Piedra Colorada, Costa Rica’s Pebble Manhattan

The balanced-pebble structures at Piedra Colorada

photography by: Omri Westmark

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Some consider it a form of art, while others regard the practice as harmful for the environment, rock balancing has been a centuries-old tradition across the world. Ensconced in the southern tip of Costa Rica's Nicoya Peninsula, the secluded cove of Piedra Colorada is home to a mind-bogglingly impressive cluster of pebble skyscrapers, laboriously created and maintained by dedicated tourists and locals alike.

The Trail

Located northeast of the resort-town of Montezuma, Piedra Colorada Beach is accessible via a 1 kilometer trail that starts next to the local school. Abounds with ocean vistas, lush rainforests and roaming iguanas, the trail is apparently an attraction by its own right. Despite the lack of an official trailhead, as you cross the town’s sole commercial street northwards, you’ll come across several signs indicating the right direction, making it rather easy to find.


The further you go along the pathway, the wilder it gets until the only sign of civilization is narrowed to a few footprints on the sand. The trail’s first half is accompanied by a string of seaside resorts, the furthest of which is the Ylang Ylang Beach Resort, after which the hike alternates between a dense jungle and pristine beaches.


Besides the stunning tropical scenery, the single most interesting site along the roughly 20-minute journey is the sea-turtle hatchery. Providing an insulated environment for hundreds, if not thousands, of sea-turtle’s eggs, the hatchery is run by volunteers who safeguard the hatchlings as they make their first steps towards the nearby ocean, where they can live up to 150 years.

The Pebble Beach

Following the twenty-minute hike, you’ll finally reach the Piedra Colorada Beach. The isolated cove is where a deep-forest stream meets the nearby Pacific Ocean, forming a spectacular freshwater pond, whose swimmable waters feature an unusual emerald hue. Nevertheless, the true centerpiece of Piedra Colorada is undoubtedly its multiple pebble structures.


The story has it that over a decade ago, an intrepid traveler named Jake, frequented the beach on a daily basis, painstakingly creating a series of rock-balance sculptures. While Jake ultimately left Montezuma in search of other adventures, his fellow travelers throughout the years kept constructing additional pebble towers that coalesced into a small-scale rocky Manhattan. Suffice to say that each and every person who visit the place, including you, is welcomed to erect his or her own pebble monument.


Interestingly, the secluded beach also neighbors the Nicolas Wessberg Absolute Natural Reserve, named after a Swedish activist, who together with his Danish spouse, Karen Mogensen, promoted the establishment of several protected areas in the region, most notably, Cabo Blanco, the first natural reserve in Costa Rica. In 1955, the couple purchased the surrounding lands of Piedra Colorada, where they built their wooden home with the aim of warding off any real-estate developers.


Unfortunately, Nicolas’s love for nature cost him his life, when in 1975, he was murdered at the Osa Peninsula as he petitioned for the creation of Corcovado National Park. Karen, who suspected that something went wrong, found his bones after he was partially consumed by animals. His remains were eventually brought to their private paradise near Montezuma and buried on a wooded hill. Following Karen’s death in 1994, their land was donated to the government, which founded a natural reserve at the premises, marked by a stone plaque in Piedra Colorada.