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'I’ve always traveled to get away from stuff and into more of the unknown; Costa Rica always seemed the antithesis of that. I would hear about the place from my friend’s white bread parents or from people going there on their first trip abroad, people going for the ease of being able to get by with English and U.S. dollars, people going because it is safe, people going to buy their tropical dream home during Costa’s real estate boom, all making the place somewhat of a tourism overload victim.'

After decades of surfing and exploring where few go, Matador Ambassador Rusty Long finally visits Costa Rica.

“GO TO NICARAGUA INSTEAD,” is usually what I heard from friends who are on the same sort of world travel program that I am, generally for heavy waves.

But at the same time I would also hear about “the welcoming locals,” and people really enjoying themselves, and the incredible beauty, and usually when you hear positives on a mass level, it’s because there are cool elements.

I had this two-week time frame laid out kind of because my girlfriend and her vacation break, but also because I was ready to pack the bags and make a move to some warm waters. We had criteria of warmth, jungles, animals, and waves. Tahiti, Fiji, Indo, Central America, Ecuador, and the Caribbean were all on the list. A solid string of swells heading toward Central America and not any of these other places put Costa Rica in the headlights, so I made the plans.

It seemed like the right time to finally go there, and not saying I didn’t want adventure, but ease of travel sounded appealing during this kind of short time frame. Also, Easter plane ticket prices were ridiculous to the point Costa was the only place I didn’t feel completely bent over buying a flight to.

We did have one incident down on the Osa Peninsula. We were staying at a guesthouse in an area where most properties have a rental cabana or two on them, in the ultra thick jungle. It’s usually dead quiet out there, just the jungle noises.

Not this night though. It was our first night there and on the property next to us, about 200 feet away in a guesthouse we couldn’t see because of the jungle thickness, there was a small crew of Costa Ricans raging. They were partying hard, had to have been up on the coke, and turned this quiet jungle into a rave zone with their sound system, absolutely blasting music into the late late hours, yelling and screaming. It was lame.

It had been going on for hours… then there was a loud argument, followed closely by a single gunshot. After which it quieted down. This is an area with very few people around so it was pretty sketchy. I don’t know what happened, but there was nothing to do but try and sleep, keep an ear open and a crude weapon nearby.

I saw them the next day and these guys looked scary, pale with bloodshot eyes after a long night on drugs and booze. Dark energy. We went and found a spot a mile away so we didn’t have to be around that again and the rest of our stay there was epic.

All in all Costa Rica is what you make of it I figure, as with any place. Sure, tourism has taken its toll; lots of things are catered for the gringos in areas making it really expensive for Central America. Petty theft is a pain in the ass, to the point you can’t leave anything in a car or on the beach lots of places.

But get out of these hubs and there is pristine nature, waves, plenty of friendly people, Pura Vida.

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About The Author

Rusty Long

Rusty Long is a professional surfer whose forte is riding very large waves and remote/exploration surfing. He travels with surfing as a foundation for seeing the world, documenting these travels with photos and words along the way. His work has been published extensively in The Surfers Journal and SURFER Magazine. He counts Mexico, Ireland, South Africa, Madeira, Chile, California, and Hawaii as his favorite places.

  • darngooddigs

    Rusty, it was great to read your post.  We’re off to Costa Rica this summer – and we’re amazed at how many people we know who’ve been there.  It almost feels like we’re talking about Florida.  But still, we are super excited to go.  It may be a small country, but it’s big enough to get lost – to create the trip you want.  I’m glad yours was epic.  We’re not surfers, but I think we’ll have a good time too.

    http://www.darngooddigs.com – our guide to the world’s best independently owned accommodations for budget-minded travelers.  we’ll let you know what we find in Costa Rica after the summer.

  • http://www.travelnlass.com/ TravelnLass

    As a Costa Rica aficionado since the 90′s, having made dozens of trips throughout Costa Rica, I read your report with interest.  No doubt Costa Rica has its fair share of “touristy” pockets (much like any country – even here in Vietnam – on the globe), but I dare say there’s still much pristine wilderness and utterly empty beaches to explore (you might try Tortuguero for starters – there are no roads in that part of the country).

    But what struck me most about your article is your final sentence: “Petty theft is a pain in the ass, to the point you can’t leave anything in a car or on the beach lots of places.”  Seriously – just where on the globe these days (short of perhaps trekking for days into the remote wilds of Mongolia) can you securely leave valuables in your rental car and/or the beach?

    That said, I agree.  Indeed, most ANYWHERE on the Planet that you travel is ever “…what you make of it.”

  • Guest

    I wished you’d had followed the advice and
    gone to Nicaragua! We have just been there for more than two months and fell in
    love with it. Having briefly visited Costa Rica before we are there again,
    purely to serve as a pathway down to Panama. One of the huge turn-offs here are
    the prices, in the capital food, drink and other necessities cost more than at
    home in England! The influx of ex-pats over the past decade or two has pushed
    the prices sky-high, even for the basics. 

    Rather than completely ignoring the country we thought we’d house-sit here, so
    my partner Gareth and I are currently in a gorgeous house in the lovely (and
    wealthy) area of Atenas, about 40 mins west of San Jose. After our three week
    stint here, we’ll head straight to Panama and into Colombia to avoid ex-pat
    tourism as much as possible! Please take a trip out to Nicaragua; the people
    are amongst the friendliest in the world, it’s incredibly safe and extremely
    cheap! Not to mention the scenery and diversity of activities there are second
    to none – and as a surfer you’ll love San Juan del Sur and the local beaches! If you’re interested, check out my blog for pics and info on Nicaragua http://enjoythejourney.org.uk/

  • http://enjoythejourney.org.uk/ Beth @ Enjoy The Journey

    I wished you had followed the advice and gone to Nicaragua! We have just been there for more than two months and fell in love with it. Having briefly visited Costa Rica before we are there again, purely to serve as a pathway down to Panama. One of the huge turn-offs here are the prices, in the capital food, drink and other necessities cost more than at home in England! The influx of ex-pats over the past decade or two has pushed the prices sky-high, even for the basics. 


    Rather than completely ignoring the country we thought we’d house-sit here, so my partner Gareth and I are currently in a gorgeous house in the lovely (and wealthy) area of Atenas, about 40 mins west of San Jose. After our three week stint here, we’ll head straight to Panama and into Colombia to avoid ex-pat tourism as much as possible! Please take a trip out to Nicaragua; the people are amongst the friendliest in the world, it’s incredibly safe and extremely cheap! Not to mention the scenery and diversity of activities there are second to none – and as a surfer you’ll love San Juan del Sur and the local beaches! If you’re interested, check out my blog for pics and info about Nicaragua http://enjoythejourney.org.uk/

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