The Swellest Little Town in Costa Rica

Despite the country's boom in tourism, Sámara, on the northwest coast, has managed to stay blissfully under the radar. For Costa Rica connoisseur Carolina A. Miranda, the laid-back town—and its made-for-beginners waves—is the perfect place to catch a break.

Once we were in the water, our teachers launched us into the waves so our timing would be just right. No matter how much we floundered, James kept up the encouragement. And, sure enough, before the lesson was half over, Kathy and I both managed to rise and ride a swell—and, yes, we were totally stoked. For the next four days, we returned to Jesse's to rent boards and hit the break in front of the shop as often as the tides allowed (at least twice a day). James always managed to pop by to give us complimentary pointers and help us refine our skills.

For all the effort we exerted in the water, Sámara was the kind of place that made me feel utterly entitled to relax. Kathy and I spent our non-surfing time lounging by our hotel's shaded pool, chatting and reading books that had been stacking up for months. In the evenings, we ambled over to what had quickly become our favorite open-air beachside barbecue joint, El Lagarto, and worked our way through the menu. The tender-to-the-bone grilled chicken figures into several dishes, always accompanied by simple, fresh salads and (for us, at least) ice-cold Imperials, the local lager.

Our last day in town, we were intent on getting in as much wave riding as possible. Since we got to the beach a little late at 10 a.m., we remained in the water for hours and hours. As the sun started to set, we were still holding strong. Sitting on our bobbing boards, we looked back at the shore and saw the dark-green jungle illuminated by a brilliant orange light. I may have had to leave California to learn how to surf, but it was clear I'd chosen the right spot.


Hotel Entre Dos Aguas
011-506/2656-0998,, from $40, including breakfast


El Lagarto
011-506/2656-0750,, entrées from $8


Jesse's Sámara Surf School and Gym
011-506/8373-3006,, one-hour lesson $40

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