However, there are several beaches that are reachable only by boat and if you don’t have your own, you can hire someone or go on a boat tour around the Gulf. For my brother’s last full day in Costa Rica, they wanted to snorkel and I wanted to show them more beaches since we didn’t have a chance to see Hermosa or Panama.
We asked our friend Mauro, a local Italian fisherman to take us on a boat tour around the Gulf and so we fit all 7 of us in his fishing boat on a bright sunny morning.
This morning would be a morning that all of us would remember, especially for him and especially for my brother and I.
Boating around the Gulf of Papagayo
Snorkeling at Monkey Head Island
It was gorgeous weather out and the waves were fairly calm so Mauro took us to the Cabeza de El Mono, (Monkey head). Matt and our friend Jen got out first and snorkeled for a bit. I have never snorkeled this far in the Gulf so I was anxiously waiting my turn.
I’m not that afraid of the ocean but I do get slightly freaked out by big fish at first sight. As soon as I jumped into the water, I could see millions of fish all around me and below, the big ones slipping in and out of the shadows.
Mauro told me to watch out for sharks and if I see one, not to freak out. OK, all those nights staying up watching Shark Week definitely did not help me right now but I kept reminding myself that there are no dangerous sharks here.
I saw huge snappers and jacks, large schools of angel and butterfly fish, giant puffer fish, and so many others I don’t know the name. I was feeling pretty good, my brother was near me and my fear started slipping away. A group of very large trumpet fish started circling us and I was careful not to get too close.
My brother and I started swimming back towards the boat when I noticed a large shadow by the propeller. I thought that it was a big manta ray and I frantically grabbed my brother’s shoulder to point it out to him. I’ve never seen a manta ray before so I was really excited. But do manta rays have yellow/white spots?
As we floated in the water and watched this manta ray, I noticed that it was getting bigger and bigger and I saw a large tail. Two seconds later, it started swimming towards us and my mind went blank. This thing is HUGE and definitely not a manta ray. And the mouth of this animal was starting to open.
Automatically my brain started screaming, “Shark! Shark!” and I stuck my head out of the water and yelled for someone to pull me out. Yeison came over and like Superman, yanked me out like nothing. Mauro started yelling in Italian and Spanish and there was commotion in the boat everywhere. “Tranquillo, tranquillo! No te preocupes! Solo una ballena tiburon!”
A whale shark? The docile and calm shark that eats plankton? It has always been a life long dream of mine to snorkel alongside one and this is how my first time went. Damn! If I had known it was a whale shark, I wouldn’t have jumped out of the water so fast.
“Nunca en mi vida, he visto este!” Mauro was exclaiming for the next ten minutes. He had been diving twice a week for two years to catch a glimpse of a whale shark this close and he never had until today. This one came right up to the boat!
Unfortunately our GoPro was pointing the wrong direction and only caught a shadow of the shark. Next time (there will be a next time) I’m going to make sure that the camera is working and pointing in the right direction.
My heart was still beating but I was kicking myself a little bit for being so scared. Well, for the first time ever seeing something so big in the water I couldn’t help but get freaked out. At least I saw the shark and I got a pretty good view of it!
After the excitement died down, Mauro took us to Playa Heuvo, a beach near the Four Seasons. This beach has soft white sand, clear waters, a couple caves and a great lookout spot.
The next beach we went to was Playa Junquillal across from Playa Hermosa. It is amazing how everything changes in just a few hundred meters in terms of type and color of the sand and water in the Gulf of Papagayo. One beach will have black sand and green waters, the beach next to it will have white sand and turquoise waters.
These were the only two beaches we visited since we needed to go back to Coco around noon but there are plenty of others that you can visit. The beach next to the Four Seasons is another great place for snorkeling and you can go out to Coco Island which is a popular place for scuba diving.
For visitors who want to have a full beach/boat day, taking a boat around the Gulf of Papagayo is well worth the time and money. You’ll see lots of marine wildlife like dolphins and turtles. Whale season starts in August so it is common to see moms and babies together as well as turtles looking for mates and pods of dolphins swimming around during that time.
We definitely had a very memorable day and I can’t wait to get back out there to go see some more whale sharks, turtles and hopefully some dolphins! Now I know not to get scared or I might miss another chance of a lifetime.
It’s never a dull day out in the Gulf!
As if you don’t already have a good enough reason to go boating in Costa Rica, here are some more.
Boating video around the Gulf
Trips 2 and 3
This is one of our favorite activities to do whenever we have friends and family in town. Every day is a different out in the Gulf and we always see something we hadn’t seen before!
On our 3rd boating trip with Mauro, guess what we saw this time? A whole pod of pilot whales! (Our 2nd trip we saw humpback whales). They looked just like spinner dolphins but as they got closer, we soon realized that these cetaceans were much bigger and breathed differently than the dolphins we have seen before.
Check out our second video of boating around the Gulf of Papagayo to hear the pilot whales singing, blowing water in our camera and even some (gasp!) turtle sex.
Tips for Boating around the Gulf of Papagayo
- You can bring your camera and phone but make sure to bring a waterproof backpack or a waterproof cover for your bag. Most of the boats are pangas, or small fishing boats and water will get in the boat. If you are going during rainy season, you must be prepared for sudden rains.
- Bring a GoPro for snorkeling and if you do, make sure you have an extendable pole
- Depending on who you go with, you’ll most likely depart early in the morning. Make sure to bring plenty of water, sunscreen, a hat, towel, snacks and of course, beer 😛
- Wear your swimsuit there, most boats don’t have bathrooms or changing facilities
- Bring an extra set of clothes that can dry easy like running shorts
- If you get car/sea sick easily, make sure to take anti-nausea medicine before. Conditions may not always be perfect so it can be really windy and small boats porpoise a lot when going fast
- Confirm with your tour company or whoever you hired before if they have snorkel equipment if you want to go snorkeling (most do)
Read about other fun activities to do in Costa Rica!
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