Locals have labeled this blissfully crowd-free coastal zone as Costa de Oro (Gold Coast). Cross the Río Bejuco south of Pueblo Nuevo to arrive at the hamlet of San Miguel, at the northern end of Playa San Miguel, reached by a side road.
The silver-sand beach is a prime turtle-nesting site; there’s a ranger station at the southern end of the beach, plus a turtle hatchery. You can learn to surf at Flying Scorpion (tel. 506/2655-8080, www.theflyingscorpion.com ) at Playa San Miguel. The beach runs south into Playa Coyote, a lonesome six-kilometer-long stunner backed by a large mangrove swamp and steep cliffs.
The beaches are separated by a river estuary. The wide Río Jabillo pours into the sea at the south end of Playa Coyote, which, like Playa San Miguel, is reached by a side road that extends two kilometers north and south along the shore. The surfing is superb at high tide (a reef unfolds at low tide), with fine breaks.
The Río Jabillo and marshy foreshore force the coast road inland for six kilometers to the village of San Francisco de Coyote, connected by road inland over the mountains with Highway 21. Turn right in San Francisco to continue south; a bridge over the Río Jabillo permits passage even in the wettest of wet seasons.
Backpackers can stay at Stephen Hopkins’s basic, shaded Treehouse (in the U.S. tel. 530/644-3487, hoppy4840 [at] att [dot] net, www.savethedamnplanet.com ) at Playa San Miguel. It has electricity and water, but Steve suggests that you bring a tent, sleeping pad, and hammock.
Run by Yankee expat Chris Cardman, the Blue Pelican (tel. 506/2655-8046, $35 s/d downstairs, $45 s/d upstairs), a three-story wooden house on Playa San Miguel, has six charming yet basic rooms with rough-hewn four-poster beds, ceiling fans, and shared bathrooms with cold water only. A large room upstairs sleeps five people; smaller rooms are downstairs, including dorm room. No frills here, but Chris drums up great seafood dishes, such as Portuguese seafood stew ($9), in the rustic restaurant (11 A.M.–10 P.M. daily low season, 7 A.M.–10 P.M. daily high season).
The German-run Escorpión Volador (Flying Scorpion, tel. 506/2655-8080, www.theflyingscorpion.com ) rents five cozy seafront cabinas ($54 s/d low season, $55 s/d high season), a second-floor studio apartment ($60 s/d low season, $75 s/d high season), and five fully equipped houses ($80–150 s/d low season, $100–200 s/d high season). Weimeraners abound underfoot! The owners make delicious omelettes, french toast, and waffle breakfasts, served in their airy restaurant, Rossi’s Place (11 A.M.–10 P.M. daily, $2–12). A huge menu includes appetizers such as black bean soup, garlic fries, and nachos. For lunch, try the steak and onion casado (set lunch, $7), poached shrimp ($15), or burgers, homemade pastas, pizzas, and ice cream.
Hotel Arca de Noe (tel./fax 506/2665-8065, www.hotelarcadenoe.com , $10 pp dorm, $60 s/d low season, $70 high season) is one kilometer farther south on the main road inland of the shore. This Italian-run hacienda-style property has lush landscaped grounds and a large swimming pool lined by mosaic tiles. It has five basically furnished bunk rooms with fans and clean, ample bathrooms (cold water only), plus 10 air-conditioned cabinas with lofty wooden ceilings, fans, verandas, louvered windows, exquisite fabrics, and private baths with hot water. A restaurant (8–10 A.M., noon–2 P.M., and 6–9 P.M. daily) is open to the public and serves gourmet Italian fare, including pizza. It rents bicycles and horses, and has kayak tours and massage. Rates include breakfast. It closes for the middle of low season.
Inland, with commanding coast views, and the best place by far (it’s also a great bargain), is Cristal Azul (tel. 506/2655-8135, in the U.S. tel. 800/377-9376, www.cristalazul.com , $140–155 s/d low season, $175–190 high season, including breakfast, two-night minimum), run by Henner and Zene. The four thatched, glass-walled, and air-conditioned rooms are set amid hilltop lawns; they’re gorgeous, with charcoal-gray floors, white-and-blue decor, ceiling fans, fresh-cut flowers, handmade beds of glazed hardwood, and huge bathrooms with outdoor garden showers. There’s an infinity swimming pool and open-air patio for enjoying hearty breakfasts with spectacular views. Henner is a professional skipper and offers sportfishing.
Cabinas Rey (tel. 506/2655-1505, $10 s, $15 d) has simple rooms, plus a soda serving filling meals, and remarkably, a WiFi hot spot! A more modern alternative, Cabinas San Francisco (tel. 506/2655-1334, fsoto42 [at] hotmail [dot] com, $20 s, $25 d), has air-conditioned rooms, plus a swimming pool and secure parking. Both look onto the soccer field in the hamlet, as does Café Santa Fé, a delightful open-air setting for enjoying sandwiches, dessert, and cappuccino.
Cabinas Coyote Lodge (tel. 506/2655-1163, www.cabinascoyotelodge.com , $40 s/d low season, $60 s/d high season), on the west side of San Francisco de Coyote, has six simply furnished, air-conditioned rooms set around a courtyard with a shady veranda. Each room has cable TV.
Drive south along the beach at low tide to reach Restaurant Tanga (no tel.), 100 meters south of the Río Jabillo and tucked beneath shade trees beside the sands. It serves simple seafood and allows camping ($5 pp), with restrooms and showers.
The Empresa Arsa buses travel via Coyote and Bejuco, passing northbound through San Francisco de Coyote daily at about 11:30 A.M. and 10 P.M. and Playa San Miguel about 30 minutes later. Return buses depart Bejuco at 2:15 A.M. and 12:30 P.M., passing through Playa San Miguel around 3 A.M. and 1:15 P.M. and San Francisco de Coyote 30 minutes later.