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Beach Town Life, Surfing and Fishing in Tamarindo, Costa Rica

by Jason Holland

Moving from New York City to a small town in the U.S. is quite a culture shock on its own.

But Rick Macsherry, 60, and Christina Spilsbury, 58, did one better. In 1989, they moved to a small fishing village on Costa Rica‘s northern Pacific coast.

Back then, Tamarindo was tiny and remote, accessible only by a bumpy dirt road that fronted the beach.

“When we moved here, there were only about 50 people, locals and expats,” recalls Christina.

The only foreign visitors were sport fishermen (Tamarindo remains a fishing destination today), pioneering surfers in search of consistently good waves, and a handful of adventurous tourists who stayed at the few small hotels in town. Ticos, as Costa Ricans call themselves, flooded the area between Christmas and Semana Santa, or Holy Week, as they still do today.

But otherwise, Tamarindo was a very quiet place.

Today, it’s a tourist destination and busy little town full of expats of various nationalities—from Italian to Argentinian to Israeli to Canadian. There are restaurants, from take-away to sit-down gourmet of every cuisine. Grocery stores are packed with imported items like hummus and frozen waffles. Vacation Deals

But it still manages to retain a funky, laid-back character. It’s a beach town through and through. Where sunset drinks on the beach are the only unmissable appointment on your calendar. And while there might be plenty of tourists walking the streets and laying out on the beach during high season, the town’s long-term residents remain close-knit.

Christina’s grandmother was from Costa Rica, and she had family in San Jose, the country’s capital. So the couple had visited the country before and traveled around extensively. The funny thing is despite their obvious affinity for the place the couple never intended to move here permanently.

But then Christina, a writer, was offered a grant to work on her next project. Knowing the money would be enough to support themselves for a while in Costa Rica, they headed south. And during that year-long stint in Tamarindo, they fell in love with the place. After a short trip back to New York, they moved back to their new home.

Location was a big factor: “I love the beach,” says Christina. For a Little reading on the Beach

But so was lifestyle.

“We really thought the thing that’s most valuable in life is time,” explains Christina. “We definitely pace ourselves so we have time to enjoy the place we live. And we have a lot of friends. Here there’s time to make friends…and plenty of public space like the beach to meet people.” Costa Rica Travel Guides

Christina and Rick have seen a lot of changes over the years.

Cost of living in Costa Rica, for one, has increased since the 1980s. But…

“We can still afford to have a gardener and a cleaning woman, something we couldn’t afford in the States,” says Christina.

Plus, health care is cheap. The couple feels blessed not to have had any serious medical issues over the years. But they do report that their local dentist charges a fifth of what it would cost in the U.S. for treatment.

These days Rick and Christina keep busy with their catering business, based in Playa Langosta, just south of Tamarindo. The area has become a destination for weddings and large family reunions over the years, according to Christina, and Sunset Catering serves that need. But they still make time for what’s really important.

“We walk the beach and swim every day,” says Christina. “And at the end of the day we always watch the sunset.”



Located on the Nicoya Peninsula's "Gold Coast", Playa Tamarindo offers fishermen one of the top locations for deep sea fishing in Costa Rica and all of Central America. The highly active and easy to reach fishing grounds offer great year-round action with Wahoo, Sailfish, Tuna, Dorado, Marlin, Roosterfish, Snapper, Grouper and more. Inshore or offshore, fly fishing or conventional methods, bottom fishing or trolling, we are ready to help make your sportfishing adventure a successful and memorable one.


Introduction – Surfing in Tamarindo

Best Time: December ~ April

Tamarindo remains to be the most popular and well known, “surf mecca” on the northern pacific coast. This area is centrally located on the coast to offer easy access to a wide variety of surf breaks for all abilities including beach, rivermouth and of course, reef breaks such as Witches Rock and Ollie’s Point. Costa Rica Travel Guides

Tamarindo is a great place to use as home base to explore many of the area breaks to the north and south. There are several breaks in town including the rivermouth of Tamarindo and the more challenging break at Langosta.

However, the real attraction of Tamarindo is its central location between the world famous break of Playa Negra (south) and Witches Rock (north). Logistically, Tamarindo provides the easiest place to explore the most surf in the shortest time. Moreover, Tamarindo offers a wide variety of accommodations from beachfront hotels, condominiums to private house rentals. This is the best place on the northern pacific coast to go for the perfect mix of a variety of waves, accommodations, restaurants and nightlife.

First time visitors to Costa Rica tend to fall in love with this tropical paradise although, many return visitors opt for quieter destinations such as Playa Grande or Nosara. It’s also very close to Playa Avellanes and Playa Negra.

Getting There

Tamarindo is accessed by paved road all the way from San José (4½ hours) or by shuttle plane (no boards over 7 feet) into the local airport. Playa Grande is accessed by paved road from San José and a 10 minute ride on the dirt road just outside of Tamarindo or by shuttle plane into the local Tamarindo airport (no boards over 7ft).

Tamarindo is one of the best surf destinations as it is a great place to use as base to explore a wide variety of surf breaks within a short distance. Breaks within walking distance include the rivermouth, Langosta, Pico Pequeño (to name a few) and within a short drive you can surf Grande, Avellanes, Negra and a boat trip away from Witches Rock and Ollie’s Point.

Isla UvitaWitches Rock
Access by Boat Only. 2 mile stretch of beach with hollow sand bottom beach breaks creating long lefts and rights. Take off can be steep, however offshores generally keep the wave open and easy to surf.
Best conditions: with a west/southwest swell at incoming to high tide.
Ollie’s Point
Access by Boat Only. Right point at the rivermouth with fast, hollow waves that roll on the beach endlessly breaking over a rocky bottom (hence, Endless Summer II). Take off at a series of rocks with slow entry.
Best conditions: at outgoing to mid low tide and south/southwest swells.Offers a great beach break with waves year round.
Salsa BravaPlaya Grande
Exposed beach break just north of Tamarindo with hollow peaks. Can get crowded at the main peak but there are plenty of fun lefts & rights on the outside ref. & beach break.
Best conditions: at mid – high tide with offshore flow.
Playa CoclesPlaya Langosta
Exposed beach break just south of Tamarindo with hollow peaks. Can get crowded at the main peak but there are plenty of fun lefts & rights on the outside reef & beach break.
Best conditions: at mid – high tide with offshore flow.
Solid right beachbreak with hollow waves as they hit the inside reef..
Best conditions: on a due WEST swell with offshore flow and at mid-high tide.
Pico PequenoPico Pequeno
A lava finger reef with a right that can be mushy to barrelling.
Best conditions: at a mid tide. Located south of the rivermouth.

Things to Avoid


  • Avoid trying to enter by car the center of Tamarindo on a Friday night between 5 – 7. Due to increased traffic, this becomes a parking lot!
  • About Avellanes and Negra: Avoid parking at the beach with any valuables in the car. The remoteness which makes this area so attractive, also makes it an easy target for petty theft while you are in the water!
  • Costa Rica Travel Guides