LOCO FOR COCO
Beachfront Bliss in Playas del Coco
The headlands that enclose the Playas del Coco coastline like a mother's arms make the shape of a C — which could stand for crazy, chill, caliente, cool, colorful, cacophonous, curious, classic, catastrophic. And Coco can be all of those things.
“I love living here and I absolutely couldn't imagine living anywhere else,” said Michele Simmons, a 45-year-old event planner from Boston who has lived in Coco for five years. “You can't bond with people that come and go. Here they stay, and you get to know each other, and you get to care about each other, you build a family with each other.”
Coco is the northernmost settlement on Costa Rica's Pacific Coast that's big enough to call a city, and the main street is usually teeming with both locals and visitors meandering past the souvenir shops, the bars and the casino. Coco has a reputation as a party town, a retirement destination and a mecca for water sports, and if you explore it more closely you'll find high-end housing, upscale restaurants and magnificent views.
But Coco is more than the sum of its parts. There is a vibrant expat community here of foreigners who have found their home away from home, many of whom have no plans to leave. And there is a deep-rooted Tico community here dating back decades, people who would survive here somehow even if there were no foreigners. But of course there are plenty of foreigners.
There's a group of what my girlfriend and I call los veteranos, the veterans, who gather under the big rubber tree in front of Bambú Beach Front Bar every day, drinking and smoking and swapping tales. You can also see these old-timers sitting at Zi Lounge every day, come hell or — as we learned during Tropical Storm Nate — high water.
“This is a place to meet people, all kinds of people,” said Nuria Barrantes, a 54-year-old real estate agent who first moved to Coco in 1989. “We are a friendly people, it's something intrinsic to us. We are welcomers.”
‘You never get really bored’
I moved here in June with my Tica girlfriend, and pretty soon we were friends with seemingly everyone in town. It became impossible to go out without running into someone we knew, and usually several people. All the North Americans have gone native in one respect — without a thought we greet the opposite sex with a kiss on the cheek.
“You never get really bored of the same old, same old,” said Freddy Barahona, 53, a lawyer and owner of the Solo Bueno chocolate and cigar shop. “There's always people coming, people that come here with a dream.
“I always tell my clients when they come here and they fall in love, I say,
‘Don't marry the first girl that you ask to dance.' Enjoy this visit, come back again, then come back again, and after your third trip you make a decision if you invest or buy a home or something.”
Coco has the feel of a one-street town, accessible by a highway that turns into Avenida Central, where most of the restaurants, bars, grocery stores, souvenir shops and other businesses are clustered.
This road leads straight to the beach, where there is a curvy sidewalk with grass
“It’s a small town that aspires to be big, but it’s enchanting.”