NO 18 The Melting Pot Paradise

NO 18

by Graceann Barrett

In the northern province of Guanacaste, Costa Rica, which extends nearly the entire length of the Nicoya peninsula and up to the northern border with Nicaragua, there are many incredible experiences waiting for you.

White sand beaches and crystal clear water, ziplines through the rainforest canopy, typical foods, exotic animals, volcanoes and waterfalls: the picture of paradise.  With so much to do in so many places across the province, Playas del Coco is a convenient central village around which to base your trip.

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What travelers discover upon spending more time in this little beachfront town is that part of the comfort of visiting Coco is its cultural diversity.  With visitors, residents, business owners and investors representing so many different countries from around the world, almost everyone in Coco has a chance to feel at home.

The main street in Coco runs about one kilometer, marked at the entrance by a sculpture of a large anchor and finished at the beach.  As you head into town, a spattering of restaurants and shops appear along the road, a post office, and one of the supermarkets further from the center with the best prices on mostly local Costa Rican products.  Continue walking deeper into town and more and more businesses line the main street, further highlighting the cultural diversity.

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In the newly-built Hard Rock Café Guanacaste and the modern American-style Pacifico shops at the heart of town, local employees must speak some level of English, and the more they speak, the higher the likelihood of upward mobility.

Most English-speaking visitors to Coco never even feel the need to learn Spanish beyond perhaps a few simple phrases, even after years of living here.  Yet Americans are not the only ones to come to Coco.

As you continue down the road, expect to see an Argentinian chorizo grill on the left, a Colombian-owned glass shop further past on the right, and across the street, two Costa Rican bakeries and a Canadian woman’s Herbalife studio.  A couple from the Netherlands own Coco’s most popular dive shop and the Italian gelato is made by a real Italian woman.

At this point, you find yourself about 300 meters from the beach, and the streets are tightly packed with souvenir shops whose Chinese products covered in “Pura Vida!”, “Tuanis!” or some other local Costa Rican saying flood onto the sidewalk.

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Men will approach you up and down the beach selling “genuine” Costa Rican ceramics, though many of them actually come from Nicaragua, and may not even be the artist.

You may be able to find more artisanal, local products at boutique stores like Ticoffia coffee shop, Ciao Bella jewelry and design, Lis Umana Swimwear or Rojas Bros. indigenous art gallery, but for the most part there is no unifying expression of local culture in Playas del Coco.

As you arrive closer to the “Amor de Temporada” beach-front boulevard, you will find a variety of restaurants with exotic and local cuisines.  Choose from the many ceviche stands and pizzarias claiming to be the “best in Coco.”

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Experience the fresh catch of the day in the two-story Papagayo Seafood restaurant with a glowing red octopus hugging a tree out front.  Try not to giggle at the name of the Lebanese sandwich shop, Le Coq.  Opt for a classic American hamburger and fries at Oasis Burgers, or try a typical “casado” (literally “married”) plate with a little bit of everything Tico at the local Costa Rican sodas (or diners).

Echoing the sculpture at Coco’s entrance, another anchor, the restaurant El Ancla (The Anchor) sits at the end of Main Street facing the beach and features a mix of local and American bar food.  Just taking this short walk through the town, Coco’s cultural diversity is hard to miss.

The foreign population in Playas del Coco comes from all over for all sorts of reasons.  Americans in Coco come from nearly all U.S. states.  There are so many Canadians in Coco they even have their own websites and special gatherings.  Danes, Bolivians, Latvians, and Russians:  the list of foreigners in Coco spreads across the globe.

Some are young and single, coming to work or volunteer.  Others come with their newly developing families, buying a condo and starting real estate businesses in the growing local market.  Many retire here after having revisited this beachfront paradise for years.

Still others have been living here for longer than anyone has ever even heard of Coco, investing in property back when it was practically free and reminisce fondly about Coco’s younger days of dirt roads and tranquility.  Whatever may have brought them here, most people who come to Coco find themselves with the overwhelming urge to stay, and many indeed do.

Despite the different reasons and origins, most foreign visitors come to Playas del Coco for the “pura vida” (literally “pure life”) lifestyle that puts emphasis on life satisfaction and well-being over some of the modern world’s more stressful preoccupations.

Almost all visitors to Coco come with the idea of being happier.  Even Costa Ricans themselves escape from the congested capital city of San Jose to live a dream life of opportunities in this costal paradise.

Waking up to the sounds of crashing waves, catching an amazing sunset in the evening, and partying like a teenager at any age with friends from around the world, being in Coco makes everyday life exciting.  In this culturally diverse melting pot in the corner of Costa Rica’s most touristic province, no matter from which continent you hail, whether you come and go quickly or stay indefinitely, Playas del Coco feels like home.