Your very own beach in Costa Rica

The impossible just came true.

My family received a surprise inheritance from a distant uncle’s Irish cousin, a farmer named Robert Johnson. His farm was bought by a cement factory, and when he died, dear old RJ left a small fortune that lawyers split into 150 portions.

My brother, sister, and I came away with 2000 bones each. So we elected to take a mid-winter vacation in this Costa Rican paradise.

We’ve rented a beach house called Congo Bongo, on Costa Rica’s lesser-seen Caribbean coast. It takes effort to get here. First we flew the red-eye from Seattle to North Carolina, then a short flight into San Jose, Costa Rica, followed by a 5-hour van ride to Costa Rica’s northeastern province of  Limón.

This place is heavenly. We’re living in a lush canopy of tropical flora, near an unspoiled beach, and just a 10-minute bus ride to a surf village called Puerto Viejo (‘Old Port’).

If it sounds wild, it kinda is: Congo Bongo is a spread-out cluster of six rustic, forest-shaded rental houses carved out of the oceanfront jungle.

Here’s the sign out by the access road:


If I interpret this sign correctly, it’s a warning about a monkey who went so crazy loco, the only way he could express his sheer bestial insanity was by playing the bongos he made from the skin and skulls of humans that the monkey had a beef with. I could be wrong.

All that aside, we’ve been excited about Congo Bongo for months, because:

(a)   it’s fun to get the hell out of Canada for the bulk of January, mainly because 99% of my friends are angrily leaning into vicious winter winds as they trudge to the mailbox to pick up their post-Christmas credit card bills

(b)   this Congo Bongo trip is a romantic getaway with a twist. Not only did I bring my superfine, freshly ‘Facebook-official’ girlfriend on her first visit to Central America, we’re enjoying two weeks in a beach house with my mother, sister, brother, and sister-in-law.

Our jungle house, the River House, has three bedrooms, and each has its own bathroom. The only catch: in my brother and sister-in-law’s room, there’s no bathroom wall or even a divider. So the toilet’s right out in the open. Definitely not for honeymooners, but perfect for long-term lovers — or prison cellmates — used to watching each other do EVERYTHING.

Their room opens onto a spacious open-air verandah where we blend cocktails, listen to monkeys howling like subway trains in the sun-doppled woods. Then we all throw our heads back, and laugh at our good fortune. I’m not making this up.

When the laughing gets too tiring, we take a 10-minute bus ride to the funky surf town of Puerto Viejo, or a lazy 10-minute beach stroll to a small village called Manzanillo. It’s basically a bar, surf shop, and a big local fixer named Raymond who knows how to get you ANYTHING.

Tonight he helped us buy a boatload of fresh-caught snapper that our neighbour’s going to barbecue for us. You know how novelists back in the ‘50s used to describe an unspoiled Mexico? That’s what this part of Costa Rica feels like. Peaceful, friendly, chilled-out, and with zero pressure to do anything remotefully stressful.

The surf at Manzanillo is pristine and green. But to get to it, you have to walk 500 meters through the woods along a shaky wood boardwalk. The wood slats are slick, rotting, broken, or missing, which makes it really fun to trek it after dark. Not recommended for parents with babies, or for babies travelling to Central America on their own.

When you reach the public beach, your eyes pop like saucers because you realize it’s all yours to play with. You can surf, boogie-board, play soccer with yourself, fall asleep on your beach towel, or build a pretend nerd out of sand so you can kick sand in his imaginary face… and NOBODY will bug you because nobody is there. It’s like a Microsoft screensaver…the exact oppositive of a crowded, all-inclusive Cancun 2-star, filled with rowdy, shave-chested, bloody-knuckled frat boys.


We love it. It’s the perfect meeting of family and romance, kin and sin.

After my family went to bed last night, my girlfriend and I crept through the woods to walk the warm Caribbean sand at midnight. There, beneath trillions and kazillions of stars, we held hands in the sand, raised our Mason jars filled with Flor de Cana rum & mango juice, and toasted dear old departed Robert Johnson.

Sure, legend has it that Robert Johnson actually sold his soul to the Devil. But look at all the fun he bought us.

— Ken Hegan

Bing: best beaches in Costa Rica

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