Costa RicaCosta Rica

Day 2: Climbing Mountains on ATVs

Destination: Tamarindo

Sandy beachThe resonant calls of howler monkeys gently woke me this morning. The sun was brilliant, and I couldn't wait to hit the beach. After a light breakfast at Hotel Luna Llena, I set out to re-discover the quiet surf town I once knew.

I walked a few minutes to the main street that parallels the beach; at 9 a.m. the wide sandy coast was virtually empty, save for a few joggers and local surfers. The beach was just as beautiful as I had remembered, its broad shore curving around the bay. You could see Playa Grande to the north, another Gold Coast spot favored by surfers for its wicked breaks.

Colorful surfboardsThe main street through town was now paved, although potholes resembling impact craters minimized would-be speedsters. The sidewalks were brimming with travelers en route to lounge on the sand.

New hotels, hostels and condominiums now lined the streets. An interesting mix of die-hard surfers, backpackers, young families and retirees were out enjoying the morning sun. Tamarindo had indeed changed.

What started as a local surf spot has grown into a full-fledged resort town with all the amenities of a major city. Construction cranes now dot the skyline, and real estate is booming. I was glad to see that despite all the development, the town retained a laid-back vibe and a noticeable sense of community.

ATV tour guideThere is a large ex-patriot population in Tamarindo -- a melting pot of Italians, Americans, French, Canadians and Germans, balanced with a sprinkling of Ticos. Call me biased, but I welcome any Italian influence. They bring their fabulous sense of style, delicious cuisine and general lust for life to the far corners of the world. Tamarindo is chock full of Italian restaurants, hotels and delicatessens, and I took every opportunity to experience them all.

It seemed fitting that my first tour in this adventure-driven town would be an ATV excursion. Howler monkey in treeI'll admit that I never considered myself an ATV-type girl, preferring instead a horseback ride or massage on the beach. But the moment I started up the quad, the inner-kid in me came out.

I was joining local tour operator Tamarindo Adventures for a sunset ride into the mountains above Tamarindo. Our guide Diego gave us a few pointers before a quick test drive to make sure we knew gas from brake and weren't a menace to the streets.

Wearing giant goggles, helmets and the ever-attractive surgical mask (to keep the dust out of our mouths), we set off on an hour-long ride. Although we were probably cruising at a mere 20mph, it felt more like 60. As we climbed hills and powered across streams, I suddenly longed for an ATV of my own, Sunset over Tamarindothe perfect vehicle for zipping around town.

We reached a lookout where a family of howler monkeys chimed in with our engines. I asked Diego where we were -- Tamarindo or nearby Playa Langosta? He smiled and replied, "We're on the mountain". Indeed.

From our perch, we watched the sun cast a radiant light across Playas Junquillal, Avellena, Negra, Langosta and Grande. The warm waters off Tamarindo were dappled with surfers, catching the evening waves.

Day 2: Climbing Mountains on ATVs in Pictures

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