Costa RicaCosta Rica

Paddling to Playa Blanca

Destination: Jaco

Bursting with energy at 7:15 a.m., I bounced down the stairs in anticipation of the day's ocean kayak tour to Playa Blanca. I grabbed a cup of coffee to go and stashed a fresh mango in my backpack for later.

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With a handful of other passengers, I boarded Kayak Jaco's minivan destined for Playa Agujas, or Needle Beach. There, a number of bright orange kayaks were neatly laid out on its deserted dark sand. From the looks of the strong winds and choppy waters, I knew I was in for a physically challenging day.

Because it is so easy to lose myself in thought, I always prefer to use a single kayak instead of a double to heighten the meditative aspect of the experience. Accompanied by our four guides, we launched into the ocean.

While beautiful, the 30-minute trip was far from calming. I paddled as hard as my scrawny arms would allow, but when I looked up I had only progressed a few feet. When we finally arrived at Playa Blanca, or White Beach, we parked our kayaks along the shore and climbed over the rocks to catch sight of the beach. Its beauty was awe-inspiring and the powdery white sand was soft and inviting.

Walking about a half-mile down the coast, we stopped for a snack of fresh fruit and ice-cold water. Looking back, a jagged rock covered with pelicans loomed in the distance. As if reading our minds, our guide noted that this area has the largest population of brown pelicans in Costa Rica. Then he passed out snorkeling equipment and goofy glow-in-the-dark life vests. After 20 minutes in the water, I decided to return for a rest. While shallow-dwelling species like Panamic sergeant majors are interesting to watch, now that I was a scuba diver, snorkeling no longer gave me the satisfaction it once did.

By the time I returned to the beach, my stomach was growling. I reached into my bag and savored the most incredible mango I have ever eaten. Combined with my phenomenal surroundings, it was a sensory overload. Watching children make sandcastles, I listened to the waves crash methodically against the shore. I touched and tasted the sticky ripe flesh of the sweet mango, and breathed in the salty air.

I drifted into a peaceful sleep, and was awakened a half an hour later when it was time to go. On the way back, one of the guides placed several fossilized seashells into my hand, explaining that they are common in these parts. Holding something that old gave me goose bumps, and left me imagining dinosaurs and wooly mammoths roaming that very beach.

By now the winds had weakened (albeit slightly), and we were ready to tackle the return trip to Playa Agujas. I grabbed my iPod from the dry bag for a little music motivation -- the risk of tipping over with my precious mp3 player was less significant than the risk of falling asleep mid-paddle without it.

After we returned to Jaco, I moved to Hotel Poseidon, a boutique property just off the beach. For dinner, their casual restaurant transforms into a fine dining establishment. That night, I enjoyed a sumptuous three-course meal with a glass of chilled white wine. The entree of Hunan style lamb chops accompanied by sauteed vegetables and buttery mashed potatoes was divine. I barely had room for dessert but somehow managed to devour a half an order of bananas foster before retiring for the evening.

Paddling to Playa Blanca in Pictures

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