In Costa Rica I Have the Beach Life I Could Never Afford in the U.S.

As the sun set over the Pacific, the silhouettes of fishing boats lined up on the horizon came into sharp relief. Just in front of me, a dozen children clambered through tide pools searching for shells and sea creatures. The strains of reggae from the live band playing at the bar just behind me provided a great soundtrack to this late afternoon on the beach.

A friend of mine standing next to me turned and said, “Not bad, huh?”

I couldn’t agree more.

The place: Tamarindo, a former fishing village on Costa Rica’s northern Pacific coast turned expat haven. Discovered by pioneering surfers in search of the perfect wave in the 1980s and 1990s, it now hosts visitors and expats from all over the world.

Beach bars and restaurants line the long, slowly curving beach. There are high-end places, some mid-range. But many of the eateries are super-casual and cheap. Try a heaping plate of seasoned rice and vegetables and fresh fish filet for $6 and beers for $2 at El Pescador on the south end of the beach. Typical of many beach restaurants, the tables are on the sand, in the shade of trees. After your meal you can chill in one of the many hammocks strung about. It’s a favorite hangout of the town’s residents—and a great place to meet expats.

And, by the way, it’s not all North Americans in Tamarindo, although they are the predominant group. There is a big Italian and Argentinian influence. That means great food like real prosciutto in the markets and authentic wood-fire grilled pizza and Argentinian style steakhouses.

My family and I lived in Tamarindo previously two years ago. And we’d been plotting a return ever since we’d moved to the Central Valley, the interior region of the country surrounding the capital, San Jose. We love the beach, the live music nights, the tropical drinks by the pool, the surfing, the boating, the fishing…the beach lifestyle.

Don’t get me wrong, I like the Central Valley, too—the rural areas and villages full of friendly people, the perfect weather, and the mountain and valley views. But it boils down to this: We’re beach people. And having the beach within quick walking distance is something we treasure…and had never been able to afford in the U.S.

A two-bedroom condo five minutes from the beach and the town center is $750 a month, fully furnished. Another two-bedroom condo, this one unfurnished, will run you $400 a month—and it’s still right down the street from the water. A two-bedroom condo, overlooking a communal pool and a five-minute walk from the beach, is just $89,000 to buy.

Costa Rica
You can eat every meal on the beach in Tamarindo with the many beach bars and restaurants available.

And Tamarindo is still a huge surfing destination. That means plenty of surf schools. I’m still learning, definitely a beginner. But as everybody out there bobbing in the incoming swell says, “Any day on the water is a good day.”

Being able to get out on the water any day of the year—and the constant influx of visitors—makes it easy to fall into an “always on vacation” frame of mind living in Tamarindo. But it never gets as busy as the beach towns I visited in Florida where you could barely find a place to put down a towel some days. In fact, compared to a popular Florida beach, Tamarindo beach would be considered downright empty.

But it’s also easy to come to consider Tamarindo home. Once you’ve lived here awhile, you discover the strong community of locals and expats below the surface. We live and work here. It’s where expats are enjoying a tropical beach retirement and where others raise their kids.

It’s still a small town. You walk to the grocery store and see a few people you know. The ladies at the food court sushi place know your order. The shopkeepers greet you with a warm, “Buenos dias.” And sunset on the beach is a place you always run into somebody you know and are sure to meet a new friend.

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