You Call This Tourism?

I spent some time at Playa Hermosa last Sunday. There were quite a few people there, mostly Ticos (Costa Ricans), causing me to reflect on times past. Granted, when I say “quite a few people” it is relative to The Zone. The fact that there were a number of people in the water and that the beach just near the parking area had a fairly steady line of towels & blankets on it indicates a subtle shift in progress.

Playa Hermosa is a beach just north of Uvita, towards Dominical. There are several “Playa Hermosa” beaches in Costa Rica. As a family, we used to go out to this one and marvel at the beauty of the 2 mile-long stretch of beach that extends down to Uvita’s Whales Tail rock reef, and how there was absolutely nobody there. We used to joke about trying to find a place to put our towel, like what you find on so many such beaches in various parts of the world.

Playa Hermosa is also a hot spot for beach-break surfers. Due to their constant observation of “swell” and wave conditions, when the conditions are right, there will be lots of surfers at Playa Hermosa. You can sit on the beach and watch some fairly epic rides, dude.

There is also a lifeguard tower on Playa Hermosa now to which has been attributed a numerous number of saved lives.

So, the idea of picking your way through the towels looking for a spot, well… we’re not there yet, and frankly, it is still hard to imagine that Playa Hermosa would ever get to that, but I suppose maybe it could (or will)… someday.

Sunday is a unique day here in Costa Rica. It is a day that the Ticos (Costa Ricans) treasure. They truly define a family outing with their packed lunches, barbecue’s and general good-time feeling. Still, any other day of the week there will be very few people on the beach.

I recently found an older article that I had written for the local magazine “Montaña al Mar” back in 2009 that speaks of tourism as it was then, and really, hasn’t changed all that much since then.


She says: “Honey, where should we go this year?”

He says: “Oh, I don’t know, the kids got a real kick out of Disney World last year.”
She says: “How ‘bout someplace tropical, maybe Cancun or Rio?”
He says: “Yeah, that sounds good. What was the name of that country that the Smorgenfrieb’s went to last year?

She says: “Dominican… no.. that’s an island. Oh, I remember, Dominical… in Costa Rica. How ’bout there?”
He says: “That might be fun.”

In the recent past, Dominical, and its surrounding areas, Uvita, Ojochal, and points south, wouldn’t even be mentioned in such a conversation. This is an indicator of the change that is going on in the Southern Pacific Zone of Costa Rica. The word is out: its pretty darn cool here.  This is an extraordinary part of the world, and tourism is kicking in with a vengeance, but, it isn’t “tourism” in the conventional sense of the word. You won’t find large, five star resorts and high rises here, and, you won’t find chaise lounges on the beach with waiters in attendance.

What you do find are gorgeous beaches, lush jungles teeming with wildlife, and perfect tropical weather. The mountains come right down to the ocean from just north of Dominical to Uvita. The country itself is narrow enough that there are central spots in the central mountains where a really good spitter can hit both oceans by simply turning 180 degrees.  The narrowness of the country, sandwiched between two oceans results in a pleasant, ocean breezy-type climate.

I remember when I first visited Costa Rica in ’98. I was amazed at how far off the beaten path one could get and still find a little enterprise open for business. One time, I was lost with my family, lord knows where but it had the definite feeling of being the edge of the planet, we stumbled upon this amazing little shack, right on the beach — bright reds, yellows, blues and greens accenting the simple architecture. It turned out to be a little Bed & Breakfast.

Elsewhere in the world, the 3 prevailing factors for a successful commercial endeavor are, as we all know: location, location and then finally, location. Costa Rica seems to defy this. Some of the interesting local exceptions to the “location” rule of commercial real estate are: Jolly Rodgers in Escaleras with their amazing chicken wing-hamburger menu. Chef’s Table in Uvita offers an excellent dining experience up in the jungle above Uvita.  The Thai-Indian fusion at Madras is surprisingly good, yet situated off the beaten path.
[Note: Jolly Rodgers is still very much a thriving concern and is a “Guys” recommended dining place during your visit. Both Chef’s Table and Madras have closed since this article was written.]

There is an influx of creative minds moving into The Zone. Setting up a B & B or vacation villa is a common strategy, and it is frequently accompanied by: dining, massage, meditation, yoga, and/or booking one of the many eco-tours enjoyed on land and on the water. This is a far cry from a parasol-cocktail served in a chaise lounge on the beach.

Many people who visit the Southern Pacific Zone fall in love with it and return soon thereafter.  And, many of these people end up buying and settling in or doing a migration pattern of spending part of the year here and part elsewhere. There is a wonderful blend of consciousness; old world Tico and modern western, occurring in the area.

In fact, one of the big activities that happens in the Southern Pacific Zone is conversation.  If you are enjoying your morning cup of coffee with your family and friends while looking out over the ocean, the conversation sometimes runs into lunch time. This was our experience as a family when we first visited Costa Rica. No TV, no nearby mall –  whadaya do? You talk. We noticed that as TV time went down, quality time went up.
[This point has changed a bit since 2009 when this article was written. Now, with the ubiquitous cell phones, I suspect that some of the “quality time” aspect of Costa Rica has been affected.]

Another trend I have found personally, and observed in my clients’ lives, is a strong interest in quieting down. The Ticos say “tranquilo” when someone appears hyper-concerned about something. They are the masters of being “tranquil”. They are a very tolerant people. This quality is truly important to them, and it seems to pervade the air, causing an agreeable affect on us extranjeros (foreigners) when we get here.

After roughly day 4 of being in Costa Rica, the mind stops considering what the Left is doing to the Right, whether Brittany’s outfit was appropriate for the Teen Choice Awards…. and we start to think purely about what we want to think about. It has been over ten years since I experienced this initial moment of quieting down, but I do remember it as an agreeable experience, and sometimes it does me well to revisit that moment. [Click here for an article about this “moment”]

Tourism in The Zone is a time to quiet the soul, to see how one feels about one’s own company, to quiet that internal dialogue that has, in many cases, been augmented artificially by intelligent marketing companies. Of course, there are those of us who simply have a blaring internal chatter going on naturally, no matter what. But even so, to stand on a beautiful beach, with maybe 5 other people visible as far as the eye can see, and to watch a stunning sunset, and to consider what it’s all about; this is tourism.


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