I waded a few steps into the water, cooling the soles of my feet from the already hot sand, then hopped onto the side of the boat and swung my legs in, careful to keep my balance without spilling my Bloody Mary. It wasn’t quite noon and a little later than we had planned on leaving; but no one watches the clock in Zancudo. Tides are more important than time – and the tide was low, which was precisely why we were not boarding the boat at the dock. When all eight of us were on board, we set off for the day’s adventure of boating in Zancudo, Costa Rica: zipping across the bay, lunch on “Lobster Island” and a leisurely ride back to Zancudo through The Trocha.
As the boat made its way out of the mouth of the Rio Coto, past the fully exposed sand bar, we relished the wind that whipped through our hair and cooled our sticky skin. When our friends invited us to spend the day boating in Zancudo, Costa Rica, the respite from the heat was what we were most looking forward to. The “Lobster Island” destination was still a mystery to us, but the ‘where’ seemed less important than the ‘how’ when the how was by boat.
The boat raced over the water in the bay, lightly bouncing on the waves in a soothing rhythm. The sky and air were clear and fresh; we breathed it in. The once-dulled colors of the coastline were again bright and bold, rejuvenated by the recent rainfall that erased the dust and haze. We approached a boat coming from the opposite direction – one that everyone recognized – and greetings were shouted over the rumble of the motors and the roar of the wind. Both boats slowed and circled closer together. Beers were tossed from our boat to the newcomer and – since he had no prior engagements – he decided to join us on our lunch outing, racing his boat against ours.
We made the turn toward Golfito, the same route we’ve taken by taxi boat when needing to visit the region’s largest town. We slowed as we made our way into the Golfito Bay, with Playa Cacao to our left and, on our right, Puntarenitas, a relatively undeveloped land mass that our friends have nicknamed “Lobster Island.” Close to the water’s edge were rustic and ramshackle dwellings that were constructed (in the loosest of terms) of wood and thin sheet metal and painted in tropical colors that had long ago faded. The homes looked as if one strong gust of wind could flatten them, yet they have most likely been standing there for years.
On the same piece of land – and in the tiered jungle above it – was the filming location for a season of Survivor Serbia. Not quite the remote location they make it appear on television (as even I could swim across the bay to Golfito), but with only a handful of families – which are outnumbered by the stray dogs – and no cars or roads, it certainly feels isolated. Instead of heading toward the Golfito dock, however, we veered right and came ashore Puntarenitas on the east side of the sparsely populated piece of land.
We anchored in front of Yolanda’s bright yellow restaurant – our lunchtime destination. The open-air, hammock-strewn beachfront eatery bears no signage and offers no menus. As far as I could tell, the restaurant did not have a name; not nameless in a pretentious and trendy way that a hipster restaurant might appeal to the ‘in the know’ crowd, but simply because it doesn’t need one. Name or no name, one thing is certain: they dish out a smorgasbord of fresh-caught, fresh-cooked seafood, including lobster – thus the moniker, Lobster Island.
Since they don’t have a bar, we hauled our coolers from the boat to the row of waterside tables. Then I followed our friends across the sand floor through the restaurant to the kitchen – which was the cleanest beach kitchen I have ever seen – to pick what we wanted for lunch. There was a bowl of just-shucked oysters, a cooler with a variety of large and colorful glistening fish, a bag of shrimp and a container of lobsters.
Orders started flying. In the end, the cooks prepared two lobsters, two enteros (the entire fish, complete with head, tail and bones, fried), two fried fish filets, arroz con camerones (shrimp and rice) a vegetable entrée and, finally, a vat of fried oysters, which we all shared as an appetizer. Each platter was overflowing with rice or patacones (fried plantains) and cabbage salad.
We ate until we were stuffed, savoring every bite. Full and lethargic, we lounged around, talking and swinging in hammocks until the tide came up. The water rose quickly, from just lapping the edge near the tables we occupied to flooding complete sections of the restaurant floor.
High tide was like a timer going off, a signal for us to complete the day’s adventure of boating in Zancudo, Costa Rica and the final segment was The Trocha. The man-made waterway was cut through the mangroves by the United Fruit Company when they were headquartered in Golfito from the 1930s until the 1980s. The trench they dug disconnected Puntarenitas from the mainland and turned it into an island. Boats can only navigate The Trocha (which translates to narrow path or shortcut) when water levels are elevated, but at other times, the water is too shallow. With the high tide, rather than backtracking our route, we continued through Golfito Bay to the slender and curving channel.
Once we entered the snaking canal we slowed our pace and floated on the current, letting those in a hurry pass us by. The surrounding nature created a peaceful atmosphere; welcoming us in and letting us know there was no where to be other than where we were. Casual chatter rounded the boat and the coolers were emptied of their boozy contents. The sun filtered through the thick archway of trees, vines dangling from the branches and dipping themselves into the water. No one was pressed for time, but instead content to let the afternoon slip toward evening as we drifted back toward Zancudo.
Details for boating in Zancudo, Costa Rica:
To get to Puntarenitas from Zancudo, hire a boat for the day; from Golfito, ask at the pier for a taxi boat. The average cost for an entrée at Yolanda’s restaurant was about $12, plus tip. Click here for tide information.
We want to know: Have you been boating in Zancudo, Costa Rica? Where is your favorite place to go?