Any surfer who’s ever watched “Endless Summer II” — which has gotta be about any surfer, at least in the US — dreams of Tamarindo, Costa Rica. A short hop from everywhere in the Western Hemisphere, Costa Rica is an anomaly: A Central American nation not wracked by cartels, coups, or industrial colonization. This nation is paradise on earth (if not perhaps a bit hot for my thick mountain blood) full of beautiful vistas, mountain adventures (volcanic rainforests line the center of the country), that inimitable Pura Vida culture, boasting some of the world’s greatest eco-diversity. And of course, it’s got all-time surf. The Nicoya Peninsula is arguably one of the greatest stretches of surf beaches anywhere. And while there are lots of places to stay and surf on the Nicoya Peninsula like Guiones and Nosara, all the way down to Santa Teresa and Malpais and finally, at the southern tip, the Cabo Blanco Natural Reserve — if you also want to meet people lookin’ to get down, eat good food, minimize your transfer time from the airport, and keep your options open for visiting the inland volcanos, Tamarindo is your jam.
You probably already know all the sports — down south ways is Playa Negra. A boat ride away is Ollie’s Point and Witch’s Rock (and basically every surf shop has a trip that’ll take you to one or both in an epic day trip). But located just in and around Tamarindo, a short walk or an even shorter drive away, are Playa Langosta, Tamarindo Beach, and Playa Grande. Most surfers could spend a week just haunting these three spots and be completely satisfied. If nothing else, they prove that your first adventure surfing Costa might as well home base in Tamarindo. Plus it has the widest array of amazing meals, from Patagonia Steakhouse (lots of farmland there and so lots of delicious cows) to countless seafood joints to a Playa Grande-area restaurant ripped out of a Jimmy Buffett song (your reservation includes a free panga up and down the estuary, adding to the ambiance, and the food and iced drinks are amazing) to my favorite fried chicken joint (Walter’s).
So congratulations, you’re set on Tamarindo. Now, where do you stay?
Tamarindo Costa Rica Hotels
This spot is the only all-inclusive in the area. Plan on surfing all day, burning a couple of thousand calories? Where better than a place where every meal is all-you-can-eat? Barcelo Occidental is a luxury compound with a dance club, pool, all the drinks you could want and all the amenities you could dream of. But that’s not the real selling point. The real selling point is Playa Langosta. Arguably the best break in the immediate area. The estuary empties into the ocean but without the risks of crocs and hammerheads like in the North Estuary. Playa Langosta is a long beach break dotted with a reef that curls down a national park. Last time I was there, all the locals showed up at 5, when it started pumping. Occidental sits squarely on that point at the estuary mouth, with a sandy beach and big shady trees all down the sand. That’s right — all you can eat and drink, masseuses and dancing, and an insane surf spot literally steps outside the door.
And here’s another chill Playa Grande refuge, a compound of wood and tin island perfection nestled in the trees behind the beach. You can rent one villa or the whole thing if you’ve got a nice big group of 15, 20. Marrying primitive with comfortable, this is the perfect way to feel like you’re in the Tamarindo of old without sacrificing all the amenities of the Tamarindo of now. Surf the beach break rollers of Playa Grande, and enjoy the fact that a croc-infested estuary separates you from the crowds of partiers, uber-tourists, and beach vendors just south.
Look at these rad pipes. A big communal area. The rooms at the Pipe House are literally just beds in big concrete pipes with psychedelic headboards. It marries the modern with the simple, like the mini-house obsession of the Rocky Mountains planted in Playa Grande. By the way, yes, this is in Playa Grande, the desolate, chill beach north of Tamarindo. But you can still get across the estuary to the big town without meeting a cayman — all day there are pangas (small water taxis) that for a buck will take you across, giving just a taste of adventure. These pipes are functional, they’re cool, they’re cheap. This is a damn nice slice of paradise.
No expense spared, you want the absolute best without sacrificing convenience. Oceanfront so you can walk out for a surf. In the middle of all the shops, restaurants, bars to keep the party going and purchase trinkets, gear, boards after you’re done paddling for the day. But you don’t want riff-raff coming and going through the place, and when you head back to the room for some sleep (or some late night) you expect top-notch AC, quality linens and luxury design. Does that describe your dream surf trip? Then The Tamarindo Diria is your spot. Hide in the tropical pool and feel like the madness of the street and the busy beach is miles away — until you get bored and decide to dive right into it within just a few footsteps. Plus it has 3 sections, most specifically one for families and one for adults only (because seriously, even if you have kids yourself, aren’t other people’s kids annoying?).
Doesn’t look like much from the street. But the rooms at Hotel Villa Amarilla are more boutique than roach motel, even if the patio looks like a surfer skid’s paradise. Wilmer and da boys have their own board rentals/lessons business out front. Rent a board here and you basically have full access to their quiver for the duration. There’s also a restaurant on property. And did I mention it’s right on Tamarindo beach? Paddle out for a few waves. Pick up some trinkets on the beach, or whatever else you want. Go back to your room for a little chill sesh. Back out for a surf. And cruise the main street once it’s finally dark enough not to be Central America hot. Guarantee you’ll soon have some new friends staying here.