Costa Rica is a lush paradise that has everything you want – mountains, rain forests, beaches, hot springs – and is easy to get to and is English friendly. From Minneapolis, it is a 5-5.5 hour direct flight and they are on US Central Time Zone. Their national motto is Pura Vida – pure life.
Beach vacation what you’re looking for? Tamarindo on the northwest coast is a very popular destinations for Americans and Canadians and is known for their surfing. Fly into the Liberia airport and take a 1-hour drive to Tamarindo. The development is booming here so while still affordable, it is getting more and more expensive and prohibitive for the locals to actually live there. Most restaurants and beach vendors prefer US Dollars, but it’s good to have some Costa Rican Colon. There aren’t a lot of ATMs around, but it is the best way to get currency. If you have a car, park it and leave it while you’re in Tamarindo and just walk everywhere. The main street, Calle Central, is jam packed because it’s only one lane each way. Every hotel and restaurant caters to English speakers and they are happy to help you learn some key words and phrases in Spanish. Playa Flamingo and other towns in this area of Costa Rica are home to many American ex-pats.
Here are my favorite things in this surf town:
- Chef Frank of Belly Fed Better, Instagram: @bellyfedbetter
- Persona chef who will come to your condo. He and his wife are American ex-pats who are living the good life in paradise.
- The food is amazing (get the homemade chips as an appetizer and the Tres Leches for dessert) and is about the same cost as going out to a nice dinner.
- You can book breakfast, lunch, dinner or any combination there of.
- Staying somewhere with a kitchen? Go to Auto Mercado for your grocery run. Large, North American style grocery store.
- There are other neighborhood markets with smaller selections such as Supermarket 2001.
- Walter’s Place Bar & Restaurant – casual restaurant right on the beach with great coffee and good food.
- If you get there early enough and buy food/beverages, you can use their beach chairs all day as opposed to having to pay to rent chairs on the beach.
- La Bodega – organic cafe with great sandwiches, salads, coffee.
- La Laguna – quiet restaurant/bar and french bakery. Service can be quite slow, but the food and pastries are delicious.
- Witch’s Rock – cluster of Witch’s Rock Surf Camp, Joe’s Restaurant, and El Vaquero beach bar
- Gallo Fino – amazing chicken dishes plus a lot more.
- Latitude Blue – beach restaurant with good cocktails
- Surf lessons at Witch’s Rock – Great instructors! Take anything from a 1-hour lesson to a whole week. I was exhausted with the 1-hour lesson!
- Lazy Lizard Catamaran and snorkeling – We saw dolphins both times we went out with them (both trips were in January).
- Estuary tours – Before I went to Costa Rica, everybody was telling me I would see monkeys everywhere. That did not turn out to be the case. Didn’t see a single monkey on my first trip. On my second trip, we went on an estuary tour, got out of the boat with our guide who led us to a nice sized troop of monkeys. When we returned to town, still no monkeys around. So the excursion was definitely worth it!
- Jade Coast Villas managed by Blue Water Properties – 1 block from Witch’s Rock
- 15 Love Bed & Breakfast/Tamarindo Tennis Club – small boutique hotel, 2 blocks from Witch’s Rock
- Peublo del Mar #21 – 2 bedroom, 1.5 bath condo with pool and onsite laundry
Up for a day trip or a second location? Explore the Arenal volcano area at La Fortuna.
- La Choza de Laurel – Traditional Costa Rican cuisine
- Sky Adventures – zip lining over the rain forest, rafting, and more. They have an amazing staff!
- Baldi Hot Springs hotel and resort – they have about dozen hot springs, all different temperatures, locker rooms, restaurants, hotel resort and more. It was nice to have the hot springs experience without the strong sulfur smell.
- La Fortuna Waterfall – warning: you start at the top and walk a zillion stairs to the bottom, are rewarded with bracing-ly cold water, and then you have to walk up the zillion stairs to leave.