Northern Costa Rica Wilderness

Bahia Santa Elena

Whales, dolphins, and marlins were all jumping at dawn when we made the passage into the calm bay of Santa Elena, Costa Rica. Nearly the entire Northern portion of the Costa Rica coast is now protected by Santa Rosa National Park, formerly the weapons drop-zone and staging area for the US contra-efforts of the 70s. Although famous for it’s war-torn history this bay is rarely visited leaving for those who find their way… a pristine and remote wilderness.

Approaching the protected anchorage of Bahia Santa Elena in glassy water

A nice change from the endless offshore winds

The geography of this bay is surely what makes it so special. About 8 miles East of the projection of key point a small opening gives way to the wide-open bay offering full protection from the seas. During morning calms it gave me the impression of being in an alpine lake.

The anchorages with photos featured on this post are from these three locations in Northern Costa Rica

Bahia Santa Elena

Just outside of Santa Elena is this beautiful cove – the softest whitest sand on the west coast so far

Delicate paper nautilus shells we found washed up on the outside beach

A huge school of small fish that at first looked like a reef against the bright blue water


See a post from last February: Crossing the Cortez to San Blas to see the paper nautilus that washed through the scupper into our cockpit (above)

Bahia Potrero Grande

We charged into some tame papagay0 winds and rounded key point with a solid push from behind. Once around the point the wind died down and we motored through the yellowed, cliffy region of the mercialgos islands and tucked ourselves into the quiet little anchorage of Bahia Potrero Grande. Another famous little bay for it’s surf, we soaked up the goodness of having the entire place to ourselves and surfed the sand-bottom right-hander at Ollie’s point.

Not a human soul to be seen – just animal tracks and squawks from parrots

The local guides

Looking West

A misty opening into the jungle draped estuary behind the beach

The beach was crawling in hermit crabs… there was not a shell to be found unoccupied

Witches Rock

Not so much a cove or an anchorage, witches rock is a surf spot and a blow-hole. Our first attempt at going to witches we were forced to fall-off and head to Playas del Coco to the south due to a strong off-shore wind piping right out of the valley – dead ahead.  We were now officially in the Golfo de Papagayo – where the winds got their name. We returned shortly there after with a nice sea-breeze and plenty of stores. After a calm evening at anchor a strong off-shore gale developed and we spent a sleep-less night tossing and turning to a howling rig and whipping winds.

A few calms at witches

Alone at anchor off Roca Bruja

Approaching a sharp line of dark red sea of what is generally called Red Tide

Red tide is coastal algae bloom that can be associated with human byproducts although in some places of the world is believed to occur naturally. Not all red tides are toxic or harmful and their origins and toxins are controversial. This same time of year last year we saw similar red tide in Mexico and believe it occurs seasonally. The toxicity to humans swimming in the water is also controversial although not very when the waves are pumping. Several of the bays in the more populated areas are currently thick with red tide. The blooms also smell bad… besides being gross in general.

Pulling away from Witches Rock… Adios!

One Response to “Northern Costa Rica Wilderness”
  1. Lori says:

    Pura Vida!

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