The Costa Rica Report
A small circular building sits in the moonlight on top of a hill. Inside four big tables around a medium sized room. People sit around the tables eating their dinner and trading stories from the day. Gail force winds shake the windows and swirl through the vents in the walls. Olfe, the Austrian restraunt manager, walks about and makes sure everyone is taken care of. In addition to 3 meals a day, Olfe can get you everything from a snorkeling trip, to laundry services, to a replacement passport. Dos and Panda, the two cutest dogs you've ever seen, roam about the room playing with one another. Ten4 plays on a TV in the corner. There is a certain honesty to the air, you know that this is a special place and time. Is there any group of happier people than kiteboarders in good company and with plenty of wind?
Kiting is fun
Bahia Salinas is the only kiteable coastline in Costa Rica. The rest of the coastline is dominated by offshore winds, but Bahia Salinas is a bay that makes the wind side onshore. You can ride at Lake Arneal but you will not find as friendly launch conditions or smooth water. That is not to say it is not choppy on the Coast. Something about 35mph winds does tend to churn up the water a bit.
Great places to stay with plenty of room
Yes it is damn windy in Costa Rica. During the season (November-May) you can expect 30mph plus winds nearly everyday. The locals say you really only need to bring a 7m and 10m. You will find your moments on your "big" kite few and far between. The best time of day for "lighter" wind is at sunset. The wind tends to be gustiest between 9am and 11am.
Our place had its own pool
Many told me that with El Nino this year was a particularly windy. I talked to one kiter who said he spent his first 4 days off the water as it was just too windy to ride. The locals said that you should only plan on 2-3 days a month like that. They estimate you can expect to spend on 20% of the time 10m, and the rest on smaller kites.
The wind is gusty but not the punchy type of gusty that you might be used to. Instead the wind sweeps over and comes in "sets" as if it were a set of waves. You need to rig for the gusts, so in-between the sets you might spend some of your time underpowered needing to work your kite. Locals get used to watching the water for where the windy sets are. Seeing where the wind is or isn't, makes all the difference.
Bustling downtown La Cruz
I had some of the biggest jumps of my life in Costa Rica, hard for me to believe as I was also on short lines on my smallest kites! I remember one session I was rigging my 7m with short lines thinking the whole time "this just seems wrong." But once I got out I had one of my favorite sessions ever. The strong winds and small kites take some getting used to, but you will be rewarded in spades with the endless riding.
- Guaranteed wind
- Cool people
- Cheap, especially with big groups
- Good food available 3 meals a day from Playa Copal Restaurant
- Food/drinks cheap, $12-$15 USD a day for food, soda, beer, and bottled water
- Friendly launch (on the coast)
- Warm water (shorty on some days)
- Beautiful sunset sessions
- Giant sea turtles and other wildlife
- Plenty of room on the beach and water
- Um, Guaranteed Wind!
- Not good for beginners
- Wind is often too strong
- Average kite is 6-8m
- Choppy especially during high tide
- Stingrays near the shore
I recommend going through "The KiteHouse" http://www.kitehouse.com ... These guys have a house right on the beach you walk own a few steps and you can launch. They can also book you great accommodations that are fairly cheap and can house many people comfortably. The house we got slept 4 comfortably and included our own pool and for $60 a night.
- Watch out for stingrays near the shore (shuffle your feet on the sand to scare them away.)
- You don't need booties like some reports suggest, the beach is pretty soft on the feet (and booties won't do any good with the stingrays anyway.)
- Fly into Liberia instead of San Jose. You will waste a full day of traveling each way if you fly into SJO.
- Don't bother bringing anything bigger than a 13m kite. Try to get your hands on a 6m or 7m kite, you will use it a lot. Having an extra bar with short lines will also help.
- You won't need a car once you get to Bahia Salinas use Taxi's and buses to save money. Olfe charged us only $2 to pickup groceries for us in town.
- Breakfast, lunch, and dinner can be purchased at the restaurant. For lunch sandwiches and drinks are available from a cooler on the beach, while the other meals you eat at the restaurant.
- If you speak Spanish and have a couple days to spare, Lake Nicaragua is supposed to be amazing. Take a taxi to the border and another to the ferry to go out to one of the Islands.
What about Lake Arenal?
We got out for a short 12m session at the Lake. If you are used to sketchy launches where you have to stay upwind (ie: not a big beach) then the lake probably won't bother you. The days we spent at Lake Arenal were some of our favorite, but it wasn't because of the kiteboarding. For that reason I suggest you check the lake out, and bring the kites. If you get there and it looks good to you, take some kites out. Otherwise I'd say if you only have time for one place and kiting is the only thing on your mind, head for the coast.