Hola, Costa Rica!
We'd been discussing a girls' getaway for months. Aruba? Bermuda? Me-hi-co? The world was our oyster. Ha - let's not kid our pockets. Anywhere reasonably close and preferably with a beach was our oyster. We juggled our options and did some Google Flights window shopping -- mainly concentrating on the Caribbean -- and then our attention shifted to Costa Rica.
Latin America has been near the top of my travel list this year -- whether it was in Central or South didn't matter, I wanted to touch down somewhere below Mexico. Costa Rica seemed like a safe choice. I'd known that it's a popular go-to for tourists, somewhere I could get my Spanglish on, and from what I'd heard, very affordable.
I shot the idea to my longtime homegirls, Adrienne, Erin, Rainna, and Brittani, and before we knew it, we were booking our trip to the Rich Coast for a week.
Costa Rica has an impressive number of destination towns, cities, and beaches for a country not much bigger than the size of West Virginia. We researched a few different hot spots, including Tamarindo, Manuel Antonio, and Jacò.
We quickly settled on Tamarindo, a destination along the country's Pacific coast, after reading much praise for its surf, laid back vibe, younger crowd, and number of things to do.
We flew into the tiny airport in Liberia, CR (instead of the alternative capital city, San Josè, where you'd fly into if you were visiting Costa Rica's Caribbean side). It was about a 1 hr ride to Tamarindo, past charming, pastel homes and lush open country fields where cows grazed in the sun.
After a bit of confusion on where exactly to drop us off at our resort (which consists of part hotel, part independently owned condo properties), we'd made it -- and the resort was BE-AU-TI-FUL!
Where We Stayed
Since we were a party of 5, we knew our best bet would be to go for an apartment or condo rather than a normal hotel room. So of course, we first scoured hundreds of Tamarindo listings on AirBnB. While there were tons to choose from, we didn't quite find the ONE that matched our preferences (beds/bathrooms/pool) at the right budget. And as much as I looove AirBnB*, it's smart not to count out its predecessors, like VRBO and HomeAway when searching for the perfect vacation home.
On VRBO, we found the condo that spoke to us all, announcing: "Ladies, your Tamarindo Villa awaits." It was fortunately all ours for the booking.
Located at El Diria Resort in the heart of Tamarindo, the Mediterranean-style condo was a gem. With 2 bedrooms, 2.5 baths, a full kitchen, living room, and large balcony, it was impeccably decorated and spacious enough for 5 women to spread out for the week. 12-ft high ceilings, dark wood, light granite, a decorative Buddha head, a big vase full of seashells, huge paintings throughout the apartment, and balcony views of the pool through the lush garden made it feel like our a little palace.
El Diria's gated property spreads across beachfront buildings along Tamarindo's main road. Our condo was located in the newest side, in the Matapalo building, slightly tucked away on the property. There are 3 pools, 5 restaurants, a small casino, several hotel buildings that boast the Diria name.
Outside of our condo, we sighted a couple monkeys hanging from the trees outside, perfectly matching the hanging monkey on the country's Snapchat geofilter. We continued to spot more tree-hanging monkeys and also a couple of iguanas throughout our time in Tamarindo.
When we arrived, our condo owner Joel sat down with us to give us the shimmy on his beloved adopted home town. He was rather long winded, but he had all of the restaurant and activity recommendations for us in town, so we were very appreciative. It was like having our own personal Trip Advisor.
What We Did
5-in-1 Activity Day
The first grand adventure we embarked upon in CR excited us from the moment we made our reservation. It was an all-in-one tour at the Cañon de la Vieja Lodge in Liberia (about an hour and a half out from Tamarindo -- past the airport we flew into).
We started off zip-lining over 7 different canopies, getting in a mini mountain hike to boot. Each zip over the lush forest and river canyon was beautiful and invigorating.
Then came white water river tubing a couple hundred feet below (my favorite part of the adventure day), which was both relaxing and, at a few points, HECTIC! There were two waterfalls we encountered, and even though they were slight, I fell out of my tube BOTH times. #HowSway?
Next, we broke for lunch, which was a delicious all-you-can-eat spread. We stuffed ourselves like nobody's business and then headed to the stables for horseback riding.
After our equestrian session we wound down the afternoon with a mud bath -- where we were painted in a coat of volcanic mud and cleansed with a dive in the river.
Finally, the day ended with a nice long dip in the refreshing hot springs.
Ahhh. Adventurous, therapeutic, and all around gorgeous. And our guide for the day was hilarious!
Fun level on the 100. Highly recommend.
Beach & Bar Pool Crawl
Imagine a big yellow schoolbus full of trouble makers on vacation overseas: international co-eds, bachelors and bachelorettes, rowdy frat boys, dirty 30 birthday crews, beaches, beers and tons of shenanigans. If you're picturing madness in paradise -- yep, you've got it right.
The crawl begins at a surf bar in the heart of town and heads out to pool & beach bars on three different beaches. On the 30 minute ride to the first beach, everyone breaks the ice by introducing themselves, their relationship status, and their favorite alcoholic beverage (where just about any answer you can think of gets shouted out: 'Redbull and Hennesy,' 'I drink tequila like it's water,' 'Everything!,' 'my husband,' 'Four Lokos!'). It starts off pretty well behaved but when you start hearing some of these answers, you just know the craziness is going to ensue at some point.
As we hopped from beach to beach, we socialized, took generous soaks & swims in the water, danced, made a DJ request for
Juvenile's most classic hit, and
introduced a few entranced people to the art of twerking
Fun level on Magic Schoolbus-meets-Spring-Break. Highly recommend if you're into shenanigans (and if you want to take a visit out to the prettier beaches).
Marlin Del Rey Sunset Cruise
We ended our trip with a day spent sailing the calm seas with Marlin Del Rey, a Costa Rica boating company with fabulous reviews. We reserved our spot on the catamaran the day prior and met up on Tamarindo Beach the morning of our tour.
Included in the price was an open bar (all you can drink margaritas, daiquiris, beers and cocktails), snorkel gear, paddleboarding, and a food buffet. We didn't get to see many colorful fish or coral since there wasn't much underwater life where we had sailed to, but overall it was a tropical-vibed day well spent, ending with a pretty cotton candy sunset.
Beach & Pool Days
Tamarindo itself doesn't boast the type of beaches dreams are made of. Without the dazzling turquoise water and soft white sand, we were admittedly a bit unenthused by the surf town's beach. But that didn't stop us from spending a few hours soaking and playing in the warm waves anyway. We were grateful we decided to go on the Beach Crawl during our trip, since it took us to beaches we enjoyed a lot more in Playa Flamingo.
Our resort pools, though, were straight up addictive -- it's where we easily spent the most of our time in Tamarindo. The main pool was a true oasis, adorned with tropic palm trees and a utopian aura.
Also on our side of the resort was an adults-only pool. I'm still not convinced I'm ready for all things #adulting yet, but there are a few perks I gladly partake in. We were able to let a little loose, not having to filter our behavior when the bartender, Luis, let us take over the aux cord and turn the quiet resort pool into a private party. Just know, trap music comes with us wherever in the world we go.
Spa Day/Beach Massages
Joel, our condo owner/unofficial Costa Rica guide, recommended Coco Beauty Spa, one of Tamarindo's premier spas, which was nearly right on our resort. Some of us opted for massages and facials here (reportedly amazing), while the others (Rainna and myself) decided to forego the spa and get $25 massages from two ladies right on the beach.
I received a full body rub down while listening to Alina Baraz crooning "listen to the waves"... while listening to the waves. It doesn't get more cliche than that, but it was mesmerizing.
Whether you go for the fancy spa experience or the beach-side rub-a-dub, you must make your Tamarindo vacation complete and treat your body with the massage it needs.
What We Ate
Most of what I had was really good, but there were couple of misses where I wished I'd ordered something different. Overall, I'd give the food in Tamarindo 3.5/5 stars.
RESTAURANTS + FOOD WE LIKED:
- Patagonia - Seabass and the empañadas. OMG THOSE EMPÑADAS, BRUH. Unforgettable.
- Nogui's - EVERYTHING! All of our meals here were A1. My fish, filet, and shrimp trio was my favorite meal of the trip.
- Eat @ Joe's - Ceviche, fajitas, and chicken casado.
- Cañon de la Vieja Lodge - The buffet lunch included in our activity tour was plentiful and delicious. Soup, pasta, chicken, beef, salad, rice, beans, dessert, they had it all and it was delicious. 2nd favorite meal of the trip.
- Jazz's Creperie - Chicken casado (one of Costa Rica's typical national dishes).
- La Pachanga - Lobster ravioli.
The night we arrived, we went grocery shopping at a tiny supermarket called SuperCompro around the corner from our resort. We really went all out (as much as an apartment-sized grocery store can allow), buying 3 dozen eggs, cheese, 2 packs of bacon, chicken sausage, 3 boxes of cereal, milk, yogurt, chips and dip, ice cream, and 2 boxes of frozen taquitos, thinking we'd be set on breakfast and snacks for the week.
Well. We had a ton of food left in the fridge at the end of the week! It was ridiculous. (Imagine me on the morning of our flight out of CR, scrambling to scramble 8 eggs, eat 10 pieces of bacon, my pasta from the previous night, yogurt, and ice cream straight from the carton so it didn't go to waste. Or on second thought, don't).
We found ourselves eating out for nearly all of our meals, only cooking small breakfasts on two of the mornings.
Having a fully stocked kitchen while on vacation is great, but don't be like us and go overboard with groceries unless you KNOW you're going to be cooking (perhaps each person should have a delegated day to cook!)
Pura Vida, or 'The Pure Life,' is echoed everywhere throughout Costa Rica. It's a way of life that Ticans (CR natives) are known for embodying -- being positive and optimistic, thankful for life, relaxed, and perpetually worry free. Or as I would say, GOOD VIBES ONLY. Don't sweat the small stuff, B.
Pura Vida in a way reminds me of the Hawaiian concept of 'Aloha' I learned more of when visiting Oahu. Although the two notions don't exactly mirror each other, with the latter being seen by outsiders simply as a greeting, both terms imply lifestyles that are a staple in each region's culture. They encourage a similar, heart-warming code of treating one another with respect and friendliness, living in high spirits, and being pure in your intentions.
It's always nice to spend time in places where this way of thinking is valued.
USD --> CRC Cash Conversion
First off, let me say that TAMARINDO IS NOT CHEAP. We had gotten the idea that Costa Rica would be a budget traveler's paradise, but we quickly learned that that didn't apply to Tamarindo. Although Tamarindo carries an off-the-beaten-path, small beach town feel (It's not a highly built up Cancun or Punta Cana), it is nonetheless catered solely to tourists, thus accounting for the higher-than-imagined prices.
I didn't think it'd be Thailand cheap, but I was also not expecting everything to equal out to U.S. prices, more or less.
At Patagonia, the first restaurant we sat down in, I saw the appetizing seabass special on the menu for around 9 colónes. Not yet knowing what the conversion rate was, and judging by the appearance of the restaurant (outdoor, non-upscale) I'm assuming I'm getting a deal. I whipped out my currency converter iPhone app and realized that one Costa Rican colón is about US $2.00. So, if the price is only listed in colónes, you just double it to work out the USD equivalent. That was our first clue that eating out here wasn't going to be a steal (darn).
Overall, eating out at Tamarindo's mid-range restaurants averaged out to $15-$30/meal, depending on whether you add a drink and appetizer.
95% of the vendors we encountered in Tamarindo (including tour operators, restaurants, shops) accepted US dollars (or our bank cards). When we did pay with US cash however, we were usually given change in colónes. I never actually ended up getting cash exchanged or pulling out colónes from the ATM, simply because I never needed to.
This was much unlike my experience in most of Southeast Asia, where US cash isn't accepted at all, and you have no choice but to get your foreign currency game up. Although convenient, It felt less authentic, less of a 'true Costa Rican experience' to pay in US Dollars, and as a result, I didn't end up having many colónes to bring back to add to my currency collection.
5-in-1 Adventures at Canon de Vieja - $125/person (including roundrip transportation and delicious lunch buffet)
Marlin del Rey Sunset Caruise - $90/person (including snorkel gear, open bar, so-so lunch buffet) Beach & Bar Crawl - $40/person (including 1 free cokctail at each 3 beach stops) Surfing - $40-$60/2 hour lesson (as observed)
We won by scoring a discount price on our beautiful condo ($1,550 total for 6 nights) by traveling in July during low season, when crowds and rates are reduced across the town.
Low season = rainy season, but the weather was actually close to perfect the whole week. Save for a few mid-day clouds and rain drizzles, Costa Rica blessed us with plenty of sun and lots of heat.
Don't let rain discourage you from traveling to CR during our summer months. You'll get cheaper hotel/condo
I'm just including this bit to tell you what I know, which to be honest, isn't much. In short, WE WERE TOO DANG TIRED/WASHED UP/WORN OUT to attempt partaking in the nightlife.
We heard about Ladies' Night at the Monkey Bar being THE place to be on Friday Nights, but we called it an early night and stayed in after the day's sun zapped the energy out of us. In our defense, we had to be up bright and early Saturday for our adventure day.
Saturday night rolled around and Rainna and I were the only ones game to go out. We tried hitting up Monkey Bar (but it's only a Friday thing), then this discotheque (it was weak), and then crash some private party at the condo across from us (fail), so we ended up right back at the condo
skinny dipping for the night.
Even though the nightlife wasn't a highlight of this particular trip, we got in plenty of music, dancing, and day partying during the Beach Bar Crawl and at our resort's beloved adult pool.
Taking a girl's trip to Tamarindo? Leave a comment below if there's anything else I might be able to hep with in your planning. Then come back and let me know how you love Costa Rica! PURA VIDA!
*Receive a free $27 towards your first AirBnB stay when you sign up through my referral link.