Secluded in an internal bay nestled in the Gulf of Papagayo, away from the perils of hurricanes and protected in a cove privileged with beauty and calm waters, one finds the impressive Marina Papagayo, the new nautical gateway to Guanacaste.
Just barely a few months after its inauguration, it is already recognized and renowned as one of the safest marinas in the region. Once all its phases are finished, it will also be distinguished as the most complete, luxurious and modern nautical resort in all the Central American Pacific.
With a strategic location at only 400 nautical miles from the Panama Canal, this progressive marina comes as the solution to the increased influx of private yachts to Costa Rica and as a response to the demand for higher standards for nautical services in the region. It also becomes an interesting shelter alternative for boat owners who are unhappy with crowded and ever more costly marinas in the U.S. and as a solution for those who seek to keep their vessels in an area safe from the big storms and high waves that frequently cause devastation to the boats they meet in their path.
The marina is complete with all the necessary installations to handle the multiple needs of the sailors and their vessels. The first phase already boasts 180 operational slips to berth small sports boats and mega yachts of up to 240 feet. Following the development of the second phase, it will be capable of handling an additional 200 boats, at which time it will become the largest marina in the country with a total of 380 slips.
Much more than a modern loading dock
In the area around the marina, a luxurious but picturesque coastal villa is being developed which will include condominiums, restaurants, boutiques, a yacht club, a pre-Columbian museum, cafeterias and art galleries amongst other attractions. Also under construction is an elegant apartment complex as well as ocean view residences. Those who purchase residences at the marina, along with their marina membership, will have access to the Arnold Palmer designed golf course, and to the prestigious Prieta Beach Club and Spa.
For in-transit visitors, a hotel of the Luxury Collections chain is under construction which in conjunction with the Four Season will consolidate this area as the epicenter of luxury vacations in Central America. However, in the vicinity there are also other hotel options for less ample budgets as the Gulf of Papagayo offers a wide range of boutique hotels and 4 stars resorts, both on the coastal belt closer to the marina or in the nearby communities of Playas del Coco, Hermosa and Ocotal, only 10 minutes away by sea or 40 minutes by land.
The rich waters of the Papagayo Gulf.
The Northern Pacific coast of Costa Rica is famous among diving enthusiasts for its biodiversity and abundant marine life. Sport fishing fanatics enjoy great prestige in catching large fish such as mahi-mahi, sailfish, and tuna in Guanacaste.
However, Guanacaste’s attractions are not all in the ocean…
Inland, an integrated destination.
The growth in Guanacaste continues as does its reputation as a luxury destination whose comprehensiveness reaches progressively higher levels. In addition to its beaming international airport ensconced in the heart of the province, today it also boasts a world-class nautical port, tens of 4 and 5-star resorts, challenging golf courses and all the services that demanding tourists require for an unforgettable stay.
All this tourist development is due to the seductive nature of the area, remarkable in all aspects, as the home to an immense diversity of life on land and ocean. The province also enjoys a privileged climate (over 200 days of sunshine a year, guaranteed!) and geography that includes hundreds of paradisiacal beaches, extensive forests and large tropical savannahs crisscrossed by a mountain range that hosts several active volcanoes.
As previously noted, its coasts are an ideal destination for the enjoyment of diving and sport fishing, but also for those who enjoy surfing, having several internationally renowned sites. Tens of national parks, private wildlife preserves and sanctuaries allow tourists to partake in close contact with the rich and colorful flora and fauna of the tropics.
Canopy tours, rafting, diving, photographic river safaris, snorkeling, surfing, sport fishing, sailing, quads, and jet skiing tours, cultural or eco-tourism activities, are just some of the astounding activities offered to the tourists that visit this paradise.
A seal of responsibility.
The Marina Papagayo, developed by Ecodesarrollo Papagayo, boasts the same seal of respect for the environment, society and the local culture that the company has prided itself in throughout each of the projects it has undertaken so far. Ecodesarrollo Papagayo, the main concessionaire of the Polo Turistico Golfo de Papagayo (The Papagayo Gulf Tourist Project), continues to demonstrate through all of its actions that tourism development and respect for the environment can be completely compatible.
Utopia consulted biologists, divers, and environmentalists that are familiar with the project and all agreed that if there is a right way to build a marina, Marina Papagayo had accomplished it. It’s that simple.
Each construction phase minimized all aspects of potential environmental impact. An example of this is that in its construction, in addition to architects and engineers, there was participation by geologists, zoologists, marine and land biologists, an expert in geomorphology, a marine chemist, a sociologist and even a team of archeologists to study and handle in an optimum manner the traces of pre-Columbian objects found in the site.
Thanks to the utilization of advanced tools and cutting edge infrastructure and technologies, there has been practically no marine impact, and the amount and biodiversity of life in the water in the vicinity have actually increased. This is caused in large part by the new protected areas formed by the docks. All the docks are floating docks and hence there are no buried pylons, rusting nails or traces of varnish in the water. On the strip that needed filling in, a system of “curtains” was used to contain the dispersing of sediments, thus keeping the material confined to the areas where they need to be.
Seeking to operate in an equally clean manner, the marina has acquired the most modern and environmentally safe equipment for the loading of fuel and equally so for the systems used to treat the residual water from the boats. Only biodegradable oils will be used and all the residue generated will be recycled.
Services available at the marina:
-On-site immigration and customs services.
-Ultra-fast fueling station.
-Wi-Fi internet, cable TV, electricity and telephone connections.
-Boat repair service.
-Concierge and maid services.
-Services and recreational areas for the crew.
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Also, tropical rain forests and tropical dry forests, volcanoes and their thermal mud and pools, white water river rides, canopy tours, butterfly gardens, and a small park with replica villages from the different areas of Costa Rica are accessible either by renting a vehicle or contracting a tour guide.
Playas del Coco is a small fishing village that would enjoy hosting your experience in beautiful Costa Rica.
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There are foreign residents from many nations—Austria, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Germany, Italy, Paraguay. Peru, Rumania, Spain, United Kingdom, United States, and Venezuela. The most numerous populations are from the United States and Canada.
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Based on articles from the first newspaper of Playas del Coco (El Coqueño, 1982) interviews with descendants reveal that Playas del Coco counts its beginning from the arrival by boat in 1856 of Agapito Barrera.
Agapito’s origins have been questioned but most likely he came down from Nicaragua when he fell in love with Coco’s unspoiled beach. He built a house where the plaza now stands and planted rows of coconut palms on the beach. He called his home El Coco.
A fisherman and builder of dugouts, Agapito began to create a flotilla to harvest the pearl oysters that were abundant at that time. Connections with buyers were made by traveling on foot, by horseback or in oxcart to nearby Sardinal or Liberia. More divers came to settle and Coco’s first industry was born.
Gilberto Espinoza Cruz was born in Coco in 1908 into a family of divers originally from Sardinal. In his youth, all the west coast of Costa Rica was rich with pearl oysters. Divers went in dugouts of about 7 varas (vara = 33 inches; meter = 39 inches) diving up to fifteen varas deep (more than 40 feet)! One has to remember that at that time there were no masks or fins.
“We got into the water naked, with nothing, and we looked for the shells with our hands at the bottom of the sea,” Gilberto tells us, “with open eyes we saw the bottom a little”.
In a good spot, the diver would find one or two shells each time he dove. In a good day he would get about 2 quintales (100 pounds) of shells.
And the pearls? “It was a question of luck,” said Gilberto. “There were divers who found many and became rich, and others who earned little. In my day I was quite lucky.”
There were three classes of pearls: pink, white, and gray, with a value in the same order: the pink pearls being the most rare. The pearls sold for about ¢200 per carat to a Chinese man in Sardinal and a Turk in Liberia, Antonio Esna, whose family still lives there.
The largest pearl found by Gilberto weighed 18 carats (that is, a value of ¢3,600: a fortune in those days; Agapito Barrera sold the northern half of Coco for ¢1,000 en 1926).
In 1928, when there were still many pearl oysters, a Venezuelan business arrived in Coco with large boats of 13 to 14 varas, with 10 to 12 crewmembers each and modern diving equipment. They were able to harvest great quantities of shells, and in order to open them more easily; they cooked them over open fires in immense pots on the beach.
The Venezuelans were in Coco for a year and when they left, they took the wealth of the coast, leaving fewer shells. Many divers left and those that stayed started fishing for red snapper and shark with fishhooks and harpoons.
In 1932 the pearl oyster industry finally ended. In that year between November and December, the pearl oysters died on the entire west coast. Of what? Many people from Coco believe that the Japanese and Germans poisoned the waters to kill the competition of the natural pearls with their new cultured pearl industries. Gilberto says that this is not true.
“Neither the fish nor any other marine animal died–only the pearl oyster and these all in one month. Along the whole coast the bottom was full of dead shells. It was a plague, a sickness.” Today, sometimes, one can find pearl oysters but very few. The former abundance has never returned.
In 1913 Isabel Gutierrez de Barrera died and Agapito was left alone in the big house on the north side of the beach where he continued to care for his coconut grove and his corn, rice and peanut fields.
Little by little the road to Coco improved so that oxcarts could travel on it and so the oxcart drivers arrived with their families; for example, Juan Felix Morales in 1918, the grandfather of the Garcia family, south of the beach.
In 1926, by now in his 70’s, Agapito sold all the land to the north, from the hills to the beach (half of Coco) for the sum of ¢1,000. The big house on the beach lasted much longer than its founder; in 1930 the police occupied it, and they offered hospitality to visitors.
Playas del Coco continued to be isolated from cities like Liberia during eight long months.
A few dozen families lived in Coco permanently, dedicated to agriculture on a subsistence level and fishing only to eat. There was no commercialization of local products and some inhabitants anxiously awaited summer because they were helped by the additional arrival of summer visitors who bought meals. Such is the case of Balvina de Barrera, Rosa Rivas, Jesus Guillen and Lidia Angulo. A full day of meals was purchased by the wealthy tourists for ¢5 and by the people who came from areas closer to Coco for ¢1.25.
It was then that the most picturesque era of Coco began. The season was called Las Lunas del Marzo and coincided with the extreme tidal activity. Oxcarts filled with kitchen equipment arrived with families from Liberia and sufficient workers who set about creating a clearing to accommodate family groups and their guests who arrived to spend their vacations. It was there that the grand celebrations started with groups playing guitars and having a good time in each of the clearings. Then the marimbas appeared accompanying the frequent dances for people who arrived on horseback and by oxcart from neighboring towns. The dances were paid for–that is, in order to charge a fee the marimba players had a system which consisted in passing over a rope to isolate those who paid a “peseta” (25 centimos).
When they finished charging, they began another melody and the rope again began to do its duty; a special requirement for attending these dances was to bring plenty of pesetas. At the end of every song the musicians repeated the final refrain as a courtesy to the dancers. Bonfires were a part of the celebration where meat was constantly roasted, both land and sea animals.
The fishermen of Coco sold their products at such low prices that today they seem ridiculous; lobster was ¢1.35 per pound; everything was within the means of the visitors, some people went and others came, until the season culminated with Holy Week, which was when the greatest number of people came to Coco.
At that time conditions or installations did not exist for such a quantity of people; but 3 kilometers of virgin beach, the goodness of its inhabitants were a favorable sign for the most paradisiacal vacations that anyone could imagine.
After Holy Week the rains came and the people left. For the next eight long months only happy memories of vivid moments remained. This memory would last a long time in the minds of those who were lucky enough to enjoy it.
That was Playas del Coco up until 1954.
Fourteen culverts and with the help of oxcarts and picks and shovels the muddiest parts were filled with rocks; this met with the rustic road to Sardinal and Comunidad contributed by the Ministry of Public Works and Transport, the road from Sardinal to Coco was passable in the rainy season thanks to the people of Playas del Coco and with contributions from the first occasional visitors from the Central Mesa, until the early 1980’s there was no central or municipal government help in the fixing of this road.
The Fifteen Letters was evolving somewhat, the name was changed to Casino Playas del Coco; a small gasoline driven electrical plant lighted the first hours of the night, there was already a plumbing system fed by a 500 gallon tank, taking advantage of a hand-dug well, the main tube ran 300 meters in ¾ inches, it was only an example of what would be in the future. Important people from National Politics began to visit Coco and to become interested in some of the problems.
It is worthy to note that in 1960, five years after the transaction of the Fifteen Letters, Coco had reached a certain level of progress, and the bases for the existing businesses of today (1980’s)–Luna Tica with Freddy and Emilia de Barahona fought along with the Casino Playas del Coco facing great economic difficulties in order to create a different presentation to their installations.
A gas station appeared and two ice factories, which could not support the economic problems and so they disappeared; but in 1960 a change toward a great transformation became apparent, there were at least 20 houses of people from the Central Mesa.
The school of Coco gave classes up to second grade. There were efforts to commercialize fishing and although nobody was successful it was marking the standard that would take place for the growth that occurred from 1960 to 1970.
Of the foreigners who arrived long ago and are still here is the Bragg family: Wilson (Rusty) who owns and operates R&R; Tours and Lighthouse Realty as well as boat and home construction businesses; Mike who owns and operates Papagayo Seafood Fish Exports, has several boats, Papagayo Seafood Restaurant, as well as a realty and a construction company. Rick Bragg is Mike’s right hand man managing the fishing business and Roy Bragg owns and operates Papagayo Marine Supply. At the time they arrived the colon was worth 5/$1.
Ramona Reid is one of the younger people who have been in Coco a long time. Her parents, Walter and Teresita Reid came as Peace Corps workers in the late ‘60’s. Ramona was born in Costa Rica and presently works as an independent teacher in Coco.
In the first part of the decade of the 70’s the colon was valued at 8.54/$1 (the 1000 colone note was worth $117.10; a beer cost 3 colones). There were several cruising boats anchored in the bay and the foreigners numbered about 20. Mostly they were young people from the United States (one Australian) and they gathered in the evenings at Claudio’s (the Casino) to watch the sunsets and, also, to watch yachties tumble in the surf coming ashore. A road existed in front of the houses on the eastern side of the beach but it disappeared in the pounding surf of one winter storm. The road to Coco from the Tamarindo turn-off was finally paved in 1978 and its inauguration was celebrated in Coco with Daniel Oduber, the President of Costa Rica, as Honored Guest.
Rick Wallace came in the early 70’s and leased one of the islands in front of Coco where he lived when he first came. He was a surfer and adventurer from California who became a pioneer in the development of Playa Ocotal. He presently has a construction and realty business.
Tom Epling and his wife, Leslie, drove into Coco in 1974. They delivered one of the sailboats in the harbor to Jamaica and returned to settle in Coco. Tom became partners with Rafael and Fernando Hurtado in creating the original Papagayo Bar, which is presently called Papagayo Pura Vida. At that time there were only Claudio’s and the Papagayo to attract the tourists from San Jose. Tom also brought several fiberglass pangas from El Salvador and became instrumental in accommodating scientists, as well as tourists and residents, by acting as a guide and assuring his clients with his boat handling expertise.
He worked with the anthropologists who had a dig in Culebra Bay, geologists who charted land formations and composition along the Papagayo Gulf Coast, biologists working with the sea turtles at an undisclosed location, taxonomists who studied species dispersion, toxicologists who contracted Tom to hunt sea snakes for an undisclosed purpose, the original owners of the house on Nacascolita Beach to bring building supplies, and surfers, fishermen, divers, and campers who wished to find what used to be the Secret Spots and spend some time in solitude enjoying Costa Rica’s unspoiled natural beauty. Along with the pangas, he brought sea kayaks to help promote water sports for the local tourists who would come from San Jose and stay in as many as 30 buses parked in the center of town. He also built several houses and the structure which was the original Pizzeria Pronto across from the pharmacy in Coco.
Tom died in 2001 and Leslie continues living in Coco working with CATUCOCO and as an artisan.
Susan Fletcher, who runs the Gourmet Shoppe in the Super Luperon, came with her family in the late ‘70’s and settled in Playa Panama. Her daughter, Liana, is married to Kristian, the son of the owners of the Luperon.
Jim Procter sailed into Coco in 1974 and went on to build and eventually sell Rancho Armadillo. He maintains properties here while working in Panama.
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