Gone with the Grins

REVIEW: Rafiki Beach Camp

We recently took a trip to Costa Rica and spent several days in heaven. Also known as Rafiki Beach Camp. Ocean, beach, pool, luxury safari tent. What more could you want? Here’s what we thought of our experience.

Accommodations – Rafiki has four South African-style safari tents, built on permanent platforms with attached bathrooms. Two face the ocean; two are set behind those and face the pool area. (We’re biased here, but we’d recommend asking for an ocean-front tent, though it’s not a deal-breaker.) The tents are cushy with everything you’d normally have in a hotel room, like a king size bed, dresser, lamps, table and chairs, tile floors. You just have to get used to zipping up your door and rolling down your window flaps at night. The bathroom has a locking door and a safe on the counter. The shower is in an open-tile alcove, adding to the whole tropical feel. The only thing you’ll be missing is the air conditioning, but a large oscillating fan kept us cool all night without any problems.

Amenities – A nice pool, a cleared path to the ocean, picnic tables, beach chairs, feet washing spigots, rocking chairs on your private porch, and an outdoor kitchen and dining area where you’ll eat a complimentary breakfast of local fruit, pancakes, toast, eggs, tea and coffee. The kitchen is also at your disposal if you want to cook your own food, which we did one night. All they ask is that you clean up after yourselves. For a price, you can ask the owners to prepare a meal for you.

Scenery – Possibly the most stunning black sand beach you’ll ever walk on… it’s practically deserted and full of sand dollars. The surf is good, the lounge chairs are sheltered and comfortable. Between the camp and the beach, the shady area under the palm trees is swept daily and strung with inviting hammocks. Perfect for gazing out at the ocean and spying on the naughty capuchin monkeys who regularly search the camp for snacks.

Accessibility – If you don’t have a car, getting around the area is a little tricky. Rafiki is located near the little town of Matapalo on the Pacific coast, and once you get to the dirt road leading to camp, the trip gets interesting. You’ve never really experienced potholes until you’ve driven in Costa Rica. They call it the Costa Rican massage, and we were glad our car was a rental. It might seem crazy to locate a business in such an inaccessible location, but as Rafiki’s owner pointed out to us, a road like that is exactly what keeps his place remote and unspoiled. Can’t argue with that. Besides, a more populated area probably would not have yielded what we considered to be one of the best experiences of our visit…. a sloth crossing the road. Yes, a sloth. Walking. Across. The road. We can prove it. Here’s the video.

Proprietors – The owners of Rafiki are incredibly friendly and accommodating. They live across the street, and are always around camp if you need anything or have questions. Although we didn’t book any excursions with them, they do offer horseback riding and a kayaking trip through mangroves. And while we didn’t need to rely on them for transportation, we noticed them shuttling another family to nearby restaurants or helping them arrange drivers. They also allowed us to park our car under a lamp by their house each night, for extra security.

Price – Very reasonable. About $125 per night, depending on the exchange rate of the moment, including a $75 deposit at booking.

Things to Do – Here’s the reason you really need a car when you’re in this part of Costa Rica. It just makes it easier to get around. Click here to see our itinerary that includes more details on the following places.

#1 Manuel Antonio National Park – A beautiful (albeit crowded) park with two crescent shaped beaches, lots of wildlife, and hiking trails. You’ll have to drive through the equally crowded and shamelessly touristy town of Quepos to get there, but the park itself is worth it.

#2 Dominical – A very small, two-dirt-road surfing town with a rocky beach and an outdoor bazaar for buying all your souvenirs.

#3 El Santuario Zipline Adventure – If you’re going to zipline anywhere in the world, Costa Rica is a great place to do it. We chose El Santuario for their stellar on-line reviews, and they didn’t disappoint. Professional, safe and fun with great scenery.

#4 Restaurants – We discovered some nice restaurants in the area, including a lovely place just before the dirt road turn-off run by German expats and another across the highway from Matapalo called La Langosta Feliz or the Happy Lobster. Typically Costa Rican, they’re casual, open-air establishments with good food and a well-behaved house cat or dog lazing nearby.

From this review, you can probably tell that we’re very “off-the-beaten-path” travelers. We prefer to get away from the crowds and the hotels and bars that offer touristy sameness to people who don’t like to get too far out of their comfort zones. Rafiki is our kind of place. It may not be for everyone, but if you don’t mind a little sand on the floor and the surf just steps from your door, then Rafiki will hit the spot for your next tropical vacation.

Do you know of any places like Rafiki? Tell us about them by leaving a comment below.