Celebrating in a new country, Costa Rica,

Welcome to Costa Rica, Golfito and Panama Posse

Our first port in Costa Rica was Golfo Dulce which is an enormous bay with several small bays inside it.  Once you enter Golfo Dulce you can go to Bahia Puerto Jimenez, Bahia Rincon, Punta Gallardo, Punta Voladera, Punta El Cabro, or Golfito Bay.  We were headed toward Golfito Bay which is surrounded by lush, green mountains.  Being that Golfito is a bay within a bay, it is very calm and tranquil with a nice, breeze.

Located at Golfito you have several marinas:

  • Banana Bay Marina has 20+ slips and a few moorings, restaurant, bar, laundry, wifi
  • Land and Sea, 3 slips and 6 moorings, lounge area, accommodations, wifi, laundry
  • Fish Hook, 25+ slips (fishing boats), restaurant, bar, wifi, accommodations, laundry
  • IGY Gulfito Bay Marina. New as of 2017 w/ 50 slips and plans to expand to 132 slips

As the first stop in Costa Rica, we had to accomplish some official paperwork.  We needed to check in (Immigration, Customs, and Port Captain), get a fishing license, and apply for a permit to visit at Isla del Coco.  We wanted to complete these goals within 2 days, if possible.

However, timing was not on our side.  We arrived on a beautiful Sunday morning, a day earlier than we anticipated.  But as you can imagine, a lot of businesses are closed on Sunday and the following day, 1 May is Labor Day, a public holiday.  Gesh!

Land and Sea

Land and Sea is located in between Banana Bay Marina and Fish and Hook Marina.  We dropped the hook in front of her small marina as there was good depth, holding, and a breeze.  We secured the boat and went ashore to begin our clearance process. Image below shows Banana Bay Marina (the yellow buildings with fishing yachts in front) and a small green two story building (to the right) with two boats in front.

Banana Bay Marina and Land and Sea Marina-

Banana Bay Marina and Land and Sea Marina-

Katie, the owner at Land and Sea, proved to be very helpful.  She told us where we could dump trash and recycling and where to find the market and immigration.  She also exchanged $20 U.S. for colones which comes out to 10,000 colones. For me, the easiest conversion is about 500 colones to $1.  Of course, the conversion is a bit better at 575 or so, but that math in my head, is too hard for me.

The town of Golfito is located on one long, main street.  There is one small secondary street that runs parallel to the main street, but it is short and has mostly bars.

Immigration (Migracion)

Immigration is located about ½ mile from Land and Sea and has a giant red and white antenna on its roof making it easy to identify.  Upon our first visit, Juaquin, the immigration officer, told us we needed to have copies made of our documentation (3 copies of our boat paper work, 3 copies of Matt’s passport, 1 copy of my passport, 2 copies of our Zarpe-exit paperwork from Panama).  Then he gave us instructions of where to get the copies at a place close to Land and Sea.  Oh dear, so we walked back, found the copy place, paid 1500 colones ($3) and went back to immigration.

As Matt did the formalities, I sat and chatted with Juaquin who was oh so willing to share his excitement of Costa Rica.  He informed me about park regulations, gave directions to the Port Captain and Customs, shared some tour tips, and gave me the scoop on the permit process for Isla del Coco.

Isla del Coco is about 300nm from Costa Rica.  Regulations state that you need a permit which requires that you be checked into the country.  Bummer.  You see, Isla del Coco is on the way to the Galapagos.  We wanted to clear out of Costa Rica, head 300nm to Isla del Coco and then sail 400nm to Galapagos.  It is 600nm and 5.5 days out of our way to go to Isla del Coco, then back to Costa Rica, then past them to get to Galapagos.  You see our quandary?  None the less, Juaquin told us to go to the Port Captain who would be able to give us the application for the permit.

Juaquin also found out that Customs was closed on Sundays, but they would be open on the next day, even though it was a holiday.  It is unusual to find someone so very accommodating, kind, and compassionate during the clearance process-what a gem!

Port Captain

Following Juaquin’s directions, we walked about 1 mile to the Port Captain’s building.  The boat clearance went fairly routine.  We inquired about the Isla del Coco application and were informed that we had to get the permit from MEREILT which was in charge of the National Parks.

Since it was extremely hot and we were a bit tired of walking, we hopped in a cab.  These offices were not far, but off a dirt road, surrounded by jungle.  It was amazing.  All of the wood buildings were connected by a long low bridge or walkway which was covered in plants and flowers.  Working here you felt like you were in the jungle, living, breathing among the animals.  Breathtaking, but hot and humid even in the shade.

Our timing was not the best as it was lunchtime on a Sunday.  We managed to locate one guy who spent a good 45 minutes trying to track down the right person who could help us.  Evidently, MEREILT handles all of the National Parks except the Isla del Coco.  The correct office to handle the Isla del Coco permit is the Cocos Island Marine Conservation Area (ACMIC).  He put us in touch with a man on the phone who promised to send the permit to Matt via email.  Sweet, feeling like mission accomplished.

The next day, we walked down main street and popped in to a few grocery stores before catching a cab to the Duty-Free Zone where the Customs office was located.

Customs Office (Aduana)

The process is fairly simple and efficient.  It took us about 30-minutes in-and-out.  Since we were there, we decided to walk around the Duty-Free Zone.  This was about 1/100th of the size of the duty-free area in Panama, thank goodness.  We could not technically buy anything as you are supposed to obtain a tarjeta (ticket) 24 hours before you shop.  It is meant to increase tourism and require people to stay at least one night. Not a big deal as most of the shops were appliances, home goods, and liquor.  We did not need anything from here.

Friends of ours told us about some cruisers who formed a group called Panama Posse.  About 80 boats started in Mexico and were headed toward Panama. This group shares information on the countries, anchorages, and places they’ve been along the way, including Costa Rica.  The organizer, Dietmar has put together several discounts with marinas, chandleries, and restaurants.  We decided to join, to get intel on Costa Rica and some discounts.

On Labor Day, the Panama Posse was having a party at the IGY Golfito Bay Marina with free beer, BBQ, and music.  We had not been to this new marina and wanted to check it out and meet some new friends.  There were about 25 people, primarily from the States who were heading to Panama.  Most of the other fleet were already in Panama.  We had a really nice time, met some great people, swapped stories about anchorages and islands, and got a cool new shirt!

Panama Posse Group at IGY Golfito Marina

Panama Posse Group at IGY Golfito Marina

IGY Golfito Marina and Me Enjoying a cold drink in the water

IGY Golfito Marina and Me Enjoying a cold drink in the water

Day 3, we headed back to Land and Sea to seek out information from Katie.  We needed to know if she knew of an agent that could help us with the Isla del Coco’s permit.  She directed us to Bruce Blevens who runs Fish Hook Marina next door.

Isla del Coco Permit

Bruce is an agent who helps a lot of fishing charter boats (who have a lot more disposable income than we do).  He was extremely helpful and informed us that it would take 30-35 days and cost thousands of dollars to get the permit.  He recently helped a charter boat who had to hire two attorneys, make two trips to San Jose, and hire a secondary agent. Evidently, Costa Rica is not wild about issuing permits except to local charter or fishing boats.  Shoot.  We decided to skip the permit and find another way. P.S.  the man from ACMIC never emailed Matt.

Fishing License

We were told we needed to obtain a fishing license if we have fishing gear on the boat.  Even if we never dropped the hooks in the water.  So, we found out that the fishing permits come from Incopesca.  The office was closed the two previous days so we were planning on stopping by after visiting Bruce.  However, both Bruce and Katie said that it was not necessary to pay for a license unless we were outfitted with a ton of outriggers – like a professional boat.  Since, we are only trolling for dinner, they said it would be fine.

So, even though we did not get the fishing license or Isla del Coco permit, we did manage to save thousands of dollars and a ton of paperwork.  As it turns out, it didn’t cost us a penny to clear into Costa Rica, except the cab rides to and from Aduana at $2 each way.

Coming Up Next:

  • Bahia Drake
  • Quepos
Radar showing Sugar Shack in the middle of a storm

Overnight Passage to Golfito, Costa Rica

Before we began our overnight passage to Golfito, Matt wanted to secure our wifi antennae which is located at the top of the mast.  He had noticed it was a bit wobbly the other day and didn’t want to risk losing it at sea.  Fairly easy process…hoist him up our 70’ mast, tighten a bolt, and bring him down.

Matt hoisted up our 70' mast to resecure the wifi antennae

Matt hoisted up our 70′ mast to resecure the wifi antennae

We planned on leaving around 1800, just as the sun was setting, but Sugar Shack had other things in mind.  Matt went to start the Starboard engine and a belt was making a racket.  He spent the better part of an hour aligning, hammering, tweaking, and fixing things before we could get going.  Not a big deal.  This passage should take us between 13-16 hours and we need to arrive in daylight.  So, an hour or two delay didn’t impact us much.

The first 3-4 miles out of Isla Gamez required the most vigilance due to the surrounding reefs and random shallow spots.  It was an art of dodging and weaving, but not too difficult.  Once safely through, we set the course for the first 40-miles of our journey.

The first 90 minutes were uneventful, but around 21:30 we saw and felt a storm coming our way.  We tried to avoid it, changed course and slowed down, but to no avail.  Each time we tried a new tactic, the wind shifted and put us smack in the middle of the storm again.  Rain is not too much of a problem, just annoying.  But the lightening is frightening.  The last thing we want is to be struck by lightening and it was all around us.  We have a 70’ stick that attracts energy and we were terrified that something awful would happen.

Lucky for us, the bolts did not strike us.  The storm delayed us by about 1-1.5 hours, took us several miles off our track and soaked us, but nothing else.  Whew!

Here is one of the shots of our radar showing us smack in the center of the storm.

During my early morning shift, 0100-0400, the moon came out to light our way.  Even with the storm clouds, the moon shown brightly illuminating the sea.

We pulled into Golfito around 0900, about 15 hours after we left.  Perfect timing as it was bright and sunny out, channel was clearly marked, and the bay was not too busy.  We anchored in front of Land and Sea, a very, very small marina and started the massive clean up from the night’s passage.


  • Total distance: 87.3 nm
  • Total travel time: 15 hours 35 minutes
  • Top speed 7.8 kn
  • Average speed 5.6 kn
Sugar Shack at Islas Secas Anchorage

Bahia Honda to Islas Secas to Isla Gamez

As we made our way to the Islas Secas, we went through a narrow cut between some reefs and islands.  Up on the top of one of the hills in this cut, hidden behind a canopy of trees was a house overlooking the bay.

This journey took us 5.5 hours to motor sail 33 miles from Bahia Honda to the Islas Secas, which means “Dry Islands.” This chain is made up of 3 small islands: Isla Pargo, Isla Cavada, and Isla Coco.  The largest island, Isla Cavada is privately owned with an airstrip and an expensive eco-resort called Islas Secas Beach Resort.  Evidently, you can rent a luxury tent for $600 per night with all amenities.  We tried to snoop, but when we went ashore, we were told they had VIPs on property and we would need to come back in 2 days.  Since we saw the helicopter land earlier, we figured it wasn’t a fib, plus they were really, really nice.

Isla Pargo, the island to the South of Isla Cavada has one anchorage, a white sandy beach, small stream, and a trail that leads you from one side of the island to the other during low tide.  Isla Coco is the smallest island with a poor anchorage.  However, it is known for its amazing diving and snorkeling.

We anchored near Isla Cavada (which means Concave Island).  When we arrived a Navy boat and a small monohulls were already here.  By dinner time, the Navy boat left, the storm rolled in, and another catamaran anchored on the opposite end of the bay.  It was a peaceful anchorage, but we set three alarms due to the precarious anchorage.

When we set the anchor, we were in 10 meters of water.  However, with the storm and wind shift, the boat shifted over 3 meters of water.  We can easily float in 1 meter of water, but with the tide changes, we don’t want to be anywhere near a 1-meter spot.  So, we set a depth alarm, wind alarm, and proximity alarm.  Several alarms went off during the night which meant a disturbed sleep.

The next morning, we got up and took the SUPs to one of the beaches on Isla Cavada.  It was a pretty beach tucked into the side of the hill that is submerged under water during high tide.

Image below: Top view of beach coming in on SUPs, and view of Sugar Shack from beach.  2nd Row view of beach and blossoming rock.  3rd Row Amazing air plants growing in a tree and view of beach on opposing side.  Bottom row one of the many hermit crabs playing with my toes and Matt resting on his SUP on the way back to the boat.

After resting a bit on the boat, we hopped in the water to explore the underworld surroundings of the Islas Secas.  It had been awhile since we were able to swim and we did not want to miss this opportunity.  We could tell that there are a lot of coral heads in this bay, but we did not know what else lies beneath the boat.

There was a very abundant coral life growing strong and healthy, but not too many fish.  We did spy (2) puffers that were black with radiant blue spots, a bright yellow puffer, and several pretty large trigger fish.  It’s hard to be impressed when you’ve been diving in Bonaire, but this was pretty and unique.

The next day, we decided to hit the road early to get to our next destination, Isla Parida.  A short 22-mile journey took us just over 3 hours.  We had planned on anchoring at Punta Jurel, but when we arrived it did not look anything like the guide book.  So, we moseyed on over to a neighboring island called Isla Gamez that showcased two beautiful beaches.  And, there are 4 more beaches on surrounding islands that are easily accessible.

We arrived before lunch, dropped the hook and admired the Sunday Funday going on with 8-10 tourist and local boats.  After lunch, we decided to take the SUPs over to the island to join the fun.  It was a lovely little beach, pretty water, and good music.  We did not stay long as each group seemed to be doing their own thing, but everyone was lovely.

Later in the afternoon, we took Sweetie out to explore some of the other beaches on Islas Secas.  We found one hidden beach with lots of palm trees in a little bay that would be delightful to stay for a week or more.  Unfortunately, we needed to get going, so we packed the boat up and headed for Golfito.

Coming Up:

  • Overnight passage to Golfito
  • Golfito
  • Clearing into Costa Rica