Our Time In Tamarindo, Costa Rica

After our time in Monteverde, we wanted to explore the Pacific Ocean side of the country. There were a number of different towns that popped up on our list of considerations, but a few factors led us to pick Tamarindo as the winner – the largest of which was it being within driving distance of the airport for our return flight home.

One of the nearby beaches.
Where We Stayed

The drive there was uneventful, backtracking over the mountains and through small towns before meeting the stretch of highway that led us to the coast.

Approaching the town, there is a steep hill that takes you down and almost immediately into the swing of busier traffic and pedestrians crossing the street. Along the side of the hill are billboards for real estate companies pitching to you that “Now is the time to invest in Costa Rica.” The first thing we noticed was that all of these billboards were plastered with the faces of white Americans. The town would definitely live up to its nickname – Tamagringo.

Our GPS had taken us past the main section of town and onto a slightly bumpy road that turned right onto a very bumpy road. The address we were given was just a street name, no actual name or number (I don’t think address numbers exist here) so we checked a few places that looked like the screenshots we took off of Airbnb. It was a pretty distinctive orange roof, but every place we checked wasn’t quite right.

The road looked as if there was only construction further down, so I was sure we were passing by the right spot. I eventually parked and walked into the lobby of a fancy-looking condominium park and asked to use their WiFi. I tapped the Apple Maps function on the Airbnb app and saw it was around the corner, further down this muddy, rocky road.

We drove around the corner and bounced our way down past other properties before realizing we were almost back to the town center. I made a U-ey and turned down another street and parked along the side. There was an open hostel where I decided to ask for directions.

I pushed open the wooden door which opened into their pool area where there was a cabana for a front desk. At 29 years old and wearing shorts and a t-shirt, I felt both too old and way overdressed for this place. I asked the girl working if she knew of this Airbnb to which she had no idea. Thanks anyways, I departed.

We walked back up towards the car and Rachel asked a gentlemen at an apartment complex. He explained that it was behind their building, down what looked like a driveway. For reference, there is no sign, no instruction in the app, nor any comments saying to look out for this very hidden entrance.

We park and peek through the gated entrance. A younger guy is standing on one of the porches, looking back at us, seemingly confused as to why there were two people with backpacks near his house.

Rachel introduces herself and asks if he’s the owner of the property. He affirms, but is still hesitant. This is the guy that I had texted earlier to let him know when we’d be there, right?

He makes his way to the gate, lets us in and shows us the property. It’s three bungalows that surround a garden. One of them is called Casa Oriole, with the sign on the door in the font of the baseball team. It turns out our host is from Baltimore.

Our room was called the Treehouse because of the bed being in a loft above the rest of the place. It had a 270-degree view of the area which was predominately tree cover from our vantage. Plenty of comments for the property said monkeys could be seen often. (Up to this point, we hadn’t seen much in the way of wild fauna of which the country is famous.)

That changed.

We woke up one morning to the sound of something pitter-patting on the metal roof outside of our treehouse windows. Since we didn’t face any other accommodations, the shades stayed open. Right outside the window was a cat. A hairless cat. It slinked its way around our treehouse, occasionally glancing in at our movements. Good morning, I meowed in its direction. The cat’s response? It turned tail towards the room and let nature take over, peeing on our window, before taking off towards the trees, jumping all nimbly-bimbly down to the lower branches.

Thanks for the warm welcome…

What We Did

Tamarindo is very navigable. Assuming you’re in average shape, it shouldn’t take more than half an hour to walk between the two farthest points of interest. There are plenty of restaurants, cafes, and bars to choose from – all with plenty of English signage and young Europeans on gap years working in the service industry.

Not a local dish, but still delicious.

We took the recommendation of our host and tried some of his favorite places. First was Falafel Bar, a restaurant that offered plenty of tasty Mediterranean options. Café Tico was our favorite place for breakfast. It was delicious, affordable, (at the time) owned by a local, though she was trying to sell the business when we were there, and offered a great place to practice our Spanish. We found that Costa Ricans spoke an easy to understand Spanish that was fairly scholastic and didn’t rely much on colloquial or grammatical slang.

The beach front is easy to get to – there are a few thruways littered between the resorts where you can get to the water, though it is usually busy.

If you’d like to venture off to some of the other nearby beach towns, there are plenty of options within a 20 minute drive.

We opted to bounce around to a few different spots which each provided a much different vibe than the last. Playa Flamingo wasn’t very busy when we got there first thing in the morning. We even beat the parking attendants who accept tips to watch your car. The town around this beach seems like it caters to money and people with second or third homes. Playa Langosta, which we got to by parking near the Occidental Tamarindo hotel and walking through a path in the nearby woods, offered a secluded beach stay. Most of the shore is shielded by a large stretch of rocks, so swimming requires conglomerating on the ends, but it’s perfect if you just want to lay out for some tanning or check out the aquatic life that live in the tide pools around the rocks. We saw some super cool, electric blue fish and spiny sea urchins.

Before We Leave

Tamarindo was intended to be a stretch of R+R. This was an opportunity to kind of reset as our corner of the world was breaking out of the Covid cocoon. We knew there wasn’t much of an adventure to be had, outside of surfing and other water sports, and we were okay with that. We existed on island time, as insisted on by anyone you talk to who is familiar with the town.

We ate good food, drank some good beer, and I even got to enjoy the hammock at our Airbnb where I started reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. As I flipped through the pages of the book, learning about early-American agriculture and corn sex, I saw it.

Just there.

The branches and leaves were rustling. What is it?

Is it that damn cat coming back to pee on us again? No?

A monkey? Yes!

A troop of howler monkeys had awoken and began traversing the trees around our treehouse.

Some of our neighbors.

One became two became five became eleven monkeys just slowly making their way from branch to branch, stopping often to eat some leaves or take a five minute power nap. My eyes wide and my smile big, I ushered Rachel out to join me on the deck and we just happily stood by the side, seeing them get closer and closer.

A young baby clung to its mother’s body – one of the cutest things I’ll probably ever get to witness – and the monkeys in the front, teamed up to help down the weaker ones who just couldn’t quite reach the next branch to jump to. It was fun just watching the animals do their thing.

Will I be back? Probably not. I’d rather venture further south to the Puntarenas region or maybe the Atlantic side, but Tamarindo gave me what I wanted. Relaxation and monkeys.

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