Please don’t go to Samara Beach…

Posted on 29. Apr, 2011 by in Central America, Costa Rica, Travel Tips

Costa Rica may be a well established destination on the tourist trail, but the Nicoya Peninsula is still very much the country’s own Wild Wild West. Lucky for us, what started off as a transportation nightmare led us to discover our favorite beach on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast.

Palm tree at Samara Beach Costa RicaWe had no plans to visit Samara Beach. Sure, it was suggested in the guidebooks like countless other Costa Rican beaches. However, despite naysayers’ warnings that efforts to traverse the entire peninsula by bus would prove futile, our plan was to get from Playa del Coco in the north down to the popular, once-isolated beach town of Montezuma on the very southern tip of the Nicoya. We pushed along all the way to the sleepy, scorchingly hot inland city of Nicoya, the peninsula’s namesake, before realizing, weary and dusty from an already long afternoon of bus travel, that there was indeed no way to get down to Montezuma without paying a private taxi $120 to make the remaining five-hour, tire-busting trip.

After chatting to several very helpful taxi drivers and a group of American language students on their way back to Samara after a trekking adventure, we spontaneously decided to join our fellow ‘gringos’. The next bus to Samara Beach left just thirty minutes later and arrived within an hour.

Samara beach Costa ricaAs soon as we arrived, we were enchanted by the beauty of the beach from the start. We basked in the late afternoon sun, admiring the tropical palm trees which line the miles of wide, white sand beach. The town itself is really only a collection of hotels and restaurants along one road perpendicular to the coast and a smattering of hotels and beach lounges on the beach.

Samara beach boatDespite the well-developed tourism here, this beautiful beach location is noticeably absent of all-inclusive resorts, and the tourists here are different than the older retirees of Playa del Coco or aging hippies at Montezuma, populated instead by younger couples and smart travelers looking to escape all of that.

The area is certainly almost exclusively populated by tourists, ex-pats and locals working in tourism, but Samara Beach does not feel contrived the way that many Costa Rican destinations have now begun to feel. There are no chain hotels, no fast food restaurants, and no multi-story buildings. When you look back at the land from the water, the buildings peek out from amongst lush jungle and striking cliffs. The best thing about Samara is that the endless amount of sandy beaches always feels  fairly empty, no matter how full the hotels actually are.

samara beach from waterThe ocean here is shallow, and the waves are present enough to learn to surf but unforgiving enough to enjoy a day splashing around in them, not the case in many locations up and down the Pacific coast from Mexico through Nicaragua (exception: San Juan del Sur). After a day in the waves, there are sunset beach lounges with mellow music, creative cocktails and international cuisine. The magical sunsets during our stay turned the sky various shades of purple and pink, causing a wall of bikini-clad amateur paparazzi to form, trying to capture the stunning scenery.

Sunset at Samara BeachEven though there are quite a lot of international (mostly American) tourists, Samara Beach still manages to feel like an off-the-beaten-path location – which, of course, the town is not. Visitors here can surf, kayak, take a boat ride, book a sport-fishing trip, go diving, head inland to the jungle nearby for canopy tours, or rent a bicycle or hop on a horse and ride up and down the miles of deserted coastline. Samara even advertises itself as a key spot for destination weddings. The hotels remain reasonably priced, although budget accommodation in Samara Beach, as in Costa Rica in general, is harder to come by. We stayed at Casa Valeria, which Frommers calls the best budget option on the beach. The hotel has 9 stand alone beach bungalows for $50 and a pair of cheaper rooms for $30. The only hostel in town, Bryan’s Hostel, cost $16 per person per night in a dorm or $40 in a private room and includes a buffet breakfast.

Casa Valeria Hammocks & bungalow Samara BeachSamara Beach is the Costa Rican vacation we really wanted,  fulfilling perfectly the image still being sold in the travel brochures. The level of tourism here makes for the perfect peaceful escape – all of the organization you need and none of the banana-boat and disco clubs you don’t. The problem with Samara Beach is that it is at its tipping point, and while the balance is now is perfect, more tourists arriving each year might convert the place into another overly Americanized beach like Montezuma, Playa del Coco or Jaco Beach (lined with Quiznos and Pizza Huts).

This is why we beg you…please don’t go to Samara Beach. But if you do go, which you really should, please don’t tell anyone else about this perfect Costa Rican beach location.

Samara beach & oceanContinue reading here for tips on other places we politely ask you not to visit (or at least not tell anyone else about)….

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41 Responses to “Please don’t go to Samara Beach…”

  1. Erica

    29. Apr, 2011

    Sounds perfect! I totally [won’t] go here. *ahem* But really, sounds amazing!
    Erica recently posted..Fitting In – Guadalajara- Mexico

    Reply to this comment
    • jess

      30. Apr, 2011

      Totally! Not to build it up too much or anything, but it’s as touristy as we can handle minus all the disappointing aspects of tourism, at least for now. You know, until too many people go there ;-) At least spend local while you’re there, please please!

      Reply to this comment
  2. megan

    30. Apr, 2011

    Oh wow…sounds like a special place.

    I was thinking of heading to the Caribbean side of Costa Rica (I’ve only got a couple of weeks when I’m there in a couple of months) but you may have changed my mind…but don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone ;)
    megan recently posted..A denim epiphany

    Reply to this comment
    • jess

      08. May, 2011

      Hi Megan! The problem is that the Caribbean side is also gorgeous and really laid-back. We’ve got a post coming up this week on the Caribbean vs Manuel Antonio and about a ride up the Caribbean coast…might make your decision even harder :-)

      Reply to this comment
  3. Pete | Hecktic Travels

    30. Apr, 2011

    Us too, we totally will (not) go here. Even though it looks and sounds amazing ;)
    Pete | Hecktic Travels recently posted..Coastlines of Uruguay – A Photo Essay

    Reply to this comment
    • jess

      30. Apr, 2011

      Great Pete! Glad to hear you totally do (not) want to visit Samara Beach! We want to hear all about it if you do go, which, of course you should (not)…

      Reply to this comment
  4. Oh boy, this beach sounds perfect! That hammock has my name all over it! Gorgeous. . .

    Reply to this comment
    • jess

      30. Apr, 2011

      Hi Debbie – nope, Samara is terrible, run-down, totally not worth the trip at all (wink wink). The hammocks made us laaaaazy by the way :-)

      Reply to this comment
  5. Anna

    06. Feb, 2012

    Hi, would you recommend having a small wedding ceremony in Samara beach? We were planning on Montezuma but want to see other options that might be better and closer to the airport. Any advice would be appreciated!!!
    Thank you very much!

    Reply to this comment
    • jess

      06. Feb, 2012

      Hi Anna, great question. We’d actually really recommend considering somewhere easier than Montezuma. The beaches are beautiful there, but it is quite difficult transport-wise, that’s true. We loved the privacy of Samara, and while more people opt for weddings in Jaco or Tamarindo beaches, Samara has all the right elements that would make a wedding magical. You can also fly in to Liberia airport (or San Jose) and drive over no problem. There is plenty of public transportation as well. Check out http://samarabeach.com/wedding.htm for a bit of basic wedding info! Good luck Anna, and of course, congratulations! :-)

      Reply to this comment
  6. Anna

    08. Feb, 2012

    Thank you so much for response. I’m looking into Samara beach now. One more question regarding weather, do you think it will be very rainy in the second week of November?
    Thank you so much!

    Reply to this comment
    • jess

      11. Feb, 2012

      Hi Anna – happy to help. November on the Nicoya peninsula is the tail end of rainy season. I can’t 100% say for sure either way, but I know that at the tail end like that, there is usually a period every day when it rains. Not sure in this case if that is every night, each morning for an hour, etc, but that should be it. Most likely the rest of the day will be sunny and dry. You might want to contact the people who run the Samara Beach website and see if they know better, or just call one of the larger hotels and they should be able to tell you no problem the exact details on a November visit. Good luck!

      Reply to this comment
  7. Laura @Travelocafe

    29. Apr, 2012

    It looks like paradise. You would limit acces to paradise for us… I guess I understand why… :)
    Laura @Travelocafe recently posted..The Botanical Garden from Valencia. Kitties and Flowers

    Reply to this comment
    • Dani

      29. Apr, 2012

      Laura – Samara definitely felt like paradise! If you go, just don’t tell anyone ;-)

      Reply to this comment
  8. crazy sexy fun traveler

    29. Apr, 2012

    Looks so nice! If I get time, I will visit it :P
    crazy sexy fun traveler recently posted..ROME GELATOS

    Reply to this comment
    • jess

      30. Apr, 2012

      No don’t! :) But if you do, definitely make sure to get some sunset shots – they are still some of the best sunset photos we have! So beautiful there!

      Reply to this comment
  9. Wanderplex

    02. May, 2012

    Thanks for sharing your secret!!!! It looks absolutely idyllic and it’s nice to see places like this that aren’t all built up with resorts and bars etc.
    Wanderplex recently posted..Portable luggage scales are worth their weight in the fees you’ll save

    Reply to this comment
    • Dani

      03. May, 2012

      Thank you :) It was so idyllic – I really hope it stays that way and that Samara will never ever turn into a resort town!d

      Reply to this comment
  10. jan

    24. Aug, 2012

    I would have tweeted it, but I don’t want the balance tipped before I get there, lol!
    jan recently posted..My Top Travel Memories – First Timers

    Reply to this comment
    • Dani

      25. Aug, 2012

      Haha, thanks Jan – wise decision ;-) We’re actually returning to Samara in October for a few days and I can’t wait to go back!

      Reply to this comment
  11. Maxine Martinez

    12. Sep, 2012

    Hello ladies, Quick question, how did you like Casa Valeria? I am going to Costa Rica the first week of October and I am very interested in this hotel. You did not mention much about it, but it looks great! Any comments about it you’d like to share?

    Reply to this comment
  12. Jo (The Blond)

    01. Nov, 2012

    I’ve already packed my bag and am on my way there :)

    Reply to this comment
  13. Lydie

    09. Nov, 2012

    Hi, I Love this article !!
    But I d like to correct the point regarding the only hostel in Samara ; With my boyfriend, we run the hostel Matilori, 100 meters from the beach, quiet place in the center. 15 $ in the dorm and 40 $ for a private room for 2 people during the high season . And there is the hostel Mariposas also . So you can find 3 hostels in Samara.
    Agree with all the rest :-)

    Reply to this comment
    • Dani

      11. Nov, 2012

      Hi Lydie, thanks so much for letting us know!! I didn’t do my research very well, I guess. Next time we’re in Samara we’ll have to check out the hostels, I guess :)

      Reply to this comment
  14. John Butler

    21. Feb, 2013

    Hi Ladies! I definitely support your advice NOT to go to Samara. I hope my comments will encourage others NOT to go there either. There are SOOOO many downsides to this quaint pituresque seaside village….No Malls, no Walmart or McDonalds, or chain grocery stores. There are no multi-plex cinemas, or neon faced clubs thumping out disco music all night. Yep, that’s right….no boutique shops, or 4 star hotels either….No airports or concert venues….why would anyone want to go THERE!….much less retire there….;) with nothing to do all day except hike, explore, ride horses, go on photo safari’s, lay around on the beach, surf, or fish and go to the mercado and chose fresh vegetable and fruit probably picked early that morning. How boring…in the afternoons one can only sit on the veranda sipping an icy Margarita or Costa Rican Ron Centario rum with a splash of coke on the rocks and watch the sun go down over the ocean. You can’t leave food out unattended…colorful wild parrots and Macaws will finish it for you. If you want to pick a fresh avacodo, orange, or grapefruit from the tree for breakfast, you’ll have to arm wrestle one of the little monkeys to get your share…At night, really not much to do except watch the stars in an incredibly clear atmosphere, or amble down to one of the local cantinas for some live guitar music, or maybe a cooking lesson from Rosie or Maria. Its frustrating to figure out what time it is because in Samara, its all Costa Rica time and who cares anyway…sleepy?…sleep. Hungry?….eat Tired?…take a siesta.. Thirsty?…well, you know how to solve THAT!!

    To be so warm, Samara is so cool! So, come if you must, but you’ve been warned…just move on when you have to and we’ll wave you good bye and give you our address to send us a post card of the snow, the lines at Walmart, a snapshot of your office cubicle, or a news clipping of the latest mall opening. Those are always appreciated…

    So….PLEASE DON’T GO TO SAMARA!!! Give us a call instead and we’ll tell you what isn’t going on….

    Disclaimer:
    (comments not approved by the local chamber of commerce…rotblol..:)
    *Rolling on the beach laughing out loud….

    Reply to this comment
    • Dani

      22. Feb, 2013

      BEST COMMENT EVER! Love the way you described Samara, John, and you are right, the local chamber of commerce would probably not approve of anything you wrote ;-)

      Reply to this comment
      • John Butler

        22. Feb, 2013

        Thanks, Dani. I’m looking for some LGBT info on a quiet hotel or guest house in Liberia city for a couple of days stay while I charm custom$ official$ into releasing my pet$. :) I’m told some are great admirers of our dead US Presidents.:) I’ll be in Samra for good sometime in May… I hope you and Jess will visit and let me treat you to a Samara Sundowner cocktail, and we can commiserate on the Jimmy Buffet attitude of the Samarian locals…I’m gonna open a flip flop repair shop with a nice selection of used flip flops…whadaya think? Please forward any advice re: Liberia..

        Reply to this comment
        • Dani

          23. Feb, 2013

          John, you are a lucky man!! Moving to Samara for good… wow! We’ll find you for sure next time we’re there and will take you up on your Samara Sundowner offer :) About Liberia- to be honest with you, we left after only one night and didn’t give Liberia much of a chance – we had bad luck with our guest house, and didn’t warm up to the town very much. So I am afraid we don’t have any recommendations – but if you are still in Samara, the ladies from LazDivaz might know a place?

          Reply to this comment
  15. Maxine

    22. Feb, 2013

    So my husband and I went to Samara and loved it! I think we may have stayed in the very same bungalow as ya’ll did. The one pictured above with the two hammocks in front, I would say the best bungalow available, you can lie in your bed & watch the waves. It was soo beautiful and I can’t wait to go back. The locals are so friendly and food is really good, especially at the little restaurants on the beach. The ocean is amazing, you can play in the waves and watch all the surfers come out at sunset when the waves get bigger. It was the perfect end to an adventure filled vacation near Arenal volcano.

    Reply to this comment
    • Dani

      22. Feb, 2013

      Maxine – so glad to hear you enjoyed Samara as well :) We are already looking forward to our next visit!!

      Reply to this comment
  16. tiffany

    30. Jul, 2013

    This is SO reasssuring to read since we are headed there this Saturday! I have been a little nervous bc you hear about the “dangers” down there, so this has certainly eased my mind. We are flying from Houston, TX then driving 3 or more hours to Samara.

    Looking fwd to a much needed break. Bringing our 2 teen girls too, just hope the weather is good! :)

    Reply to this comment
  17. wayne e

    13. Oct, 2013

    samara beach is exactly as the girls described. I visited January 2013 via G adventures and stayed ay the casa valeria.If you are not looking for fancy but clean barring the sand off the beach which forms the front yard this is the place(rooms done daily) This is eden in my books so much so that I am returning for 6 days this november.Lay back, all the quiet amenities neccesary.Pablo the guide for fishing howler monkeys birds etc etc. I am trying to raft with desafio adventures(rio teneros) anyday from nov 5 to 9 but travelling solo they need minimum 2 to go any takers.Please as the girls say stay away and preserve this little paradise.Onward to puerto jimenez and the corocavado have you been there girls (mike boston is the guide).Im pumped for 3 wks in the CR pura vida all

    Reply to this comment
  18. Mags

    15. Nov, 2013

    Just spent 3 months at Samara Beach and i agree with you please do not Tell Anyone about it. It is just so beautiful and down to earth. Already planning my next trip from Oz for Christmas and i only got back 3 weeks ago

    Reply to this comment
    • Dani

      16. Nov, 2013

      So happy to hear that you loved Samara, too!! Three months there – amazing! I am so jealous that you’re heading back so soon, could really do with a tropical beach right now! Chile’s Pacific beaches are just not comparable to a Costa Rican beach.

      Reply to this comment
  19. josee

    24. Feb, 2014

    i/ve been there many time and stayed at that very hut .
    and i.ll go back.

    Reply to this comment
  20. Leah

    18. Mar, 2014

    I’m back in Samara right now after 20 years. I used to go to Samara every weekend as a student during the summer of 1994. It was very beautiful then and it was a 7 hour bus ride from San Jose. 20 years later I’m pretty shocked to see what it has become. Not really sure how I’d describe it now, but it’s not really the Samara I remember. It looks like too many people already found it and that makes me kind of sad.

    Reply to this comment
  21. Name (required)

    21. Jul, 2014

    Samara is great gonna move there if I can. Best beach resteraunts ( vella latina, conan and the rest ) best motercycle ride back to condo ) Signed Mr. Tequila

    Reply to this comment

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  1. 4 buses, 3 rainstorms, 2 hostels & 1 week in paradise « lofts on the move - November 3, 2012

    […] stayed 3 nights in the not so fab hostel and then on recommendation of Globetrotter Girls Blog and also the tourist info in Samara, we moved into our very own beach hut. I’ve decided it […]

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