Costa Rica is well and truly on the beaten path of travelers but there are still many rather undiscovered, or at least half-hidden, gems in this popular Central American country. Samara Beach, or Playa Sámara, is definitely one of them. I actually almost don’t want to write about it in fear of exposing this ‘secret’ tropical dream destination. To borrow some words from this little movie a few years back – there’s something about Samara.
So what exactly makes Samara Beach so special? It may not be immediately obvious when you arrive. It doesn’t necessarily hit you in the face. Samara is a charming small beach town with a string of shops and restaurants, and a beautiful beach. Yes, it’s pretty, but beyond that the ‘something special’ is intangible. There’s just something about Samara that really sticks with you and the longer you stay the harder it seems to move on.
We spent over a month in this dreamy beach town and simply fell in love with it. The wide golden beach with its beautiful warm water is fantastic for swimming, relaxing, kayaking and surfing. It also has the most stunning sunsets and the long beach is perfect for a romantic stroll. There’s jungle all around Samara and its loudest residents, the howler monkeys, make their presence known every morning. Even though they are loud and sound kind of scary we loved hearing them and feeling like we were right in the jungle.
Samara Beach has a number of hotels and guesthouses, but everything is very low key – no high-rise buildings or big resorts. There is a good selection of restaurants and bars overlooking the beach, but again, they are set back a little bit and don’t disrupt the idyllic view. The town has an active fishing and farming community with friendly locals who you can attempt to practise your Spanish with. There’s also a small but quite an established expat community that seems to organise a lot of activities.
At Christmas and Easter time the super popular Guanacaste rodeo transforms sleepy Samara into a booming party town complete with bull-riding, dancing, fireworks, food vendors and, well, cowboys. So depending on whether you like it quiet or busy, you will love Samara if you time your visit accordingly.
So what did we do for over a month in Samara Beach? Our stay in Samara was about half way through our career break gap year and we loved the slower pace of travel we had decided to embrace after a pretty hectic first five months of traveling across Europe and then the US. We quickly fell into a bit of routine of a daily gym (for Steve) and yoga (for me) sessions in the morning, followed by a swim and then some Spanish studies plus working on our projects, usually gently swinging in the hammock in the shady spot next to the pool. Then some home cooked dinner and all this followed by a long sunset walk on the beach and then a glass of wine. Oh bliss.
Samara Beach Services
There’s a Pali supermarket, two great bakeries, an organic store and fresh fruit & veggie vendors right in town to keep your pantry stocked with fresh food. You can find the super helpful Samara-Carrillo Info Center, transport & tour companies, an English speaking doctor (thanks Dr Freddy for removing the tiny yet superbly painful grain of sand from my eye!), Spanish language schools, real estate agents and a number of other services. What else could you possibly need?
Samara Beach Activities
There’s a lot to see and do locally in Samara. Alvaro from the fantastic Samara Trails can take you out to the local Werner Sauter Biological Reserve for a great half day tour. Don’t miss this if you want to learn about the local flora and fauna, and see the most amazing panoramic view of Samara Beach (here’s Steve’s TripAdvisor review on Samara Trails for more details). You can rent bicycles cheaply and it’s easy and safe to ride around town and to the nearby beaches of Playa Carrillo, Playa Buenavista and the beautifully secluded Playa Barrigona a little further out. There’s a gym, a fantastic yoga studio (LOVE Samara Yoga!), and horse riding and surfing right in Samara Beach (surfing mainly for beginners though – there’s just a small beach break). You can also kayak to the nearby Chora Island, scuba dive, go fishing or even fly in a tiny gyrocopter over the beach. We didn’t go on a ride but the gyrocopter looked awesome – we saw it flying over the beach every now and then.
Our top picks for Samara Beach:
- Samara-Carrillo Info Center – For information on pretty much anything in the Samara Beach area and beyond. Super helpful and centrally located. A good starting point when you first get into town.
- Samara Trails – For great insights into local flora & fauna combined with a lovely easy hike in the jungle and amazing views. Plus a super friendly, entertaining and knowledgeable guide Alvaro!
- Samara Gym – Small but functional gym with friendly staff.
- Samara Yoga – Fantastic yoga studio with inspiring and knowledgeable instructors. A beautiful and serene space.
- Princesa Bakery – For amazing zucchini & chocolate ‘bread’ and fantastic pumpkin pie.
- Roots Bakery & Cafe – For de-lish wholemeal ciabatta bread and other freshly baked yumminess.
- A bike ride to secluded Playa Barrigona, a dreamy beach complete with a jungle backdrop and howler monkeys. Pack a picnic and make a day trip of it. There are no services on the beach (at least not at the time of our visit in January 2015) so bring water etc with you and be careful when swimming (there were some pretty big waves when we were there).
- Kayaking out to Chora Island. Rent a kayak from one of the hire companies on the beach, pack some snacks, water and sun screen. The kayak rental also includes snorkeling gear so you can do some snorkeling off the island. You can spot some sea turtles too – we saw one surfacing for air on our way back to the beach.
Sample expenses for Samara Beach, Costa Rica for a day for 2 in $US, as of January 2015
Just to give you a rough idea of costs here’s a sample daily budget for us:
- Accommodation: $58/night. A one-bedroom apartment with a fully equipped kitchen and a shared pool about a two-minute walk to the beach.
- Meals & Beverages: $24. Meals for 2 include breakfast, lunch and dinner, a snack and half a bottle of red wine (roughly $8 for the bottle). We cooked all our meals at home.
- Bike rental: $31. Mountain bike rental for 2 for a day. Much cheaper long-term bike rentals are available.
- Yoga monthly memberships: $4/day per person (Eeva only).
- Gym monthly membership: $1/day per person (Steve only).
Total daily expenses for 2: $118/day for 2 people (or about $59/person/day). Most days we spent only about a total of $80 for the two of us as we wouldn’t spend anything beyond accommodation, meals (at home) and yoga/gym.
Bonus tip for booking Samara Beach accommodation: If you’re planning to go to Samara Beach over Christmas & New Year or around Easter time, BOOK EARLY and know that prices are higher around these dates. The town gets packed because of the Guanacaste rodeo. Also – if you just want to experience the relaxed, quiet Samara (that we fell in love with), avoid the above times.
So if you like your travel destination chilled out and tropical with a small town vibe but with plenty of services and fun stuff on offer, Samara Beach won’t disappoint you. I think Lonely Planet really nails it with its apt description along the lines of: ‘Samara is the black hole of happiness’. You can’t help but feel relaxed and happy in this beautiful corner of the planet. Unfortunately I think it’s only a matter of time before many more people discover that there’s something special about Samara Beach and it booms – so go before it’s too late.