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- Costa Rica’s Top Spots for WIldlife
- Costa Rica’s Most Beautiful Beaches
- Costa Rica’s Best Beaches for Wildlife
- Best Surfing Beaches in Costa Rica
- Costa Rica’s Unique Retreats & Resorts
- Surf’s Up in Costa Rica
- Off-The-Beaten-Path Eco-Adventures
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Playa Zancudo, 10 kilometers from Golfito as the crow flies, strung below the estuary of the Río Coto Colorado, is one of my favorite offbeat spots. The ruler-straight gray-sand beach (littered with coconuts and flotsam) stretches about six kilometers along a slender spit backed by the mangroves of the Río Coto Swamps, fed by the estuarine waters of the Río Coto Colorado.
Waterfowl abound. And with luck you may see river otters, and crocodiles and caimans basking on the riverbanks. The fishing is good in the fresh water (there are several docks on the estuary side) and in the surf at the wide river mouth. High surf comes ashore, but surfers shun Zancudo in favor of nearby Pavones. At dusk and during full moon the no-see-ums are voracious.
The hamlet of Zancudo is near the river mouth at the north end of the spit, reached along a sandy roller-coaster road. Hotels and restaurants are strung out along five kilometers. The road ends here, by the estuary, making Zancudo one of the most reclusive spots in the country, with killer sunsets thrown in.
The bar at Cabinas Sol y Mar (tel. 506/2776-0014, www.zancudo.com) is a local meeting spot and hosts live acoustic music (Thurs.), volleyball (Sat.), and horseshoes (Sun. afternoon and Wed. evening). Rough-around-the-edges El Coquito (tel. 506/2776-0010) in the village is favored by locals for dancing.
Captains John Olsen and Mark Bower of Sportfishing Unlimited (tel./fax 506/2776-0036, www.sportfishingu.com) are based just south of the Zancudo Lodge (tel. 506/2776-0008, U.S. tel. 800/854-8791, www.thezancudolodge.com), which specializes in sportfishing.
Zancudo Boat Tours at Cabinas Los Cocos (tel./fax 506/2776-0012, www.loscocos.com) has kayak trips and boat trips up the Río Coto.
Accommodations are strung out along the ive-kilometer-long spit; there are more than listed here.
I like Coloso del Mar (tel. 506/2776-0050, www.coloso-del-mar.com, $40–45 s/d), 200 meters north of Tranquilo, for its four rustic, simply furnished, yet lovely palm-shaded wooden cabins with ceiling fans, firm mattresses, screened windows, porches, safes, and hot-water showers. It has a quaint wooden restaurant, plus a gift shop, Internet café, and free WiFi. Boat trips and water-taxi service are offered, and locals gather at the bar to swirl the gals around to Latin music.
About two kilometers further is another longtime favorite: Cabinas Sol y Mar (tel. 506/2776-0014, www.zancudo.com, $28–45 s/d), with a pleasant casual ambience and landscaped grounds. The five economy cabinas have WiFi and are tastefully furnished with ceiling fans and private skylit hot-water bathrooms; river rocks surround the showers. It also has duplex and “non-duplex” cabins, plus a thatched three-story house designed with no dividing walls for free air flow (sleeps four, $800 monthly). There’s volleyball and other games at the small but always lively thatched bar, plus great food. You can camp ($3 pp).
Cabinas Los Cocos (tel./fax 506/2776-0012, www.loscocos.com, $65 s/d), about 600 meters north of Sol y Mar, has four attractive self-catering oceanfront units tucked amid landscaped grounds. One is a thatched hardwood unit with a double bed downstairs and another in the loft; two others are venerable refurbished banana-company properties shipped from Palmar. Each has a kitchenette, mosquito nets, both inside and outside showers, and a veranda with hammocks. The place is run by a delightful couple: Susan (a gringa) and Andrew (a Brit) Robertson, who also operate Zancudo Boat Tours.
With 250 meters of beachfront, Zancudo Beach Club (tel. 506/2776-0087, $65–70 s/d), formerly El Oasis, run by Yankee transplants Gary and Debbie Walsh, is a laid-back place popular with surfers. It has five cabins of varnished hardwoods on stilts, all with orthopedic mattresses, microwaves, coffeemakers, and solar-heated water. It has a restaurant.
For an intimate class act, opt for Oceano (tel. 506/776-0921, www.oceanocabinas.com, $69 s, $79 d, check for discounts). The two tiled air-conditioned rooms with ceiling fans have simple yet adorable decor and furnishings, including mosquito nets over the beds, plus cable TV. Umbrellas, flashlights, and toiletries are among the thoughtful extras provided. Free Internet, bicycle use, and breakfast are included. The restaurant is cool! (The original Canadian owners, Stephanie and Mark Homer, sold to an equally delightful couple, Kevin and Elena.)
The only upscale lodging around is Zancudo Lodge (tel. 506/2776-0008, U.S. tel. 800/854-8791, www.thezancudolodge.com, see the website for package rates), at the far north end of Zancudo. Sportfishing is a forte. Its 19 junior suites (most in a two-story unit set around lawns with palms and a swimming pool) have beautiful hardwood floors, glossy hardwood furnishings, and WiFi throughout. For more room, check into one of the two oceanfront suites. There’s a beachfront restaurant and bar.
Competing for the upscale market, Playa Zancudo B&B (tel. 506/2776-0006, www.playazancudobedandbreakfast.com, $80 s, $90 d) is a handsome ranch-style wooden home raised on stilts at the north end of Zancudo. It has just two bedrooms, each with satellite TV, quality linens, and gracious furnishings. Reservations are required to rent either the master suite or both rooms.
For the best dining around, head to Oceano (tel. 506/776-0921, www.oceanocabinas.com, 11 A.M.–close daily; closed Mon. in low season), where you eat at tree-trunk tables under thatch. Start the day with huevos rancheros, waffles, and omelettes ($2.50–4); lunch and dinner means ceviche or pizza. Be sure to leave room for the awesome brownie sundae! It has a Mexican theme on Wednesday nights, plus Sunday brunch (9 A.M.–3 P.M.) and a separate ice cream stand to help beat the heat. It has WiFi. Elena, Gabby, and Jaheira will prepare a picnic lunch.
The breakfast menu at Cabinas Sol y Mar (7 A.M.–9 P.M. daily, $3–13) includes omelettes, french toast, home fries, home-baked breads and muffins, and coffee from a real espresso machine. The lunch and dinner menu features Thai dishes and barbecue. A nightly special could mean pork chops in teriyaki sauce or tuna with capers, rice, choyote squash, and green beans with roasted pepper sauce ($6). It’s popular for its Monday- and Friday-night barbecues.
Coloso del Mar (tel. 506/2776-0203, 4:30–9 P.M. Sun.–Fri.) is good for international fare. The open-air Restaurante Puerta Negra, serving Italian cuisine such as gnocchi and tortellini, is also a good bet.
For sunsets, many locals head inland to Hollywood (tel. 506/8889-0821, noon–2 A.M.), between Conte and Zancudo (the turnoff is signed in La Virgen de Pavones). The lively restaurant-bar has a jukebox and pinball and hosts karaoke on Saturday. It serves casados ($5), jumbo shrimp ($12), and even chop suey. It also has spacious rooms and apartments.
Getting to Playa Zancudo
The paved road to Zancudo begins about eight kilometers south of the Pan-American Highway, midway along the road to Golfito; the turn is signed at Únion. In 2010 a wheezing ferry that once transported you across the Río Coto, 18 kilometers beyond El Rodeo, was replaced by a bridge. On the south bank, the intermittently paved—it was in horrendous condition in December 2010—road runs five kilometers to a Y-junction (La Cruce) at Pueblo Nuevo; turn right for Zancudo and Pavones and continue about 10 kilometers to a T-junction at Conte. Turn right here: Zancudo (18 km) and Pavones (22 km) are signed. This road divides one kilometer along; take the right-hand fork for Zancudo, and the left for Pavones. The Mini-Super Tres Amigos (closed Sun.) and Super Bella Vista (tel. 506/2776-0101), in Zancudo, sell gas.
A lancha (water-taxi) departs Golfito’s muellecito (dock) for Zancudo at noon daily, returning from Zancudo at 7 A.M. daily ($5 pp, or $50 charter up to six passengers). Call the Asociación de Boteros (tel. 506/2775-0357). Zancudo Boat Tours at Cabinas Los Cocos also has water-taxi service ($20 pp to Golfito or Puerto Jiménez; $50 minimum, two passengers).
Super Bella Vista has taxi service.
© Christopher P. Baker from Moon Costa Rica, 8th Edition