“My shins are literally sweating.” I was earning my stripes on this inaugural bikepacking trip in Costa Rica. Literally, sweat was drawing lines through the dirt caked on my legs. It had already been a long, exhausting day of riding, and we were only halfway to our destination. Riding through the touristed town near Playa Flamingo, we popped out on the beach. The air wreaked of suntan lotion as we strode past the crowds on the hard-packed sand. That mile of beach riding was exhilarating! Finding our own nook on the beach, we stripped off our sweat-soaked clothes. I removed my shoes and laughed at my ghostly-white feet, contrasting against the morning’s accumulation of grime. Aaron and I ran toward the clear, turquoise water and tripped into a refreshing haze of bliss.
By Emily Taylor, all photos by Emily Sierra Photography
The northern beaches in Costa Rica
It’s not surprising that the northern beaches in Costa Rica are crowded–they’re simply gorgeous. Idyllic palm trees lean out over the ocean, and the blue water sparkles like a treasure chest. Mostly though, these beaches are easily accessible. A short drive from the nearest city, Liberia, makes many of these beaches popular with both locals and visitors. We found, generally speaking, that the further south we traveled on the Nicoya Peninsula, the less travelers we saw, and the more inviting the beaches became.
The bike was like a backstage pass to Costa Rica
We felt like VIP in this country. Toucans soared overhead, iguanas darted across the road, and howler monkeys mocked us. Cars weren’t around on these desolate roads to chase off wildlife, and somehow our huffing and puffing didn’t scare them off either. Slow-rolling through Costa Rica on a bicycle allowed us to really experience the country in a unique way. All of our senses were fully invigorated. We were free to move at our own pace, stopping off regularly for papaya batidos (smoothies) and hearty casados (complete meal: including beans, rice, plantains, salad, and meat). We met curious onlookers, fellow cyclists, cowboys, and everyone in between. With sparse pockets of other travelers, we felt that we were seeing a part of the country that few tourists see.
Actually getting off the beaten path
For us, the real magic was reaching beaches in Costa Rica that are harder to access by vehicle. Winding, pot-holed, rutted-out, steep dirt roads are just the norm on the Nicoya Peninsula. Traveling on a bike—though challenging at times—allowed us to escape the crowds and find desolate spots along the way. Still sprinkled in the south of the Nicoya Peninsula are popular destinations like Sámara and Santa Theresa. We rolled through and quickly rolled out of these busy, bustling beach destinations. Quickly beyond these towns, we found local hangouts, and smaller villages where we were more eager to spend our dollars.
What I didn’t expect
The heat was severe, and I didn’t fully prepare for that. We traveled to Costa Rica in January to take advantage of the dry season… which is the same time of year the bulk of travelers also visit Costa Rica. Bikepacking or not, I would highly recommend planning a trip during the shoulder seasons. Outside of the high season, travelers can relish in cooler temperatures, less dusty roads, cheaper accommodations, and generally less visitors around.
I had a feeling I would fall in love with bikepacking. I love a good human-powered adventure, and enjoy my time on bikes, but I didn’t know just how much I’d love it. Meeting and spending time with locals, talking about bikes or the weather, it just didn’t matter. We felt like a different style of traveler than they knew previously, and we loved that.
White, gray, black or pink—every single beach in Costa Rica was beautiful. Some offer a better surf while others are more conducive to hammock naps. Whatever your preference, know that you can go beyond the initial Google search to find your own untraveled beach and slice of paradise.