The most usual southern destinations for those of us living on the east coast are, of course, the islands of the Caribbean, Florida and Mexico. Each one offers an exciting range of inevitable tropical attractions, but don’t you sometimes think it’s time for a change? Well, maybe it is.
And so, in the spirit of adventure, I’d like to suggest some alternatives for this spring. Consider the astonishing — and often less expensive – Baja peninsula, Costa Rica and Panama. Among many other assets, all these destinations boast magnificent beaches, powerful surf, affordable accommodations, and friendly local people to welcome you, should a visit to any one of them cross your mind.
According to Sasha Frost, writing in The Culture Trip (February 3, 2017): ‘The Baja California peninsula runs along the west coast of Mexico for an incredible 775 miles and is famous for excellent wine, pristine natural habitats, and some of the best diving in the world.’
Ms. Frost references prehistoric cave paintings, immaculate beaches, migratory whales, and tropical oases as being among the many experiences available to the imaginative traveller. She also offers a list of 10 must-see destinations to visit, of which the following six are the most notable:
- Cabo Pulma National Park is located 60 miles north of Baja California Sur’s most famous city, Cabo San Lucas.
- Mulegé rock art pictographs in the San Francisco mountain range.
- Isla Espíritu Santo, or Holy Spirit Island, in the Sea of Cortez. It has been named as a UNESCO World Heritage Bioreserve.
- Bay of Balandra, which looks out into the Sea of Cortez, is almost completely circular and surrounded by sand dunes.
- Todos Santos, a small town on the pacific coast of Baja California Sur, has been awarded the status of a magical town by the Mexican government for its importance as a cultural landmark.
- The wine route in the Valle de Guadalupe, in the municipality of Ensenada.
The Costa Rica beaches on the upper west coast are, according to Costa Rica Life2, ‘some of the most beautiful beaches on earth.’ While the source of this observation has a special interest in saying so, they definitely are. And there are hundreds of them.
Occupying the Guanacaste and the Nicoya Peninsula – also known as the Gold Coast – they are located on the upper west coast of Costa Rica, one of the driest and most reliably sunny regions of the country.
In any weather the upper west coast beaches are spectacular and worth visiting. Guanacaste and Nicoya look and feel very similar to parts of Texas, and like Texas these regions are home to cattle ranches, savannahs, and huge stretches of grassland.
Playa Tamarindo is a popular surfing destination, and is also home to many fishing boats that are moored at the south end of this popular Costa Rica beach.
Playa Grande is located just to the north and is another of the more popular Costa Rica beaches. Too rough for swimming, this destination is very popular with surfers and is also one of the principal nesting sites for the giant leatherback turtle – the largest turtle in the world.
Playa Junquillal, located just twelve miles south of Tamarindo, is quieter. It’s a place, as Costa Rica Life explains, ‘for meditation and quiet retreat.’ As is Playa Nosara, another location for several west coast beaches that are deserted most of the time.
The west coast features so many beautiful Costa Rica beaches that it is impossible to name them all in a short space. If you can’t find a beach you love here, you won’t find one anywhere.
The western Azuero3 coastline in Veraguas province is the destination to aim for in Panama. Just one hour south of Santiago, this sparsely populated area is dominated by lush mountains descending to scenic, deserted beaches, rivers and waterfalls.
Fishing here is fantastic, with tuna, dorado, wahoo, sailfish, marlin – and many other game fish – being in abundant supply. The area is regularly visited by dolphins and whales, and sea turtles lay their eggs on shore.
Accommodations are not exactly plentiful, so do your research before heading down there. But go – you won’t be sorry.
The west coasts of Baja, Costa Rica and Panama offer all the advantages of faraway places with strange sounding names. Being relatively remote, they do not attract the conventional visitor on the lookout for nothing more complicated than sun, sea and sand.
On the contrary, the people you meet in these destinations will be of independent spirit, slightly more adventurous than usual, and all the more interesting to meet and engage with than the typical package tourist.
One thing to look out for – especially if you’re planning a family trip and youngsters are going to be part of the program – is the predominance of heavy Pacific surf pounding many (not most) of the beaches.
Pacific beaches – those on the Sea of Cortez in the Baja are the exception – tend to be a challenge for regular swimming. You’re heading into surfer territory, dude, so be prepared!
Dave Ritcey, The Ritcey Team, Scotia Wealth Management