In mid-May we crossed the width of Costa Rica from the Caribbean shore to the Pacific coast heading for the small town of Tamarindo where our next housesitting assignment would be. By one estimate, 25% of the people who deplane in Costa Rica will end up hanging out in Tamarindo for some part of their vacation. When you consider that in 2012 over 2,000,000 visitors came to this small Central American country that’s a passel of folks to pack into a small sea-side town.
In 1995, when the regional airport facility was upgraded to the Daniel Oduber Ouiros International Airport in nearby Liberia the response from the commercial carriers was a stifled yawn; one charter flight per week was the total through-put for the tourist invasion in that year. Fast forward to the turn of the twenty-first century and the main highway into Tamarindo was still not entirely paved. So what happened to turn this sleepy, insignificant fishing village on the northwestern Pacific coast with the Costa Rican Riviera as its new moniker into a mecca for hard-body surfers and eco-tourists?
The genesis of Tamarindo is probably known to some of the life-long residents who remain in the area and perhaps those who wish to sift through the property records. Quite possibly it was a keen-eyed surf fanatic, with some connections, who noticed that Tamarindo Beach had two main breaks for the ride seeking surfer; Pico Pequeño, a rocky point in the cove, and El Estero, the excellent river mouth break. On these two breaks, the biggest waves can get up to twelve feet during November and December and the rest of the beach breaks are perfect for learning.
As word spread, or was promoted, money arrived to support the gringo dollars just beginning to flow into the economy. The pump had been primed and the spigot was about to open.
One ex-pat, who was present at the creation, recounts that the boom began around the turn of the century. The city had been growing slowly but steadily with new businesses like hotels, restaurants, and surf shops opening but, seemingly in a blink of the eye, growth accelerated and continued at a frenetic pace until the economic bust of 2008. The sunny shores of the Golden Coast of Guanacaste, Costa Rica were not immune to the plight of the “too big to fail” crowd and the boom cycle stalled.
Now, that economic reality does not diminish the fact that this little burg is a hopping place – especially during high season. The small town of approximately 3,000 residents in the low season can swell to 10,000 and more when the tourists arrive in force in November through April.
And it’s not just the surfers anymore. Eco-tourism is a substantial portion of the economic vitality, which is no accident as Costa Rica is perhaps the most protective of their natural resources of any nation in Central America. Playa Grande, north of Tamarindo, is where the Leatherback Turtles come to lay their eggs. The Leatherbacks take over the beach from November to April, digging their nests on the beach, covering them with sand and returning once again to the sea. With Las Baulas National Marine Park and other bio-preserves readily available there are numerous eco-friendly activities, including night turtle watching, diving, snorkeling, body surfing, zip-lining, estuary trips, bird watching, horseback riding and surf fishing.
Tamarindo and the surrounding areas fit many sizes and shapes: surfers, nature enthusiasts, honeymooners, families, backpackers and all-inclusive mavens delight in Tamarindo’s multi-cultural community and tropical paradise activities. And the development has left niches for almost every class and every budget. The town’s combination of affluent foreign culture, chic cafés and restaurants, all in the flavor of authentic Tico culture, has a strong appeal for locals, expats and foreign visitors. So in a short time the original drowsy beach village of Tamarindo has evolved into the most bustling tourist destination on the Costa Rican Riviera. Not too shabby.
By Richard and Anita, June, 2014