I interrupt my epic about Ecuador and Peru to bring you more up to date with our current adventures as we have now made our way north along the Pacific coast of Central America as far as El Salvador.
You may remember that at the end of the earlier post “Sailing again- Panama to Costa Rica” [which I put up about a month ago] we had arrived at our first Costa Rican port of call – Golfito – on 29th August 2015.
Once a Banana Port, Golfito is now a small sprawling town in three parts – well that’s how we experienced it.
There is the marina area….
….used mainly by sports fishers, with Marina “Tierra Mar” [Land Sea] situated between them.
Tierra Mar is only a small “marina” with one dock alongside Tim’s houseboat [Tim being the owner of the marina] but there is a fairly large split level cruisers area with beer for sale at competitive prices, internet access and a wealth of local information available from Tim. He used to have about ten mooring balls but said that he had removed them for renovation. Given that the number of cruisers now visiting Golfito has dropped we wonder whether he will bother to replace them. There is plenty of anchorage space anyway – especially when you are the only boat there!….
Just down the main road into town are several shops, an ATM and the Immigration office which was our first stop for clearance. The Immigration Officer was very helpful, took several copies of the required documents and bundled them into three sets for each step of the process. He kept what he wanted, gave us the other two bundles and sent us on our way to Customs.
The Customs office is in what we deemed the third section of town – the part which used to house the banana packing sheds and is now the duty free zone. We had to ask a local to point us in the right direction as the office is not immediately obvious, hidden within market stalls with only a small sign in its window.
To bring any boat into Costa Rica it is necessary to temporarily import it – which is the purpose of visiting customs [as well as declaring no items for sale/no money over a certain amount etc]. We don’t think the woman who dealt with us had met many cruisers before or dealt with small boat importation – she asked us how many storeys there were and how many passengers we carried!
N.B. Keep your temporary import document safe. You need to take copies because any Port Captain you visit in between clearing in and clearing out will want one [as might marinas] but to clear out you have to have the original importation document.
We then went back to the middle part of town, where the Port Captain’s office is situated near to a small port area. Having told us off for not calling him the night before, when we first anchored, he then promptly processed our paperwork.
We were not charged anything at all to clear into Costa Rica.
All in all the process took the best part of the day – though it could have been done more quickly had we not wanted to walk between the marina and the various offices and back [to see what there was to see and to take the opportunity to stretch our legs which we try to do as often as possible].
We spent five days in Golfito, during which time we were able to refill our propane tanks. This was not simply a case of handing ours in and getting it back a couple of days later [as has been the experience to date]. Because there is only one “filling station” in Costa Rica – located in San José – it can take a week to ten days to get it back and we didn’t want to stay that long so Mike had his first experience of “pouring” the gas from a locally purchased [and returnable] steel tank into our fibreglass one. The secret ingredient is ice!
We had been told that there was a nice walk up in the hills behind the marina which should be undertaken early morning to best see scarlet macaws and other local birds. So, on our next to last day there we rose at 5.45am [not Mike’s best time!] and set off.
We saw a couple of butterflies, some small lizards and some pigeons. We heard toucan and macaw but didn’t see any at all. We returned to the boat at around 10.30am feeling rather disappointed, our only consolation being the view we had from one spot on the road where the trees has thinned out sufficiently to see something…..
Before I tell you about our next anchorage there are two things worth Cruiser friends and readers knowing.
Firstly National [internal] Zarpes are required between Ports of Clearance – if you are visiting them. The ports are Golfito, Quepos, Puntarenas and Playa del Coco. We chose not to go up into the Golfo de Nicoya where Puntarenas is situated and therefore had to obtain just two National Zarpes [Golfito to Quepos and then Quepos to Playa del Coco]. There is no charge for a National Zarpe.
Secondly, if you are considering cruising the Pacific Coast of Central America and haven’t already heard of the “Sarana” guides, then you should think about purchasing them. They are available on the internet at www.svsarana.com
They are inexpensive and very good – maybe even better than my blog!!!!!!!!
Now, where were we – ah yes….. Having obtained our National Zarpe on the morning of 4th August and filled up with fuel at the nearby fuel dock, we left Golfito at 2pm for a short [3 hr] trip across Golfo Dulce to Puerto Jimenez.
Although the bay looks quite large, there is a lot of shoal and significant tide so the actual anchorage area isn’t that big. There are now moorings at the waypoint recommended by “Sarana” but we found a good spot in about 4metres [low tide] at 08 32.689N, 83 18.205W. We were a little disconcerted when the top of a small tree started to appear not far behind our stern but, having watched the depth we did not go below 4.3m.
Puerto Jimenez is a really nice little town – it even has a French Café…..
We are not sure whether it is normally possible to take a dinghy to the small pier when going ashore. When we were there the pier was being repaired so we had to haul up the beach.
We tried both sides of the pier and the length of haul was the same both times but, overall, the far side of the pier was probably the better place as there weren’t moorings and beached boats to negotiate and there was less mud between the toes as it was sand rather than river silt.
Going ashore we soon got over the disappointment suffered in Golfito as, during just a short walk from the beach, we saw green parrots….
…..and scarlet macaw.
Puerto Jimenez lies on the border of “Parque National Corcovado” – the largest and most isolated of Costa Rica’s Parks. We decided not to access the park there because it really involves overnight hikes. There is easier access from the other side of the Penínsular de Osa and we therefore set out again for a full day sail to Bahía Drake.
We rose at first light…
….knowing that there was a 60 mile journey ahead of us. Although there wasn’t much wind we were able to motor sail down Golfo Dulce to Cabo Matapalo, which forms the tip of the peninsular and is approx 15 miles from Puerto Jimenez. It took us just under three hours but, after rounding the point we hit current/tide and wind on the nose which slowed us to around 3.5kn for the next four hours. At around 1pm the wind veered more to the north and we were able to unfurl the genoa. We then picked up speed to a respectable 6kn and completed the 60 miles in daylight.
Bahía Drake was one of our favourite Costa Rica anchorages – it had a dinghy dock……
We anchored at the south end of the bay [where there is less surf] and, the following day, decided to walk to the surf resort of Dominical. Lonely Planet states “its complicated access has spared it the hyper-development fate of other Pacific coast beaches”. Sounded quite nice and, maybe if you are a surfer it would be paradise – but in my view the beach was stony, the sand grey, the views uninspiring and the town a couple of potholed roads with a few restaurants serving Comida Typica…
Surprisingly, given the surf, we had made a stately landing on the beach and were hoping that conditions hadn’t deteriorated during the day. We had hauled the dinghy up onto the river bank to leave it safe at high tide….
Much easier than dragging it over sand and, on this occasion, we left the beach reasonably dry with all our possessions intact. Another thought for anyone sailing this coastline who hasn’t bought a waterproof rucksack. Do it. They are great. Although it would have been handy during our travels in the Caribbean and the Atlantic coast of Central America there weren’t these surf landings. Now it is invaluable.
Next stop – Quepos, 26 miles NW and into wind of course! But, at the end of another motorsail, we found a nice anchorage at Playa Biesanz [which, in the cruising guide, is referred to as Punta Quepos].
This smallish bay – with a couple of reef/rock hazards at both sides is visited by tour boats during the day but, being out of season, we were the only sail boat and there was plenty of room for us. About a mile to the north you can just make out Marina Quepos….
….. where we refueled. The staff were very pleasant and helpful but at $2.50 [£1.75] per foot per night [or $25 per foot per month for a one year contract] well out of our price range – except in emergencies which, fortunately, we didn’t have. Incidentally, all marinas dock charges in Costa Rica are around this price range but fuel is very reasonable at $0.90-$1.20 [between 60p and 90p] per litre depending on where you buy it. You do need to have cleared into the country before you can purchase fuel and some marinas ask for proof of entry [and proof of insurance] before they will serve you.
Arriving in Quepos we had to report to the Port Captain with our National Zarpe. The cruising guide mentions a small pier which acts as a dinghy dock. This has now gone and been replaced with a commercial pier which is private and secured. Not knowing this we tied up to it and, having told them where we were anchored and that we wanted access for two days, they took a copy of our passports and told us 2 days only. This was just enough time for what we wanted to do from the town. We were able to anchor for as long as we liked at Punta Quepos [and stayed six nights]but access to anything other than the local beach and some all inclusive hotels means a long walk and then a bus ride.
Quepos was the largest town we had visited since entering Costa Rica and we were able to stock up on provisions – including nice [not sweet] bread which is hard to come by. It is also the gateway to the Manuel Antonio National Park which, whilst relatively small – 16.25sq km – is probably the best park to visit if you can only take time out for one. Unfortunately this means that there are more tourists here than other places but again, out of season, we were lucky not to be inundated with huge crowds. To get to the park we took a 20 minute bus from Quepos to Manuel Antonio. There is an anchorage within the National Park just off one of the Manuel Antonio beaches. Having suffered southerly swells in Dominical and having seen the approach as we passed it [just before Punta Quepos] we thought we would be better off round the point. However, having viewed it from the landward side it seemed OK – if a little small – and the village of Manuel Antonio would no doubt make for a good night out.
The park is very well laid out and signposted. Most people turn off at mid point into the park to access one of the beaches, but we went on and up to all the miradors for views back down the coastline.
We learnt about the Guanacaste tree
As well as the colourful lizards [that’s three lizards in one blog – perhaps I am getting obsessed with them – but they are all different]…..
A raccoon decided to walk by and see what was going on…
Best of all were the sloths. We saw three in total – mostly clutching the main tree trunk…
On that rather unusual note I think I am going to leave it there for this post. I had thought that I might be able to cover Costa Rica in one entry – how stupid of me – so, hope you have enjoyed Part One of Pacific Costa Rica. Take a breather – Part Two [Quepos to Bahía Santa Elena] will follow soon.