Visit Playas del Coco for the real thing

If you’re looking for a beach town with a difference, Costa Rica’s Playas del Coco is a good bet. I selected "Coco" for my first stop on a recent Costa Rican vacation simply because I liked the name, and I wasn’t disappointed.

Coco is in Guanacaste province on Costa Rica’s popular north west coast, and is one of many area beach towns that offer a wide variety of travel experiences. Since I had picked Coco as my first stop on a two week tour of Costa Rica, I took a flight from Toronto that landed at the small airport in Liberia, a 45-minute cab ride away. If you intend on spending most of your time on the west side of Costa Rica, as many Canadians do, Liberia is your best bet. There are far more charter flights to the Costa Rican capital of San Jose, but it is a four-hour drive from the west coast, and usually requires an overnight stay in the city.

Coco’s charm lies in the fact that it is a real town that also happens to be a popular tourist destination, for both Costa Ricans and foreigners. Since it’s a fishing village, seafood lovers will enjoy the freshest fish possible at one the many good local restaurants, which are distinguished by their food rather than thr decor. My favourite was Papagayou, a very popular place run by a transplanted Cajun from New Orleans. The food is simply excellent, and a complete seafood dinner for two with a bottle of Chilean wine runs about $50-$60 Canadian.

Transplanted Canadians are also in abundance in Coco, with several owning bars, restaurants and service businesses. As in most of Costa Rica, the atmosphere in Coco is friendly and laid back, with absolutely none of the "buy something" mentality that can add stress to a southern vacation.

A small town, Coco still offers most of the services you’ll need on a vacation, and shopping at the local market is a travel experience in itself. The local Internet Café is a great place to meet fellow travellers and Costa Ricans, and lets you keep up with what’s going on at home, if you really want to.