Mazatlán to Sámara: Airport Cafes, Ants, and Finding the Perfect Spot

Mrs. ItchyFeet next to Sámara letters

For those of you who do not like bugs and other creepy crawlers, the tropics may not be for you. I’m a huge fan of strange insects, bats, and geckos. However, I draw the line when my walls are literally infested with red ants swarming out in great numbers after dusk. All over the walls. The floor. Ceiling. Popping out of the kitchen faucet. Nope! Not my thing! If this was my first experience with the tropics, I think I would write off the entire region. Here’s how this all started…

Time to head south… for the summer?

I’ve lived in Mazatlán for four months now. Add that to the two months I spent in Guadalajara and my six-month tourist visa for México is up. I have to leave or apply for residency. Time to head back to Costa Rica! Now, why I think it’s a good idea to head south for the summer is beyond me, but I have family living there and friends who are planning to visit. Plus, I’ll be there for the rainy season and after six months with only a couple of days of rain, it’s time for this Seattleite to get some liquid sunshine!

Sunset over Olas Altas
I’m really going to miss the gorgeous sunsets in Mazatlán! I will be back.

Ugh, I do not like all the packing and cleaning that is involved with moving out of an apartment. The owner’s husband is kind enough to give me a ride to the airport, and he arrives promptly at 7:45am. He did not even look at all the cleaning I did! The drive was super easy, and I was in the airport lounge drinking vino tinto by 8:30am (don’t judge me! It’s a travel day). The flight was supposed to take two hours but landed in an hour and a half. So fast!

I am not looking forward to this seven-hour layover, but there are four lounges in this airport terminal in Mexico City, so I should be fine. Unfortunately, every one of them requires me to pay for meals. Instead of doing that, I found a lovely but freakishly expensive restaurant (okay, just normal airport expensive but sticker shock for sure). With my belly full, it’s time to pick a lounge. First one is full… second one is full… third one is full… crap!

Making friends at the airport

The fourth lounge I get to has some seats available. Plus, they let me in even though my flight is like five hours from now. Sometimes they have a maximum three-hour window. Travel credit card for the win! I spend my time chatting with fellow travelers (some with equally long layovers), eating small snacks, and drinking wine. I met a couple of digital nomads who were super fun. One lady organizes destination weddings all over the world. How awesome is that!?! She’s doing one in Costa Rica soon, so I might have to look her up.

Sister Cities Park after the solar eclipse
I’m going to miss this amazing park in Mazatlán (Sister Cities Park or Parque Ciudades Hermanas). Those clouds are from the solar eclipse!

About an hour before my flight, they finally announce my gate, and I head down there. This flight is two and a half hours, landing at around midnight. I got a bulkhead seat, which means I have a ton of legroom. Go me! Unfortunately, my stomach is not happy with the rich and fatty foods I’ve been putting in there and is making itself known. I’m also nervous about the next part of my journey. I’m just not good at traveling. Luckily, I make it without incident.

All my luggage arrives with me in San José, Costa Rica, and I make it through customs with no issues at all (no meat, no dairy, no plants, no soil, no weapons, check). Now here is the nerve racking part. I have a nine-hour layover in this small airport before my shuttle picks me up. I don’t have a connecting flight, so I’m on the wrong side of the airport for restaurants and lounges and comfy seats to sleep in. Plus, it’s midnight and the 24-hour restaurant before security that is supposed to be open is, in fact, not.

Mrs. ItchyFeet on bridge
Mazatlán has some really cool places to explore, such as this botanical garden on Isla de la Piedra. Just a ferry ride away!


Luckily, I find a cafeteria that is open all night and there are already people sleeping around the tables and chairs. Plus, the food is pretty good, which is a bonus. I curl up with my luggage behind a table and get some shut-eye, hoping security doesn’t come along and kick me out onto the street. That would suck!

At around 7am, I head downstairs to see if that restaurant finally opened. That is also where my shuttle should pick up, so it would be nice if I could just eat breakfast there. It’s still closed and other people are also waiting for it to either open or to catch a shuttle. Once it finally opens, I discover that it is not actually a restaurant, but just a deli that sells nothing that I can eat. Stupid gluten! Crap. Back up to the cafeteria with all my luggage.

Now I’m tired and hungry and my brain is turning to mush. Luckily, that cafeteria has the best Costa Rican coffee ever. How I missed CR coffee in all its thick, rich glory. Liquid of the gods! Time to brush my teeth, enjoy an after-coffee-poo, and head down to the shuttle pickup at 8:30am (just in time to see the shuttle loading… but not my shuttle… still 30 minutes to go). By now, the airport is fully bustling. People keep asking if I need a taxi or what shuttle I’m waiting for.

Flowers in botanical garden
You just have to love tropical flowers! Spotted these in the botanical garden near Mazatlán.

Are we taking a ferry!?!

Some nice guy actually calls my shuttle driver to make sure that he doesn’t forget to pick me up. Does that happen? The driver is a bit late because of traffic, but no worries. Once they load the van, off we go. The landscape is beautiful between San José and Sámara, but I have a really hard time staying awake for it. The driver had mentioned that we would be taking a ferry, so I was so excited when we rolled into Puntarenas.

Turns out that the main bridge for the area (Puente la Amistad de Taiwán is a gorgeous suspension bridge over the Tempisque River, designed, and paid for, by Taiwan) is out of service until they complete the necessary repairs. Without the bridge, the Nicoya Peninsula is almost like an island with a much longer, much slower, route as the only backup. Lucky for me, there is a ferry in Puntarenas, and I’m so excited to get to take it.

Puntarenas to Naranjo ferry
I get to take a ferry! This brings back fond Seattle ferry memories. Interesting to note that both Seattle and Puntarenas are sister cities of Mazatlán.

The shuttle driver offloads my luggage onto the ferry and gives me a wristband so that I can walk on. He then picks up people going the other direction for a return trip to San José. That way, the driver gets back to his home base for dinner. Smart! The ferry is really fun people watching, despite how tired I am. They even have empanadas and fresh sandwiches for the humans who can eat the glutens.

¿Dónde está mi equipaje?

The previous shuttle driver let me know that I needed to make sure that my luggage made it onto the shuttle that would take me from Playa Naranjo to Sámara. That is everything I own! I end up following other people with similar shuttle armbands off the ferry, and up the dirt road, until we get to a café where the new shuttles will presumably pick us up and take us to our destinations. I’m still nervous that I don’t have eyes on my suitcases.

Soon a shuttle pulls up with everyone’s luggage and we sort them into various vehicles, depending on the final destination. Sámara is so popular that they need two vans, which is good because I have a lot of luggage. The countryside is gorgeous and we get there by 4pm. I’ve been traveling now since 7:45am the previous day. I’m tired, hungry, and sore. However, I enjoy seeing the various fancy hotels that folks keep getting dropped off at.

Puntarenas lighthouse
Of course I had to get a shot of the lighthouse leaving Puntarenas (El Faro de Puntarenas)! For my pops!

You could tell my driver is slightly concerned as he comes to a stop in front of the house I will be renting for the next five months. It definitely looks rustic. The manager had just informed me that she was out of town, but her parents would let me in. They live in the house attached to the courtyard. That’s news to me. The gate is open and I say hola to the two dogs and the parents and they lead me upstairs.

Where is the door?

Here’s where things go terribly wrong. There is no door leading from the courtyard upstairs into my kitchen. Anyone could just open the unlocked gate to the courtyard and walk upstairs into my kitchen. Or climb a ladder onto the neighboring roof and walk into my kitchen. I can walk onto the neighbor’s roof from my kitchen. There are also no windows as it’s just open. Forget screens on the windows to keep out mosquitos (dengue or malaria anyone?), flies, and bees. There are no windows. There is a thin layer of road and construction dust covering everything. The oven doesn’t work. There’s no lighter for the stovetop. It’s like camping… on an anthill.

This is decidedly not in the video that the manager sent to me. There is a door with a key to the small, dark bedroom and connecting bathroom, but the windows don’t lock, so you could still just walk right in. There are also a number of large red ants meandering about. Hum. I ask about other units (there aren’t any available) and text my concerns to the manager. She states that there is no crime in Sámara, so I should not be worried. Um… I’m worried. I’m very worried.

Claudia Sheinbaum running for México’s presidency
I may have left México, but I’m watching their presidential election closely. This is Claudia Sheinbaum giving a speech in Olas Altas! She will most likely be the next president. How cool is that!?!

I’m also extremely hungry. I put my luggage into the bedroom and head to the beach to find a restaurant. Maybe if I get some food into myself, I can figure out what to do next. I don’t think this will work, but I don’t know how to get myself out of it. No money has been exchanged and no contracts have been signed. She definitely fooled me with that gorgeous video of the “recently renovated” apartment. I’m pretty sure I even told her that I cook a lot, so I wanted the unit with a closed kitchen.


While I eat a wonderful casado (Costa Rican dish of rice, beans, meat in sauce, with fried sweet plantains) and enjoy the sunset, I go over my options. If I keep all of my cooking gear in the bedroom and move it each time I cook, could I make this work? I will have to figure out how to secure the bedroom somehow. I know the manager said that there was no crime in Sámara, but I really don’t want everything I own to get stolen. There is no place in the world where property crime doesn’t exist, especially in tourist areas. I also don’t want anyone wandering in during the night.

After arriving back at the apartment (and noticing someone has left a fan and a blender, because there are no doors!), I turn on the lights in the bedroom and the place is just swarming with hundreds of large red ants! Red ants are crawling over everything, the walls, the ceiling, the floors… even coming out of the faucet! Nope! Nope! Nope! The ants do not appreciate the lights and quickly make their way back to what is clearly their nest in the bedroom wall. There is this large hole with loads of ants circling the entrance. There is also a nest of smaller black ants in the floor, but I’m not as concerned about those critters.

Red ants in hole in wall:
So many large red ants went back into this hole when I turned on the lights to the bedroom! Not my idea of a good time.

How the crap am I going to sleep here tonight!?! I turned the air-con up to try to chill the ants out of the room… is that a thing? It’s worth a shot and seems to work a bit. Then I text the manager of a different set of apartments (in town but up a big hill). She agrees to meet with me tomorrow morning. I’ll move into a hotel if I have to, but this place will not work. So tired! Brain not functioning! I tuck myself into the bed as much as possible so that I don’t get a bunch of ant bites in the night and crash.

I have to get out of here!

I awake in the middle of the night having to pee but just refuse as I do not want to get bitten by red ants. Those bites give me blisters. Once the sun finally comes up, I finally pee and pack up everything (not that I unpacked much at all), making sure to get out any ants that wandered into my bags. I put all my luggage into the nicely remodeled bathroom and head out to breakfast for Costa Rican coffee and gallo pinto (rice mixed with beans, fried cheese, eggs, and of course fried sweet plantains… how I missed you!).

After breakfast, I meet with the manager of the hill-top apartments. Those are some serious stairs, but nowhere as bad as my place in Las Terrenas, Dominican Republic. The apartment is gorgeous and has a lovely deck with absolutely stunning views of the Pacific Ocean. No A/C but all the windows have screens and the hill-top gets a lovely breeze. It’s a bit more expensive than the apartment with all the ants but doesn’t come with all the ants and has locking doors. I’m in! Unfortunately, she doesn’t know if she can find me a place for today.

House gecko!
House gecko! I really love tropical critters… especially the ones that eat the bitting kind.

Once I get back to the apartment with all the ants, I start freaking out about how the manager’s family is going to react to me just up and leaving. They are not home now but could come back at any time. I have the number for a taxi, but don’t know where I’m going. I’m just in freaked out limbo as I wait for a text from the manager of the hill-top apartment. After about an hour, it’s just too much for me. I grab all my stuff, leave $50 on the bed for the night, and silently head out to the mini-mart down the street.

Where to?

The taxi driver is very nice and helps me with all my luggage. I give him the name of a hotel that I know has a vacancy. Not 30 seconds after he drops me off and leaves, the manager for the hill-top apartment texts that she found a place. I could drop off my luggage and come back for the key once the unit is cleaned. Do I call the taxi driver back? Do I hike up the hill with all my luggage? It’s like $3 for the ride up the hill, but that poor driver would have to load my luggage back into his vehicle and I would be embarrassed. Sigh.

View from new apartment
It does not get much better than this view from my new apartment! Lots of stairs to get here, but worth it.

That hill is no joke! I have to do one section at a time to get all my stuff up to the top. So many stairs! After dropping off all that luggage, I ask about rent, as I will have to head to the bank to get cash. The manager says that she will pick it up on Monday because she doesn’t want to be in possession of that much cash over the weekend before she can deposit it into a bank. Smart! And also, yes, confirmation that there is crime in Sámara as there is crime everywhere in the world. You just have to be smart about it.

While I wait in town for the room to be cleaned, I send a very long text (with video and pictures) to the manager of the apartment with the ants. I explain the situation and say that the apartment is just not for me. She is very skilled at taking pictures and videos, but the reality of the unit is very different in person. I should have listened when I read one review talking about the ants… but I thought they would be the cute, tiny sugar ants that are everywhere in the tropics. Plus, the lady’s Insta was a bit sus as well. I should have trusted my gut. It’s always an Adventure!

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  1. Can’t wait to hear more about your time in Sámara! I have been looking at possibly visiting there or Nosara this year. Love reading about your adventures and living vicariously!

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