My Costa Rican transfixion

The quick & dirty

  • My favorite experience in Costa Rica was catching the ferry from Playa Naranjo to Puntarenas in the early evening.
  • You’ll need cash to cross and to buy any food or drink onboard.
  • Catch the 4:30pm and you’ll be treated to an astounding sunset (weather permitting).
  • Passengers board on foot, driver loads the car.

The story

After returning from a trip, or even during an ongoing one, I’ll often be asked what experience ended up being my favorite overall, or at least up to that point during the journey. The thing is, for me – just being the person I am – that’s a difficult question to answer. It’s challenging for me to distill things down to a “favorite”, calling out only one experience that I can heap all my enthusiasm on. People who know me personally know this well, and they know it pervades just about all aspects of my life, pretty much, saving maybe a few.

Yet sometimes I can answer the question. Or rather, I can answer it until I possibly retract it and replace it with something else (which I’m free to do, damnit). It can take me some time to arrive at an answer, although for the most part I will plainly say that I don’t have favorites when asked.

On rare occasions, something will hit me right away, but that usually means that other things were unimpressive enough that I wouldn’t even consider them candidates. If that pertains to a trip I’m on or recently returned from, that doesn’t sound like a great travel experience to me. I’d rather have a genuine problem picking a favorite, myself.

So it has been with many visits to many amazing places, I’m fortunate enough to be able to say – I’ve had real issues picking a favorite experience. And so it was with Costa Rica, as well. I was pretty sure that I could pick my top three or five fairly easily, but settling on one alone evaded me, as per usual.

That is until I gave myself more time following my return home to contemplate it and sift through photos. Five-plus weeks after leaving that beautiful country, I’m fairly certain that my favorite moments were had on the ferry crossing from Playa Naranjo to Puntarenas, and it’s rather clear in my mind as to why.

One of the main reasons, I’m compelled to say, is that it was an entirely unexpected unknown, if you will. From the way in which I learned about it to what it was all actually like. Gratefully, I just got thrown into it and, pointing my rental car in the direction of Playa Naranjo, hauled ass from the coast on a Sunday in order to arrive on time for the 4:30pm departure.

Aside from that, the trip itself had an air of authenticity to it, from the mode of transportation and the shape the ferry, the San Lucas, was in, to the people drinking at the top deck bar, to the music being blasted there. There was no fancy billing, no luxury class, no tourist zone. Passengers included foreign tourists like me, sure, but we didn’t dominate the scene in any way whatsoever.

There were only a handful of us mixed in with everyday citizens simply going about their lives utilizing a mode of transport to get from point C to point R, including cattle transporters. Trust me, I was one of the last onboard and ended up parking next to the truck and stepping in fresh cow dung, only to be stared at in the eyes by the poor beasts from their mobile cage with the drivers already elsewhere on the boat relaxing.

To round it out, the setting was suffocatingly (to hell with breath-taking) gorgeous and peaceful. The ferry plies the waters of the Gulf of Nicoya past inviting islands in all directions. Additionally, perhaps because it was a Sunday after all, there was no other sea traffic out there. Hence, we were treated to postcard-surpassing scenery.

There was nothing out there between us on the boat and the magnificent beauty that surrounded us, and it seemed that nobody was immune to it. For the duration of the journey, I was transfixed.

The logistics

If you arrive by rental car, you’ll be greeted by a security guard and/or ferry personnel and directed to park the vehicle outside the dock’s gate. You’ll see the ticket office to your left. Enter and pay the required fees for transporting the automobile, the driver, and any passengers.

Be aware that only cash is accepted. At the end of January of this year, I paid ₡9,000 for the car and ₡1,005 for myself, or approximately $18 total given the exchange rate. However, be sure to check the latest fare information.

Passengers board on foot while the driver loads the car. The lower level of the ferry itself houses the cafe and some indoor seating. The restaurant also accepts cash only and offers things like fried food and soda.

The upper deck has a full bar and some bench seating, a dance area, and the best views. Yes, I wrote dance area. The company, COONATRAMAR R.L. actually uses the word “discoteca”. And that’s an affirmative, they blast latin rhythms. Have a shot or five and get your freak on, if you’re so inclined.

The bow of the top deck has forward-facing bench seating. At the ship’s mid-level of both port and starboard sides, one is afforded nice views as well, and a couple of benches each to relax on.

Layers of #islands in the Gulf of Nicoya, #CostaRica.

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Count on a trip length of about 1.5 hours or slightly less. Safety-wise, the car and its contents made it through just fine, but practice common sense; don’t leave any bags with valuables in plain sight on the passenger seat, and so on.

Once you arrive in Puntarenas, be prepared for some gnarly, heavily-trafficked close-quarters driving, as you need to escape the spit-like strip of earth that you’ve landed on while on your way to San José or wherever else it is that you may be going.