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Costa Rica has Wonderful Beaches!

Never a ship sails out of the bay But carries my heart as a stowaway ~ Roselle Mercier Montgomery, writer, 1874-1933

Playa Flamingo Area Beaches The shells upon the warm sands, have taken from their own lands, the echo of their story. All I hear are low sounds as pillow words are weaving, and willow waves are leaving, but should I be believing, that I am only dreaming? ~ Anywhere Is, sung by Enya, lyrics by Roma Ryan

These beaches center on Playa Flamingo, long considered Costa Rica's premier beach resort. Located on a jutting peninsula, Flamingo's beach is pure white sand, as its pre-development name, "Playa Blanca," suggested. Playa Conchal is even more enticing because much of its beach is made of finely ground white seashells. But if you're not staying at the Meliá mega-resort there, your shell beach access is limited. Try Playas Pan de Azucar, Potrero or Brasilito. Horseback riding is a great way to get a nature tour of Guanacaste's disappearing dry forests. See our review of Casagua Horses - Cantina Tours under Tamarindo, below.

Playa Flamingo is fully developed with exclusive hotels and is no destination for rabid naturalists - or low-budget beach bums. Playa Potrero is north of Flamingo. Its sand is not as appealing, but it does offer solitude and much smoother surf (better for swimming). This was our economic choice - and we found it very welcoming. There are a lot of private homes and vacation getaways of retired North Americans. Playa Flamingo Area Beaches _ 235

Nicoya Peninsula Farther north is Playa Pan de Azucar (Sugar Bread Beach), which relatively undeveloped and has just one resort (see below). Playa Brasilito is the south side of the jutting peninsula of Flamingo. It features a dull gray sand and gentle surf for good swimming. Like Potrero, it is a quiet little town. The next beach south is Playa Conchal. Until a few years ago, Conchal was a Tico-secret beach without hotels, just camping spots.

Places to Stay & Eat

At Playa Flamingo, gringo vacationers stay at the Flamingo Marina Beach Resort (_ 506/290-1858, www.flamingomarina. com, $$$-$$$$), a quality resort hotel on a hill above the beach. Pools, views, restaurants, tennis - everything you expect.

The Flamingo All-Suites (_ 506/654-4011, $$$-$$$$) was formerly the Aurola Holiday Inn. It sits right on the beach and encircles a blue pool. Another choice could be the new Hotel Fantasías Flamingo (_ 506/ 654-4349, flamingo@racsa.co.cr, $$$-$$$$), on a bluff above the bay. The best dining in town is Marie's (_506/654-4136), which serves fresh seafood and Mexican.

In Playa Potrero, we liked the food at Exotica, a pink and purple restaurant and convenience store along the bay that charmed us with twinkly lights and lots of greenery under a trellis-covered al fresco dining area. Behind the restaurant are four basic rooms with kitchenettes and a tile porch. These rooms are a bargain, especially for long-term.

Other pleasing places include Cabinas Cristina (_ 506/654-4006, www.cabinascristina.com, $-$$), which has larger, older bungalows, some with kitchenettes, and a pool; or

Cabinas Isolina (_ 506/654-4375, www.isolinabeach.com, $) with small, inexpensive rooms; or affable Cabinas Bahía Esmeralda (_506/654-4480, $-$$), which rents rooms or a fully furnished two-bedroom house quite reasonably.

Camp or take a rustic room at Myra's Camping and Cabinas (_ 506/654-4213) right on the beach. In what passes for the downtown, there are many good little restaurants and sodas. Try them all and let us know.

Playa Pan de Azacur offers the sweet Hotel Sugar Beach (_ 506/ 654-4242, www.sugar-beach.com, $$-$$$). We found this beach intriguing, with its rocky snorkeling in some spots and sandy areas otherwise.

Northern Peninsula HOTEL

Hotel Prices

Prices are per night for two people

[No $] less than US $20
$ US $20-$40
$$ US $41-$80
$$$ US $81-$125
$$$$ US $126-$200
$$$$$ over US $200

Wooded forest in back, infinity pool in front. It will be our next, longweekend beach layover. Not only is it inviting and natural, but also surprisingly pocketbook-friendly.

On the way in to town, look for Cabinas Caracol y Nany (_ 506/654-4320). Il Forno is the best restaurant here, serving Italian food and pizza, which we all know is really North American.

Playa Conchal is the home of the enormous, all-suite Meliá Playa Conchal (US _ 888/336-3542, in CR _ 506/654-4123, www.meliaplayaconchal. com, $$$$$), which is a village unto itself.

If you can't afford that luxury, look toward nearby Playa Real and Condor Lodge and Beach Resort (_ 506/654-4050, www.condorlodge.com, $$), a bungalow- style hotel just 600 meters/1,974 feet from the beach. Completely remodeled in 1999


Live, Retire, Relocate to Costa Rica Book by Christopher Howard

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