By Paige R. Penland

One sunny destination that our travelers will be eagerly anticipating is Tamarindo, Costa Rica, best known for its surf, sand, and nesting sea turtles.

But there’s so much more.

Before we get to the listicle portion of this blog post, however, let’s go ahead and discuss the surf. You may have already seen Tamarindo’s star turn in the epic 1994 surf documentary, “Endless Summer II.”

 

surf-roca-bruja

Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Witch’s Rock is just one of dozens of breaks where your surf instructor can take you.

We realize that you’re traveling with us because you don’t want to skip a beat with your career. But, if you’ve ever wanted to learn to surf, just know that Tamarindo is one of the top surfing destinations in the Americas, with more than a dozen surf schools and the scores of free agents offering to teach you everything by the hour. Breaks range from “perfect for beginners” right in town, to the “expert only” waves near Playa Negra.

This is your chance to scratch that off your bucket list, and instructors will happily work around your hours. We can help arrange everything.

The city of Tamarindo is small—you can probably walk from one end to the other in half an hour, though you’d miss a lot at that speed. The scene is laid back, the view perfect, and the beer ice cold.

It’s also well developed and touristy, which has earned it the moniker “Tamagringo” in some circles. Let the cynics complain about the lack of authenticity. Tamarindo’s popularity also means high-quality shared workspaces, familiar brands from home at upscale grocery stores and markets, reliable electricity and wifi, and an enormous variety of restaurants, tour offices, spa treatments, yoga classes, and just about everything else under the sun.

Besides, if you want to see the “real” Costa Rica, it’s just a few minutes away. Literally—there’s a US$1 boat taxi from the northern end of Tamarindo across an estuary to Playa Grande, a much less developed surf town scattered throughout a forested national park.

If that’s not authentic enough, catch a bus 20 minutes inland to Santa Cruz, a “folkloric city” of festivals and traditional handicrafts that has been inhabited for some 5000 years. It doesn’t get more authentic than that, folks. (It’s a great little town, so do check it out.)

Tamarindo is a world-class tourist destination because it’s amazing. This list barely touches on all the tours, classes, day trips, and weekend destinations that are on offer. Zip lines, diving excursions, ATV rentals, waterfall rapelling—it’s all available right here. Check our favorite regional website, NicoyaPeninsula.com, for more information on what awaits in this sunniest corner of Costa Rica.

 

What to Do In & Around Tamarindo: The Listicle

1. Go Fish

Costa_Rica_Fishing

Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Your social media selfies are about to get so much more fun.

Tamarindo is also a sport-fishing hotspot, with some 30 registered charters ready to take you on a deep-sea adventure. Most offer both catch-and-release and catch-and-eat fishing; ask and they’ll prepare your fish for you. You’ll need a Costa Rican fishing license (US$15 for eight days), sunscreen, and a full day to give this a try.

2. See Sea Turtles

The entire 10-kilometer length of Playa Grande, just north of Tamarindo, is entirely protected as part of Las Baulas National Marine Park. While surfers, beach bums, and backpackers are all welcome on this little-developed swath of tropical forest and sand, the nights (6pm–6am) from October through March belong to nesting leatherback turtles.

 

las-baulas

Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

You can see why they keep coming back.

This is one of the world’s most important nesting sites for the enormous, endangered turtles, who can (and do) swim from pole to pole before returning here to lay their eggs. If you want to see them, book a night tour during nesting season, and be prepared to wait… and wait. They are endangered, after all. (And as the guides keep telling you, Costa Rica is not a zoo.) If you get lucky, it’s an experience you’ll never forget.

3. Visit Lolita the Pig

Beautiful Avellanas, with its broad, golden beaches and five fabulous surf breaks, remains as yet untouched by serious developers. Until recently, access could be spotty, especially in rainy season. Heck, it’s still spotty in rainy season, but the new bridge is pretty reliable. Count on a relatively easy, 30-minute jaunt by boat or car taxi or from Tamarindo.

Avellanas is perhaps most famous for an outstanding restaurant, Lola’s, named for its legendary, and friendly, beach pig. Lola is gone, but her equally massive successor, Lolita, is still rolling in the surf and making friends.

There are several other beaches well worth visiting on a day trip from Tamarindo, accessible either by boat taxi or car. (Boat taxis are often faster.) Playa Conchal is known for its seashells, Playa Negra for its black sand beaches and great surfing, and Nosara, worth spending an entire weekend for the surfing, meditation, and yoga.

 

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Photo Courtesy of Arturo Sotillo at Creative Commons

You could visit a different beach every day and still not see them all.

4. Tour the Tempisque River

Whether you’re a dedicated birder, serious wildlife watcher, or just want to enjoy a lazy, gorgeous riverboat cruise through Costa Rica’s incredibly biodiverse Palo Verde National Park, this day trip is for you.

 

rio-tempisque

Photo Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Rare jabiru storks enjoying the Río Tempisque

At the heart of Costa Rica’s driest region, the province of Guanacaste, Palo Verde’s marshes and lagoons are key to survival for hundreds of species. In dry season, as other water sources dry up, you’ll see three species of monkeys, hundreds of rare birds, and many other animals in unbelievable concentrations. Bring your best camera.

5. Climb A Volcano

Just over an hour from Tamarindo is Rincón de la Vieja National Park, perched atop a massive volcano of the same name. Almost any hotel in Tamarindo or Liberia can arrange inexpensive transportation, and there are several lodging options right at the top if you want to spend the night. Which we recommend.

Several trails cross the scenic park. The steep, 16km, round-trip climb to the active volcanic crater is for serious hikers only. Everyone else could opt to trek through the volcanic skirts to one of the two waterfalls (we recommend La Cangreja). Either way, end with the short, easy 3km Las Pailas hike from the ranger station, which passes bubbling volcanic mud pits, colorful fumeroles, an adorable “volcancito,” and plenty of wildlife. There are also public hot springs in the park.

6. Live A Little Longer

The Nicoya Peninsula is what’s known as a “Blue Zone,” one of five places on Earth where people regularly live to be 100 years old. (The others are Sardinia, Italy; Okinawa, Japan; Loma Linda, California; and Icaria, Greece.)

Pay attention to how locals live, and how they embrace the ubiquitous Costa Rican greeting and philosophy, “pura vida.” Pure life. Follow their lead and you may add decades to your own.