The three Playas Esterillos extend for miles south of Hermosa . For years they’ve remained out of the tourist eye, but are now catching on with surfers. Swimming here is high-risk due to riptides.
Craggy Punta Judas separates Hermosa from Playa Esterillos Oeste, a favorite with surfers, and with Ticos on weekends. The seven-kilometer-long beach has tidepools at its northern end, where a sculpture of a mermaid sits atop the rocks and mollusk fossils are embedded in the rock strata.
Further south, Esterillos Centro is accessed by a separate road signed off Highway 34.
Playa Esterillos Este, separated by a river from Esterillos Centro, is identical to its northerly siblings: kilometers long, ruler straight, with gray sand cleansed by high surf.
Del Pacífico (tel. 506/2778-7080, www.delpacifico.net ) is a deluxe residential resort development with a stable offering horseback rides, wrangler programs, and other ranch activities. The southern end of the beach is known as Playa Bejuco, reached via a separate access road. Farther south, about four kilometers north of Parrita , a dirt road leads west from the coast road and zigzags through African palm plantations until you emerge at Playa Palma, separated from Bejuco by yet another river mouth.
Esterillos Oeste: Several uninspired options at the extreme north of the beach serve budget travelers; they mostly attract Ticos and can get noisy on weekends. The nicest place is Hotel La Dolce Vita (tel. 506/2778-7015, www.resortladolcevita.com , from $35 s, $63 d depending on season), with apartments in a motel-style building that extends inland from the beach, hence no ocean views.
Inland at the southern end of the beach, Hotel Walt Paraíso (tel. 506/278-8060, www.waltparaiso.com , $75 s/d) has spacious if sparsely furnished rooms. Next door, the funky Bar Caza is made of driftwood in the form of a Spanish galleon.
Esterillos Centro: The place of choice is the French Canadian–run Casa Amarilla (tel. 506/2778-8408, in North America 905/731-6501, www.vrbo.com/59476 , $100 nightly, $610 weekly low season; $135 nightly, $875 weekly high season; three-night minimum), a beautiful two-story home with kidney-shaped pool. It has two rooms with full kitchens and spacious lounge/dining rooms and lovely modern bathrooms.
The only other option is the overpriced La Felicidad Country Inn (tel./fax 506/2778-6824, www.lafelicidad.com , $40–65 low season, $55–80 high season), a simple wooden home with nine unremarkable rooms.
Esterillos Este: The venerable Pelican Hotel (tel. 506/2778-8105, www.pelicanhotelcr.com , $45 s or $55 d low season, $65 s or $85 d high season) has eight colorful but simply appointed air-conditioned rooms (two are wheelchair-accessible) with fans in a two-story house, plus two rooms in a separate casita. Upper-story rooms are breezy with heaps of light and huge walk-in showers. Rooms 4 and 5 have outside oceanview bathrooms. There are hammocks beneath shady palms, plus a barbecue pit, a small pool, and a lively bar-restaurant with pool table. Come for the friendly ambience. Rates include breakfast.
Visually more appealing, the French-run Bleu Azul (tel. 506/2778-8070, www.bleuazul.com , $500 weekly low season, $625 weekly high season), formerly Puesta del Sol B&B, has four nicely furnished apartments with batik spreads and balconies overlooking a circular pool. It specializes in surfing and offers surf lessons.
The upscale act in town is the beachfront Hotel Monterey del Mar (tel. 506/2778-8686, www.montereydelmar.com , $130–220 s/d low season, $145–245 s/d high season) for its luxe and romantic aesthetic in public arenas. The 27 spacious rooms and suites have pleasant albeit conservative decor and all modern conveniences. Its open-air restaurant is a highlight.
Owners Christine and Katrina play amiable hosts at the intimate Encantada Ocean Cottages (tel. 506/2778-7048, www.encantadacostarica.com , $50–85 s/d low season, $55–95 s/d high season), a pleasant no-frills beachfront option that makes a great unpretentious place to relax.
The most spectacular place for miles is Alma de Pacifíca (tel. 506/2778-7070, www.xandari.com , from $354 s/d low season, from $390 s/d high season), formerly Xandari by the Pacific (and sibling to Xandari Plantation, near Alajuela). This colorful beachfront boutique hotel is set in gorgeous grounds that are themselves a work of art. The moment you enter, you’ll understand why both Condé Nast Traveler and Travel + Leisure ranked this in their top 10 Central and South American Resorts. The vast villas are highlighted by signature waveform wooden ceilings, huge poured-concrete sofas with leather cushions, and gorgeous bathrooms with colorful mosaic showers facing private patio gardens through walls of glass. All the accoutrements you could wish for are there, including thoughtful touches such as magazines, umbrellas, flashlights, and kitchenettes. The restaurant serves gourmet health-conscious fare, and the pool is inviting. (In December 2010 it sold to the Del Pacífico group, which closed it for remodeling through 2011.)
Playa Bejuco: About 100 meters inland of the beach, the Dutch-owned Hotel Playa Bejuco (tel. 506/2778-8181, www.hotelplayabejuco.com , $102–133 s/d) makes handsome use of river stone and timber. The 20 air-conditioned rooms on two levels (upper-level rooms are preferable for their sleeping lofts) boast gracious furnishings, plus cable TVs, phones, coffeemakers, safes, and terraces. It has a swimming pool and airy restaurant.
The restored Delfin Beachfront Resort (tel. 506/2778-8054, www.delfinbeachfront.com , $90 s/d low season, $110 s/d high season) offers a more modest and unassuming beachfront alternative.
Choices are limited. The place to hang at Esterillos Oeste is Restaurant Los Almendros (tel. 506/2778-7322, 4–10 P.M. daily), in a leafy patio garden. It serves local fare, plus Asian and Caribbean dishes. Nearby, Soda Mary (tel. 506/2778-7380) has a tour office and surfboard rental, plus a camping area on lawns.
For gourmet and health-conscious fare, head for the open-air thatched restaurant at Xandari by the Pacific (tel. 506/2778-7070, www.xandari.com , 6:30 A.M.–10 P.M. daily), which uses organic products grown in its own garden.