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Playa Zancudo

Step onto Playa Zancudo, look up or down the beach, and for kilometers in either direction, you will see … nothing. Just a serene expanse of sand, sky, and water punctuated by swaying palm trees and bleached driftwood. Perhaps you’ll spot a handful of guys playing soccer or a couple lying out on a blanket, but it’s most likely you’ll have a wide swath of the six-kilometer beach to yourself.

In touristy Costa Rica, this sort of seclusion is hard to come by without making a determined effort to leave behind the hotels and restaurants of the more popular destinations. But at Zancudo, you can eat and sleep well and enjoy a practically private coastal oasis. The biggest factor in Zancudo’s low-key atmosphere is its geographical isolation. It is perched on a slender spit that juts out from the mainland opposite the Osa Peninsula. Visitors arrive from Golfito, and most forgo the long, bumpy bus ride in favor of a scenic boat-taxi trip along the shore of the Golfo Dulce.

The water taxis are just beat up old speedboats, and the drivers don’t bother with pointing out landmarks or wildlife. Nothing fancy—just cold water splashing into the hull and salt spray clinging to your hair as the little boat skips over the waves under a blazing tropical sun. You’ll arrive in Zancudo wetter, rosier, and, in all likelihood, mellower, than when you left.

Many of Zancudo’s full-time residents are ex-pats. Some run hotels, cabinas or restaurants, and others live in the large homes that dot the shoreline. Unlike in some beach towns, however, where foreigners feel like an intrusion, here they blend in among the sand and sun. The buildings are nearly all hidden among the trees, and they are strung out along a single sandy road. There is no nightlife to speak of, other than laughter and conversation over drinks or desserts.

The inexpensive hotels cater to weekend visitors, while pricier places offer week- and even month-long options. The restaurants are outstanding, serving delicious meals in comfortable, friendly settings. The outsiders who have moved here do not want it to change, but they don’t mind sharing it with others who want to escape the blaring party scene at Costa Rica’s better-known beaches.

Even the ocean matches the mood here. Though there is excellent surfing at nearby Pavones, about 15 kilometers south, most of Zancudo’s waves are too small. The warm water is lovely for wading, kayaking, or cooling off after a frisbee toss, and it is ideal for night swimming. Many evenings, the sea sparkles with phosphorescence. As you move, a glittery track lights up behind your feet, hands, and hair. On starry nights, the magical effect is magnified, as the shimmering water mirrors the twinkling sky. Standing in the luminous waves, staring up into the silent night, it is easy to see why so many visitors, having come once, never want to leave.

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