History of Playas del Coco Costa Rica

You know that feeling of discovery you have when you visit a place for the first time? Every turn of the road is a revelation, each day the light and sounds are new to your eyes and ears. It’s easy to feel the thrill of discovery as you crest the headland and head down the hill to Playas del Coco Costa Rica, but it may even be more exciting to realize the first settlers to this area likely felt the same way—1,500 years ago!  Join me on a journey through the history of Playas del Coco.

Map of Playas del Coco Costa Rica

A cemetery was found near Playas del Coco and excavated in 2014. They found 111 human graves and 920 artifacts of ceramic and stone buried alongside as offerings. Carbon-dating estimates the cemetery was in use 540-885 AD. The characteristics of the ceramic indicate they are from a time prior to the arrival of the Chorotega Indian tribe. A study of the skeletal remains shows that the people ate corn, and kept dogs or coyotes as pets. They made colorful ceramics and engaged in trading with other Central America peoples.

Now we jump forward in history about 250 years, and we find more people “discovering” Playas del Coco, this time as settlers and tourists. In the 1930s Playas del Coco Costa Rica received its first publicity in the form of a long song composed by Hector Zuniga Rovira. The song is called “Amor de Temporada” or Summer’s Love. The song tells the story of a young man who meets a Morenita (dark-skinned girl) on a summer day at the beach in Playas del Coco. While listening to the sound of marimbas and guitars, and as the fishing boats sway in the water, he sees her singing and approaches her. They draw closer and closer and, as the moon rises, he kisses her ardently, lovingly. And then she breaks his heart.

Sculpture of man singing Amor de Temporada to his love

 

In the 1950s the Costa Rican government encouraged settlement of the sparsely populated coastal areas. Some families moved there in 1956 and like most families they built their homes and businesses right in front of the ocean. There were just four or five families living there, with a total population of less than 100 and one shared well. There was no electricity or paved roads and only one bus in and out per day.Coco was a fishing village, and folks would wake up at 4 am get their fishing line ready and fish from the beach. The diet consisted of dried fish, rice, and tomato or plantain. Once a week family members would butcher a pig or a cow and there would be a great feast. By 6 p.m. most would gather at the beach and talk and share stories. By 7 p.m. most were in bed enjoying a breeze of the ocean.

Fishing boat on the beach of Playas del Coco Costa Rica

In the years that followed, Playas del Coco started to become somewhat of a tourist destination. It is said that when the popularity of places such as Puntarenas and Limon started to wane, Costa Ricans began to travel to Playas del Coco.

Old-timers recall stories of how they made their way toward Playas del Coco. It was tough to make it from San Jose all the way to the Guanacaste coastline. People started visiting Playas del Coco Costa Rica in the 1950s when it was still a remote fishing village. Some local entrepreneurs offered a few basic services such as lodging in some cabins, cooking homemade food, and renting out their pangas for fishing. Later in the 1960s, when roads improved, finer cabins were built and national tourism began to grow.

The local inhabitants, called Coquenos, increased their facilities in order to meet the demand of visitors from San Jose. Some of the old-timers remember when there was only one bar in town, Gato Chingo, and it was only open on Saturdays and holidays. Another long-time resident remembers when other bars and restaurants opened along the beach: El Bohio, El Banana, Soda Papagayo, Restaurante Guajira, El Pozo, Bar Roger, Vida Loca, y El Bongo. Playas del Coco had a very lively nightlife!

In 1977 the Maritime Law was passed prohibiting any buildings within the first 50 meters from high tide. Almost all the businesses and private homes were located within those 50 meters, so they all had to relocate away from the waterfront. However, compliance was slow, so the law was reinforced in 1997. Finally, in 2007—30 years after the law was passed–the remaining homes and businesses were demolished. Today, in their place, exists a waterfront park called the Paseo de Amor de Temporada, named after that old love song that first brought people to Playas del Coco.

PHARMACIES IN COSTA RICA

“Ahhh Choo!” Oh no! Could that sneeze be the start of a cold? Is your whole body aching after that surfing lesson? Did you break out in a weird rash after eating too many mangos? Time to find a Costa Rica pharmacy!

“Do I have to see a doctor?” Maybe not. For illnesses that are not serious, you can visit your local pharmacy (farmacia) and consult the pharmacist. Every Costa Rican pharmacy is required to have a licensed pharmacist on site and he or she has some medical training that enables them to assess common symptoms and recommend treatments. These pharmacological “doctors” are a wealth of information and always very helpful. Simply describe your symptoms, and they will recommend a medicine. Because Costa Rica is not as litigious as the U.S., the advice is dispensed freely without fear of legal repercussions. However, no diagnostic examination (like taking your temperature) will be done nor is treatment applied, such as salves or bandaging. Surprisingly, they will do injections! If your symptoms are severe or it is an emergency, you will need to see a doctor or go to an emergency room.

Pharmacy in Costa Rica

Many medications that require a prescription in the United States can be bought over-the-counter in Costa Rica. Blood pressure medicine, sleeping pills, antidepressants, and birth control pills can all be obtained without a prescription. Generally speaking, only antibiotics, opiates or psychotropic drugs will need to be prescribed by a doctor.

Generic Medications in Costa Rica

Pharmacies carry drugs manufactured by many countries, so if you need a particular brand from a U.S. drug manufacturer, you may be better off bringing a supply with you. If a pharmacy does carry a U.S. brand, it will likely be more expensive. However, generic versions of all the most-used medications are available and reasonably priced. If you are shown your requested medicine and the price seems a bit high, ask if they carry another brand. They usually offer you the most expensive product first, but there are lower-priced brands available.

A smiling Pharmacist in Costa Rica

There are several medicines available in Costa Rica which are not sold in the U.S. and many of them are very good. Be sure to do your research before trying anything new.

If you don’t know what your medicine is called in Spanish, just do a Google search for the generic name. Since generic names are Latin-based, the Spanish equivalent is very similar. For example, insulin is insulina, Enalapril (for high blood pressure) is enalapril, and Levothyroxine (thyroid hormone) is levotiroxina.

The farmacias are also well stocked with products such as shampoos and lotions, deodorant and diapers, vitamins and over-the-counter medicines.

Prices vary from store to store. It is a good idea to ask local people which pharmacy they use. Ticos are very aware of even the slightest of price variances, so they will definitely know which is the cheapest. Farmacias Fischel is a big chain with stores in almost every town. Playas del Coco along with Fischel also has Farmacia Aloe where you can also find homeopathic remedies if that’s what you’re into or visit Farmacia Azul. So there are plenty of pharmacies to choose from.

Small town pharmacy in Costa Rica

If you decide to become a resident one of the requirements is to join the Costa Rica national health care system (CCSS—the “caja”), there is no charge for the medications you receive at the local clinic. Be aware, however, that the caja does not have every medication in its catalog of medicines. It is not like walking up to a counter and asking for whatever you want. For example, if you take blood pressure medicine, the caja may offer just two or three different kinds of ACE inhibitors, rather than the 20 different ones that are on the market.

So, treat that cold or aching back to a quick trip to your local pharmacy and a chat with the pharmacist. Good health to you!

ELECTRIC CARS IN COSTA RICA?

There is a strange-colored haze resting over Costa Rica’s Central Valley that didn’t use to be there. It is smog. How can that be in a country that doesn’t burn fossil fuels for energy? It’s from all the cars, trucks and busses. What’s the answer? Electric cars in Costa Rica.

Electric cars in Costa Rica

Ninety percent of Costa Rica’s energy comes from renewable sources: water, wind, solar, and geothermal. In fact, this past November we set a record for going 300 consecutive days on 100% renewable energy.

Costa Rica Wind farm

Vehicle ownership has increased to the point that there are twice as many cars registered each year as babies born. Depending on how you look at that it could almost be a good thing. One thing to know is that most of the population of the country lives in the central valley of Costa Rica, often referred to as San Jose.

In 2016 Costa Rica signed the Paris Agreement, agreeing to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. The goal is to be carbon neutral by 2021. Experts report that the country keeps a clean electrical grid, but in the area of transportation, we are still under-performing.

So, the Electric Transportation Bill was approved in December by Costa Rica’s Congress and signed into law in January by President Luis Guillermo Solis. It provides incentives for owning vehicles that operate 100% on electricity. The bill passed with 37 in favor and only one against. The law makes electric vehicles more affordable by granting total exoneration of sales, customs and circulation taxes. Cars with a cost of under $30,000 will benefit from 100% exemption, while vehicles with a higher cost will have their tax rates reduced considerably.

List of incentives to own an electric car in Costa Rica

The tax exemption applies to cars up to one year old and will be in effect for the next five years. Replacement parts and assembly systems of electric cars will have a 10-year tax exemption.

Currently, of the 1.4 million cars on the streets, only 300 are 100% electric. By 2035, it is hoped Costa Rica will have 100,000 electrics traveling its roads.

Charging stations are popping up in different parts of the country. According to the Tico Times newspaper, there are currently 20 stations, but ICE expects to install at least 41 more this year. The goal is to have a charging station every 80 kilometers. Keep in mind, however, that 90% of car owners have a carport or garage where they can plug their car in. An average 30-kilowatt sedan can travel 250 kilometers on a single charge. Since Costa Rica is geographically a small country, that range is adequate. Recharging takes 2-4 hours; 3 hours are enough to reach 80% charge capacity. The charge will cost you about $5.25—compared to the $26 it would cost in gasoline.

electric charging station Costa Rica

You can import your own electric car if it is less than a year old. Four car agencies are ready to bring more electric cars into the country: Grupo Q will import the Hyundai Ioniq; Chevrolet will bring in the Bolt; Datsun- Nissan will offer the Nissan Leaf; BMW imports the 13; Grupo Automatriz the Ford Focus.

As is often the case, the biggest barriers to this initiative are price and perception. To that end, in addition to the 100% tax exoneration, electric vehicles will not be subject to vehicular restrictions nor pay parking meters. Special priority spaces called “blue parking” will be designated. But let me tell you, you most likely will never find one available as the concept of special parking for cars is not in the forefront of the average Tico. Perception may be harder to change since electric cars have been considered a luxury item until now. And people—Ticos are no exception–take a long time to learn a new trick. Kind of like driving, it can be an adventure here.

Hyundai electric vehicle

The switch to zero-emission vehicles applies to public transportation also—buses, taxis, and trains. The bus fleet may take time to modernized because the bus company owners sit on the bus regulatory board and are reluctant to make changes unless fiscally advantageous.

Time will tell how much change will actually take place, but the intentions are noble. We would love for that greenish gray cloud to dissipate over San Jose! Until that time, think Guanacaste, still pure and clean and no traffic jams to deal with. Well if you don’t take into consideration the cattle crossing the road.

THE IRRESISTIBLE ENTICING BEAUTIFUL ORCHID

Do you like the orchid? I love them! They are the colorful jewels that dot the green velvet landscape of the forest. With their unique petal arrangements that almost look like little faces, they are some of the most popular flowers in the world. If you love orchids and live in Costa Rica, like I do, you have come to the right place.

Costa Rica Orchid
Though small in area, Costa Rica has one of the largest orchid populations in the world with approximately 1,400 different species. Costa Rica is an area with varying degrees of humidity thanks to the moderating effects of the Caribbean Sea on the east coast and the Pacific Ocean on the west making it a happy habitat for orchids. The majority of orchids thrive in the humid, mid-elevation environments of cloud forests. In one cloud forest, a single tree was found hosting 47 orchid species! Since my mom won’t move to Costa Rica, but loves orchids, every year I send her a new and different plant so she has a mini jungle of orchids in her home.

Costa Rica Orchid
Orchids have been valued for thousands of years. It seems they were grown in China more than 4,000 years ago. Montezuma, 16th century ruler of what is now Mexico, reportedly cultivated several species of orchids. However, it was during the 1800’s that the quest for these plants increased dramatically after Englishman William Cattley received a shipment of tropical plants from Brazil. In the packing material, he noticed plant parts that looked like roots. After planting them, he was delighted when they produced a beautiful purple bloom that was named after him–the Cattleya. That orchid, known as the guaria morada in Costa Rica, is its national flower.

Costa Rica Orchid
Following Cattley’s discovery, collecting unique orchids became the hobby of the rich, and new specimens in commanded exorbitant prices. By the early 1900’s the orchid craze waned, only to reawaken decades later when inexpensive methods of artificially propagating orchids were discovered. Now we can all enjoy these exotic flowers!


The orchid family is one of the largest flowering plant families with 20,000 members plus 100,000 registered hybrids. Incredibly, they are found even inhospitable areas like the Arctic Circle and semi-desert regions. Some species live in treetops at an altitude of 10,000 feet in the Andes Mountains, and there are Australian orchids that spend most of their plant life underground.

Just like the members of any family, orchids come in all sizes and colors and with all kinds of smells. There is an orchid in Papua New Guinea that is several feet high and weighs up to two tons. Contrast those with tiny orchids the size of the head of a needle. Although some orchids grow rooted in the soil, the majority–called epiphytes–grow on trees or other plants. A few orchids smell like decaying meat (avoid them they stink really bad!), but the vast majority delight us with the faint aromas of coconuts, raspberries, vanilla, or chocolate.

A great place to overload on orchids is Lankester Botanical Gardens, founded in 1917 by British naturalist Charles Lankester Wells. This 27-acre garden is located near Cartago and is home to over 100 species of orchids. Hours of operation are 8:30-4:30 daily and admission is about $5. April is an especially good time to visit because of the number of orchids in bloom. Plan to spend the greater part of a day here—it is stunning! However, if you are not going to be in the Cartago area just head up any of the great mountainous areas that are heavily wooded and you will find orchids.


Costa Rica hosts the annual National Orchid Exhibition, the largest of its kind in Central American and the Caribbean. It is a three-day event with a judged competition, videos, lectures, and orchid sales. Something worth investigating if you are an avid orchid fan.

Orchids can be grown fairly easily at home. They can be grown in pots or baskets of pebbles, moss, or tree bark and need regular fertilizing—especially when flowering. The lighting required depends on the type of orchid, so be sure to research your particular species. Water your orchid until the excess begins to drain from the holes at the bottom of the pot. Let the potting material dry out slightly between watering’s. Orchids thrive in humidity, so during the dry season in Costa Rica, you might need to place your plants on a tray of pebbles and add water to just below the top of the pebbles and use a spray bottle to add some mist to the leaves.


So when coming to visit, be sure to take the time to see a few of these beautiful Costa Rica Orchids in the wild. You won’t be sorry!Costa Rica Orchid