Playa Sámara is a somewhat quiet and underdeveloped beach town, and most folks are content to simply hang on the beach and swim in the gentle waves. If you’re looking for something more, there’s horseback riding either on the beach or through the bordering pastures and forests. There’s also sea kayaking in the calm waters off Playa Sámara, sportfishing, snorkeling, scuba diving, boat tours, mountain biking, and tours to Playa Ostional to see the nesting of olive ridley sea turtles. You can book any of these tours at your hotel or through Carrillo Adventures ((tel) 2656-0606; www.carrilloadventures.com), an excellent all-around local tour company.
You’ll find that the beach is nicer and cleaner down at the south end. Better yet, head about 8km (5 miles) south to Playa Carrillo ★★, a long crescent of soft, white sand. With almost no development here, the beach is nearly always deserted. Loads of palm trees provide shade. If you’ve got a good four-wheel-drive vehicle, ask for directions at your hotel and set off in search of the hidden gems of Playa Buena Vista and Playa Barrigona ★★, which are north of Sámara, less than a half-hour drive.
Canopy Tours -- Wingnuts Canopy Tours ((tel) 2656-0153; www.wingnutscanopy.com) offers zipline canopy tours. The 2-hour outing costs $60 per person or $45 for those under 12. If you want to repeat the adventure, Wingnuts offers a 25% discount on your second tour. The office is by the giant strangler fig tree, or matapalo, toward the southern end of the beach.
Sportfishing -- Almost every hotel in the area can arrange sportfishing trips, or you can contact Kingfisher ★ ((tel) 800/783-3817 in U.S or 8358-9561 in Costa Rica; www.costaricabillfishing.com). Rates run from $900 for a half day to $1,250 for a full day.
Surfing -- The waves hitting Playa Sámara are somewhat muffled by an offshore reef and headlands on each side. For some this makes it a great wave to learn on. For lessons or to rent a board, check in with C&C Surf Shop and School ((tel) 5006-0369; www.cncsurfschool.com) or Choco’s Surf School ((tel) 8937-5246; www.chocossurfschool.com). Surfboard rentals run around $15 per day. Private lessons cost $30 to $50 per hour.
Ultralight Flying -- For a bird’s-eye view of the area, go to the Auto Gyro America ★★ ((tel) 8330-3923; http://autogyroamerica.com) in Playa Buena Vista. It offers flights in a two-seat (one for you, one for the pilot) Gyrocopter, the ultralight equivalent of a helicopter. Although it might feel like little more than a modified tricycle with a nylon wing and lawnmower motor, these winged wonders are very safe. A 20-minute flight runs $110, while an hour-long tour costs $230.
Wildlife Viewing -- Located near Barra Honda National Park, Rancho Humo ★★ ((tel) 2233-2233; www.ranchohumo.com) is a private wildlife reserve that offers fabulous bird-watching and wildlife viewing opportunities along the Tempisque River basin and surrounding wetlands. The area is rich in waterbird species, shore lizards, and crocodiles. A full-day tour ($99) includes a river boat trip, a tour of the reeds and lowland forest in a motorized safari-style vehicle, a tour of nearby cattle ranching operations, as well as lunch. Transportation can be provided, and you can choose a half-day tour that combines some elements of the full-day tour.
Barra Honda National Park ★ ((tel) 2659-1551; daily 8am–4pm; $17 admission) is an extensive system of caves with a long history. Here human remains have been found that are thought to be 2,000 years old, believed to be Chorotega nobles. In 1967, spelunkers discovered 42 caves here, though only 19 were ever explored and only one, Caverna Terciopelo, is open to the public. To go inside, you’ll need to hire a guide, which should cost around $30 per person, depending on the size of your group and your bargaining abilities. You begin the tour by getting harnessed and roped and then descending a scary vertical aluminum ladder that is 17m (56 ft.) long, about the height of a five-story building. Inside you’ll see an impressive array of stalactites and stalagmites, many of them named after something they resemble (like a hen and her chicks, and papaya, and fried eggs). Cave tours are conducted from 8am to 1pm daily, and the park is open for hiking until 4pm, though the park is closed during the rainy season (May to Mid-Nov). Headlamps and helmets are provided. Do not wear flip-flops; you will be turned away for wearing them. Even if you don’t enter the cave, the trails around Barra Honda and its prominent limestone plateau are great for hiking and bird-watching. Be sure to stop at La Cascada, a gentle waterfall that fills and passes through a series of calcium and limestone pools, some of them large enough to bathe in.
Getting there: Head 62km (38 miles) northeast of Playa Sámara on the road to La Amistad Bridge and follow the signs to Barra Honda. If you don’t have a car, your best bet is to get to Nicoya, which is about a half-hour away by bus, and then take a taxi to the park, which should cost around $25-$30.