Costa RicaCosta Rica

Day 1: Journey to Guanacaste's Gold Coast

Destination: Tamarindo

Surfer at sunsetSun-drenched beaches with year-round surf, vibrant nightlife and a culture steeped in cowboy lore draw travelers to northern Guanacaste.

Beautiful coastlines and dry tropical forests dominate this vast province that spans the length of the Nicoya Peninsula across the open grasslands and arid plains of northwestern Costa Rica.

Today I was headed to the region's Gold Coast, a stretch of beaches and seaside communities along the North Pacific shore celebrated by surfers for challenging breaks and consistent swells. Guanacaste pasturesMy journey began in the booming beach town of Tamarindo, a Mecca for wave-riders and adventure aficionados.

I took the Pan American Highway towards Liberia and crossed the Tempisque Bridge (Puente de Amistad) which connects mainland Costa Rica with the Nicoya Peninsula. The Central Valley's rolling hills gave way to the vast plains and working cattle ranches typical of Guanacaste. This was cowboy country.

Guanacaste bridgeOnce again I found that distances are deceiving when driving in Costa Rica. I was on the homestretch, and the sign read 18 kilometers to Tamarindo via route #160. However, the deeply-pitted gravel road took a good 45 minutes to navigate. In the rainy season, this short cut to the beach is nearly impossible without four-wheel drive.

I watched in amusement as jellybean-sized rental cars barreled down the rutted road, bottoming out on giant potholes. A few days later I would hear these same cars making horrible rattling noises as they limped along the main street of Tamarindo.

Clouds of dust enveloped the dirt roads, a signal that summer was officially here. Hotel poolDry streets and blue skies were a welcome relief after a long and heavy rainy season.

My destination was Luna Llena, a boutique hotel just off the main road in town. The hotel was bright and cheerful, with spacious rooms and two-story bungalows set around a pool. It was a peaceful oasis amid the widespread development that is now Tamarindo. My tastefully decorated room had a private balcony overlooking the pool and came equipped with A/C, a safe and cable. Moreover, it was amazingly quiet.

Gold Coast hotel roomAfter five hours of driving, which in Costa Rica is an adventure sport in itself, I longed for a hot shower and some food. I cranked up the air conditioner and nipped out for a quick bite to eat.

Tomorrow I would explore Tamarindo. Seven years had passed since my last visit, and I anticipated many changes.

Day 1: Journey to Guanacaste's Gold Coast in Pictures