills and the traffic would diminish as people went back home while we rested.
We spent the following 3 days reading, going for a dip in warm ocean water, eat and relax. I took the time to learn a little Spanish and take photos of the sunset. The waves were clean one late afternoon so I decided to body surf with my GoPro. A large set came and knocked me off the bottom, losing my grip on the stick holding the GoPro. Just like that, the little camera disappeared never to be seen. I was fucking pissed at myself to be such as idiot and bring this camera in high swell without securing it on my wrist. I walked the beach several times hoping the tide would bring it back but in vain.
By the end of our third day, locals showed up and set up camp around the parking lot. The place was suddenly buzzing with 15-20 overnighters. That night, a police truck came by to investigate, red and blue lights flashing for a short moment before disappearing. We were in our tent while others had fires going, enjoying a fine evening on the beach. The following morning, several police vehicles arrived. They started to talk to Carlos and Diana followed by to the other tents behind before coming to us. They informed us it was illegal to camp on the beach and we needed to leave. It was almost 11 AM when we started packing and the taught of leaving was far in our mind. Carlos approached and told us the hotel manager called the police because some people apparently used the pool, chairs and accessed private areas of the hotel without the right to do so. The police came down and told everyone to piss off. The Spaniards could stay as it wasn’t technically camping but needed to move their van in the parking area if they wished to stay. Carlos confirmed seeing the police car several times and they never asked for anything. As Carlos suggested, we decided to stay a little further down the beach, under the palm trees. So we pushed our bikes on the beach, choose a spot and stayed for one last night in this perfect place.
After a few relaxing days in Playa Islita we were back on the road. This time, there was less traffic but the steep hills remained. After climbing the first one we came to an amazing viewpoint where we could see Playa Islita in its entirety. The sunset from there is said to be breathtaking. Not long after came our second climb of the day, the gradient in the mid-20%. Our clothes were drenched with sweat as we reached the top and we’d been on the road for an hour only.
I was photographing howler monkeys several meters from the top when Aaron and Emily pushed their loaded bikes up. From the USA, they were on holidays and decided to bikepack the Nicoya Peninsula. Having a bikepacking setup meant they were much lighter than us and yet, they were having a hard time pushing up the hills. We talked a little before they disappeared in front of us. We would pass each other several times over the following days and stay a couple of nights at the same spot.
We were having lunch at San Miguel beach when Aaron and Emily rolled in. They went for a swim before heading to a nearby soda, the term in Costa Rica for a local restaurant, where they planned to stay for the night. We discussed our strategy for the following days. Ahead were 2 large rivers to cross, about 20kms away. Both were tidal, meaning we ideally needed to cross them at low tide, either early morning or at dusk. We decided to cross around 8 AM and the best day to do so was in 2 days time. Staying for the night seemed reasonable, evermore so that iOverlander had comments of a restaurant allowing people to camp on their backyard so we shoot for that. To our little surprise, we saw Aaron and Emily sitting at a table, finishing their meal before asking if they could pitch their tent for the night. For 4000 Colones, the equivalent of $9 CAN, we could pitch our tent in the backyard and use the outdoor shower. Again, the ocean was only a few feet away.
The story continues in the third and last part.
More photos available in the Costa Rica Photo Gallery
NICOYA PENINSULA SUMMARY
The Nicoya Peninsula route is mostly on dirt roads, steep hills and could be extremely dusty. I would not recommend it for beginners for cycle-tourers with fully-loaded bicycle mostly because of near-impossible steep hills on loose dirt and rock. However, it is a fantastic route for bikepacking of any level. The heat could be unbearable by midday and everything is more expensive than anywhere else in the country.
Camping under a tall palm tree on underdeveloped beaches stretching for miles, dipping in the warm Pacific waters, the chance to witness sea turtle hatching or nesting, riding on jungle paths where howler monkeys and red macaws watch you pass by and riding on the hard, compacted sand right on the beach are only some of the highlights.
We followed the Gira Costa route available on bikepacking.com, from Liberia to the Amistad bridge. The GPX file from the other route, “Nicoya Peninsula Dirt Road Odyssey”, proved to be harder to follow on our routing applications but essentially is the same. There was only one section we couldn’t follow around Playa Junquillal because the road had been taken away by floods during the last wet season. For more about the route, visit bikepacking.com.