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  • Writer's pictureJill Reed

Snorkeling Day Trip to San Juanillo

On the last day of the kids’ school break we packed up some beach stuff, climbed in the car and headed south to a beach I hadn’t been to in 20 years. Back then, I spent plenty of time in Nosara, over long academic winter breaks, exploring the beaches both north and south. One of my favorites is San Juanillo, about an hour and a half from Conchal/Tamarindo.

Per standard procedure, we planned for a couple of hours on the beach and then we’d look for lunch somewhere. We took a small cooler for water bottles, some nut bars for snacks, snorkeling gear, books, chairs and towels.

The drive was so beautiful.

It’s summer in Guanacaste.

Though we had some rain in December, we seem to have moved into drier conditions and will stay that way through April. The pastures and surrounding mountains and jungle are still green, but you can see they are browning a little.

As you head south from Tamarindo on Highway 160, you will pass the turnoff for Avellanas/Pinilla on the right. Stay on 160 and follow the signs for Junquillal. You will turn to the left to stay on 160 just before Junquillal. The road is in great condition right now, if a bit dusty.

Enjoy the drive. The scenery is amazing. Happy cows, beautiful mountains and horses, and incredible peek-a-boo views of the Pacific Ocean. It can be slow going at one-lane bridges and construction crews, but take your time. Be patient.

We ran across this iguana friend who scampered across the road in a direction I had not guessed. He survived. It’s all good. We harmed no iguanas in the making of this video.

Once you get to San Juanillo, follow the signs for the beach.

We descended the entry road. The beautiful, sparkling turquoise waters glimmered, boats swayed, and it was quickly revealed that we were not the only ones with a beach day at San Juanillo in mind. It was busier than what we’ve been used to during pandemic times.

San Juanillo is a tiny fishing town in a protected cove. The cove is surrounded by beach and rock. Facing the ocean to the right is a peninsula of rock that is super fun to explore at low tide. We found many creatures and fish in the tide pools.

Be careful as you venture out onto the rocks, especially when the tide is coming in. The crashing waves are gorgeous, but they’ll take you out in a heartbeat.

Don’t forget the snorkel gear because the water is usually clear and the fish are plentiful, just right off the beach. The entry is sandy and easy, but the rocks you will snorkel over are not. Take caution when swimming in shallow rock. Both Christie and Liza scraped their toes.

We rotated exploration parties. I don’t recommend leaving any items unattended.

At a little over two hours on the beach, the boys were ready to go find lunch.

Lucky for us, we stumbled upon Ancient People, a terrific little outdoor cafe in the heart of town, complete with a beautiful garden and some friendly local dogs to greet us.

The boys had freshly made iced tea and were thrilled!

They have fresh everything, including their own kombucha and drinks like ginger lemonade.

There are plenty of vegetarian and vegan options on the menu. I tried the falafel and Liza ordered a breakfast burrito.Christie enjoyed gallo pinto, a typical Costa Rican breakfast, and the boys had...wait for it...hamburgers.

Because we needed to get home to the dogs, we ordered brownies to go. Everything was delicious, affordable, and pretty quick.

The light in the garden was so pretty. Here’s a beautiful web just above our table.

The ride home did not bring any iguana incidents, but I must have made 30 videos trying to get the perfect peek-a-boo ocean view. The light was poor for my position, but I hope you can see what an amazing little gift the ocean is when you’re traveling these roads.

San Juanillo is a great little spot for kids and adults. Check the tide chart before you go for optimal rock exploration and snorkeling conditions. Some prefer high tide when you can see the definition of the peninsula better. We were in the middle of tides and it was totally fine.

This is a fabulous little day trip and could easily be combined with a Turtle adventure in Ostional, about a half hour more south.

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