Costa RicaCosta Rica

Sand Dollars and a Beachfront Dinner

Destination: Manuel Antonio

They say that a beach full of life indicates a healthy marine environment. If that's true, then Playa Palo Seco is one of the healthiest I've ever seen. This vast stretch of secluded beach teems with sand dollars, hermit crabs, tiny snails, and ghost crabs -- in addition to polished stones and colorful shells ideal for collections.

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That morning, Fabian and I enjoyed another enormous, room service breakfast before checking out of Makanda by the Sea. We took the public bus 25 miles north to Parrita, a dusty town just a few miles from our final destination: Timarai Bamboo Resort on Playa Palo Seco. The pristine white-sand expanse ran for miles but was nearly deserted.

Xavier, the resort's Spanish owner, showed us to our beachfront suite, Air, named for one of the four classical elements (Earth, Fire, Air, and Water). The suite was an eco-friendly cottage constructed from natural woods and adobe, and I was fascinated with the curved walls and bamboo beams. Our bedroom overlooked a small terrace, and I immediately staked out the ocean-view hammock.

This was the last stop on our honeymoon itinerary, and we had decided to do absolutely nothing at all -- the next 48 hours would be devoted to swimming, shelling, and serious relaxation. We strolled down the coastline, hand-in-hand, when I spotted the first sand dollar.

The tiny, white circle was intact, half-buried in the sand. As I picked it up, it snapped in two -- it was waterlogged, and gravity had taken its toll. I was crushed, thinking I had ruined my one and only chance at taking home a sand dollar, but Fabian urged me to keep looking. We continued our walk in the surf, running from the larger waves that crashed loudly on the shore.

As one of the bigger waves receded, I noticed a circular impression in the sand. Several seconds later, the impression grew more detailed and I saw markings appear within. Reaching down, I scooped up the sand dollar and washed it off in the sea. I had a brown sand dollar, very much alive.

We "oohed" and "aahed" at the flattened sea urchin for a moment. It was the first I had seen alive, and I marveled at its fuzzy spines and unfamiliar color. Placing it back in the sand, we watched it burrow underneath, hunkering down for the next wave. When it came, Fabian and I, now alert to the animals' presence, watched as thousands of impressions appeared -- the gorgeous beach was absolutely full of sand dollars.

That evening, Xavier and his staff prepared us a lovely beachfront dinner. Tiki torches on either side of our table provided light (and bug-repelling citronella scents), and also created a romantic ambiance. After a gigantic salad, our host brought out a seafood feast: crab, clams, mussels, and fish sat atop a sizzling skillet, cooked to perfection in olive oil and garlic. Fabian and I enjoyed a beautiful dinner under the stars.

Sand Dollars and a Beachfront Dinner in Pictures

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