GUIONES, Costa Rica (AP) — A vacation to escape the cold led us to Costa Rica's Pacific Coast, where we went surfing, horseback riding, deep-sea fishing and even visited a dry tropical forest. Our extended family of seven, ranging in age from 17 to 55 years old, ranked it one of the best vacations ever.
But we also felt good about choosing a destination, Playa Guiones, that for nine years in a row has been recognized for sustainable tourism. The Costa Rican government's Ecological Blue Flag program honors sound ecological practices, community efforts and coastal protections.
The consistent surf and long breaks on Guiones' 3-mile (6-kilometer) beach also make it one of the most popular surfing beaches around, and it's stunningly beautiful besides.
The dry season here runs November to April, and the result is dry tropical forests and brilliant blue skies nearly every day. Costa Ricans we met said the climate remains pleasant even when the rainy season starts in May, with sunny skies in the morning, and rain in the afternoons.
We arranged in advance for a van to take us the 70 miles (112 kilometers) from the airport in Liberia to Guiones, and it was waiting curbside when we arrived. Our Costa Rican driver was a delightful guide, patiently answering all our questions and pointing out highlights along the way.
The ride took nearly three hours as the two-lane highway eventually turned into a bone-jarring dirt road. On the way we passed by arid pastures with grazing horses and cattle, one-story buildings with tin roofs and dusty yards, sugar cane fields and melon stands shadowed by palm trees.
The small town of Guiones has a few gift and surf shops, some restaurants, a bank and a couple of small markets. There's no high-end shopping or rowdy nightlife, and except for the constant roar of the surf in the distance, the town quiets down to near silence by 9 p.m. Nearly all activity revolves around the tides, and surfing.
We stayed at Villa Sonita, which we'd rented through VRBO.com. It was large and clean, comfortably outfitted for two families, and conveniently located a short walk to the beach. The owner, Scott Cornwell, says he first came to the area 12 years ago when access was entirely by dirt roads, and there were only three phones in town. A lot has changed since, but it remains a quaint and lovely place to visit.
For a horseback ride along the Nosara River, our guides were Eduardo and Raphael Hernandez, brothers who live in the hills alongside the Nosara with their families. Eduardo matched each rider with a suitable horse; I was relieved to be given the mellow Parte Blanca, who was more interested in grazing than trotting. The teenagers were given livelier steeds, which Eduardo urged into gallops, much to their delight.
We rode through dry tropical forests on a small dirt path. Midway through we were served a wonderful lunch of "comidas tipica" — typical local dishes — by Eduardo's mother in her home, three small rooms accessible only by the dirt path we rode in on. Eduardo gave us a tour of their land with its coffee plants and fruit trees, let us hold tiny chicks, and cut open coconuts for us to drink. It was a wonderful day.
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