Tamarindo, Costa Rica

First, let me start off by saying that I got here in the beginning of October, which is clearly low season. However, that didn’t help at all when trying to book a room or dorm upon arrival. I got here around 11pm and began my search for a place to spend the night. Hostel after hostel was booked. Annoying, but such is life when you don’t plan ahead and I was prepared for that, though not exactly expecting it. So, eventually I found a place. I won’t bore you with the details of the place I found. You can find that information in the Hostel section of the blog for Tamarindo. Anyway, I decided, after securing a place to get some food. Turns out, in low season, there isn’t much after 10pm. I settled on a little food court near the Wild Panda. Got a burger and fries for $10USD and it was quite bad. Fine, whatever. It’s 10pm, I haven’t really had a chance to look over my options and this place really is just a tourist hole. Ok. Well, let’s see what else there is around here. This time of year, this time of night, even though it’s a Saturday, there was really only Sharky’s (or Sharkie’s) not sure about spelling. It’s ladies night and the bar has spilled out onto the street. This is the only party in town and it’s packed. A mix of natives and a whole bunch of foreigners are enjoying the music and drinks. It’s a bit of a mess but it’s different. In some ways, this is worse than Cancun’s Hotel Zone. There’s nothing Pura Vida about this place. This is the main strip of what is supposed to be, or more accurately what I thought to be a surfer town. Small, sure, developed and catering to tourists, but not like this. I expected little bungalows, some condos, but not this. 

I don’t know what you are looking for in your destinations, and I’m very much the kind of person who wants to see for themselves what a place is like, even when others say to ignore it. So far, Costa Rica is a bust. Yes, the countryside is beautiful, but the 2 spots I’ve been to so far are a total waste in terms of meeting good people, and experiencing “la Pura Vida”. But hey, it’s early yet. I won’t be staying here any longer than needed. And if you don’t want a tourist infested mess posing as a surfer’s paradise, I would just say, skip this place. It has little to offer. If you’re looking for a place to party with a decent but not great beach, a healthy population of prostitutes and a bunch of locals who don’t really represent the country, then this might work for you. It’s all relative. The coke flows freely, the booze is expensive, pott is readily available, cops don’t interfere and the surf seems decent though from what I saw, not great. That might be all you’re looking for. For me, that’s the opposite of what I was hoping for from this place, but I had to see it for myself. Just cause they say skip it, doesn’t mean I should, maybe… neither should you. 

A daytime stroll through town and along the beach reveals a place that is massively overrated. The beach itself is not at all impressive. The sand is decent but muddies the water so the water isn’t particularly clear, and there’s no real charm to the strip of beach at all. There are a few restaurants which you can bet are quite expensive and from what I’ve heard from expats living here, not very good in general. The town itself during the day is a bit dusty (most roads here are not paved despite considerable development and foreign investment. It’s quite obvious most business are foreign owned, and the prices are insane. Think doing groceries will save you money? Well, just  but be prepared to spend $10USD on a loaf of bread, some Kraft singles (yes, this is what I was reduced to), a pack of salami and 2 avocados. Ya, it’s that bad. Additionally the options are incredibly limited. If you want to eat out, don’t expect to have a meal for less that $8USD and don’t expect it to be any good. You can search around for options and you’ll find a couple here and there, but it’s a mission and going for food should never feel like a mission. 

Personally, I don’t get this place. I’ve seen much better surfing in Puerto Escondido, with a much more authentic vibe (though admittedly not completely authentic), prices that make sense and many more options for nightlife and food. Sure Puerto is bigger, but it makes sense. This place has a fakeness about it. An inflated sense of chillness that is completely unmerited in my opinion. And with laundry at $12USD per load, you can’t claim to be chill. That’s the farthest thing from chill. So, this doesn’t rank too high on the list of places I’ve been to in Central America so far. The prices make it restrictive and the vibe isn’t particularly great given the amount of foreign owned businesses, the lack of Spanish spoken in many restaurants and the general feel that this place caters to a very select type of tourist. That being said, after spending a few days here, the place did grow on me a bit. There are ways to escape the exorbitant prices, ways to find local food, though most restaurants here serve anything but Tica food. Once you get over the sticker shock and settle in a bit, you might find yourself relatively comfortable here. If you find a decent place to stay, and for me that was Pura Vida Mini Hostel, and you are careful about what you purchase and where, you’ll find yourself starting to enjoy the place a bit more, from the beach to the Howler monkeys that prowl around the outskirts of town, to the great burgers at Surf Shack, or the decent waves that beg you to surf them. I suspect, unless you’re on a short vacation right out of the US, Canada or Europe, you’ll hate it at first, but if you can stand it for a day or 2, you’ll find yourself actually starting to enjoy yourself. But, really, who wants to have to learn to love a place?

1. I could only find 3 ATMs in town. They seem to charge about $5 USD per withdrawal, so either try to use credit cards wherever you can or take out large sums of money (you’ll need it) if you’re comfortable with that.
2. There are tons of surf shops and rental places. I used Blue Trailz for a lesson ($45/2 hours with instructor) and enjoyed that. The instructor was helpful, fun, laid back and quite knowledgable. For surf rental, the Surf Culture shop has a decent selection of boards and if you stay at Pura Vida Mini hostel, you can get a board for the entire day for $8USD. 
3. Food options are generally limited if you’re on a budget. Don’t be surprised if a crappy burger with fries and beer costs you over $12USD. But walk around and you’ll find some cheaper options in more hidden places, including a local Costa Rican restaurant that gives you a full meal for under $8USD. Otherwise, one of the 2 “supermarkets” might be your best bet. The Super Mini 2000 offers a decent selection of items. Get yourself some fruits, pasta, emapanadas, and bring it to your hostel and cook it there. Most hostels in the area have kitchens you can use to prepare and store your food. 
4. Try and walk around. You’ll see plenty of local wildlife on the outskirts of town. From Howler monkeys, to iguanas, raccoons at night, parrots during the day. Walk to the river and you might find some crocodiles to take pictures of and the beaches apparently occasionally have bullsharks. You can take turtle tours, paddle to the island about a kilometer out, snorkel a bit, etc. 
5. In the end though, if you don’t surf, Tamarindo might not have that much to offer, particularly not during low season. There are much better places for wildlife and other activities in Costa Rica. Tamarindo is full of tourists, party tourists, surfers, and ex-pats, not necessarily travelers, so keep that in mind.

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