Beaches (north to south):
Famous for its gorgeous shoreline, Playa Barrigona is an indisputable beauty off the beaten track. The bay is named “big belly” because of its rotund shape. While waves are gentle, swimmers should still take care and watch out for strong currents and riptides.
Playa Buena Vista
Playa Buena Vista, or “good view” beach is located down a dirt road about 20 minutes north of Samara. Its crescent-shaped coastline, made up of darker sand, is often deserted and only accessible by car. The beach is also known for its beautiful estuary, where the freshwater Buena Vista River empties into the salty ocean.
Playa Samara is generally the place to be for visitors who wish to socialize. A number of surf schools, restaurants, bars, and local tour operators dot the northern section of beach at the tree line, drawing crowds of happy and energetic youths. Luckily, the shore is long and spacious, and rarely appears as crowded as it actually is. Those seeking more privacy can walk twenty minutes south to the quiet fishing village of Matapalo. Paddle out in a kayak to Isla Chora, the uninhabited island about a mile offshore, for spectacular snorkeling and a pink sand beach.
Carrillo is a textbook example of a Costa Rican beach - spotless, easily accessible, and free of construction within 655 feet of the water. Palm trees separate the bright white sand from the paved street, and sand dollars hide just beneath the sparkling, clear sea. Carrillo is quite popular with locals on weekends, but often empty and private during the week. Away from the bright lights of Samara, this is a wonderful place to stargaze after the sun goes down.
Nature Reserves and Wildlife Refuges:
Camaronal Wildlife Refuge
Just three miles south of Playa Carrillo and seven and a half miles from Playa Samara, Camaronal is famous for three things: fishing, surfing, and turtle watching. Anglers can expect to hook delicacies like snapper, sea bass, and yellowtail. Surfers can hope for consistent - and sometimes tubular - waves, known to reach up to 20 feet high. For wildlife watchers, an average of five sea turtles visit these shores nearly every night of the year to lay eggs in the dark sands. Entrance to the refuge is free, but a small parking fee of $1 is required upon exit.
La Selva Wildlife Refuge
La Selva Wildlife Refuge in Carrillo helps rehabilitate wounded and abandoned creatures for eventual release into the wild. Animal lovers can visit with margays, jaguarundis, toucans, crocodiles, skunks, armadillos, coatimundis, and even a baby howler monkey at the rescue center. Sanctuaries such as these rarely receive government funding in Costa Rica, and largely depend on the donations and entrance fees paid by visitors. The best time for animal viewing is around sundown, when the heat of the day begins to dissipate. Hours of operation are 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Adult admission costs $14, and children $8.
Ostional Wildlife Refuge
Located just under an hour away, in the neighboring town of Nosra, Ostional Wildlife Refuge stretches down the picturesque coastline for nine miles, extending three miles into the Pacific Ocean. The refuge protects tens of thousands of endangered Olive Ridley sea turtles, which arrive on the shores in "arribadas" – mass turtle nestings that follow the lunar cycle. Nesting season hits its peak from June-December, especially during September, October, and November. During this time, the arribadas usually double to twice monthly. The best way to spot these gentle giants is on a guided night tour; flash photography is prohibited and only red-light flashlights are permitted so as not to disturb the nesting females. 2682-0937 or 2682-0400.