11 hours until that humid Costa Rican heat is inhaled as the airport doors slide open and your freshly flip flopped feet grace the hot ground. A quick twenty dollar shuttle speeding you into town, bypasses coaches lined up anticipating the next batch of package holiday makers. Unbeknown to them missing out on the random encounters, challenging adventures and vibrant memories awaiting you and your backpack.
We had touched down in Tamarindo, ready to help create some imagery for the local Tamarindo backpackers hostel and give some guidance to a couple of surf schools looking to grow their reach on Instagram.
The street vibe of Tamarindo is an eclectic mix of bare foot surfers, bikini clad youngsters, hostel dwellers and locals basking in the tourist and traveller trade. It is one that will instantly make you feel like you’ve found your place, your home. After two days I had succumb to the slower pace, embracing the warmth from the air and from the people. It’s easy to see why Dan my sun kissed surfing hostel manager with trademark western grumpiness and dry sense of humour has been there for three years and sees no immediate change to his residency. After happily sinking a couple of local Keller beers feet dangling in our private hostel pool I realise that this simple, easy living is there for the taking.
Dan a car salesmen and marketing manager, ignited his passion for surfing later in life having grown up in a land locked county of northern England. It has clear that taking a chance to chase the surf lifestyle and move 7,000 miles across the globe has rewarded him with peace, balance, and passion. With only enough possessions to fill a rucksack and a collection of impressive surfboards this guy is living an instagrammers dream. Well, that is until his supply of marmite and ginger nuts smuggled over from England runs out.
It is worth noting that food and essentials are not as cheap as you would expect in Tamarindo. The towns tourism trade is heavily influenced by the North American market and over time they have driven up the prices of convenience foods and restaurants. Not too bad if you’re there for a short trip, but necessary to budget for if you’re looking to stay a little longer. Getting fed up of paying over the odds? Then pop across the border to Nicaragua for a few days and you’ll see a drastic difference in price.
The shakka bearing, hola sharing, warm hearted locals will instantly fill you with a sense of belonging. Mooching down the dusty uneven roads towards playa Tamarindo you’ll always be greeted with a moped high five drive by and a comos estas. No need to be fluent Spanish to get by here however, a little knowledge goes a long way.
If you’re looking for five star luxury and poolside bars then Tamarindo has it, however, you’d be missing what really makes this place special. The charm, the uncertainty, the stumbled friendships that hostel life has to offer. There’s always the thrill of arriving somewhere new and scoping an area to find the best place to bunk down. A place that instantly makes you feel welcome, the sound of foreign chatter coming from swinging hammocks, or the gentle breeze resonating through the over grown palm trees. What is great about Tamarindo is you can share a 12 bed dorm or an air conditioning private room in most of the hostels across town.
High season running from February to July would require a booking before arrival as the town can get busy with wave chasers and spring break partiers. You don’t want to be that traveller hitting your tenth hostel on your first day becoming increasingly more desperado and impatient.
My new friend Dan’s hostel ‘Tamarindo Backpackers’ is situated ten minutes walk from the beach. The vibe is most definitely chilled with daily tasks consisting of picking ripe limes for your drinks, communal barbecues with the French Canadians in the next dorm and playing guitar in tune with the howler monkeys. Yes, I know what you’re thinking this is all a bit hipster, but surprisingly the average age of travellers was a lot higher than expected. I socialised with a lot of over 35/ 40 year olds travelling alone, confirming my belief in the existence of the ‘new age traveller’. The hostel housed an eclectic mix from gap year students to retired yachtsman. This really was a place of story sharing, memorable encounters and relived moments, as it became apparent several of the guests were on returning trips.
Like Mike, a hockey playing poet from New York. A quiet, handsome chap with with kind eyes and a welcoming presence. His athletic and well built body is juxtaposed by his wildly creatively and spontaneous mind. His morning ritual; unraveling eloquent and delicate verse alongside a black coffee. Also not a surfer at heart, the school based at Tamarindo backpackers S.A.L.T (surf as life therapy) has nurtured Mike’s passion over his last couple of trips and now he’s the ultimate urban rider, seeking out a wave off the coast of his home town New York when everyone else is eating bagels and watching musicals.
The surf academy SALT is run by the hostel owner Elias, a confident, experienced surfing latino with two beautiful surfer babies. ( Insert family goal hashtags here) His knowledge of local breaks, rips, offshore waves and weather is the best in Tamrindo having lived and surfed here for many years. He can coach anyone from novice to intermediate using videography to film and analyse each lesson. After a long day paddling, falling, riding, swallowing lots of water, apologising for dropping in on the locals, you can chill back at the hostel, watch your footage and discuss techniques to improve and develop your form, a feature not all local surf schools you may stumble into on the beach will offer.
As a small wave surfer and paddle boarder I was very excited when offered to tag along on a few surf trips with the current hostel locals. Bouncing down the gravelly roads towards the beach breaks in a defender held together with cable ties I felt a real sense of community and closeness between us. With six people and five boards, several cameras and supplies for the day it was hard not to, however, every minute I spent with these fellow travellers I felt accepted, welcome and content.
My family was expanding and decreasing daily as people came and left the hostel. It is clear though that everyone has the same positive and carefree attitude. Leave those egos at the door fellas! My immediate comrades who I now speak to regularly and have been back to visit will stay with me forever. Josh, the swerve Venezuelan, Tyler my Californian kind hearted Rocker, Vithorr the Brazilian (need I say anymore) Torres a scuba dive instructor and real life version of Lara Croft and American Alex a bad ass street skater who’s stories may start in the morning and finish in the evening but you had fun along the way. These moments and those bonds are sacred and I cherish each and every one. Tamarindo Backpackers was a hub for my soul searching and satisfied a craving to meet and be surrounded by like minded people.
DONT MISS ……
When visiting Tamarindo theres a few places you will want to check out…. For breakfast its always Princesa cafe serving delicious veggie and vegan bagels and I’ve heard the big breakfast baps are just the fuel you need for a long day surfing.
After a day on the beach the new Volcano Brewing Company has opened on the edge of town with a large bar, micro brewery, terrace and yummy food, open day and night be sure to check it out.
When choosing a surf spot and you’re not too keen on getting a fin to the face you can hop the other side of the river mouth where the break is fairly consistent and less busy. Just don’t swim the river, pay the equivalent of 50 pence to take a short boat ride across…… the river crocs have been seen licking their lips occasionally. Or jump on a boat trip heading to Witches Rock, on offshore break not for the faint hearted.
The best way to explore Tamarindo is to ask the locals, speak to the hostel, chat with other guests, they’ll lead you on an adventure you’ve probably never dreamt of. There are more touristy options too like diving, jungle treks, zip lining and booze cruises which actually are a definite for getting to see the coast and wildlife. Just save the tequilas until on the way back….
If you’re hanging around for longer than a week hire a car and get out of town. Drive South towards Marbella, a lot quieter, less tourists and better surf. Or head inland to chase waterfalls and monkeys.
Tamarindo backpackers starts at $10 a night for dorm rooms and goes up to $50 a night for a master en suite private room. You can fly direct from London to Liberia with Thomson Air for under £500 return if you book in advance. No need for injections or malaria tablets, just remember to take insect repellent for the evenings.