Sleepy Guanacaste Surfer Town Grows Up
For decades, surfers have battled the rutted dirt roads to get to Playa Negra in the northwestern Guanacaste province. Famous for its consistent Pacific waves and one of Costa Rica’s most sought-after point breaks, Negra was featured in the 1994 surf cult movie “The Endless Summer 2.” Back then, activity in the town of Los Pargos basically revolved around young surfers: rustic accommodations and cheap eats.
But that is changing. The area is maturing into a destination that attracts nonsurfers, too. In the past couple of years, several new businesses have sprouted, bringing sophistication and diversity to this formerly sleepy town. A chic hotel, restaurants with top-notch cuisine and a world-class chef, art galleries, cappuccino and yoga can all be found here today.
The 300 or so full-time residents have initiated a recycling program and formed a community organization. They are proud of their town and want people to know its name is Los Pargos, not Playa Negra, which designates only the beach.
About a year ago, road paving was completed from Santa Cruz to Paraíso, just four kilometers from Los Pargos. And if the past predicts the future, in Costa Rica the adage is “If you pave it, they will come.” Local residents feel the area is poised for growth.
Rodolfo Chaves, owner of Los Pargos Surf Shop, first came here to surf 28 years ago. “It was a nine-hour drive from San José. We came for what we call the ‘pipeline of Guanacaste,’” he recalls.
Chaves, a San José native and real estate broker, began buying land in the area 16 years ago. He moved here three years ago, and opened his shop in December 2009. As a distributor of Banzaii surfboards, Chaves takes orders for new boards made to personal dimensions; when clients arrive, they can either buy them or use them and sell them back to the shop.
“We are the only shop in Costa Rica to do this,” he says. He also rents boogie boards, scuba gear and, in the near future, fishing gear.
Chaves sees a bright future for Los Pargos. “Every year, more foreigners move here to live, maybe four or five new families last year,” he says, adding that gated developments in the area are attracting buyers. “They’ve recently finished several new luxury homes in Rancho Playa Negra, and Paradise Trails is almost sold out.”
Next door to Chaves’ shop is Johnny Mañana’s, a surf art gallery and studio that showcases Johnny Coopwood’s work, described as “where Dali meets the waves.”
Across the street is the newest eatery in town. Mary’s Restaurant opened only a few months ago in the former Oasis restaurant location and has quickly earned a reputation for excellent, affordable French country cuisine.
Guajira, a yoga studio just 100 meters from the beach, offers organic foods, dance classes and tela or silk-acrobatics classes. Guests can schedule a massage or acupuncture with Randi Raymond, a U.S. certified massage and oriental body therapist, acupuncturist and herbalist.
Café Playa Negra – not to be confused with Hotel Playa Negra on the beach – is a newer B-and-B on the main road, about 400 meters from the beach. Owned by a Peruvian couple, it offers moderately priced lodging, complete with all the comforts tourists look for: air-conditioning, Wi-Fi and a newly added pool. Each of the six rooms is decorated with art from Central and South America. The restaurant serves large breakfasts and Peruvian cuisine for dinner. The large second-floor terrace, with its couches and beanbag chairs, serves as a common area to encourage guests to relax and mingle.
Next door is Galería Amano, a co-op of local artists that opened in July. The space was donated by Andrea Valarde, owner ofCafé Playa Negra and an artist who works in glass fusion. Gallery visitors will find a wide variety of art by local expat and Tico artists: paintings by well-known artist Susan Adams, beach and garden jewelry by Linda Wyatt Trepanier and traditional Guaitil pottery by Arbin Espinoza, to name a few. The gallery strives to inspire and support art in the community and has hosted art festivals and fundraisers for Corazones Unidos, a community organization dedicated to improving Los Pargos.
“We’re very proud of our recycling program,” Trepanier says of the Corazones Unidos initiative launched in March 2009. “We installed small bins near the school, with the main center at the old ice factory building.” She adds that the Corazones Unidos program gets stronger each month, and now also covers the Avellanas and Pinilla areas to the north. The organization also completed a cleanup at the Playa Negra school and installed new stands for the soccer field.
A good place to chill out is La Ventana Café y Galería, the only air-conditioned place in town. Open since 2007, the cozy café has Wi-Fi, couches, magazines, a chalkboard and toys for kids – about 75 percent of the café’s customers are locals – and a corner showcasing the work of area artists. It’s a popular place to hang out and enjoy the best coffee and sandwiches in town.
“Everything here, except the bagels, is handmade,” says owner Jen Petrizzi, a U.S. expat who has lived in Los Pargos for six years. Breakfast and lunch are served all day from a menu that includes waffles, breakfast burritos, muffins, smoothies, Asian sesame wraps and barbecue chipotle chicken.
The café also features gourmet coffees and teas, cappuccino and espresso. Petrizzi says the menu changes with availability of fresh items, but the most popular item, the veggie focaccia, is always on the menu. Petrizzi is optimistic about development in the area.
“This is a tight community of people interested in controlled growth. The area is growing slowly, at just the right pace,” she says.
Just off the main road, about 800 meters from the beach, sits Villa Deevena. When French-born chef Patrick Jamon and wife Tasia opened this boutique hotel and restaurant in November 2008, they introduced a new level of class and elegance to the area. It looks deceptively simple from the parking lot, but enter the courtyard and you’ll think you’ve arrived in Bali. Six guest rooms flank the pool, each with a private patio. At one end is a palapa for massages, and the open-air restaurant stands at the other. The grounds feature Japanese-style gardens filled with cooking herbs, shells and white rocks arranged in artistic patterns.
Guest rooms are tastefully decorated in chic modern decor and supplied with Egyptian-cotton sheets and towels. They also feature private outdoor showers with gardens.
The rooms are not equipped with TVs or phones, but there is a comfortable sitting area with a TV in the restaurant.
The small size of the property makes it a great setting for a private retreat.
“This is a romantic setting for a wedding,” Jamon says. “We’ve had guests rent all the rooms for the wedding party so they have the whole place to themselves.”
The restaurant at Villa Deevena is the pride of Los Pargos, attracting patrons from surrounding communities eager to taste the gourmet cuisine cooked up by Jamon, a world-class chef who spent 18 years as executive chef of the prestigious Regency Club in the U.S. city of Los Angeles. He has cooked for many dignitaries and celebrities over the years, including the five living U.S. presidents at the 1991 opening of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library (ask to see Jamon’s scrapbook).
Jamon describes his food as a fusion of several international cuisines. The mouthwatering menu includes corvina with curry coconut crust, veal osso buco, risotto with seared sea scallops and pesto and, for dessert, mango raspberry cobbler and vanilla crème brûlée. The restaurant also has a well-stocked wine cellar. It’s very busy most nights, so it’s a good idea to arrive early.
Jamon offers dinner guests the use of the pool and outdoor shower, saying that a lot of people spend the day at popular Lola’s restaurant in Avellanas, then come to Villa Deevena to enjoy the pool and outdoor shower before dinner.
The Jamons first came to the area in 2007 to visit a friend. When the chef decided to retire from the Regency, they chose Los Pargos as their new home. They like the serenity of the small town.
“This is the Costa Rica we came for,” Jamon says, gesturing to the tranquil landscape, “where you hear monkeys in the morning. We enjoy the quiet nature and all the birds.”
In addition to the world-renowned surfing at Playa Negra, visitors can enjoy fishing, snorkeling and scuba diving at the rocky point. The southern end of the beach, known as Sandy Beach, is great for swimming and sunbathing. The year-old Pura Aventura, a canopy and horseback riding adventure, is only 10 minutes away. Hacienda Pinilla offers an 18-hole golf course nearby, and Los Altos de Eros Luxury Inn and Spa is 15 minutes away.
Getting There, Info
From Santa Cruz on the NicoyaPeninsula, take the paved road to Veintisiete de Abril. Follow signs 16 km to Paraíso, then take the dirt road 4 km west to Los Pargos/Playa Negra. From Tamarindo or Flamingo, take the Veintisiete de Abril route or, during dry season, take the dirt road to Hacienda Pinilla, follow signs to Playa Avellanas and continue 2 km south to Playa Negra.
Café Playa Negra B-and-B: Main road, 400 m from beach. Double room rates are $35 to $50 without A/C, $47 to $62 with A/C, www.cafeplayanegra.com, 2652-9351. Restaurant open for breakfast and dinner, closed Tuesdays.
Galería Amano: Next to Playa Negra. Closed Tuesdays.
Guajira: Randi Raymond, certified therapist, acupuncturist, herbalist, 8898-1260.
La Ventana Café y Galería: 100 m past Centro Delfín on back (ice factory) road, 2652-9197, email@example.com. Breakfast and lunch served all day, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., closed Wednesdays.
Los Pargos Surf Shop: Main road in Los Pargos. Surfboard rentals $15 to $25 per day, 8832-7166, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Villa Deevena: 800 m from beach, just off main road. Double room rates range from $85 low season to $145 holiday season, www.villadeevena.com, 2653-2328. Restaurant open for breakfast and dinner, closed Mondays.
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