Travel Costa Rica: Pura Vida for 10 Bucks a Night

We flew past volcanoes on our way into the Liberia airport in Guancaste, Costa Rica. From the air, Costa is a marriage between the brown ridges of mountains and the clean blue lines of the ocean. This was home for the next five days.


My destination was a small surf hostel in Playa Avellenas. This is an undeveloped area with plenty of surf spots. It is just 20 minutes from the tourist mecca of Tamarindo.  GPS works in Costa Rica, so I easily set my coordinates in my rental car and hit the road.  I like the freedom of having my own transportation, but Playa Avellenas can be reached by taxi, private car rental, or bus. I rented a car through Budget and it cost me 300 American dollars. A private transport costs about 115 each way, and can be arranged by the hostel. The bus is considerably cheaper, an average of 30 dollars each way. However, the bus will only take you to Tamarindo, and then you must get a taxi or a boat transport the rest of the way over to Avellenas.

Most people who travel to Guanacaste are familiar with Playa Tamarindo, however, Playa Avellanas is a much smaller surfing community that has not been destroyed by the commercial development seen in many resort surf towns. There are a few restaurants that dot the shoreline, like Los Cabinas, and Lolas, which is home to a giant sun tanning pig. Other than a few hostels, the area is impervious to the typical tourist attractions, surf shops, and bars. The draw of Avellanas is the access to world-class waves. To imagine this place, you must picture traveling a rugged terrain to land yourself on a pristine beach with nothing but the beauty of well-formed barrels.

The road trip from the airport to Avellenas took me about an hour and a half.  The roads were paved until Tamaraindo, but soon changed to gravel and dirt. As I was traveling in the dry season, the dirt road was not a problem. I enjoyed the bumpy terrain and sped along happily. I passed a “Pot Farm, “ where locals make ceramics, and waved hello to a band of children swinging ropes like lassos over their heads.

I arrived at he hostel called Casa Surf around 2. I was met by one of the owners. Dan is a friendly, laid-back Canadian who can rip on a surfboard. He showed me to my room, which consisted of a bunk bed, and a fan. The hostel has modest provisions, but they are clean and well taken care of.  Dan’s lovely partner, Erica, will provide meals for you for the small fee of 8 dollars a day. Both Dan and Eric live on the premises and are always readily available to help you out with surf wax, directions, or just great conversation.


As the hostel wasn’t full the week I arrived, I had a room to myself. The bathroom in the hall was shared with three other rooms. The vibe in the hostel is laid back. People travel from all over to stay there, and can often be found hanging out, sharing books, food, beers, and conversation. The hostel has both an indoor and outdoor shower, none of which have hot water. But, hot water isn’t necessary in this tropical climate. The hostel also has a rooftop deck with hammocks, a small guest kitchen, and the aforementioned well-stocked board room with surfboards that Dan rents out for 15 dollars a day.

Dan helped me select the right board, and assured me I could switch it up at any time. Dan also provides surf lessons for 15 dollars a day for those surfers just beginning.  For experienced surfers, don’t be surprised if Dan tags along with you on dawn patrol, or simply gives you some tips about the best spots to find firing waves. I enjoyed both surfing with Dan, and hanging out with him and Erica.

The beach is only a 7-minute walk down a boardwalk through a mangrove forest. Be advised, both the sand and the boardwalk get scorching hot in the afternoon. It is advised that you wear cheap flip-flops to leave on the beach while you surf. This will help you to avoid burning and blistering your feet.

Playa Avellenas is a beach break. It can be surfed all day, but is most favorable, wind and tide-wise, at sunrise and sundown. The waves were, for the most part, 3 to five foot. There were bigger sets at various sections of the beach, including the river mouth. Because the beach is expansive, with various peaks, it’s not uncommon to find an empty lineup or your own little section of waves.

In the morning, I was often the only surfer out. The waves were generous and clean. And, I was able to enjoy surfing the warm waters in nothing but a bikini. A wetsuit is never necessary in the tropical climate of Costa Rica.


If you do have a private car, Playa Negra, a more technical and rocky break, can be found only a 10-minute drive down the road.  Tamaraindo, with surf breaks like Playa Grande, is about 20 minutes by car. Tamarindo was far too touristy and crowded for my taste, but I did drive over one afternoon to check out the scene and have a delicious smoothie at Witches Rock Surf camp. 


Both beginners, and experienced surfers alike, could happily spend their entire trip at Playa Avellenas and not be disappointed. I certainly was not. I watched short board boys get barreled most mornings, and yet found perfect waves to glide across with my own long board.

Hola! Buneas Dias!  The locals and tourists call out as you walk down the boardwalk. I have a limited Spanish but was comforted by the fact that English is spoken frequently among most people in the area. I had no problems navigating and communicating as I made my way around the country.

I have yet to go to a country as open and warm as Costa. Each night, I would go to the small beach bar that sits on the shoreline of Playa Avellenas. Los Cabinas has the friendliest staff of any place I have ever visited.  They also have free wifi, which is something many of the surf hostels don’t have. You can rent small cabins for 90 bucks a night at Los Cabinas. They are very close to the beach. These rooms are either singles or doubles and include beds, bathroom, and air conditioning.

For around 8 American dollars, I would have dinner each night at the outdoor bar at Los Cabinas. If you are American, it isn’t’ necessary to change your money in Costa. Most bills I received in Playa Avellenas, and in Tamarindo, showed what I owed in both Colones and American. An American dollar was worth approximately five thousand Colones.,which is the Costa Rican currency.

At Los Cabinas, I met other travelers, almost all of them surfers, and we would regale each other with stories about waves caught, wipeouts, and places we had traveled. In a short matter of days, these people became a surrogate family.

Many would leave Avellenas to explore other areas of Costa. Nosara, another popular surf spot, is 3 hours by car, and many surfers make a trip out of visiting both Playa Avellans and Nosara. I was time constrained, and so will have to return another time to this gorgeous country to check out Nosara.


The time that I did spend in Costa Rica was filled with surfing, rich, deep conversations, star-filled walks on the beach, and relaxing hours whittling time in hammocks. Staying at a hostel provides a sense of community and intimacy with your natural surrounding that you do not get staying cloistered in fancy hotels, isolated from your fellow travelers. And, the 60-dollar price tag for five days at a hostel, including board rental, is a ridiculously good deal.

I only had five days in Costa Rica, but in that short amount of time, I caught the vibe. The locals call it Pura Vida, the good life. I simply called it home and heaven on a board.


Who is Kelly Russell?

Where is her favorite travel destination? Any place that has warm waves that she can surf

Where is her dream destination? Maldives. She isn’t sure about the idea of soul-mates, but she believes in soul places. She hasn’t found hers yet, but Maldives seems to have all the characteristics.

Motto in life?  Believe in magic.  If you don’t believe in magic, you will never find it.

Kelly specializes in booking impromptu surf trips under 500 dollars, making friends on foreign coastlines, and laughing at herself. 


All images are provided by Kelly Russell and Gustavo Jimenez
Need a budget place to stay? Casa Surf’s
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