“Pura Vida!” is Costa Rica’s unofficial slogan, a Spanish phrase that literally means “pure life” but is also used as a greeting, to bid farewell, or to express happiness and satisfaction. It could easily be a description of Costa Rica itself with its sunlit sandy beaches, sprawling forests teeming with wildlife, and towering mountains from which cascade sparkling waterfalls and rivers.
Costa Rica is a nature-lover’s paradise, and whether your idea of a good time is surfing the waves, trekking up a mountain path, zip-lining over the trees of a cloud-forest, or simply lounging on the beach, there will always be something to make you happy.
Tamarindo, a popular, tourist town on Costa Rica’s Northern Pacific coast, offers a chance to experience all of this. With lovely soft sand beaches, warm waters, legendary sunsets and an easy going lifestyle, Tamarindo is especially popular with surfers and expats. From Tamarindo you can take convenient day trips to nearby waterfalls, rain forests, volcanoes or wildlife refuges.
One of the most remarkable sights is the Rio Celeste waterfall, where the water of the Celeste river cascades into a pool with an unearthly turquoise color. Ancient legends describe how the gods dipped a brush into the pool and used it to paint the sky. More recent research attributes the blue colour to reflection of light from fine particles the water picks up as it goes through the nearby Tenorio volcano. To get to the pool takes a stiff climb up a hill and then down a long flight of stairs, but it is well worth the effort.
If you are looking for a more accessible destination the Llano de Cortés falls are spectacular and descend into a shallow pool where swimming is both permitted and encouraged. On a hot day a plunge into the water is one of the most refreshing experiences you can imagine.
More than a quarter of Costa Rica’s land is taken up by forests and wildlife refuges, and exploring these areas is one of the best ways to experience the country. There are many different ways to see the forests, but the most relaxing method is to sit back on a boat that takes you along one of the rivers that thread through the forest. An entire vista of mangroves and other types of trees unfolds on both sides, which you can enjoy without any exertion necessary.
If you are looking for a more active experience then take a walk through the rain forest. There are many trails that you can follow through the national parks, with varying levels of difficulty, from an easy stroll to multi-day expeditions.
As you travel through the forests you will find that they are teeming with wildlife. Monkeys chatter in the trees while iguanas and sloths hang from branches. Toucans, ospreys, herons and hundreds of other birds fly overhead, and every now and then you will spot a crocodile lurking in the water or sunning itself on the riverbank.
When in Costa Rica, be sure to try a Casado in a local soda. Despite sounding cryptic, it is really very simple, and delicious! Sodas are family run diners where locals hang out to eat cheap and cheerful meals. Here you can sample generous portions of authentic Costa Rican food in the form of a Casado - a ‘marriage’ of traditional dishes such as black bean rice, fried plantains, fresh salad and grilled seafood or meats, often served with a fried egg over top. When it comes to eating like a local, nothing beats a Casado at a nearby soda!
There is no dearth of fine dining in Tamarindo and you are going to be spoiled for choice! We had many a memorable meal sitting right on the beach, gazing out at the incredible view while digging into skillfully prepared fresh seafood. I don’t know if it was the perfect setting creating the right mood, but every ceviche (citrus marinated raw seafood), grilled octopus or roast fish that we had was better than the last! Some of the outstanding restaurants we ate at and highly recommend are Pangas Beach Club, Seasons by Shlomy, La Palapa, Cafe Tico, Green papaya, Nogui’s and Langosta Beach Club. And if you’re looking for a place to stay close to the beach, try the newly renovated, ultra comfortable apartment Casa Ravinder.
We had heard rave reviews about a popular little restaurant in Tamarindo, called Shrimp Hole. Operating from the tiniest kitchen imaginable, with a select menu specializing in shrimp, this lovely place serves fantastic food. We first had Jungle shrimp curry here and it’s mildly spicy, creamy and coconutty flavours evoked delicious memories of India. I couldn’t wait to recreate it as soon as I got back home!
Make this easy, tasty curry just before you’re planning to serve, as reheating shrimp makes them rubbery. You can make the curry sauce ahead of time and just add shrimp at the last minute when warming up the sauce. An accompaniment of plain cooked basmati rice, Coconut Rice or Peas and Rice is a good way to soak up all the delicious flavours!
Jungle Shrimp Curry
2 tbsp oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped or minced
1/4 inch piece of ginger, minced
Salt to taste
2 large ripe plum tomatoes, finely chopped
1 can (14 fl oz) premium coconut milk
1 lb large raw shrimp, peeled and de-veined (about 30-32)
1 tbsp fresh lime juice
2 tbsp chopped fresh coriander leaves
Warm oil in a large skillet set over medium heat.
Add onions, garlic and ginger to skillet and saute until translucent and lightly browned, about 6-8 min.
Add curry powder or Malabar Masala Powder (if using) and the salt. Stir for 1 min until spices are fragrant.
Add chopped tomatoes and cook for about 6-8 min, until they soften and break down. Mash them with the stirring spoon to incorporate them into the sauce.
Add the coconut milk, stirring gently to blend it in. Cover skillet and bring contents to a gentle boil. Reduce heat to medium low and cook for 5-7 min until sauce thickens slightly.
Add shrimp, cover and continue to cook over medium low heat until shrimp are cooked through, about 6-8 min.
Switch off heat, uncover skillet and fold in the lime juice and fresh coriander. Taste and adjust the seasonings if required.
Serve right away.