Tamarindo, Costa Rica

Tamarindo – October 22 – 27, 2018

The bus transportation from La Fortuna to Tamarindo was said to be complicated and time consuming so I opted to take a shuttle which was apparently door to door in 4 hours for $50 US.
As I sat at a cafe an hour into the journey for 45 minutes waiting for some people to join the shuttle, I had to wonder if this was really better than the bus, especially considering the price was at least 10x more. The shuttle ended up taking 5 hours and I arrived in Tamarindo exhausted by the bumpy ride.

My first impression was that I disliked this town. It had a very North American/over touristy vibe to it.

I chose Tamarindo because of its reputation for being a less wet option during their rainy season, the proximity to Liberia airport which for a short trip, meant less travel time, and because I had heard there was a good yoga scene. When I saw big signs for the American car rental companies, streets lined with bars advertising happy hour, and even a Subway sandwich shop, I had a decision to make: leave, or make the best of it.

As I checked into my hostel, the man working there warned me of 3 things to look out for: the sun, the sand flies, and the drug dealers.

Great.

Despite this, I opted to make the best of it, taking advantage of the North American style vegan organic food options, while getting out of town as much as possible to avoid the crowds and piles of horse shit all over the Tamarindo beach. I could have left to find somewhere more Pura Vida Costa Rican authentic but I was only traveling for a short time.

I ended up staying for 5 nights and having the most amazing time. Although it doesn’t have the quaint, small town Costa Rican vibe, Tamarindo was charming in its own way.

Tamarindo has no shortage of budget accommodation options. I chose La Botella de Leche because of the fantastic reviews the pool, and the yoga. I felt like the people who worked there really went out of their way to ensure guests had a good stay. At first I was worried when I arrived and saw the dorm room had 8 beds, but thankfully it seemed to attract a more responsible (clean!) clientele meaning and despite the crowded number of beds, I slept amazingly and never had to wait to use the clean bathroom.

My first task was to set out to find some beach yoga and sadly discovered it is not offered during rainy season. Of course not. Selina advertises a daily beach yoga class but when I inquired, I was told they were cancelled for the rainy season. There are several studios I could do yoga indoors in. Just like home. I ended up taking a few classes at La Botella de Leche ($8/class) including ariel yoga. Although the classes weren’t outdoors overlooking the ocean, the air conditioned studio was a welcome amenity for the challenging classes.

Besdies yoga, below are a few things I got up to and recommended activities for your stay in Tamarindo:

– The main activity in Tamarindo is surfing. You can take a lesson for $30-35. The waves are perfect for learning.

– Walk to the north end of the beach and take a boat across the Estuary to Playa Grande for $1 each way. The boat driver offered me a full tour of the Estuary for $25 and that was without any bargaining which he seemed open to. Do not swim across this narrow divide. Crocodiles and sharks do live in these waters. Playa Grande is a welcome break from the busy Tamarindo beach. There are no amenities, and no touts harassing you to buy their coconut water or wooden toys. Bliss. Keep walking down the beach and you’ll get to Las Baulas National Marine Park where turtles come at night time to lay their eggs. I obviously didn’t see any during the day, and am not sure if you can actually take the boat across at night. If you want to see turtles nesting here, you may want to consider a tour. It is otherwise a beautiful, quiet, beach worth exploring.

– Walk to the south end of Tamarindo beach and you will likely see a crocodile swimming around. Do not feed the crocodile or encourage others to do so. Feeding wildlife results in them becoming overly familiar with humans and leads to death for them. Just observe from afar.

– walk around town, off the main streets and you will see (but likely hear them first) howler monkeys. I even managed to see 10 of them crossing hydro wires over a main street! You may also catch iguanas or other wildlife surprisingly close to town.

– walk to Langosta for a quieter beach and change of scenary. Along the walk you will see a path with a sign that says “Parque San Francisco” that I believe leads to an amazing sunset view. I say I believe it does as I was too scared to walk down the path alone. I saw a few iguanas which was fine but I am terrified of snakes and didn’t want to encounter one in the greenery! Langosta is mostly real estate and construction with some larger resort style accommodations, nothing too exciting but a nice stroll with quieter beaches. I got caught in a sudden torrential downpour and ran into the Langosta beach club where the friendly server greeted me with a warm, dry towel even though I wasn’t a hotel guest and I stayed to have a beer while I waited for the rain to pass. This seems like a fantastic spot to watch the sunset which coincides with their happy hour (4 to 6 pm) so if you’re headed to Langosta, you may want to time your visit with this.

– I didn’t do any tours but there are no shortage of options. Everything from ATVing to waterfalls to boat tours to stand up paddleboarding. The tours are incredibly expensive but if you don’t have a rental car, they’re a great, but expensive way to see the area.

– Check out the nightlife. You’ll find everything from live music to dance clubs “full of hoes” as another traveller described a spot to me. I’m not sure if she meant professional sex workers or young party girls, either way, a sign of Tamarindo’s good party scene.

– There is a farmers market in town on Saturdays from 7 am to 1 pm.

– Visit Rincon de la Vieja park either with a tour or on your own. This is actually just past Liberia so you may want to visit it on your way to/from Liberia if that is where you’re travelling from.

– An alternative to Rincon de la Vieja is Rio Celeste. I visited Rio Celeste from La Fortuna however daytrips from Tamarindo are possible, but a but further than from La Fortuna.

– For what is possibly the nicest beach in the area, head to Playa Conchal. If you don’t have a rental car, the public bus is cheap and fairly straightforward to get there.

The bus stop in Tamarindo

First, take a bus to Huacas (500 colones) – the bus stop is easy to spot, you’ll see many local people standing under a little shelter in front of the Nordico coffee shop and huge yoga sign. When you arrive in Huacas, cross the street to the Imperial grocery store, and you will see a bus stop in front of it (this is also the stop you will use to catch the bus back to Tamarindo).
Catch the bus towards Santa Cruz (450 colones)

The bus stop in Huacas to Brasilito beach

Get off at the big economy sign when you can see the beach and you have arrived at Brasilito beach. You’ll notice it is instantly quieter and more peaceful than Tamarindo beach. But wait… it gets better! Walk south down the black sand beach and cross the river (which can be waist high at high tide or ankle deep at low tide) and keep walking through the little path through the forest area.

When you emerge… paradise. You will see one of Costa Rica’s most beautiful beaches. White sea shells. You have arrived at Playa Conchal. There is a small snorkel area at the north end of this beach if you pack a snorkel ahead of time. There are no rental shops or other amenities, this is part of the charm of this beach. One last heads up on taking the bus from Tamarindo: the bus does a strange turnaround in Santa Rosa – you are still going the right way, this is oddly part of the route. Alternatively, we were offered a taxi to Playa Conchal for $17 one way.

– Ok this next tip was the absolute highlight of my trip… I encourage you to get out of Tamarindo and explore the other parts of the Nicoya Pennisula (especially Montezuma!) but one place you absolutely must visit if the timing is right, is Ostional to see sea turtles nesting or hatching. Ostional is about an hour and 20 minute drive from Tamarindo although you can take the longer (bumpy) route back and visit a bunch of secluded beaches. Check the Association of Guides for Ostional Facebook page to see if there is an arrbada occurring (where thousands of turtles come ashore to lay eggs) or if hatching is occurring. I was told the arribada wouldn’t be until the following week but was fortunate enough to be there when the turtles were hatching. As I was solo, I inquired about a tour and was quoted $50 US as there is no public bus service from Tamarindo to Ostional. I ended up renting a car for $29 and with the mandatory guide fee in Ostional ($10) and overpriced gas, it worked out to be approximately the same price as a tour but I had the freedom of a car rental where I could go on my own schedule. Driving the unpaved road covered in potholes, I could see why there was no bus as this was a little off the beaten track. Since the turtle hatchings are at sunrise, I left Tamarindo at 3:45 am, arriving in Ostional at 5:15 after a few wrong turns as the road signage isn’t entirely clear (make sure you have Google maps on your phone!) The sign for the ranger station in Ostional was also not clear right away so I parked in front of a store and asked a man who walked me to the beach where I met up with one of the guides and paid my mandatory $10 fee. To find the meeting spot, look on the east side of the road when you arrive in town. You will see a little hut with a TV and some chairs.

I spent over an hour watching baby sea turtles emerge from holes in the ground, one right after another, making their way to the ocean where they would be swept away to sea. The strength and determination of these little turtles was inspiring and humbling. The vultures nearby all had a keen interest in watching as well and I learned of the importance of the individuals who work and volunteer on the beach the protect the eggs and hatching turtles from predators (including humans). If you visit Tamarindo during turtle season, you must do this!!!

General Tamarindo tips:
– fly in/out of Liberia airport instead of San Jose. It is only about an hour away (unless you take the public bus) and is a small, easy and fast to navigate airport.
– if flying Westjet, be prepared to pay the $29 departure fee, not included in the price of your ticket as it is with Air Canada, United, and most other major airlines. Bring cash or be prepared to pay more as they charge it to your card as a cash advance. Just don’t fly Westjet and you don’t need to worry about this.

– Tamarindo is expensive af. Prices to eat out, rent a car, or go on tours are comparable to home (Canada for me)

– Many accommodations do not have hot water. If this js important to you, confirm before you book.
– Most places quote prices in US dollars, and most accept credit cards. This is how you know you’re in a very touristy area! I had a mix of colones and US $ and found the exchange rate when I requested to pay in colones varied significantly.
– If you visit during rainy season, beware that the sky can open up and dump a torrential down pour with little notice. While I visited, the rain never lasted long although I heard the week prior was rather miserable. -Pack bug spray!
– Carry your passport with you when driving out of town. This wasn’t a concern for me but a girl I met was pulled over and asked to show her passport with the expectation she had it on her.
– You’ll be offered to buy drugs. A lot. As a general rule, know the laws and penalties surrounding drugs when you travel.
– They say the water is safe to drink. I was fine when in restaurants but when I drank water from the tap in my accommodations, I felt it the next morning. Was it the water I drank before bed? Or the vegan sandwich I ate at 4 pm? I can’t be sure, but stuck with bottled water for the remainder of my trip (buy the larger jugs to refill your bottle, plastic water bottle waste is the worst! Better yet, bring water treatment tabs and drink the tap water- mine wouldn’t open unfortunately)
– Leaving Tamarindo: you can take a shuttle to Liberia airport for $20-25 (cheapest is Shuttle Tamarindo) which I recommend if you have a schedule to keep. I opted for the public bus as I was staying in Liberia the night before flying home. I sat at the bus stop in front of the Nordico coffee shop waiting for the 4:15 bus and it never came. The 5 pm bus came around 5:05 pm and got me to the highway near Liberia airport at 7:15 pm for 1500 colones where I then walked down a dark, deserted street for approx. 5 minutes until I got to the Hilton. The shuttle would have saved me a lot of time (especially factoring in the bus that never came) and would have saved me that sketchy walk. I purposefully didn’t take the last bus of the day for fear it wouldn’t show up and I’d be forced to pay for a taxi. Sometimes it is worth splurging for that $20 ride. Note: there is no posting sign with bus times. I obtained the schedule online which may or may not be correct as the bus company’s website link was dead.
– Renting a car: I only rented a car for one day but will share my tips. I had been warned that when searching prices online at home, they’d be too good to be true as there are mandatory taxes and insurances not included. With this information in hand, I booked a rental car for $3.99 for one day with Europcar. There was a mandatory insurance fee of $20 that I was unable to waive despite having coverage on my credit card. To waive the additional $6 insurance charge, they required a personalized letter from my credit card insurance company outlining the policy I have. This is not the first time I’ve been asked for this, in Puerto Rico they required the same. I reluctantly paid the $6 cash grab. They likely know people aren’t going to waste time phoning their credit card companies to get this letter just to save $6. Interesting business model Europcar. Total car rental cost was still under $30 for the day. They offered to drop it off and pick it up which seemed nice except it meant waiting around for them rather than attending a location. It turns out Europcar doesn’t have a location in Tamarindo but drives the cars in from Liberia. This gave me an idea… I could save them a one way trip by renting a car in Tamarindo on my last day, visiting Rincon de la Vieja and then dropping the car off in Liberia. I emailed them this suggestion, was quoted $90 for the one day rental (why do they charge a drop fee if the car originates in Liberia anyway???) and I abandoned this idea. If you have time to do some pre-planning (I believe Adobe car rental has reasonable one way drop fees), this would be a great option to see Rincon de la Vieja, and get your transportation back to Liberia.

Lastly, if you are curious about vegan food options, or just want a general idea of costs to eat out, check my blog on vegan food in Tamarindo here.

Pura Vida!