Brasilito is a small fishing town on the north Pacific coast of Costa Rica, and is said to be the place where Ticos — as residents of the Central American country are called — come to vacation. That, in itself, should prove Brasilito’s authenticity.
You won’t find fine-dining restaurants, high-end boutiques, or overcrowded beaches.
What you will find are friendly locals making a living selling mangos and coconuts on the street. You’ll find chickens and roosters searching the dirt floors of the restaurants for crumbs left behind by diners. And you’ll find dogs and cats lying in the shade of the Tamarindo trees.
If, however, you’re looking for any of the things Brasilito lacks, the boutiques and fine-dining establishments are no more than a 15-minute drive north to Flamingo, or 20 minutes south to Tamarindo (playfully referred to by locals as “Tamagringo“).
If the area were a sandwich, Brasilito would be the tasty meat between two slices of white bread.
How to get there
Brasilito is a quick 45-minute drive from Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport (LIR) in Liberia. It’s the second-largest airport in the country, and welcomes a number of major carriers, including American Airlines, Air Canada, Delta, United, US Airways, Jetblue, and Frontier.
For the more adventurous, you could also fly into the larger Juan Santamaría International Airport (SJO) near San Jose, the country’s capital, but be prepared for a 5- to 6-hour ride west to Brasilito. (We did this and rented a van. Unless you are a seasoned international driver, and are prepared for a long, bumpy ride after what is likely a long, bumpy flight, this method of travel is not recommended.)
There is also an inexpensive bus service that runs from San Jose to Tamarindo, and daily charter flights to Tamarindo Airport from November through April.
Where to stay
We chose Conchal Hotel for our stay in Brasilito mainly because of the amazing reviews the hotel and restaurant has on Trip Advisor. Out of nearly 250 reviews, the majority of guests rate the place “excellent” or “very good”. Great service, delicious food, complimentary continental breakfast, beautiful grounds, a sparkling pool, and close proximity to a number of gorgeous beaches come at a very fair price at Conchal Hotel.
Hotel Brasilito is also a popular choice because it is inexpensive (their budget room ranges from $34-49 a night, depending on the time of year) and is located right on the beach.
And if you need your all-inclusive resort equipped with a fitness center and tennis court, The Westin will most likely suit your fancy. Just be ready to pay about $250-350 per night.
Where to eat
If seafood is your thing — particularly lobster, red snapper, tuna, and shrimp — then there’s no shortage of places that will suit your taste. As the rest of the country, Brasilito is rife with roadside and beachside sodas. While the menus at most of these places won’t deviate much from the “comida tipico,” with staples such as gallo pinto (rice and beans) and casado (the national dish of Costa Rica), the quality of the food can.
The general rule seems to be: The dumpier-looking the place, the better the food is going to be. And vice versa. Typically, if there’s a decent toilet and running water, you’re going to be eating some bland fish. If you find yourself pissing in a bucket in the middle of a barren, cinder-block room with a piece of corrugated aluminum for a door, be prepared to eat the best meal of your life.
For the best fried red snapper in town, check out Langosta Loca. Roger, the owner, will likely try to lure you in with the promise of free ceviche. Take the offer; this place is great and the prices are very right. On our last night in town, I had the surf & turf — lobster tail and steak — for $12 USD.
One soda that breaks the general rule, is Pollo Tropical, as it’s both fairly well-kempt and tasty. Breakfast is good and cheap (somewhere around $3 USD), the cafe con leche is delicious, the house-made juices and teas are free, and there’s plenty of meat to choose from. We love seafood, but still found ourselves craving some kind of four-legged animal for lunch or dinner every now and then. Pollo Tropical offers tasty hamburgers (try the one the owner, Miguel, calls “the motherfucker”) and even baby back ribs on certain days of the week.
You’re going to need to make a few trips to Papaya Restaurant to be sure you try everything I am about to suggest. The talented chef and co-owner, Hilda, makes some killer guacamole. It is chunky, super flavorful, and comes with fluffy homemade tortilla chips. You won’t want to miss it! Their tuna is incredibly fresh and melts in your mouth like filet mignon. Honestly, I kept forgetting I was eating tuna, since it tasted so much like steak. The lobster 5-spice is to die for, the Hawaiian chicken flatbread is very tasty (Hilda used to own a pizzeria in Flamingo, so she really knows her stuff), and don’t forget the coconut mahi-mahi! Delicious.
We passed Il Forno Pizzeria countless times on our walks to and from the beach, and always meant to stop for a slice. On our last day in Brasilito, even though half of our group was going to another restaurant, I decided I needed to try Il Forno. I’m so glad I was stubborn, because the hearts of palm salad and Hawaiian pizza really hit the spot. After days and days of nothing but ceviche, tuna, shrimp, lobster, red snapper, etc., I needed some carbs.
Finally, if you’re looking for a cool place to hang out near the beach and smoke a cigar while sipping on the coldest beer in town, the Indira Bar & Restaurant is your spot. At night, it turns into a hopping dance party, but during the day, the Indira is a total blast from the past. A great place to hang out any time.
It’s also a great place to meet some locals.
What to do
Excursions in Brasilito offer everything from surfing lessons, sailing, snorkeling, horseback riding, turtle viewing, and even underwater spear fishing.
We opted for the MEGA COMBO tour offered through the Buena Vista Lodge. A shuttle picked our bright-eyed, bushy tails up at our hotel at 7 a.m., and dropped our tired booties off 10 hours later. We zip-lined through the trees, rushed down a 400-meter waterslide, enjoyed a delicious buffet-style lunch, rode horses up the side of a mountain, relaxed in a natural sauna, covered ourselves in mineral rich volcanic mud, and then soaked in the hot springs. All for under $150.
If excursions or structured activities aren’t your thing, no worries. There are two beautiful — and quite different — beaches for you to boogie-board, swim, or just lay out in the sand. Most tourists flock to Playa Conchal, which is made up entirely of crushed seashells. It’s about a 15-minute walk from the Conchal Hotel, or a 5-minute drive. While the beach is quite pretty, and the sand is a great exfoliant, we found it to be just a bit too touristy for our taste. The aforementioned Westin resort is located right on Playa Conchal, which translates into a beach that can sometimes get crowded with people and vendors hawking their wares.
By the end of our time in Brasilito, we got wise and spent our days at Playa Brasilito (pictured below), a volcanic-sand beach closer to the town. It’s not quite as pretty to look at as Conchal, but its waves are great for boogie boarding, its sand is soft, and you’ll mostly have the entire beach to yourself, save for a few locals.
If you’re staying a little longer than a day or so, you might want to make the hike to nearby Tamarindo or Flamingo. These towns are bit more developed, with a lot more American tourists, and even offer casinos (basically small rooms full of slot machines).
There are a few things that would be helpful to understand before making a trip to Brasilito, or Costa Rica as a whole. The first pertains specifically to the town and the Guanacaste Province where it is located: This is a dry tropical forest.
During the dry season, which runs from December to March, the weather is often sunny, hot, and dry. This is also evident by much of the vegetation. While pictures of Costa Rica often portray lush, flowing rainforests, you’ll have to drive an hour or so inland from Brasilito before the scenery gets greener. This translates into one very important factor for visitors: the humidity in this part of the country is much lower than the Caribbean side. Evenings are downright pleasant, and mosquitoes are virtually non-existent (for the most part).
Costa Rican standard currency is the colon.
$1 USD is the equivalent of about 500 colones.
While this exchange might seem daunting at first, it’s quite easy to do the math in your head. Just double the amount of colones, then move then decimal over three places. For example: 1900 colones is a standard price for an Imperial or Pilsen beer (the two brands brewed in the country) at a restaurant in Brasilito. If you multiply this by 2, you get 3800. Now, just move the decimal over three spots, and you are left with 3.8, or $3.80 USD, which is pretty damn close to the actual exchange.
There are a few ATMs near town, and nearly all of the merchants and eateries in Brasilito accept US currency. Some take credit cards, but will likely charge a processing charge of anywhere from 3 to 6 percent.
Keep the coins you get for change on you. When making small purchases, it will often be the case that you can pay for them with only coins. The paper bills are reserved for high denominations.
Costa Rica has a slogan: Pura Vida!
While it roughly translates to “pure life,” you’ll get the real meaning after a few days in the country, by interacting with Ticos. They may not have all the amenities we are used to in the United States and Europe, but they’re happy without them, opting for a simple life of nature, sun, family, friendship, and water. There’s a reason that Costa Rica is often cited as “the happiest place on earth,” and much of that stems from the relaxed perspectives of its inhabitants.
Speaking of relaxed perspectives: Be prepared to live on Tico time. Every timetable that you hear has an “-ish” on the end, as in, “Dinner will be ready around 7ish.” Nobody will be in a hurry to serve you and nobody worries about being late for an appointment. At restaurants, be prepared to ask for your bill, or you might end up staying forever.
“Pura vida” is both a standard greeting and goodbye. The proper reply is “solo bueno,” which means “only good.”
That’s exactly what we experienced during our time in Brasilito.