Costa RicaCosta Rica

Day 1: Playa Samara, Shopping, and Sand Crabs

Destination: Samara

I awoke this morning, rubbed the sleep from my eyes, and was pleasantly surprised to remember that yesterday I had picked up two friends from Liberia's Daniel Oduber Quiros International airport. Yesterday, Tim and Jessica were in Atlanta. Today, we were all off to Playa Samara.

Playa Samara is a sleepy beach town on the northern Pacific coast, located 75 miles west of Liberia. The area is an attractive tourist destination because it provides many comforts of home without losing its Costa Rican feel. A short two and a half hours after departing downtown Liberia, we arrived.

I parked our rented SUV in front of our lodge where we would be staying in the exclusive treetop apartment. The inn was a bright, laid back surfer's paradise. A friendly, English-speaking surfer dude warmly welcomed us and gave us our key. We walked up a short flight of stairs to the room.

At the top of the stairwell, we all paused. It really did feel like a tree house, Swiss Family Robinson-like, with rustic wooden handrails, hardwood floors, and a spectacular view of the treetops. The lodge is located two blocks from the beach, and the treetop accommodation was well worth the splurge. It was surrounded by spacious open-air decks, which were adorned with ceiling fans and hammocks big enough for two. We immediately cranked the air as we unpacked and changed into our swimsuits.

I checked my watch: nearly 2:00 p.m. We headed down to the beach. The sun was hot and the sky bluer than blue. We put our towels down on the soft sand and began to people watch. Tim displayed an irrational fear of sand and hermit crabs, which were everywhere. This turned out to be a consistent source of entertainment the rest of the trip.

Tim insisted upon sitting between Jess and me to reduce his exposure to the harmless, scurrying creatures. When we banged our feet against the sand, they all darted into their holes, even those a few yards away. I began wondering about them. How long does it take to dig a den, and how deep are they? Do crabs have families? Feelings? I made a mental note to find out later.

We lay in the sun and watched the waves. Playa Samara is largely protected from both strong currents and sizeable sea creatures by a long coral reef a few miles off shore. I looked out at Chora Island, locally known as Isla Chora, about a mile to the south. The land mass is known for its pink sand, live coral, colorful fish, and occasional turtle visitors. Rarely, it is also inhabited by a few species of sharks.

The three of us returned to the hotel to shower off the sand. Then we headed to El Lagarto, a Costa Rican-style BBQ restaurant right on the beach. We ate like kings, feasting on grilled fish, shrimp, steak, and bacon wrapped pork -- with our toes comfortably buried in the sand the entire meal. Jessica and I sampled their strawberry coladas with strawberries and coconut cream. Next I tried the banana colada, which tasted like liquid banana bread.

On the way back to the inn, I rediscovered Dragon Fly, my favorite store in Costa Rica. The building itself is a work of art, colorfully painted inside and out, and owned by an extremely talented artist named Leo. Leo is perpetually shirtless, and always smiling and willing to tell you about his jewelry, paintings and seashell/driftwood mobiles. Jess fell in love with one of his silver and pearl rings, but it was several sizes too big. Leo offered to custom make one just for her. We returned four hours later to make the purchase, and left feeling pleased we'd supported a local artist and even happier about the reasonable prices of his pieces.

Stomachs full and bodies tan, we arrived at our treetop hotel and collapsed in our hammocks before finally crawling into our beds.

Day 1: Playa Samara, Shopping, and Sand Crabs in Pictures