Everything I had read about Tamarindo from guidebooks and websites told me I would hate it. It was supposed to be a party town – loud, obnoxious, expensive, and overrated. Still, in order to try surfing at possibly one of the most newbie-friendly beaches, we decided to pay Tamarindo a visit, not committed to staying there for long. And “Tamagringo” (get it?) turned out to be a lot of fun in the end!
Tamadindo’s beach is long and linear in a north-south direction and forms part of the Parque Nacional Marino Las Baulas de Guanacaste (Las Baulas National Marine Park). The beach is on the Pacific ocean with a very calm wave – perfect for virgin surfers learning to maneuver their boards. There are a series of beaches to the north and south of here, but by far Tamarindo’s tourist infrastructure overwhelms it all.
Occasionally sea turtles will come to the surface in search of a good spot to lay eggs. Unfortunately unlike the Tortuguero National Park on Costa Rica’s east coast, this place is not protected from human predators, nor is the overwhelming light and sound conducive for turtles.
↑ Wherever I am, I enjoy running on the beach early in the morning, it’s calm, peaceful, and the air smells amazing. Some locals were already up fishing.
In the few days that I was here, there was always someone on the beach, which felt very busy compared to the Atlantic coast. On weekends, overnight campers and parties are very common. During the day the beach gets very crowded, with people laying out blankets and hanging out. Enterprising locals lay out anonymous umbrellas and large Muskoka chairs – know that these are not free and if you are spotted using them, you’ll have to pay a small fee. On the north end of the beach is a small creek on a small river; occasionally crocodiles will swim up right around there so be careful. Boatmen will sell you “cruises” to go up the river and you can see monkeys and other animals.
Every other storefront on the street is a surf school and water sport rental shop. Being a great place to learn surfing – the waves are gentle and pardoning – many noobs, such as us, converge in Tamarindo to learn surfing. Shops will happily talk to you about their teaching styles and options, and it’s okay to look around at other places nearby. Everyone knows everyone so it’s going to stay in the family regardless of what you pick.
↑ Tamarindo is built around surfing. You’ll quickly see why they say the beach was specifically designed by the surf gods!
We found a place that sounded more engaging and knowledgeable and signed up for beginner lessons. A lesson can be anywhere between 90-120 minutes and gives you enough basics to get going. Before you hit the water, you’ll learn some fundamental techniques on the beach – how to stand, how to be flexible, paddling methods, and safety information (what to do when faced with a big wave and you don’t have a clue). The surf board is light but very large, so handling it on wavy ocean was my first challenge.
The instructor picked the right wave for us and told us exactly when to get on and get off the board. The rush of catching a wave and riding it all the way to the beach is amazing. I wanted to do it over and over!
The town of Tamarindo is a cluster of streets with lots of shops of different kinds catering to a variety of tourists. There is basic healthcare and medical facilities, grocery stores, corner stores that sell beer, chemists / pharmacies, banks, etc. Then there are yoga studios, tattoo shops, bars and clubs, hotels and restaurants. There is nothing to see in the town per se, except shirtless and skimpily clad surfers – who doesn’t like that.
Accommodation and Food
Tamarindo has a large number of budget accommodations as well as plenty of more expensive places. Most hotels and resorts are by the beach, with a demarcated section for its patrons, including annoying disco lights and music at night. The number of restaurants is immense, the only place in Costa Rica where we found international foods – East Asian, Indian, etc., besides the usual fare of burgers, pizza, pasta, etc. I have to say it was a welcome break after two weeks of gallo pinto (rice and beans).
As is most other places in Latin America, the abundance of fruits and fruit juices makes it easier to take the sweltering heat in the afternoons. In Tamarindo I also saw fruit sellers hanging out by tourist hostels, selling cups of diced fruits for $2 – great breakfast.
↑ Food can get kinda expensive if you stick to restaurants. Buy your groceries and make a large breakfast while you recover from a hangover.
↑ Good thing is that you can always cook yourself (left) or find a very cheap place to eat (right).
Eating out in restaurants can quickly add up, especially if you are spending an evening on a waterfront establishment. Save costs by cooking your own food (groceries are cheap and fresh), or by ducking into the back alleys and smaller lanes – these are the places where working class Ticos eat. On these smaller streets you’ll discover little Sodas (restaurants) with mamas making delicious casados – a lunch plate consisting of rice, beans, meat, plantains, salad, and a drink. We found plenty of such restaurants and kept our food costs low.
Tamarindo is adequately connected to the two international airports of Liberia and San Jose the capital city. In addition, many tour operators will gladly sell you package tours that take you out of Tamarindo, do your activity (zip lining, white water rafting, etc.) and drop off at your destination. There’s only one road with one bus stop, so ask around.
That’s how you rock Tamarindo on your next visit to Costa Rica.