Downtime in Montezuma, Costa Rica

I relax in the hammock, the sound of gently crashing waves reverberating in the near distance. I muster up the energy to raise my head and see a girl in her twenties relaxing on a rock and gazing out to sea. My head gently returns to its natural resting position. This is Montezuma, Costa Rica, in a nutshell.

Laid back? San Diego has this reputation, but Montezuma makes America’s Finest City look like Manhattan on steroids. You know the place you daydream of escaping to on one of those hectic days at the office? This is it. Turn off your cell phone, unplug your laptop. Things move to a different rhythm here. Surf or hike the endless miles of pristine, largely uninhabited beach. Explore the tide pools in the natural beach reserve. Go whitewater rafting. Play the guitar. Write that novel that’s been lingering in your soul. Create art. Make love. Listen to the pounding surf. Do absolutely nothing. Feel the stress ooze from the pores of your skin. Pressures? Worries? They drift away with the breeze and the surf in Montezuma.

Montezuma, Costa Rica, on the southern Pacific tip of the Nicoya Peninsula, was a tiny fishing village – an isolated, nearly uninhabited paradise – until the 1980s, when it was “discovered” by international travelers. It quickly gained popularity with artists, bohemians, hippies, surfers and dropouts who flocked here to get away from it all. Despite this influx, Montezuma has retained its village atmosphere. Italian immigrants opened several pizzerias and perhaps the best restaurant in town, The Playa des les Artistes, decorated with a plethora of local artworks at its magnificent beachside location.

I first heard about Montezuma on the PBS series Globe Trekker. Particularly memorable was the interview with the guy who lived off the land, boasting that for one year he only spent money on tomatoes and postage home. He said he watched the monkeys and ate what they ate. I knew I had to go there.

Each morning in Montezuma, I wandered along the beach from my hotel to the dusty main road five minutes away and our café overlooking the beach. We took our good sweet time lingering over breakfast and other meals. The capuchin monkeys are everywhere and entertaining to watch. At certain eating spots, they’re brazen enough to steal your food if you leave it unattended for a few minutes.

Interbus (interbusonline.com) provides hotel-to-hotel service via shuttle van between towns in Costa Rica at a reasonable cost. I had smooth service (yet somewhat bumpy rides) between San Jose, Manuel Antonio, Monteverde and Montezuma. It’s necessary at one point to board a ferry to get to Montezuma. Once you arrive, a tour isn’t really necessary, but if that’s your preference, they are available. The most popular of these is probably the canopy tour by Montezuma Falls, the most popular destination for visitors. Just north of the city, Playa Grande is a popular spot for surfers. My beachside hotel, Amor del Mar, was a splurge, but you can camp out on the beach if you choose. Montezuma has an active nightlife – Chico’s Bar is the favored spot for dancing among locals and visitors.

On my last night in Montezuma, I looked up at the night sky and saw a brilliant moon and an unusual cloud formation. I grabbed my camera and took a picture of what appeared to be a sleeping Albert Einstein, resting his chin on the moon. Goodbye, Montezuma. You’ll remain in my dreams.

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