Costa Rica Open Water Swim Competitions 21k, 14k, 10k, 5k...
We made a family move to Costa Rica for a one year period through July 2020, and I wanted to report on a couple of interesting swim events that I've experienced here. At one of my last Masters swim workouts in Minneapolis in July, I asked the woman in my lane where she trains for open water swims because her back was so tan. She replied that she just got back from a trip to Costa Rica... So, for all of you in the future considering making a trip to Costa Rica, why not do some advance planning and have it coincide with a supported swim event so that you get your swim habit and family vacation all in one. @GlobalSwimmer has a recent thread on costs for the high profile popular marathon swims, and his post helped inspire me to compile my notes here to offer up shorter cheaper distances that still count as marathon swims in remarkable settings.
Costa Rica Open Water - Two ways on the Pacific (Summary of two swims in 2019)
Swim 1 of 2:
Name: Cruce Golfo Dulce (translation: ‘sweet gulf crossing’)
2019 Date and Price: August 3 & 4 ($250 for 21km + $50 kayak rental; less for other swim lengths)
2020 Date: August 8 & 9 (Signup starts December 2019)
Organization: Adventuras Golfo Dulce https://www.aventurastropicales.com/
Organization notes: Sole annual swim event; 2019 was the third or fourth year of offering the 21km distance. Based out of Puerto Jimenez
Internet/social media keywords: aventuras golfo dulce
Tides information: https://tablademareas.com/cr/costa-oceano-pacifico/rincon-de-osa (Osa Region)
Distances: 14km (straight-line crossing, finishing at Puerto Jimenez), 21km (starting from Saldero Eco Lodge), 5km, 1.5km (all logistics originate Puerto Jimenez; long shuttle boat ride to swim start for long swims on the Saturday of the weekend)
Notes: Early signup encouraged to ensure volunteer kayaker for 14 and 21 km distances; companion viewing boat option $35; cell reception for entire 21 km distance allowing tracking (using Google Fi cell phone service)
Region: Southern Costa Rica; 6 hour drive from San Jose airport (SJO) or 8 hour bus ride from San Jose, or 45 minute flight from SJO (Sansa Air)
Weather: Rainy season, lower rates, tourist draw for this region, which is off the beaten path
Water body: Large, deep tropical fjord (greater than 700’ deep in some regions); no buoys for the swim route for much of the crossing
Marine life observed: One Jellyfish safely out of reach, thin iridescent disks the size of large fish scales reflecting light seen at various depths.
Annoyances: ** Occasional contact with invisible Hydroids (‘hilo de oro’), a relative of Jellyfish, sensation of a sting or pin prick lasting 30 seconds. Vaseline helps protect contact. For sun protection, Desitin is found at Walmart and local Farmacias. Peak UV index of 11 common at mid-day. Warm water swim; hydration very important.
**Region notes: Wild, remote, rugged part of Costa Rica; one of only a few tropical fjords in the world. Humpback whales breed and calve their young here. One of the only places visited by Humpbacks from both the north and south hemispheres (December-March for whales from the north, August-October for whales from the south)
Number of swimmers in 21km event 2019: 10
Number of swimmers in 14km event 2019: 22
Kayak volunteers: 32 for 1:1 support ratio for the two longest swim events
Regional attractions: The Golfo Dulce itself, Corcovado National Park, Drake Bay, Caño Island Biological Reserves (adds days to your itinerary due to remoteness and travel times).
Personal notes/experiences: I registered late, and the 14km distance was closed so I upsized to 21km. The 21km event started one hour late (06:00) which added to the tidal-change challenges (back eddy currents along shore for the first leg of the swim). Water warm and generally calm, rainstorms visible in far regions of the fjord during the event. My kayak support boat sunk within a couple minutes after the start (cooler, ice block, feeds bobbing about) but they waved me on to continue the swim; the 1 km ‘buoy’ was an inflatable boat with outboard motor which became my replacement support boat, until the motor quit and hand paddling couldn’t keep up with me. Overall well supported however; one of the Red Cross people on Jet Ski was nearby and allowed my swim to continue. Later, a new kayak with new paddler magically appeared with my cooler and feeds. I trained for a 7-hour event and ran out of feeds and water at that duration; underestimated the tides, and had insufficient training so I was DNF. Two male and two female swimmers of the ten finished the 21km event, including notable Boulder Colorado swimmer Matt Moseley (but without the Mardi Gras style music support boat).
Our family moves back to the U.S. from Costa Rica before the August 2020 swim, but maybe I figure out a way to make a second attempt in 2020 for the cruce Golfo Dulce.
Swim 2 of 2:
Name: Cruce del Golfo Papagayo Translation: Papagayo (Culebra Bay) gulf crossing
2019 Date and Price: November 3 ($73 for 10km; less for other distances)
2020 Date: November 2020?
Organization: Aguas Abiertas CR (Open Water Costa Rica) https://www.circuitoaguasabiertas.com
Organization notes: Four open water events annually (and four more for triathlons); 3 open water swims in North region, 1 in the Central region, all on the Pacific
Internet/social media keywords: Circuito Aguas Abiertas UIA (UIA Open Water Circuit)
Tides information: https://tablademareas.com/cr/costa-oceano-pacifico/guanacaste (Guanacaste Region)
Distances: **10km (Panama Beach to Nacascolo Beach and back to start), 5km (boat ride out and swim back from Nacascolo beach); 1.5km, and shorter swims, including for youth 9-10 and 10-11 years old.
**Notes: The 10km is a double crossing with water available at 5 km turnaround, and 7.5 km (boat); no dedicated kayakers for swimmers but good coverage with boats and kayaks.
Region: Northern Costa Rica; Swim event is only 20km from international airport in Liberia (LIR); four hour drive from San Jose airport (SJO).
Weather: Rainy season, lower rates.
Water body: Relatively shallow gulf, allowing anchored buoys for more most of the course at 500 meter spacing. Swim start was at high tide; warmish water but cooler regions. Some additional effort to always stay left of the buoys; current from left to right on outbound segment, reverse on the return as tide was going out.
Marine life observed: Puffer fish at depth, three manta rays at depth, large school of medium sized fish (tuna?) near the finish; thin iridescent disks the size of large fish scales reflecting light seen at various depths.
Annoyances: Occasional contact with invisible Hydroids (‘hilo de oro’), a relative of Jellyfish, sensation of a sting or pin prick lasting 30 seconds. Vaseline helps protect contact. For sun protection, Desitin is found at Walmart and local Farmacias. Peak UV index of 11 common at mid-day. Warm water; hydration very important.
Region notes: Modern, developed region, beautiful beaches, family friendly. Well developed roads and infrastructure. Tap water safe to drink throughout all of Costa Rica.
Number of swimmers in 10km event 2019: 41
Number of swimmers in 5km event 2019: 109 (200+more in the other shorter-distance events)
Regional attractions: Monteverde, other beaches including Hermosa and Coco beach, exclusive resorts and public beaches on Papagayo Peninsula; Arenal Volcano and thermal springs further away.
Personal notes/experiences: This is the first marathon swim I’ve completed without dedicated kayak support, happy to say. This was the first swim event for me where I’ve seen a significant variety of marine life. Hydrated, carbo loaded the day before, and superstarch-loaded the morning of the event. Drank roughly 1 liter water at the turnaround point. Calm waters and well supported by an efficient swim organization. Many Costa Ricans living in the U.S. participate in the event. The event uses ChronoTrack and Athlinks for live updates via text notifications and for results.