Playa Potrero: One of Costa Rica’s best-kept little secrets
Playa Potrero, Costa Rica, is as unassuming as its name — which means “pasture” — but those who come here will discover one of the country’s least-known greatest places.
Potrero is right in the middle of Costa Rica’s Gold Coast, so named for a string of dazzling beaches. It’s between two communities that are quite a bit more highfalutin — Flamingo to the south and Las Catalinas to the north. But it’s a little gem well worth exploring.
There are parts of this coast you may find too touristy — too many people, souvenir shops, tour agencies, bars. Others you may find too remote — hard to get to, not much to do, and few conveniences nearby.
But Potrero occupies a“Goldilocks zone” that you’ll find “just right” — and in fact many come here for a visit and never leave. Potrero and its southern neighbor, Surfside, are home to an extraordinary number of expats — notably Canadians, Italians and of course Americans.
Unlike Flamingo or Las Catalinas, Potrero got its start as an authentic Costa Rican village, with a central downtown soccer field, Catholic church and public school. It has humble little diners called sodas and reasonably priced convenience stores called mini supers — two things you can’t find anywhere near the Four Seasons in Papagayo.
Playa Potrero, Costa Rica, and neighboring Surfside
But of course, Potrero has also discovered the goose that lays the golden egg in Costa Rica, and that’s tourism. On its southern outskirts, a suburb sprang up that is almost entirely dedicated to entertaining tourists and housing expats, and it even gave itself an English name, Surfside. Though it’s a distinct community today, Surfside is sometimes considered part of Potrero.
Driving north from Flamingo along the coastal highway, you reach a sharp right turn where the party gets started in earnest. To the left is the Costa Rica Sailing Center, a beachfront restaurant/bar with a swimming pool that offers water-sports rentals and sailing excursions. Across the street from there is the Bahía del Sol, a gorgeous hotel that offers beachfront weddings and honeymoon packages.
Turning right at that sharp curve, you find yourself on Surfside’s short main drag, which is lined with a string of popular restaurants, bars, shops, tour agencies, a nice convenience store and a pharmacy. Popular restaurants on this two-block stretch include El Castillo, the Shack, the Cervecería Independiente brewery, and most famously Perlas, a popular Canadian-owned restaurant/bar that offers live music, karaoke and a game night.
Just to the right (south) of this two-block main drag is a sizable neighborhood full of expat homes and vacation rentals. Several of these rentals are managed by Special Places of Costa Rica, including Casa Plomo and Casa Mango.
The main highway turns left at Perlas, passing the excellent La Forketta Italian restaurant, a mini super, and turnoffs that lead to the beach and other vacation rentals (including the palatial Casa Tigre). Along the main road is Pitaya Lodge, a six-room hotel with a swimming pool owned by Special Places, where you can rent a single room for four or even the entire hotel, sleeping up to 24.
At this point you’ve left Surfside and you’re in Potrero proper. Soon you’ll come to another left that leads to the downtown soccer field, two convenience stores and a beachfront bar called Las Brisas. There’s a modern shopping strip with a coffee shop, a hair salon and other businesses.
A road less traveled
A paved highway stretches from Huacas in the south to Las Catalinas in the north, passing through Brasilito, Flamingo, Surfside and Potrero (all of which are great towns). It’s a beautiful, scenic drive, especially north of Potrero, where it climbs a steep hill and offers its most spectacular ocean views. Here you’ll find the fabulous Villa Catalina condominiums on the right.
Speaking of the ocean, this coast is famous for a string of fabulous beaches, three of them right next to Potrero. Playa Potrero is just a block away from the downtown, and it extends all the way south to the marina now under construction in Flamingo. Just around a cape to the north is Playa Penca, followed by Playa Prieta. Beyond that, a short drive away, lie Playa Pan de Azúcar and Playa Danta.
All of these beaches offer shady places to throw out a blanket, open a cooler and enjoy the swimming, sun and people-watching.
Driving to the south, you can also explore Playa Flamingo, Playa Brasilito and the stunning Playa Conchal, where the sand is made of crushed white seashells. Keep driving and you’ll find Playa Grande, a major surfing spot and home to the sea turtle sanctuary Las Baulas Marine National Park. Just across an estuary from there is Tamarindo, the regional mecca for surfing, shopping and nightlife.
Potrero is also the starting point of the so-called Monkey Trail, a recently paved road over the hills that creates a major shortcut to get to Playas del Coco and beyond. There’s a creek you have to cross, but it’s fairly easy in the dry season, and in the rainy season you can usually cut through the Congo Trail Canopy Tour property, which has a bridge over the creek.
When you’re ready to experience all that Costa Rica has to offer, from the humblest breakfast spot to the most elegant vacation home, Potrero is ready for you.