As mentioned in the last blog post, this week found us at Tamarindo. Tamarindo started as a surfer’s beach, but it now appears prominently in International Living’s Costa Rica articles. Tamarindo is only about 30 miles away from Playas del Coco as the crow flies. But getting to Tamarindo from Coco presented two problems:
- Roads don’t follow the crows. Most roads go from a larger town to a beach town and don’t go from one beach to the next.
- Buses don’t go from one beach town to another. Even going a few miles inland and back to the coast isn’t possible. The buses are primarily for Ticos commuting to work or errands rather than tourists trying to beach hop.
This left us with two choices:
- Take a bus from Playas del Coco to Liberia (1 hr) and then another bus from Liberia to Tamarindo (2 hrs). These are the local buses without air conditioning or luggage storage under the bus. The total cost would have been about $15 per person.
- The taxi driver who took us to Playa Hermosa last week offered to take us to Tamarindo for $75. We chose option two and negotiated stopping at three beaches (Playa Flamingo, Playa Brasilito, and Playa Conchal) along the way for an extra $15, allowing us to check them out and compare the towns and beaches to the ones where we actually stayed.
Playa Flamingo was first up, a beautiful beach. Long flat beach, easy for walking, soft white sand, clear water and small waves. Just about perfect. The only issue: not much of a town. But for us the beach trumps everything else. If we come back to this area of Costa Rica, we will probably try to stay here.
Second was Playa Brasilito. This beach, while very long, had the same gray brown sand as Playas del Coco, and the water wasn’t very clear. It’s supposed to be a less expensive area since it doesn’t have an international following as do the two beaches where we stayed. While in Tamarindo, we met one expat who was living in Brasilito for a year with his wife and daughter.
The final stop was Playa Conchal, a very unusual and interesting beach considered by many Ticos as the most beautiful. It’s only accessible from Playa Brasilito by either walking or driving down to the end of the beach and climbing (or driving) over a small hill. Watch out for the tides: our taxi driver said that they happen rapidly on Brasilito and people have gotten cars stuck. The beach doesn’t really have sand, just small, mostly white, crushed shells. The side effect: the water is crystal clear, but walking is a bit of a challenge – probably one of the better beaches for snorkeling. The Westin Golf Resort & Spa Playa Conchal is right on the beach, but the hotel wasn’t visible from the beach; they did an excellent job of blending into the landscape.
Arriving in Tamarindo, we could tell it was a larger town than Playas del Coco, but what struck us as weird is only the main road through town is paved; almost every other road where we walked was dirt.
We checked into our Airbnb, a very small one bedroom at Hotel Gardenia for $52 per night, much smaller than our unit in Coco; for a week, it was perfectly fine. (Hotel Gardenia can be booked through Airbnb, on their own website, or through various booking sites.) Our first order of business was lunch, delicious (but a bit pricey for our budget) fresh fish tacos at Green Papaya followed by a walk on the beach and then grocery shopping.
We found the beach to be perfect for walking, flat and smooth, quite long, about ½ hour from one end to the other. The sand was more a golden color than the gray at Coco, and the water seemed to be a little clearer, especially at the end close to Tamarindo Estuary (go figure?) where most of the surfers are.
The grocery stores in town are all smaller than in Coco. Luckily on the second day, Sammy (the owner/manager of our hotel) graciously drove us to the bigger store just on the edge of town, where we stocked up.
Walking around town, we checked out restaurant menus and got our first shock. Most were more expensive than Coco, probably because of a lot more international tourists. Our first thought: this week is going to be a really expensive week! After some digging, we were able to find a few more reasonably priced restaurants. All in all, we ended up spending about the same amount of money in Tamarindo as we did in Coco, but we ate more meals in our unit. Our daily routine turned out to be very similar to Coco.
How does Tamarindo compare to Playas del Coco after another week at the beach?
- Tamarindo – Had many more tourists and a lot fewer expats than Playas del Coco. What started as a surfer town (and still is) has morphed into a touristy beach town.
- Beach – We like Tamarindo’s beach better than Coco’s. The color of the sand, the clarity of the water, very flat and easy to walk. Playa Grande is a second beach here that can be accessed from the end of Tamarindo’s beach using a water taxi across the Tamarindo estuary for a couple of dollars. The river is deep, fast flowing, and has crocodiles, so the water taxi is mandatory. Playa Grande has bigger breaks than Tamarindo, so it’s popular with expert surfers. It’s also the beach where “las baulas” (turtles) come ashore to nest. We never made it over because we were happy with the main beach.
- Restaurants are more expensive in Tamarindo compared to Coco. But reasonable values can be found. Two doors down from our hotel was a pizza restaurant called La Baula (yup, just like the turtle), and we spent about $28 for a pizza and two glasses of wine. We got breakfast out one morning at La Bodega, which was very good for about $16. Burgers at Surf Shack Burgers & Wings were good and reasonable. We found Volcano Brewing Company. started by a couple from California with an interesting story, right on the beach, has a nice happy hour and reasonably priced, good tasting food. We never had coffee out. (Note: many of these restaurants do not have their own website.)
- Groceries are about the same cost as Coco. Coffee in the grocery store is about the same price as in the US, we even found decaf, which wasn’t available in Guatemala. The only issue is that living in Tamarindo close to the beach and center of town without a car would be a long walk (or short taxi ride or maybe bus) to the best (largest with greater selection and which the local Ticos refer to as the Gringo store) grocery store in Tamarindo.
- Happy hours all day or 4-7pm are about $4 for a drink but again no food specials.
- Mosquitos – Seemed less of problem here. It didn’t rain until our last day so that might have been the reason.
- Weather – A little less humid than Coco and it seemed to rain less. But A/C would be needed most if not all year. It was very hot while we were there and this is the coolest time of the year. The breeze doesn’t seem to extend more than a block from the beach. After walking back from town, we always welcomed a dunk in the pool to cool down.
- Farmers Market – The market in Tamarindo was quite nice and we were able to purchase quality local produce quite inexpensively – much better than the one in Coco.
- Real Estate – Overall seems higher than Coco: One 2 BR home was listed for $117,500, but the starting range seems to be around $159-$179K and went up from there to $1M homes. Long-term rentals (many furnished) could be found as low as $700/mo but rental prices also jumped rapidly.
Because of the openness of the landscape, Tamarindo seemed less confining. There were mountains right behind Coco whereas it was flat around Tamarindo. Even with the large number of tourists, we both preferred Tamarindo to Coco. The beach just might have been the reason. At the end of two beach weeks, even though we classify ourselves as beach people, we think the climate is too hot for us to live here.
The morning we were leaving Tamarindo by bus, the rain, lightning and thunder woke us up at 5:30 am; it was pouring! Our first thought: uh oh, how are we going to walk and wheel our bags down a dirt street that will be muddy now with all the rain? Our hotel was on a side street, no taxis nearby. It turned out not to be too bad. Some of our clothes inside our bags got a little damp, but that was about the only damage.
We have moved on from Tamarindo (and the beach) to a town in the Central Valley called San Ramon, a town that ranks well with expats, to try out a different Costa Rican lifestyle. Not sure how long we will be here or where next, we have the Airbnb until November 22nd. Our only requirement is to be in Panama City by December 8th.
Ian & Ann