Visiting Costa Rica: Playa Conchal and Tamarindo

Latest visit: July 2021 

Tips for visting Costa Rica (Playa Conchal and Tamarindo):

  • Where to stay:
    • I stayed at the Westin Playa Conchal, which is an all-inclusive. Thanks to my status with Marriott I got upgraded to an updated room, which was a beautiful suite that felt like an apartment (minus the kitchenette). I had a lovely little patio with rocking chairs, a huge living room with a mini fridge and coffee maker, a king-sized bed and huge bathroom. I could have easily stayed here for a few weeks. For a relatively poor country, this resort was super well kept. The pools were clean and well maintained and the staff was extremely friendly. I enjoyed having access to the Royal Club, which was an adult only pool, to work and relax. The gym was amazing and the spa was very relaxing. The food was pretty good for an all-inclusive. That being said, I didn’t enjoy the fact that it was so far from Tamarindo. I would have liked to be able to have the option to walk to a local restaurant or bar but that was impossible. 
    • If I were to do it again, I’d rent an Airbnb or stay in Tamarindo at the Diria hotel.
  • How to get around:
    • If you plan on staying at the Westin resort, you can grab the shuttle to town. They will also organize taxis for you if you need help (but they are quite expensive).
    • If you’re not staying at a resort, I’d recommend renting a car unless you’re already downtown Tamarindo and don’t want to go exploring much. There’s SO MUCH to do, so if you like adventure I think renting a car is the way to go. Just be careful because locals seem to drive a little bit crazier than tourists do!
  • Things to do:
    • Surfing in Tamarindo: I had the BEST surfing experience with Pablo. I had 2 surfing lessons with him and I improved significantly with him. I was so sad to say goodbye- he’s a gem and I strongly recommend him!
    • Horse back-riding: You can negotiate a ride on the beach with all the locals but what I absolutely want to do next time is go on an excursion with a small group (or solo) of riders and be able to gallop freely through the country side (and possibly beach).
    • Scuba diving/snorkeling: I cannot stress enough the need to go on an excursion. The water was so clear and I was able to scuba dive with white tip sharks AND hear whales chanting under water. It was such an incredible experience. It’s also a great way to meet locals and get all tourist-free spots to hang. I had a great experience with PACIFIC DIVERS and would strongly recommend them!
    • for next time: hiking and discovering waterfalls, zip lining, ATV adventures and much more!
  • Tamarindo: it reminded me a lot of small towns in Bali. There were many cute little shops and some abandoned buildings, surf schools and hotels. I think I’d love to stay here for a few nights to surf every day and get a feel for the local vibe but I’m not sure I’d want to stay for a week. It felt very touristy.
  • Here’s my personal tip for when you’re packing: just always expect to be damp either from the humidity and heat or because of the rain showers.
  • What to bring:
    • Light clothes: If I could have walked around everywhere in a bikini I would have!
    • Mosquito spray, citronella bracelets, After Bite: they devoured my legs and arms.
    • Sunscreen: reef safe, water resistant sunscreen. The sun here is VERY strong! You’ve been warned!
    • Water bottles: You can easily get dehydrated since it gets very hot and humid. I enjoyed having my own cold and « safe » water with me at all times.
    • Rash guard if you’re going surfing or snorkeling. The sun is super strong so it will protect you from sunburn (and showing your cleavage to everyone while surfing). Ladies, make sure you put some extra strong and water resistant sunscreen on your buns or they will get burnt.

Impressions of Costa Rica (Playa Conchal and Tamarindo):

This was my second time in Costa Rica, the first time being in Uvita for the Envision Festival. My first experience was not the best* but I can tell you that my second was much, much better.

My first pick would never have been to stay at an all-inclusive hotel, far from Tamarindo, but it was still a very nice property. I truly enjoyed waking up every day to the lush, green environment. I witnessed the jungle waking up: from the interesting looking squirrels to the pizotes (the English name being white-nosed coati) and iguanas crawling down the trees. I also loved walking on the Playa Conchal beach to Brasilito. It felt very safe and it was so relaxing (early in the morning before the vendors start setting up at the entrance/exit of the resort. This beach is quite special because the upper half is made of shell pieces. Not the most comfortable for the feet but very pretty! I also had an unfortunate encounter with (possibly) a stinging jellyfish. It felt like a long paper cut along my arm: it got pretty swollen and red so the lifeguard told me to rub white vinegar on it…and it magically stopped stinging an hour later.

I was SO glad that I got in contact with Pablo on my way over to Costa Rica and that we confirmed a private lesson together. He showed up on time, with a huge smile on his face and drove us to Tamarindo. I enjoyed every bit of conversation with this little man that already felt like a long-time friend to me. We jumped in the water and I had a BLAST with him. He had the best queues and helped me so much! The second lesson I took with him was semi-private as I joined another family in the water. It was actually really great for my self-confidence as I needed to « go for it and read the waves » by myself. He still queued me from a distance and helped be catch some pretty awesome waves! I ABSOLUTELY recommend Pablo as a surf instructor and hope to be back very soon to hang out and surf with him!

Another great experience I had was with Pacific Divers. I was a little bit stressed out when the van showed up to pick me up and it was packed with people (especially during COVID times). It was kind of early for me and I get motion sickness so I just focused on looking ahead. Once we got to the diving center there were even more people and I thought to myself, « what did I get myself into? » As I scanned the environment, I overheard people talking about snorkeling so I realized this boat was bringing out snorkelers and divers and I felt relieved. There were still a lot of people on the boat, but only 3-4 people per dive master. I hadn’t dove in over a year and a half so, needless to say, I was a little bit nervous. My dive master was so nice and my two new friends were even nicer which made my experience so much better. The crew was clearly intrigued as to why I’d shown up alone and quickly made me feel like part of the gang. Once I left the boat, I definitely felt like I would have loved to hang out and dive with them more. The highlight of my trip was  definitely hearing the whales. It was so unique and incredible: it brought tears to my eyes. Hanging out with 8 white tips sharks was also pretty amazing.

I remember a friend telling me how the Costa Rican diet was very much plantains, beans, rice and sometimes some fish… but I must say I was impressed. The quality of the food, the juices, the acai bowls, etc was truly on point. I did not feel like I missed anything at all!

My conclusion is the following: I will be back. I want to go back surfing in Tamarindo. I want to explore more of Costa Rica, but would I move there? The answer is no. It’s too hot and humid for me.

 

*The Envision Festival’s mission is to create an eye-opening experience that turns us onto a new form of living; a new way to be inspired. To provide tools that can be integrated into the life we are already living or to inspire a complete shift in our life path. The connection to nature can be felt in every aspect of Envision and the ripple effect of what people then take away from the festival is much more potent than just a good party. (taken from their website)

  • *It was so hot and humid. There was no cold water, no way to cool down from the extreme temperatures. Everything was very (read TOO) eco-friendly: the bathrooms were holes in the ground filled with wood chips, there was barely water for the unisex showers, and they were timed. All in all, not my scene… and that’s all I saw of Costa Rica. I did tell myself after that experience that I should go back and experience the real Costa Rica. I got one step closer with my most recent trip, but still not as close as I’d like to.

 

FAUNA:

 

HOTEL:

 

TAMARINDO, SURF, SCUBA AND MORE:

 

 

Related post: Visiting Bogotà, Colombia.

 

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