I live in Costa Rica’s Central Valley, near the capital of the country, San Jose.
It’s great to be near big-city amenities and conveniences. When I need a printer cable for my home office, the store with five choices (Office Depot, which you might recognize) is right down the road. And when my six-year-old wants to see the latest animated blockbuster—in English—we just check the listings at the local movie theater for that weekend. Tickets are just $5.50 each. And you actually get to pick your spot—no need to arrive early and compete for a seat.
But as great and convenient as city living is, I still miss our previous home in the beach town of Tamarindo—and the simpler life it offered.
My only real appointment on any given day was to meet friends down by the water at sunset to cap off what we always called “another day in paradise.” There’s not much I enjoy more than watching the sun dip below the horizon, toes in the sand, beer ($3)—or happy hour mojito ($4)—in hand. If the tide was right I might be out surfing (or trying to surf) instead, or playing soccer with my son.
Tamarindo, on the northern Pacific coast, was first discovered by surfers in the 1970s. Back then it was a simple fishing village, only accessible by a rough dirt track that washed out often. But, as word got out, small hotels and restaurants opened up, over the decades joined by the dozens that still line the beach today and the roads that wind through town.
Eventually, there was a bit of a real estate “boom” that mirrored the one in the U.S.
Some might say Tamarindo is too touristy and overdeveloped as a result. And while it’s true there are plenty of hotels and hostels and some high-rise condos, development has its advantages.
With visitors come things like fun little boutiques, beach bars with reggae soundtracks and great restaurants. Living there, we had our choice of coal-fire pizza (courtesy of the sizable Italian expat population), sushi, falafel, and even American sports bar fare. And the tiny little grocery store in town stocks everything we ever needed to cook up our favorite Thai curry dishes. There are even vegetarian and vegan options.
Admittedly, prices for these places are at or slightly below what you’d pay in the U.S.—it is a tourist town after all. But there are also plenty of cheap options, like the traditional Costa Rican restaurants, called sodas, where a plate of rice, beans, plantains, salad, and fresh seafood (shrimp, squid, or fish)—too much to eat in one sitting—will set you back $5.
Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t Daytona Beach. Tamarindo still retains the laid-back mentality that first attracted visitors here back when it was primarily a surfing destination. It’s a very walkable little town with one paved road. You can still find plenty of quiet places on the sand—under the shade of trees if it’s very warm—to enjoy the ocean breeze. And the preferred modes of transport are your bike or your feet.
Plus, you rub shoulders with all types of people and become friends with people you probably wouldn’t encounter back home. There are expats of many nationalities (the American, Argentinian, and Italian contingents are very strong here but there are also Israelis, Canadians, French, and many more), of all backgrounds (from millionaires to those just getting by), and of all ages (from young families to retirees).
And if you ever feel like Tamarindo is getting too crowded—like during tourist high season—the next beach over is virtually empty year-round.
It’s a lot of fun too. I spent most mornings walking from one end of the beach to the other—the best time of day because it’s still cool—and then jumping in the Pacific at the end. I’d watch the local fisherman head out for the day on their open boats powered by outboard motors called pangas, joined by foreign pleasure-cruising families and sport fisherman going after marlin, tuna, and snapper with more high-tech craft.
The beach itself has a graceful curve. And you have a great view of the surrounding mountains, the anchored boats bobbing just off shore, and flocks of seabirds diving for breakfast. I’d stop and chat with friends out for their own morning walk, and give a nod or hearty “good morning” to the dozen or so other folks I’d see every day but didn’t know well.
I might grab an orange-ginger-banana smoothie at the little shop on the main drag on the way home. A great daily routine.
To be sure, the town was short on printer cables and the only movies were projected on a stretched-out sheet down by the beach. But you can get everything required for daily living…and you soon find that’s all you need.