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Tamarindo #TravelTuesday

Beach at Tamarindo

Costa Rica’s northern Pacific coast delivers the magic of the tropics interspersed with arid wind-swept cattle ranches, golden beaches with stellar white-tipped surfing waves, cool and mysterious estuaries, and one of the country’s most coveted beach-towns, Tamarindo.

Over the past thirty-years, Tamarindo has evolved from a sleepy fishing village, visited by the rare surf guru or brave eco-adventurer, into one of Costa Rica’s most popular vacation destinations. Unlike the old days, getting to Tamarindo today is a breeze.

“How do I get to Tamarindo?”

Travelers arriving in San Jose can take Route 1, the Pan American Highway (Interamericana) northwest towards Liberia. At km 168 turn west (left) onto Route 18 to the Tempisque Bridge – which crosses over the Tempisque Estuary and connects with the Nicoya Peninsula. From there, follow Route 21 through Nicoya and Santa Cruz to Belen where you’ll head west on Route 155 to Tamarindo. Getting to Tamarindo from San Jose can take between 4 to 6 hours depending on traffic and road conditions on the Nicoya Peninsula.

Another option involving more major and paved thoroughfares, and for travelers arriving at the Daniel Oduber Quiros International Airport in the northern commercial hub of Liberia, is to take Route 21 southwest from the airport through Comunidad, Filadelfia, and Belen. Then west on Route 155, following the signs to Tamarindo. The drive from the Liberia Airport is about an hour on well paved roads.

While the roads to Tamarindo are paved and accessible by sedan, for exploring less popular beaches along the coast an SUV is recommended for its higher clearance over potholes and rocks. Be aware that in Green Season, it is advisable to rent a vehicle with 4x4 capacity — just in case!

“Where to stay in Tamarindo?”

Hotel Pasatiempo in Tamarindo

Image © Hotel Pasatiempo

Tamarindo offers everything from backpacker hostels and Airbnb rentals to five-star resorts. You’ll also find plenty of clean and comfortable options that will leave you with extra spending money to enjoy the local attractions.

Hotel Pasatiempo, for example, has been offering high-quality accommodations for nearly twenty years. Each private bungalow is tastefully furnished with orthopedic mattresses, AC, high-speed internet, flat-screen TV with cable, and a covered terrace. The landscaped gardens and quiet paths lead guests to a lovely swimming pool and the hotel’s restaurant, Monkey La-La, serving tropical drinks and local and international fare, as well as hosting live music three-times per week.

“What’s fun to do in Tamarindo?”

Playful Dolphins Jumping

Although surfing remains the area’s main attraction, there’s no shortage of other adventures to be had. For the aquatic-at-heart, you’ll find swimming, sport fishing, kayaking, jet-skiing, sailing, and even sunset catamaran cruises. Or, explore the depths snorkeling and scuba diving. Fish species are plentiful, as are dolphins, the occasional shark, mantas, and seasonal whale sightings.

Estuary tours of the Tamarindo Wildlife Refuge is also a must, visitors rave about the huge variety of animal and bird life to be seen along the smooth mangrove-lined waterways, including crocs, Howler and Capuchin monkeys, sloths, frogs, herons, and myriad more exotic species – many found only in the Central American Region.

Leatherback Turtle on Beach

From March to October giant Leatherback Turtles arrive by the hundreds to lay their eggs in the protected sands of Playa Grande National Park, just north of Tamarindo. Scientists and eco-tourists alike flock to participate in the organized evening and night guided excursions to witness the ancient migration and nesting ritual of these great creatures. Visitors will not be permitted on the beach without a certified guide during nesting season and should be aware that camera flash is not allowed.

Surfer Girl on Tamarindo Beach

If surfing’s your thing, you won’t be disappointed. Costa Rica’s northern Pacific coast has some of the world’s best and most challenging waves, including Witches Rock—a 45-minute boat ride from Tamarindo—or Ollie’s Place in nearby Labarinto. Some favorite local spots for beginner and intermediate surfers are either directly in front of the Hotel Tamarindo Diria Beach Resort at the center of town or the Capitan Suizo breaks. You can rent all your surf supplies and other beach gear, as well book tours from a handful of providers in town, such as Tamarindo-favorite, Arenas Adventures.

The town also hosts a number of festivals, including Art Wave, a three-day community event featuring local artists and businesses, and the Ocaso Underground Electronic Music Festival drawing over 50 electronic-music artists from around the world to participate in the four-day event that also attracts and highlights popular chefs, performers, and other local artists.

“What are the best restaurants and nightlife spots in Tamarindo?”

Dining and nightlife options abound in Tamarindo. For local food, the following spots are known for their affordable and delicious fare: Soda Las Palmas with a surfer-favorite buffet lunch or Soda Marcela with its popular Casado con langosta, a typical dish with rice and beans, salad, and fresh lobster.

For international cuisine, La Pachanga Italian Restaurant and Pizzeria and Seasons by Shlomy are both known for their creative and capable chefs.

Sunset happy hour is a daily ritual in Tamarindo and a great way to meet the locals or catch up on the day’s surf conditions. Make sure to check out the popular El Be! restaurant with daily live music and a great view of the unforgettable Pacific sunset.

For some colorful nightlife, Bar Pacifico has a lively Wednesday night option or check out the Best Western Monkey Bar’s famous Friday Ladies Night.

No matter what your vacation dreams may be, Tamarindo is sure to satisfy!

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New Year’s Eve in Costa Rica

Happy New Year on Beach

Image © Sara Ford

As with most holidays and special occasions, New Year’s Eve for Costa Ricans is celebrated with family. The North American tradition of the younger generation going out to clubs and parties, although more common in the beach and tourists areas, is not the tradition here. Nevertheless, Costa Rica has a little bit of something for everybody to bring in the Año Nuevo (New Year).

Traditionally, Costa Rican families will spend New Year’s Eve at home with generations cooking, drinking, listening to music, dancing, and watching the countdown on television. So San Jose clubs won’t fill up until late – after the older generation has headed to bed! Costa Ricans like to celebrate, but not on an empty stomach. A bountiful table full of delicious food will take center stage. Dinner will start at a late hour, maybe 10pm, as the family gathers for a typical meal of roasted pork leg, pasta or potato salad, corn on the cob, and green salad. For desert, a cinnamon spiced, rice pudding or tres leches (three milk cake) satisfies the palate.

Some worldwide traditions are enacted in Costa Rica such as watching the midnight fireworks light the night sky in a glorious display of colors. Depending where you are celebrating, people head to rooftops or the beach to take in the “bombetas“. Others are more unique, like this Spanish tradition of eating twelve grapes for good luck – one for every month in the coming year. Besides eating grapes, wearing yellow undergarments can also do the trick. Red ones will bring you love and green brings money. Craving some adventurous travels? Try walking around the block with a suitcase then thrown some water over your shoulder to “wash” away last year’s troubles and make a fresh start.

Although many head to the beaches to celebrate, there are also exciting activities in the capital. Just 10 minutes from downtown San Jose is the usually quiet neighborhood of Zapote. From Christmas through New Year’s Eve, the town is transformed into a huge party called “Las Fiestas de Zapote“. The streets are lined with stalls selling local food like “chicharrones” which are fried pork skins and “churros” which are fried dough straws filled with caramel with carnival rides and games for kids. Horses prance and dance under the guide of Costa Rican cowboys in the parade known as a El Tope, but the main event is the bullfights.

Costa Rican bullfighting is quite popular in the country, but has developed into its own style. The bullfighting or “Los Corridos del Toro” is literally translated into bull running. Improvisandos (rodeo clowns) dress in silly costumes and enter the ring to be chased (and hopefully not trampled) by the bulls. Unlike traditional Spanish bullfighting, the bulls are never attacked, wounded or killed. Cattle ranchers bring their most prized bulls from all around the country and some have established reputations from past rodeos. Since anyone can enter the ring, it is not uncommon for injuries to occur to those who are not well prepared for the tenacity of the bulls. These modern day gladiators are awarded prizes for best performance and who can win over the crowd.

If the city is not for you, why not head to the beach as many Costa Ricans do? Just be sure book your accommodations in advance since many of the most popular beach locations are packed full of New Year’s Eve revelers. Where you go depends on what type of party you are looking for. If you want large crowds with a mix of locals and tourists, then head to Tamarindo or Playas del Coco in Guanacaste.

Playas del Coco is a small, former fishing village that has boomed in recent years due to its close proximity to the international airport in Liberia. For New Year’s Eve, the town receives thousands of visitors who fill the streets all the way to the beach for the festivities and the fireworks at midnight.  There is no shortage of bars or restaurants here to entertain before the big event.

Tamarindo, in the Northern Pacific Coast, is by far the bigger celebration with the whole party actually on the beach with DJ music thumping and the libations flowing. The spectacular display of fireworks at midnight don’t signal the end of the evening. This party is just getting started!

If you are looking for a quieter celebration you can try Santa Teresa / Malpais on the Nicoya Peninsula. Expect a hippie vibe with surfing and yoga being the draw. Head to Playa del Carmen for the fireworks display! In the Caribbean towns of Puerto Viejo and Cahuita, the locals and visiting Ticos from San Jose might outnumber tourists, but all come for the relaxed reggae vibe and beach party. The fireworks displays here will not be as big, but the good cheer will be bountiful. In Cahuita, the pre-fireworks parties are at Ricky’s Bar and Coco’s in the center or for the beachfront party head to Reggae Bar in Playa Negra with a mix of DJ and live music. In Puerto Viejo, head to Maritzas for some Salsa music and dancing; Koki Beach for cocktails and people watching or Tex-Mex on the corner by the beach for live music.

No matter how you choose to bring in the New Year, we wish you all the best in 2018. Feliz Año Nuevo!


Recommended Car Category:

Bego Intermediate SUV

Intermediate SUV :: IFMR – IFAR

For New Year’s celebrations, party goers in the capital can rent a Sedan as a practical and economical option. Beach parties, especially in the less accessible Nicoya Peninsula, will require an Intermediate or Standard SUV for the higher clearance these cars offer. Our experienced staff will be happy to discuss which vehicle is most suitable for your end of year itinerary.

Reserve Yours Today!

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Christmas in Costa Rica

Central Avenue in San JoseImage © Amelia Rueda
Christmas Performers

Image © Sara Ford

Christmas Parade Float

Image © Sara Ford

Fireworks at Christmas

Image © Sara Ford

Coca-Cola Christmas Tree in San Jose

Image © Sara Ford

Costa Ricans begin the Christmas season — practically once they flip the calendar over to December — with elaborate decorations all around the house and the tree. Everything is wrapped, inside and out, with colorful ribbons, glittering globes, sparkling ornaments, and flashing lights. A nativity scene is a prominent feature of homes up and down the country with Mary and Joseph, not to mention quite a few farm animals, patiently waiting in the straw-filled manger for the arrival of the baby Jesus on December 24th.

As a predominantly Catholic country, Noche Buena (Christmas Eve) is traditionally celebrated with a family dinner of tamales and rompope (eggnog) followed by opening gifts before midnight and then midnight mass lasting up to two hours. After returning home and reciting the rosary, the tiny figure of the newborn in placed in the crib. Christmas day is to relax and recuperate from the previous day’s festivities and visit with family and friends.


Preparing Christmas Tamales

Image © Costa Rica Guide

Christmas Eve wouldn’t seem right without tamales, a delicious traditional food of indigenous origin, eaten with family. The corn flour dough is filled with a mix of potatoes, carrots, green beans or peas accompanied with a savory pork or chicken filling, wrapped, and cooked in banana leaves.

In the countryside, many still follow in the footsteps of their ancestors and begin the process a day or two before Noche Buena. The men gather the large leaves from the banana trees and cure them over a fire, leaving them to dry, and then cutting them in squares. This process strengthens the leaf, so it will not tear during the wrapping and cooking process. Meanwhile, the women busy themselves with preparing the fillings; savory pork or chicken cooked with spices and the vegetables. It is a whole family affair with everyone pitching in for the big celebration.

Meanwhile, in the Central Valley, more recent festivities are also becoming rooted in Costa Rican holiday traditions. There are now three special events celebrated in electric light.

Since 1964, the Hospital Nacional de Niños (Children’s Hospital) kicks off the holiday season in the first week of December with a spectacular tree lighting ceremony to warm the hearts of Costa Ricans countrywide. The tree is a sight to behold — with over 20,000 lights and a golden star on top — especially for the children hospitalized there. Christmas cheer is spread through the performances by the Children’s Orchestra and other musical acts.


Christmas Tree Lights at Children's Museum

Image © All Done Monkey

Another spectacle of lights is the annual lighting of the Museo de los Niños (Children’s Museum) facade. Accompanied by musical and theater performances throughout the evening as more than 4,000 bulbs illuminate the building and the crackling and thunderous booms of fireworks illuminate the night’s sky.

Costa Ricans have ventured to San Jose since 1996 for a traditional family event — the Festival de la Luz (Festival of the Lights) and to watch the spectacularly adorned floats pass by with marching bands, fireworks, clowns, dancers and other performers. This marks the culmination of the capital’s illuminations. The event is free to all but extremely crowded, so savvy party-goers rent a hotel room along the route of Paseo Colon, Avenida Segunda and Plaza de la Democracia to take in the sights from above without having to fight crowds for a good vantage point. Plus, one doesn’t have to walk or taxi home. On the other hand, the event is televised…in Spanish…so the sights can be enjoyed from home if the masses are too much.

For those thinking of attending in person, it goes without saying, but as a part of the tourism industry, it would be an injustice if we did not to mention it. Even though numerous police are in attendance, it would still be best to leave any valuables at the hotel. Standing crowds are prime places for petty crimes such as pick pockets and purse snatchings. Holding an expensive iPhone above the crowd to snap photos may be a great way to get the shot, but also a great way to lose it to anyone running by.

During the second week in December the festivities continue. Most Costa Ricans receive a Christmas bonus equivalent to a month’s salary that many use to buy presents, decorations and the food for holiday celebrations. On Avenidazo, (Central Avenue Boulevard) in the center of San Jose, is one of the most popular places to spend their Christmas bonus. Locals fill the streets to take in free concerts and performances while shopping — enjoying all the decorated buildings and streets along the way.


Horse Parade in San Jose

Image © EXA Costa Rica

After a rest on Christmas Day, the celebrations continue on the 26th as anywhere from 3,000 to 5,000 horses trot down Second Avenue for El Tope or Horse Parade. The skilled cowboys dazzle the crowds with their showmanship atop their mounts.

There is no shortage of entertaining activities during the Christmas season. And for visitors and locals alike, it’s a time to gather with family and friends to celebrate life, appreciate loved ones, and reaffirm traditions — or to experience new ones. Celebrate with us in Costa Rica this year!

Recommended Car Category:

Mitsubishi Mirage Car

Sedan :: CDMR – CDAR

For the festive season in the Central Valley, a sedan is a practical and economical option. For heading further than the most frequented beaches, an SUV is recommended for higher clearance.

Reserve Yours Today!

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