By Isabella Cota | Special to The Tico Times
Tucked between the party scene in Jacó beach and the super touristy Manuel Antonio National Park is Esterillos, an uncrowded, chocolate-colored beach along the central Pacific coast that made me wonder what took me so long to visit. Who’s been keeping this a secret?
But then again, Esterillos is easy to miss. Some 120 kilometers from San José, two dirt roads branch out of highway 34 and take you to the east and west part of the beach. Hotels and houses are scattered along the coast but not sitting too close to one another, giving visitors the feeling that they’re enjoying their own private beach.
“It’s great having people come in for the weekend and leave feeling relaxed because, you know, nobody ever knows about this place,” said Debbie Carnohan, owner and manager of Pelicano Hotel and Restaurant in Esterillos Este.
“I don’t really know why this is but, I mean, I didn’t even know about this place until I bought it,” she said.
Carnohan originally planned to buy a hotel in Sámara in the northwestern province of Guanacaste. But when the deal fell through, she decided to check out this property, which she stumbled on in an email last year.
“I was flying down [from the U.S.] anyway, and I came here, and bought it two days later,” she recalls. “It was the atmosphere, it’s a tranquil paradise.”
And just like in Jacó or Manuel Antonio, she said, visitors can do horseback riding, yoga, cycling on the beach and a nearby zip-line.
The hotel offers 13 colorful rooms with AC and ceiling fans, beds covered in large “Pura Vida” sheets, a clean pool and all the peace and quiet one can ask for. A friendly staff welcomes guests and even plans activities for large groups – everything from barbecues to soccer games in the nearby field.
The Pelicano is also a favorite hangout for residents on Saturday nights, when rock and reggae bands travel from nearby towns to play and the staff turns half the restaurant into a dance floor.
But for this picky eater, it was the restaurant that made the visit an extraordinary one. For all the unique, beautiful things that Costa Rica has to offer, tasty food is not one of them. So the restaurant’s most popular dinner dish, Red Chicken Curry, was a spicy surprise.
The simple yet comprehensive menu, designed by Carnohan herself and head chef Paula Jirón, includes huevos rancheros, gallo pinto and American-style eggs (with bacons and sausage) for breakfast. The lunch menu offers your basic wraps and salads as well as a Peruvian-Costa Rican blend ceviche, a fresh gazpacho and my favorite, chicken or steak tacos. As a Mexican, I certify these tacos as authentic (and mouthwatering).
Stopping by the Pelicano for drinks on a Saturday is worthwhile if you’re staying nearby. The hotel’s bartender Jason will shake and mix any cocktail combination you can think of and offer a crunchy side of yuca fries to go with it. The dinner menu is tempting and includes a whole crispy skin fried red snapper, a seafood “Pasta del Mar” and a seared pepper tuna steak, among other dishes.
So the secret is out: there’s a quiet spot in the pacific coast still unknown to many, and it comes with a restaurant that will make you want to go back.
Rates for the Pelicano Hotel range from $50 to $70 per person, or $65 to $85 for a double room during low season. High season rates range from $60 to $80 per person or $75 to $95 for a double room. Prices spike during the Christmas and New Year’s season, with rates from $80 to $115 dollars. Reservations can be made online at pelicanbeachcostarica.com. To get there by bus from San José, take the direct bus to Quepos from the Tracopa bus terminal, which takes a bit over two hours. Ask the driver to drop you off at Esterillos Este or you’ll end up in Quepos, looking like a lost tourist. If you’re traveling by car from San José, take the coastal highway and turn right on the second dirt road marked Esterillos Este.