With 800 miles of breathtaking coastline and 5 percent of the world’s biodiversity, Costa Rica is an escapist’s dream. Located just north of the equator, this tropical haven offers everything from black sand beaches with perfect waves to a region deemed by National Geographic as “the most biologically intense place on Earth”.
The country draws in over 2 million international travelers each year and – in response to the influx of tourism – has become increasingly commercialized: think big-name hotels, restaurants that cater to the Western palette, and paved roads lit up by neon signs. All is not lost though. Nestled on the Pacific side of the country are two villages not yet impacted by development; they are pristine, untouched pieces of paradise.
If you’re a traveller looking get off the grid, Pavones is for you; there, you’ll wake up at sunrise to the sounds of howler monkeys and toucans and fall asleep at dusk under a moonlit sky. The town is located on the Southern Pacific coastline of the country at the mouth of the Gulfo Dulce. Approximately one hour from the Costa-Panamanian border city of Paso Canoas, and an hour and a half from the nearest airport in Golfito, Pavones truly feels “remote”.
A sleepy surf-town, Pavones is home to the second longest left-breaking wave in the world. It’s not unlikely to find surfers on three-minute long, leg-aching rides when conditions are right and it’s amazing to see! There are plenty of other activities to try your hand at, as well: horseback riding down black sand beaches or up into the jungle on aboriginal reservations; deep sea fishing for yellowfin tuna; hiking to pristine waterfalls; and bird, sloth and whale watching. To see some incredible wildlife, take a boat across the gulf to the Osa Peninsula where you’ll find the backdoor entrance to Corcovado National Park. Regarded as the most bio-diverse area on the planet, you can spot everything from tapirs and jaguars to poison dart frogs and caiman.
Bonus: Pavones directly faces the Osa Peninsula, creating the perfect backdrop for the most stunning and magical sunsets.
At the southwestern cusp of the Nicoya Peninsula, just north of Cabo Blanco National Park, is the laid-back village of Mal Pais. Although development is booming directly north, Mal Pais has not yet been impacted and has thus been able to maintain its small village vibe.
The town is the perfect spot for beach bums: its white-sand beaches boast perfect waves and are flooded with seashells and volcanic rock. Inner-reefs allow for optimal snorkel and dive conditions.
While you’re in Mal Pais, take a boat from the tiny fishing port and explore the tip of the Nicoya Peninsula, where you can see manta rays, sea turtles, dolphins, and whales. Also be sure to rent a quad; the dirt roads and dense jungle are ideal for adventures. You can ride from Mal Pais through the jungle and over to the other side of the peninsula; there, you’ll find yourself in the small hippie village of Montezuma. You can hike to a series of three waterfalls and cool off in the deep freshwater pools that have formed below each one. Dare yourself to hike up to the top of the first and second falls where you’ll find a rope swing to play on and secret a spot that serves as a launching point for a fifty-foot jump to the pool below.
Costa Rica is gaining a reputation for being developed; for no longer feeling “off-the-beaten-path”. The Costa Rica that I know, however, still feels unexplored. I’ve seen unearthly sunsets, sipped water from fresh coconuts on the beach, ripped ATV’s through black sand, and ridden horses deep into the jungle – without ever feeling flanked by other tourists. If the commercialization in some parts of the country has deterred you from visiting in the past, I’d encourage you to look beyond those areas, to towns like Pavones and Mal Pais. There, you may find a piece of gorgeous, remote paradise for your own Costa Rica adventure.