I stepped off of the bus that I had been on for the past 2 hours and looked around. I felt like I had walked onto the board game Candyland. It was 8 at night, but everything was so colorful. Lights flashed from every shop on the street that wasn’t more than a floor high. People were walking around in their bathing suits; their laughter was carried as a happy melody down the street by a breeze. Dogs dodged in between people’s legs, their tails pointed straight upwards as if they were carrying a flag.
“Hola,” I turned around to find a young guy sitting on a bench. “You need hostel? You need ganja?”
I laughed I was so surprised. I had only been in Tamarindo for a few seconds.
“Nope, I’m fine, thank you,” I said. I turned to Sarvar who was smiling.
“Now we need to find our hostel.” I looked around for someone(else) to ask for directions.
And then, I looked up at the bright orange sign hanging directly over my head.
It was our hostel.
“How freaking lucky!” I said to Sarvar.
We stayed at Coral Reef Hostel for three nights for a total of $45 (USD) each. This hostel is perfect if you’re looking for a young, international crowd and a convenient location. Coral Reef is right in the center of town and only a short walk to the beach.
Another hostel we were considering was Hamaca Surf Camp, which was $20 (USD) a night. Here, you sleep on hammocks that are outside. This hostel is also on the beach, and has a wide variety of activities that they offer.
Longboard BBQ: The hostel we stayed at also had the same owner as the restaurant located directly next door, Longboard BBQ. If you stay at the hostel, you get 15% off of your meal and $2 beers- what a deal! I ended up ordering the pulled pork sandwich, gringo style, with mashed potatoes. I ate the entire thing in about 30 seconds- it had barely reached my plate before it was gone.
Latitude Blue: They have great happy hour times, 11 am-1 pm and again from 5 pm-7 pm, and they have two for one drink specials. (Yay, $3 tequila sunrises!). I ordered the smaller sized beef nachos (they were HUGE) which ended up being an awesome decision.
El Chilito: Picture a Costa Rican Chipotle. Walk in, pick what you want on your burrito, and indulge in deliciousness. The burrito was $7 (USD), which is a great price, and it was better than average in taste.
Tamarindo has quite a few grocery stores as well that are in very close proximity to the beach. I bought my breakfasts and lunches at the grocery store, and went out to dinner.
We went for quite a few walks on the beach at night (free and totally relaxing). There are a bunch of restaurants bordering the beach, and people were sitting on lounge chairs a few feet from the ocean. We walked past people eating dinner and drinking cocktails to the sound of breaking waves.
One of the restaurants had performers put on a fire show for their customers. We were lucky enough to catch it. In the distance, we saw people throwing a pole lit on either side with flames, swinging it around their body and catching it at the last second (I could never do that).
If you’re a traveler and on a budget (like I was) then Tamarindo is the spot to be. And, it’s also the spot for surfers/ those who want to learn how to surf. There are dozens of surf shops that offer private and group lessons, and they take you right out into the water with the perfect sized waves.
Sarvar ended up taking a surf lesson, but after my experience surfing in Mozambique (I’m terrible. Terrible), I decided to save the cash and just watch.
At Iguana Surf Shop, Sarvar got a surf lesson for 2 hours for $45 with an instructor. He said the instructor helped him the entire time until he was sure enough he could do it himself.
In town, tour companies offer boat tours for $30-40 for 2 hours. However, if you walk all the way down the beach towards the estuary, there will be a local hanging out with his boat, waiting to take customers on the same tour- for half the price. Sarvar and I went on a tour for $15 each (it would have been $10 if we had two more people with us!). This tour takes you into the wildlife refuge of the Tamarindo Estuary where you see a variety of plant and aquatic life.
I sat on the rickety motorboat as the locals pointed out bird and fauna. There was a sting ray swimming in the water a few feet from our boat, which disappeared as quickly as it had shown up.
I imagined myself on a National Geographic expedition as the boat glided along the water. Twisted and mangled roots from trees were exposed as we went further. They looked like thousands of braids looping into one another, all sprinkled with red and yellow crabs running around.
The tour leaders pointed out a crocodile eating an iguana, hidden under some bushes (It took me a few moments to see it).
At one point, the tour leader pulled the boat to the side of the river and got out. We followed him through the woods along an overgrown path. Suddenly, he started to make monkey noises and pointed to the tops of the trees.
When I looked up, I saw four black monkeys staring down. I stood in the back of the group, since I obviously have such great luck with monkeys…
The monkeys started doing the same howling noise back. I felt like I was on a game show, Monkeys vs. Humans: Who could make the louder noise?
This back and forth competition went on for a few minutes, until our tour leader tired out and we walked back to the boat.
On our last night, a few people from my hostel and I went to a popular club called Pacifico Bar. It’s pretty much outdoors, with a small area with a roof above it. It was packed. Reggae music was bumping throughout the club and everybody was grooving along to the beats at their own pace. It was 1 Colon (less than $1) to get into the club, which was open well past 3 a.m.
Tamarindo is the perfect place to explore if you’re looking for a beach-y Costa Rican town, a place to surf, a young crowd, great food and nightlife, and a Pura Vida atmosphere. I was only here a few days but could have easily stayed for weeks. It is a bit more on the expensive side since it’s touristy, but there are ways to spend minimal money and still have a lot of fun.