Why Yachts Should Visit Costa Rica

31 March 2023 By Lauren Beck
Marina Bahía Golfito, Costa Rica
Marina Bahía Golfito, Costa Rica

Lauren Beck is the former editor of Dockwalk and was with the publication from 2006 to 2023. At 13, she left South Africa aboard a 34-foot sailing boat with her family and ended up in St. Maarten for six years. Before college, she worked as crew for a year, and then cut her journalistic teeth at Better Homes and Gardens and Ladies’ Home Journal online. She loves traveling, reading, tennis, and rooting for the Boston Red Sox.

In the superyacht community, you get used to hearing words and phrases like “once in a lifetime,” “unique,” or “amazing.” But sometimes it really hits you in the face how lucky you are to work in an industry that gives you opportunities to swim with the dolphins and zip line through the Costa Rican rainforest. For work!  

I was fortunate to be invited on a fam trip in early March by Marina Bahía Golfito, a 45-berth IGY marina in Golfo Dulce on Costa Rica’s southern Pacific coast. We were to spend five days at the Enjoy Group’s beautiful Amaka Ocean Living Lodge at Marina Bahía Golfito while going on daily excursions planned by Origen Escapes. Like I said, it’s a tough job, but someone has to do it. I volunteered as tribute.

Costa Rica is working hard to bring in more superyachts and Bob Saxon of Bob Saxon Consultancy was tasked to help. And, in conjunction with IGY, Pedro Abdalla, marina director at Marina Bahía Golfito, and Oscar Alfaro, marketing director of the Enjoy Group, the fam trip came to fruition. While the locals know well what a gem Costa Rica is, Abdalla says, they need to create a destination and let others get to know all that Costa Rica has to offer. The Ministry of Tourism is pushing for superyachts to visit, and Costa Rica’s 2021 change in the law now means it’s legal for foreign-flagged vessels over 24 meters to charter in the country. Vessels can remain for one year with the option of another year extension.

The first step was creating more visibility for Golfito on the superyacht stage. And what better way to do so than to invite brokers and charter managers from a variety of the industry’s brokerage houses to sample what Costa Rica has to offer. (Plus me! Someone has to tell the tale.) 

Kellie Shoemaker, Fraser Yachts

“Not only do we have to engage crew, but we have to engage the brokerage community as our first step, so they can be educated [on Costa Rica] and they can in turn portray that information back to their customers,” Saxon explains. “We’re trying to create a destination market so that there’s some business here.”

So along with brokers and charter managers from Aquazeal Charter, Camper & Nicholsons, Fraser Yachts, IYC, Ocean Getaways, and Superyacht Sales and Charter, I made up lucky number nine on the short flight from Miami to San Jose, Costa Rica. We then jumped aboard a charter flight to make the 40-minute trip to Golfito Airport, conveniently located just minutes from the marina and hotel. It may have been a travel day, but we were only gearing up for the activities to come, thanks to an expertly curated itinerary from Felipe Artiñano de Bedout, co-founder and VP of operations for Origen Escapes and his experienced crew of Josue Castro, Juan M. Camargo, Esteban Rojas, and Carlos Ortiz, who all have years of local knowledge of both land and sea.

June Montagne, IYC

Day one had us gearing up our sea legs and heading out to explore Golfe Dulce aboard M/Y One Net to check out the wildlife and the nearby anchorages. It was a relaxing start for our three-day menu of excursions — and that was before lunch was served on the beach at Playa Balinas, where we could relax near the nature preserve just feet away. (More than 25 percent of Costa Rica is national park or conserved areas.) After lunch, some in the group relaxed on the beach while others enjoyed a swim in the beautiful waters or jumped on a paddleboard or kayak to work off lunch. Afternoon plans changed as the weather did, so we hopped aboard a skiff for a trip through the mangroves before heading back to the hotel and just one of many delicious meals at the hotel’s La Playa restaurant, one of The Enjoy Group’s restaurants.

Day 2 unearthed a lot of feelings: Terror, excitement, exhilaration. You know, all those emotions that bubble up when you must face your fears and go zip lining and rappelling in the jungle. The day started with a fast trip to Puerto Jimenez on the Osa Peninsula for a muddy transfer to El Remanso rainforest lodge and our zip line tour. Six of us suited up and prepared to take on the elements. Nonstop rain lent a gray cast to the day, but it could not dim the excitement (or was that terror?) as we hit that first, terrifying zip line after a quick orientation. Five zip lines later and two petrifying rappel drops, we made it safely back to the eco lodge for some coffee and lunch, damp and bedraggled but flying high on adrenaline. The adrenaline only spiked higher as we slipped and slid down the muddy hills back to the boat to return to Marina Bahía Golfito.

Credit: Sara Haffenden-Hill

But even that zip line adrenaline was no match for swimming with the dolphins, which headlined day 3 of excursions and was a personal trip highlight. We started out aboard the 80-foot Azimut M/Y Carpe Diem, helmed by Capt. Raul and Mate Leo, for a long trip out to the latest spinner dolphin megapod location. (Origen tracks the dolphins for days before their guests are due, so when guests show up, the dolphins are there.) Those of us who elected to swim with the dolphins transferred to the skiff. It was not for the faint of heart — swimmers had to jump into the water, snorkel gear on, and were towed slowly by the boat as the dolphins swam nearby. Thousands of them converged on the spot, thousands of meters deep, to swim and hunt together — the swimmers on the surface were treated to a display unlike anything I’d ever seen, with seemingly hundreds of dolphins just a touch away, diving, swimming around us, and breeching the surface. It was one of those experiences just impossible to capture adequately in words. Truly amazing.

Those remarkable experiences were due to the extensive local knowledge and experience of the Origen Escapes team, who planned out our days brilliantly and taught us much about the country. The group can customize your adventures to create the perfect itinerary for your needs and abilities. The company’s tagline — masters of the extraordinary — is well earned.

Felipe of Origens with Capt. Raul of M/Y Carpe Diem

But it’s the combination of luxury and nature that is a big win in Golfito, Alfaro believes. The Enjoy Group has been around for more than 50 years and has seven hotels and seven restaurants in Costa Rica. “So you get the natural experience, but [you’re] also getting the gastronomic experience, the good night’s sleep at a very nice hotel. And we think that combination is a big differentiator.”

The country is known for its natural beauty and biodiversity, which already makes it a popular destination for eco-tourism and outdoor recreation. Golfe Dulce is a tropical fjord that’s home to a diverse array of marine life, including dolphins, whales, and a variety of fish species. It’s also well known for sportfishing, with people visiting from all over the world to fish its waters. Costa Rica’s habitats claim half a million different species, and Marina Bahía Golfito provides easy yacht access to the fjord, with 45 slips for vessels up to 350 feet. There are also plans in the works to expand the marina and offer more berths for larger vessels.

“This area has the most potential,” says Abdalla, who points out that other areas in Costa Rica have been built up already. Golfito remains relatively untouched, which means, as Saxon points out, the yacht owners and boats that would likely spend time in Costa Rica are not your typical superyachts who might summer and party in the Med — they would likely be the more adventurous type, owners and charterers who are looking to get out and enjoy the stunning scenery and nature of Costa Rica, both on the water and ashore. And there is a lot of each to explore.

Of course, all good things must come to an end, and the Friday return to Miami was a sad affair as we said goodbye to the country, our hosts, and to the guides who had made our short trip such a success. Costa Rica is truly a magical place with unspoiled land and ocean that will enrapture any nature lover. “Golfito is an eco-destination like no other in the Pacific,” Alfaro says. “There are different experiences in the Pacific in Costa Rica, but Golfito is the most nature oriented. So, for nature lovers, this should be destination number one.”

As Abdalla said to me, “Everybody comes to this area and falls in love immediately.” He was right. Pura vida!


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