Costa Rica is completely different than anywhere I’ve ever been. There is a very clear divide between the locals, called Ticos and Ticas, and the “gringos,” as we are called, and I can see how Playas Del Coco, the Pacific coastal town we live in, would have become something very different had tourists not discovered it twenty or thirty years ago.
First Impressions: Living in Playas Del Coco, Costa Rica
Downtown Coco is literally one long street packed with restaurants, bars, hotels, souvenir shops, dive shops, fruit stands, grocery stores and a casino. The crowd is an awkward mix of honeymooners, Canadian high schoolers on study abroad trips, older European tourists, retired gringos, and local Ticos. And then there’s us. Luckily our condo complex came with neighbors who like to hang out, including a loud and hilarious retired Wisconsinite, a former lawyer from Texas, a former wrestler named Chilly Willy, a Navy Seal on leave from Afghanistan, and most recently, a new local bar owner from Austin and former club owner from California.
My first impressions of Coco, compared to what I had read beforehand online, were pretty different from the reality. I pictured a bustling town of twenty-somethings, day drinking and beach hammocking and kayaking. I was wrong. But that’s not always a bad thing.
Playas Del Coco: What We Like
- Happy Hour that lasts from 11:30am to 7:00pm at almost every bar in town. Every. Single. Day.
- Crazy delicious fruit & smoothies.
- Snow cones. The first time we ordered a snow cone here, it came with powdered milk, cream, caramel syrup, rainbow marshmallows and a biscotti. It may sound weird, and it totally was, but that’s an A++ for creativity if I’ve ever seen it.
- Absolutely gorgeous beach sunsets two blocks away.
- The rain. I know most people choose to come here on vacation during the dry season, but it’s so hot that sometimes I think my whole body has evaporated and become some sort of moving blob of sweat. So yeah, I’ll take some rain.
- The bus system. Sure it stops every eleven feet and has no air conditioning and is usually packed full, but it only costs anywhere from $.60 to $8 to get most places in the country.
- Close proximity to cool shit. Waterfalls, volcanoes, cloud forests, jungles, hot springs, rivers, caves, Nicaragua, Panama, you name it. It’s only a bus ride away.
- Cheap rent.
- You don’t have to know Spanish, although it definitely comes in handy.
- Easy currency conversion rate to Costa Rican Colones, but almost anywhere will accept U.S. dollars.
- Scuba diving. Tons of people come from all over the world to dive here, and it’s because you see more underwater life here than a lot of places around the world. White tipped reef sharks, octopuses, eagle rays, sting rays, tons of different reef fish, etc. You may not know what you’re going to see underwater here, but you’ll see something.
- The people are nice. On our first night, we had a local Tico guy buy us a welcome shot and invite us to his house to hang out with his family. That doesn’t happen very often.
Playas Del Coco: What We Don’t
- The food options. Costa Rican food is good, but very, very repetitive. Gallo pinto (black beans mixed with white rice and spices) and eggs for breakfast. White rice, black beans, small salad, and some kind of meat (usually chicken or pork) for lunch and dinner. I’m all for some rice and beans, but snap!
- The price of food. Knowing the average wage of workers here, and knowing that this is still considered a fishing village, we were surprised to see how expensive meat, poultry and fish are. Costa Rica is a great place to find cheap fruits and veggies, but a bad place to find much else.
- Mosquitoes. I knew what I was getting myself into. I even brought two different kinds of mosquito repellent and stuff to put on your clothes that’s supposed to repel them. It does not work. They are everywhere and all you can do is hope the ones that carry dengue fever aren’t the ones that like you. Also, to anyone who says “just wear long sleeves and pants,” no. I will physically transform into fire if I do that.
- Murky water. We are a fan of seeing things, especially when those things are potentially gross and dangerous creatures around you in the big, open ocean. The water is not clear and the beach is not golden here, and that’s why people choose the Caribbean.
- Lack of activities. Beach bonfires are legal here, yet nobody seems to have them. There is no surfing in our town, and the couple kayaks and stand up paddle boards for rent are never in use, mostly because I think nobody wants to be out there alone. There aren’t really any community events despite it being a tight knit, small beach town. I think that’s weird.
- Trash. Littering on the streets, beaches, yards, whatever, is no big deal here. It’s kind of a bummer to walk out on a beautiful beach and have to step over six bags of Doritos and four beer cans to get there.
That being said, it’s beautiful. And it’s a great place to practice your coconut climbing.