Tamarindo is about an hour from Liberia airport. We take several wrong turns and realize, yes, we’re in the jungle. Unpaved roads are dusty, information is sparse, and the route is incongruously lined with yoga retreats, a range of primitive-to-posh accommodations and a baffling array of restaurants.
We make it to Tamarindo, a booming commercial strip along a stretch of blinding beach. Monkeys and coconuts dominate the canopy of parched trees above our heads. Bright green birds flit from tree to tree, invisible among the leaves. As temps climb to 100˚F, the constant breeze rolling off the thundering turquoise surf is a relief.
The vibe is laconic, and just about anything goes. I watch a pair of slim and beachy Bohemians puffing on a fat cigar. Smoke mixes with coconut suntan lotion to surprisingly pleasant effect. I relax and decide to rethink my radical stance on bourgeois tropical vacations.
Our nearby grocery store is air conditioned and orderly, with plenty of cheap and refreshing Imperial beer. Fruit and vegetable stands are accessible, friendly, and street food includes delicious and filling empanadas and kebabs. Expat Italians have also colonized this wild hunk of beach, bringing with them some respectable pizza.
Aging hipsters thrive in Tamarindo, exchanging “Pura Vida” both as greeting and password. At our rented paradise, Steven Stills lookalikes in bright hibiscus shirts and graying ponytails address each other as “man” and “dude.” Conviviality prevails as the merry band of brothers meets each morning by the pool in our shared courtyard. They sit with laptops, comparing notes on the stock market, deep in their laid-back parallel universe.
Costa Rican beaches are blessedly public, and we spend most of our time on the seashell-covered playa. Pacific waves are bathtub warm with strong undertow. Vendors hawk brightly painted bird whistles, jewelry and wood carvings, but will graciously take ‘no’ for an answer. Don’t miss the beach cevice, fish cured in citrus and spice – local treasure served from humble plastic coolers.
Shaded beach chairs are available at shoreline restaurants and bars. Spend a few colones on an Imperial beer or iced juice blend (or both). Tourists can sit as long as refreshments keep coming. Natives rest on blankets off to the side, which triggers my tourist-guilt. Sunsets happily unite the two groups around 5:30 as beaches become crowded with people taking a moment to appreciate the magic of nightfall together.
Tamarindo is ideal for gringos who love surfing, yoga, zip-lining, horseback riding, exotic birds and wildlife, paddle boarding, fishing, mountain hiking, swimming, and exploring the wild. My relationship with nature has always been somewhat tortured, and I find myself a bit alienated until I find the bookstore, farmer’s market and lively bistro and bar scene.
Pangas bistro is a favorite – beach club by day and a relaxed restaurant by night. Have a guara punch in a rustic driftwood chair with surf tickling your toes – a perfect place to harness the local vibe. Don’t miss the steak you cook yourself on a black volcanic rock, or the day’s catch straight off the boat, served sizzling on a rustic iron skillet.
Up the road, breakfast at La Terasse is served on a breezy terrace overlooking the beach, a popular spot for couples, young moms, and surfer dudes. Watch what other people order and use your most polite Spanish, por favor. If you can’t manage, just point to what looks good. Try the Machaco Burro, an enormous flour taco stuffed with shredded beef, two eggs, melted queso fresco and beans. Or the Samba, an enormous, gooey breakfast sandwich of egg, avocado and queso fresco. Skip gringo touches like toast (yuck) and home fries (more yuck). The coffee on the terrace is strong and “bottomless” which appeals to our Yankee sensibilities.
Another very popular restaurant, Patagonia, specializes in Argentine cuisine. We order all four of the house specials and a bottle of local red wine as my husband’s Bernie Sanders T-shirt is greeted with warm applause. (Tamarindo feels the Bern.) The house-made tagliatelle is robust, heavily spiced, and loaded with house-cured meats. Patagonia’s ravioli stuffed with fresh salmon is delicate and unexpected.
Colin sends us to the upscale hotel Diria Tamarindo for a civilized and potent rum punch, barefoot elegance at its best. We watch a glowing sunset on the beach, listen to jazz piano on the terrace, and celebrate the good life – Pura Vida! •