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Travel Costa Rica
By: Zdenko Kahlina
Traveling from Alajuela to Tamarindo
Vera and I left hotel ‘Vida Tropical’ in Alajuela in the morning. We packed our luggage in the car and left Alajuela without any rush. We had the whole day in front of us for the 245 km long road trip to our predetermined destination – small beach town of Tamarindo, on the Pacific Ocean.
This was not a difficult drive – just tedious in parts. I can compare Costa Rica roads with the roads in Europe before they build long highways with multiple lines. This was not a drive where you just sit back and put on the cruise control — you have to pay attention every step of the way. You’ll see big trucks which go very slow up the hills, so you’ll have to pass them on a very short straight part of the road, sometimes over the double full line in the middle, just like on European narrow roads. Not a good idea to be driving here long distances after dark.
Depending on road conditions and traffic, travel time between Alajuela and Tamarindo is roughly four to five hours. We took the Inter American Highway (Route #1) and followed signs north to San Ramon and Liberia (Yes, there are signs in Costa Rica!). After we passed the Shell gas station in the small community of Limonal, we made a left turn onto Route #18 to the Tempisque River Bridge (Puente La Amistad) and Nicoya. This was a good stopping point – Las Tres Hermanas restaurant had excellent food and secure parking. We took few pictures and continued towards Amistad Bridge where we made another short stop.
After the bridge we continued driving on Route #18 until reaching the T-intersection south of Nicoya. We turned right on Route #21 and followed signs to Nicoya and Santa Cruz. We drove straight through both towns, made right turn onto Route #160 (not Route #21 to Belen) and continued until we got to the restaurant Casa de Dona Luisa, where we made another right turn onto Route #152, where for the first time we saw signs for Tamarindo. Until now the road was paved and not very busy with traffic.
The following 12 km were on grovel road, before reaching the next small town of Villareal. Here we were on paved road again. Big signs were pointing us to make a left turn and 5 kilometers later we were in Tamarindo.
Tamarindo is the most accessible location along the northern Pacific coast of Costa Rica and also has a small airstrip. Scheduled daily bus service to and from San José, as well as surrounding communities, is available. There is also a paved highway from San José (via Belen).
When we arrived in Tamarindo, we started looking for a small B&B place I remember seeing on the internet. The name of the place was ‘Villas Macondo’. At first whomever we asked, nobody knew about this place. Finally one taxi driver pointed us in the right direction. We were already very close, just had to take one small unpaved road on our left and voila! 200 meters later there was ‘Villas Macondo’ reception. Tina, a young girl from Switzerland was on shift and after a short negotiation about the room charges we agreed to take one of the available apartments.
Villas Macondo in Tamarindo
Villas Macondo is a lovable and peaceful place to relax in the tropical nature. No ocean view – but ‘pool view’ – refreshing and big enough for a swim – and also with an extra space for children (they just completed building a new BBQ bench!).
This ho(s)tel is tucked away from the hustle and bustle of downtown Tamarindo, but close enough to walk a short distance to all amenities. There is also a grocery store and laundry mat right next door. A cordial and friendly atmosphere made us feel right at home… They are famous for the beautiful tropical garden, atmosphere, the spacious grounds, friendliness and the quick access to the beach.
In this two stories, spacious, fully equipped apartment we found everything we needed to feel comfortable. Our apartment had air condition, for economic reasons only in the bedroom, which was fine for us. We had private patio overlooking the pool with a hammock, ceiling fan and table & chairs. Internet was available everywhere around our apartment. Since we had a car we were happy to find out there was a secure parking within the property.
Villas Macondo was everything we were looking for at the end of our three weeks’ vacation in Costa Rica. The security is top notch, and we never felt worried about anything being taken. I wish we could stay longer. I would highly recommend this place for those who are looking for an affordable and lovely stay in Tamarindo.
Town of Tamarindo
Tamarindo is a town and ‘distrito’ located on the Northern Pacific coast of Costa Rica, in the Province of Guanacaste. The district has a population of 3,525, although the town itself is about no more than 500. But it can swell to 5,000 people or more during the tourist season and during special holidays. The main attractions are obviously beautiful long beach, surfing and eco-tourism.
This is the last block of the beach front road before it dead ends into what is known as “the circle”. The beach is right behind the row of restaurants and shops on the right side of this photo. In some cities it is common to see pedestrians carrying brief cases. In Tamarindo, it is very common to see pedestrians carrying surfboards. This couple (picture bellow) was walking down the main street that runs along the beach.
There is no through traffic in Tamarindo. It is the end of the road towards the ocean. But there is local traffic as people run errands or drive to and from the beach, even though most people can walk to what they need in town or are within walking distance of the beach.
Tamarindo has all the amenities of a Costa Rican beach town: surf, sand and sun, sun, sun. But it offers much more to many more. Tamarindo offers first class sport fishing, sailing, surfing, golfing, ATV tours, turtle watching, diving, horseback riding, canopy tours, jungle boat rides, beauty spa, an art gallery and crafts and pottery stores. A multi-cultural community, Tamarindo boats several bakeries, an outdoors vegetable market and more than 40 restaurants. Whether you like to eat Vegetarian, ‘Tipico’ Costa Rican, Italian or Sea Food, it is all here.
Perhaps Tamarindo’s greatest appeal is its proximity to the Tamarindo National Wildlife Refuge, which comprises 1,000 acres (400 ha) of dazzling protected forest, including abundant mangroves and estuaries. Tours of the fascinating plant and animal life can be arranged from Tamarindo, including canoe tours of costal habitats. Just north of town is the Parque Nacional Marino Las Baulas, which offers visitors an opportunity to see the world’s largest reptile, the leatherback turtle, come ashore to lay eggs.
The sun shines just about 365 days per year, and the temperature is pleasantly warm year round. For duration of our stay, we had temperatures of +37 degrees every day. Comparing this to Mexico climate, I found Costa Rica (in March) a little on the hot side. In the rainy season, from May through October, you can expect a brief shower in late afternoon, making the beach sparkle, and allowing for extraordinary sunsets.
I think it’s pretty funny when I read reviews that state Tamarindo is over developed and overly commercialized. I guess it’s all in the expectations. As far as tourist destinations go, it’s about as mellow as you can get. If you’re looking for a choice in restaurants, bars, shopping, or coffee places, then it’s really one of the only destinations to consider at the beaches. Most tourists like to spend a couple of hours walking around town looking at various things and choosing places to eat and drink, at some point in their visit. Tamarindo is one of the only places on the beach in Costa Rica where a person can do that and not be done in 5 minutes flat.
Based on my visit to Tamarindo, everything there was more expensive — food, internet cafes, you name it. I was shocked at the restaurant prices and the internet cafe as they charged 3 times what they charge elsewhere in Costa Rica.
Playa Tamarindo is a long beach, with excellent waves near the mouth of the estuary. Currents can be strong, especially on a falling tide. Tamarindo has two main breaks for advanced surfers: Pico Pequeño a rocky point and the excellent river mouth break across from Cabinas Tsunami called El Estero. The rest of the beach breaks are perfect for learning. The biggest waves can get up to 12 feet, although only during November and December.
The beach is a three and a half kilometer stretch of white sand and warm blue water. We didn’t swim much here instead we had several long walks up and down the beach, enjoying watching surfers and other mostly young people on the beach.
Tamarindo is surrounded by National Parks to its north and south, and mountains with breathtaking views to its east. Nature is abundant, Leatherback Turtles lay their eggs in the northern part of the bay. Howler Monkeys are heard and seen swinging on branches throughout Tamarindo. In some restaurants giant Iguanas will come up to your table expecting table scraps. In the late afternoons you can hear the parakeets screeching in the trees, preparing to settle down for the night.
Separated from Tamarindo by the Río Matapalo is Playa Grande, an uninspiring crop of pebble-rock seashore with the exception of numerous tide pools that are exposed at low tides. However, surfing along Playa Grande is ideal—regardless of skill level.
Playa Grande is accessible by road that goes around the Playa Grande estuary, via Huacas and it’s approximately 25 km away from Tamarindo. The town hosts several international surf competitions, a testament to the quality of surf available. Visitors seeking luxurious accommodations can do so south of Playa Grande at Playa Langosta, a pristine white-sand beach near the Río San Francisco.
Playa Grande beach is also where the Leatherback Turtle comes to lay its eggs. The leatherbacks take over the beach from November to April, digging their nests up to one meter deep, lay their eggs and cover the pit with sand, and return once again to the sea. After 60 to 90 days, the hatchlings emerge and immediately make their way to the water.
This was the most beautiful beach we have seen so far in Costa Rica. With its gleaming white sand, Flamingo Beach is the perfect setting for a vacation getaway or just for a one day visit like we did! This beach is about ½ hour drive from Tamarindo.
Unlike many beach communities, Flamingo Beach has no village center. The community that extends east is home to exclusive beachfront Resorts and coveted private property. Thus, life beyond the beach and water sport activities are limited to a few excellent restaurants, and visitors seeking nightlife should head to the nearby town of Brasilito, or all the way to Tamarindo.
As is the case with all Beaches in the Papagayo region, Flamingo Beach is rich in natural beauty. Mangroves are abundant in the area, and Salinas Point offers a stunning view of both the Potrero and Brasilito Bays. Not far south of Flamingo Beach is the Marino Las Baulas National Park (Parque Nacional Marino las Baulas). It hosts some of the most beautiful Hotels and condominiums that Costa Rica has to offer. Many gorgeous Villas dot the Playa Flamingo Beachfront, where wealthy foreigners and Ticos continue development at an astonishing rate.
There are other eco-friendly activities including watching turtles during their nesting season at night, diving, snorkeling, body surfing, zip-lining, estuary trips, horseback riding and fishing. During the December to April period when the water turbidity is low, fishing may be done from the shore.
Tamarindo was the end of our three weeks’ vacation time in Costa Rica. After spending several days in Tamarindo, we drove a short distance of 67 km to Liberia airport, via Route #155 and route #21. We were returning to our Canadian winter in Edmonton and soon this trip to Costa Rica will be like a dream!
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