After looking at a few options, we decided we would go to Tamarindo for the week. I know, I know, everyone always says not to go to Tamarindo. It’s crowded they say, full of tourists, they say. Well, we wanted to be somewhere that was more developed for our first trip to the country. Since we hadn’t been there before, we didn’t want to risk it with an AirBNB and potentially wind up in a spot that was an hour drive on dirt roads from the closest restaurant or market. Give me a minute and you’ll see how it worked out for us.
This is a long one y’all, but I promise you’ll want to hang around for all of it!
We chose to fly into San Jose instead of Liberia due to the last minute booking, and we would then drive to Tamarindo. We got in late, so we crashed at the Studio Hotel Boutique in Santa Ana for the night. It wasn’t close to anything, and I hadn’t really researched San Jose [obviously, because I kept calling it San Juan the whole time we were there] but it had a restaurant on property that we popped over to for a cerveza and some futbol. There was also had a neat rooftop pool and bar, but it was closed by the time we arrived.
We had heard a million horror stories of driving in Costa Rica, but I figured, how bad could it be? And I was right – it was a piece of cake! Luckily for David, I am a whiz when it comes to directions, so I used an old school paper map to plot our drive 4 hours across a foreign country. And we didn’t get lost once. Just be careful because there are curves everywhere and you wind up having to pass a lot of other cars and trucks along the way. Another interesting thing is that when I pictured Costa Rica I imagined lush green rainforests all around, but in reality it looks like you are driving through the desert. Everything is dry and brown until you get within a kilometer or two of the shore!
Remember when I said we didn’t want to risk being somewhere too secluded? Well we did 100% the opposite of that and booked our stay at the Diria Hotel which is pretty much it’s own little compound that takes up half of the town. We had an oceanfront room and we were literally 100 feet from the ocean!
The Diria has 3 pools so after spending the morning on the beach, we would bring some beers over to the larger lagoon pool across the street to lay in the shade and go for a swim. There were also multiple restaurants on site and a phenomenal daily breakfast included with your stay [think make your own belgian waffles and omelets, fresh fruit, eggs, rice and beans, all the pastries your heart desires, and more].
Oh, and remember when everyone told us how crowded and full of tourists it was? I’ll just leave this snapshot right outside our hotel here for you to judge.
FOOD & DRINK
Green Papaya | The Green Papaya is a little taco place with swings for seats. There was a little bit of a wait, but from what I had heard, it was worth it. Well, I didn’t even get a picture of my food here because there tacos are THAT GOOD. Seriously the best tuna tacos I’ve had in my life. We even tried to go back before we left, but unfortunately they are closed on Mondays.
Club Mar Vista | I found this place when looking at Playa Flamingo as a post up location and I am so glad I did! About 25 minutes away from our hotel, we stopped here on the way back from a day trip. It’s at the top of a hill with an infinity pool and swim up bar to hang out at while you wait for your food. Of course, we had tuna poke for the millionth time and I had to try their passion fruit mojito. I would recommend both, but nothing can beat the sunset over the
Lola’s in Playa Avellanas | Lola’s was another place I had heard about before our trip. It is on the beach in Playa Avellanas, which also has great surf, so we knew it was a must-do. The restaurant is completely on the beach with zero walls and has a resident pig named Lolita who is probably over 300 pounds. The food was great. The hammocks were great. The people were great. This is a must-do for sure.
The Diria | As I mentioned, our hotel had like 6 places to eat. Besides breakfast [and stopping at the gelato place] the only restaurant we ate at was Matapalo, a fancier place right next to the ocean. The food was good, but the ambiance was the by far the best part. All of the tables are under chandeliers hanging from the tree canopy!
La Palapa | La Palapa is a little hole-in-the-wall that opens up to a beach restaurant. It was recommended to us by a fellow Virginia Beach couple we ran into at our pool.
Sharkey’s | How convenient that this bar has the same name as a popular Virginia Tech bar… we felt right at home! We were in Costa Rica during the final four and getting to watch the games on the big screen here was a lot of fun. We tried to return for the beer pong tournament on Sunday, but after we were told that it was starting “in 10 minutes” for over an hour, we bailed.
Sprout | After discovering that Green Papaya was closed, we stopped here on the way out. Everything here is super fresh and they have a lot of healthy options. Obviously we went for a sandwich and homemade chips though. It was a good call for a casual lunch.
Surfing & Beach Hopping | Obviously we spent a lot of time on the beach and in the water. Banana Surf Club was right next to our hotel and we were able to rent boards for $10 a day and switch them out whenever we wanted. I went out in Tamarindo, but David also went on our day trips to Playa Avellanas and Playa Grande. One big warning – don’t cross the river mouths! On our first day in Tamarindo we walked through the river mouth just north of our hotel to get to the other side and, come to find out, there are some not-so-friendly crocodiles that call it home. In spite of some murky waters and an uneasy feeling, we made it out alive! David had a more positive encounter on his first day surfing in Tamarindo – he was riding waves next to a sea turtle! We also visited Playa Conchal without surfing. It was by far the prettiest beach we saw with tropical blue water. You have to drive over some pretty serious dunes to get there though, so 4 wheel drive is a must! Also, we were told that the shore would be covered in shells and that was a big old lie, so don’t take the name literally!
Llanos de Cortez Waterfall | One thing we knew we wanted to do in Costa Rica was see a waterfall. Unfortunately, most of them are located in the central rainforest area of the country and not in the Guanacaste region. There was only one within a 2 hour radius so we made the trip to the Llanos de Cortez Waterfall. It was dry season, so again, everything was brown and dusty until we were literally standing at the foot of the falls. We were able to swim up and climb on the rocks behind it. We also met a local kid who took us on a short walk to another swimming hole where David jumped in!
Marlin Del Rey Snorkel & Sunset Cruise | This was probably the most people we were around the entire trip! Everyone hopped aboard a large catamaran, they opened the bar, and we set sail towards a little cove for snorkeling. Unfortunately, the water was cloudy and there wasn’t much to see, but that just left more time for rum punches! After snorkeling, the crew provided a full lunch spread for us and turned the music up for our ride back towards Tamarindo. We anchored out in the ocean to watch the sunset. The Marlin del Ray wasn’t the best snorkeling cruise we’ve been on, but I believe any sunset boat ride [especially with an open bar] is a must on any trip!
Sunsets | Speaking of sunsets… Watching the sun dip below the horizon each day was my favorite thing to do! Everyone stops what they’re doing between 5:30 and 6:00 every day and heads towards the beach. The sunsets in Tamarindo are by far the prettiest I have seen, and being able to watch them from our patio wasn’t bad either!
Guys. Costa Rica was awesome. It was surprising how friendly all of the locals were, even when I was being a huge gringo and pretending I could speak spanish. There is so much more to see and do around the country so a return trip is definitely in our future! What would you want to do in Costa Rica?