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Welcome to Playa Tamarindo


Odds are good that you’ve never heard of Playa Tamarindo.

Well, for starters, it’s in Costa Rica. You probably know a bit more about Costa Rica, as you’re likely aware that it’s warm there and that they have monkeys. Or possibly Communists. Or Communist monkeys. But it is warm, right? Is it an island? Oh, it’s in Central America. You mean Nebraska?

Okay, odds are good you don’t know that much about Costa Rica, either.

Playa Tamarindo does, in fact, have monkeys.  And it is warm there.  But it’s better known for it’s three main domestic products, in order of availability:

1.) Cocaine

2.) Beautiful women

3.) Sand

If you have been in Tamarindo for more than three minutes and you have not been offered an informal cash transaction involving at least two of these commodities, it’s probably because your car door is still locked.  

Assuming that you do want to leave your car and you’re not interested in paying for any of these, a good strategy is to refuse such offers politely, but firmly.  Another strategy is to inquire about the going rate for plastic explosives, 7.62 mm ball ammunition and quality scuba gear.  

Either way, you’ll be left alone from then on.

The safest way to get to Tamarindo is to fly a small, rickety single-engine aircraft over vast stretches of uninhabited rainforest to a deserted stretch of concrete about five minutes outside the town, then down a “road” that is usually under three feet of river during the rainy season.  

Those of you wary of dying a fiery death in a Costa Rican charter plane may elect to, God help you, travel the six hours by car from San Jose along the country’s main highway, a two lane faux-concrete nightmare with potholes so large that, after whole cars disappear into them, if you strain your ears, you just might be able to hear the echo.

Should you survive an encounter with a Costa Rican pothole and emerge, triumphantly, with little more than light body damage or a bent rim, you can ask for directions to the nearest 24 hour garage.  It’ll be operated by illegal immigrants from Nicaragua.  (¿De dónde los veinte garage de cuatro horas es funcionado por los inmigrantes ilegales de Nicaragua?)  

Be sure to keep cash on hand: an emergency rim job can easily cost as much as $2 in Central America.

The currency of Costa Rica is known as the “Colones” and sounds deceptively similar to “Cajones.”  Fair exchange on the Colones is roughly 450 per American dollar, but barely 200 for Cajones.  Don’t be taken in by this all-too-common scam.

The national motto for Costa Rica is “Pura Vida”.  Informally translated, this means “pure living”.  Formally translated, it means “our cocaine is of the highest quality”.

The main attraction of Playa Tamarindo is surfing, by which I mean the white-hot surfer babes.  You can get a lesson and rent a board for about $20 for an afternoon.  

Or you can buy a 32 oz. bottle of the Costa Rican moonshine known as “Guaro” for $5 and ogle the surfers as you slowly pickle yourself.  Surf stores are plentiful, though Witch’s Rock Surf Camp has the best reputation.  And there’s no finer Guaro than Cacique brand.  It has a shiny red label and a picture of an Incan tribesman on it.

Accommodation ranges from the cheapest of the cheap ($15-20 per night, short walk from the beach, no A/C, not hot water, awoken by hot, hot rooster sex each morning at sunrise) to four star ($150, full A/C, breakfast buffet, beach front, ocean view).  

Cheap accommodation can be found in the hostels across the road, while luxury accommodation is found solely in the hotel Tamarindo Diria.  Hotel Pasatiempo provides good middle ground, and may have weekly rates available.  If you’re going down for a week with a few friends, look into renting a condo from El Diria or one of the local luxury homes.  If you have no fear of death or robbery, it is legal to camp on the beach.

There’s a supermarket there if, for some bizarre reason, you want to cook for yourself.  Restaurants are cheap and plentiful, and you can get yourself a lobster dinner for about $15.  Most other meals run in the $5 to 10 range, and are unlikely to poison you or contain parts of an animal that you might send to fetch your slippers.  

Be sure to bring plenty of hard cash or traveler’s cheques.  There are only two bank machines in the entire town, one of which will likely be broken during your entire trip, the other of which should be easy to find, as the line for it will stretch for well over a block.  So when you do get a chance to take out money, take out a lot.  It’s amazing how fast $2 drinks can add up to a healthy bar tab and possible liver disorder.

There are plenty of bars to choose from, though Mambo Bar and Hotel Pasatiempo seem to get most of the business by the end of the night.  Once they close, Hotel Kalifornia, the local “after hours club” (read: hooker bar) is open a few hours longer.  Swimming in the ocean under the stars or, in the rainy season, under the heat lightening is a good way to end a night of heavy drinking and will cut through a potential lover’s underwear like a nuclear-powered laser beam.

Despite being off the beaten path, Playa Tamarindo suffers its share of tourist traps.  Don’t expect to find a cheap bottle of sunscreen or your favorite brand of cigarettes.  If you want to take home some cigars, call up Vegas de Santiago and have them shipped to your hotel in advance, unless you prefer to smoke overpriced counterfeit Cubans.  

All in all, Costa Rica is a great place to get into (relatively) harmless trouble and Tamarindo is perhaps the best party spot in the entire country. If you like surfing (or staring at surfers), palm trees, cheap beer, golden sand, and being offered cocaine at every fifteen paces, then you can’t go wrong.

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