Playa Hermosa, Costa Rica

Playa Hermosa, Costa Rica

Photography, Drake Lowe

When in search of sun and sand, there are endless southern options, but if it takes more than lazy days by the pool to satisfy your holiday needs, then Playa Hermosa, Costa Rica may be the perfect option for you. There, sun and sand go hand in hand with action and adventure, and the local vibe is less “touristy” and more “pura vida”, as their popular saying goes. Surfer dudes and colourful Ticas welcome visitors with open arms, and such a warm invitation into the culture will see you riding waves and speaking broken Spanish before your time is up.

In my own quest for the Surf Betty title, I choose to explore Playa Hermosa (Spanish for “beautiful beach”) on a budget. However, as I floated past Giselle Bundchen’s onlooking estate, I quickly realized that high end is also an option in this quiet Pacific town. Here’s a quick guide on how to enjoy the best of both worlds.  


When to go
High: Dry Season
Costa Rica’s dry season runs from December to May, and these months are the height of activity in Playa Hermosa. The beaches are hot, hot, hot, and same goes for the party scene since tourism is up in full swing. The main complaint during this dry run is the dust. Although not an issue on the beach, driving to town means navigating through clouds of dust which locals tend to protect themselves from with fabric masks. However, if you’re in Costa Rica to snorkel, zipline, or lay on the beach, then this is the time to do it. Surfing can happen year ‘round, but true sun lovers will appreciate the dry season for its clear blue skies.

Low: Rainy season
Travelling to Hermosa during the rainy season (May to November) will nearly cut your costs in half. Airline prices are considerably less and most of the local hotels and camps are operating at half price (if at all, since many spots close down during September and/or October). The rain is guaranteed to fall every day, but most often thunderstorms come at night and storms throughout the day consist of quick tropical flashes carrying heavy rain to feed the lush greenery. Inevitably, the sun will still shine – rainy season simply means more cloud-cover and lots of downtime (not to mention muddy and sometimes washed out roads). But, if you’re in Hermosa to surf, then overcast skies won’t stand in your way, especially since your proximity to the equator means warm water and climate year-round. No wetsuit required!

How to get there
High: Plane
Nature Air is a small craft airline that offers daily flights to the Nicoya Peninsula. Leaving from San Jose, Nature Air will take you as far as Tambor (less than an hour from Hermosa), for under $100 in the low season ( Another domestic option is Sansa, also offering daily flights on small craft carriers from San Jose to Tambor for approximately $130 round trip, depending on the season (

Low: Bus / ferry
Once you arrive in San Jose, you’ll need to take a taxi (please ensure that this is an official service) to the Coca Cola bus terminal. The Rodriquez Hermanos bus departs from this terminal three times daily (7:30, 10:30, and 15:00) and costs only $10 U.S. (non-Spanish speaking travelers may want to arrive with time to spare since the terminal can be crowded and English speakers are hard to find). Six hours later, (four hours spent on bumpy roads and two hours on a ferry ride) you’ll arrive in Mal Pais, which is just down the road from Hermosa. Most hotels and hostels will arrange pick-up from there, but taxis are also available.

Where to sleep

High: Hotel Milarepa
Primarily built of teak and bamboo, this Asian inspired hotel is home to airy bungalows which have housed celebrities from Kate Moss to Flea—proving that it’s an ideal private hideaway. The hotel has also taken care to respect its beautiful surroundings by incorporating the elements through its open-aired feel. Bungalows are open to the tropical breeze from all sides and en suite bathrooms are partly open to the night skies. In addition, the hotel offers various massage treatments, one-on-one yoga classes, and access to a number of local activities. Hotel Milarepa is the ultimate in luxury. (

Low: Zopilote Surf Camp
Just a fifteen minute walk down the beach from Playa Hermosa, you’ll find Zopilote Surf Camp. Its wooden two-storey main structure is open and airy sleeping up to twelve visitors on bunk beds and queen mattresses, and two ranchos on the lawn provide additional sleeping quarters, ideal for couples in search of a more private space. The atmosphere in this camp, which acts as more of a B&B than anything, is super laid-back. With its welcoming vibe, your experience at Zopilote is what you make of it. Relax all day on the beach front, in the swimming hole (great for light snorkeling), and indulging in an on-site massage, or hit the early morning and late afternoon surf. Boards and food (prepared mid-morning and early evening) are included in the price of your accommodations and surf lessons are as little as $30 U.S. per two-hour session. (

Where to eat

High: Nectar
Fine dining in and around Playa Hermosa can mostly be found at local hotels and resorts. If you’ve chosen to stay at Hotel Milarepa, than delicious food is already within your reach at the hotel’s Resturante Soma, but another mouth-watering option is Florblanca’s Nectar. There, chefs take advantage of the local ocean-life in their specialty sushi and seafood dishes; however, if you’re a ‘no seafood’ kind of gal, then Nectar provides a wide-range menu where you’ll find everything from salads to beef dishes. With an open atmosphere and the seaside’s crashing lullaby, Nectar taps into all of the senses. (

Low: Mary’s Restaurant
With a low-fare menu that’s high on flavour, Mary’s Restaurant has been a local favourite since day one. Mary’s offers an assortment of international cuisine with a specialty in stone oven pizzas and has a fun tica-filled vibe. However, if it’s barbequed chicken that you crave, then there’s no better place than Los Piedras, another local treat just down the way.

Places to play

High: Montezuma Waterfall Canopy Tour
The canopy tour is one Costa Rican highlight not to miss. The nearby town of Montezuma offers a two hour trek three times daily (consider holding off from the 9 a.m. departure since both the 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. tours include waterfall stops), and provides flights through the sky on steady zip lines supported by skilled guides. (

Low: Surfing
Playa Hermosa’s public beach is blessed by a generous sandbar and warm tides year round. Though the currents can be strong, the breaks are plentiful and provide different sizes and options for all levels of skill. If you’ve never surfed before, then there are dozens of instructors in town offering lessons and, if you notice all of the local ladies sporting adorable Brazilian cut bikinis, head over to Veronica’s shop, Tica Surf, on the main road to suit up in her custom-made two pieces (featuring adjustable bottoms that will actually stay put as you battle the waves). They are priced at just $35 U.S. per suit.

Other inexpensive activities include whale watching (dozens of species from Orcas to Humpbacks come migrating through these warm shallow waters) and visiting any one of the many local waterfalls (Hermosa residents will happily point you on your way).