Costa RicaCosta Rica

Day 4: Exploring Tamarindo Estuary

Destination: Tamarindo

White mangroveToday I would kayak the saltwater jungle of the Tamarindo Estuary. Spanning 1200 acres, it serves as the natural border between Tamarindo and Playa Grande. Its winding canals are home to ospreys, herons and kingfishers in addition to howler monkeys and coatimundis.

Fed by the Pacific Ocean, the estuary is protected by the National Park System and hosts six types of mangroves and the toothy American crocodile. My kayak tour with Tamarindo Adventures began as a leisurely paddle with the incoming tide.

Kayaking estuary tourOur naturalist guide pointed out a blue heron, an ibis and a kingfisher plunging into the brackish water. We were on the lookout for a crocodile, but the stealthy reptiles eluded us that day. A spotted sandpiper and snowy egret waded in the shallows, and howler monkeys scrambled along the tree tops.

Our two-hour paddle took us deep into the estuary where we silently floated with the current. On the way back we paddled against the ebbing tide, working up a sweat as we approached the shore.

Blue heronThe peace and tranquility of the estuary was a stark contrast to the din of Tamarindo. The cocktail hour had arrived and folks gathered, cold beers in hand, at beachside cafes to watch the sunset.

I had moved to Hotel Chocolate, a recently renovated apart-hotel a few minutes walk from the center of town. Run by friendly manager Danielle, the hotel has air conditioned rooms, each equipped with its own kitchen and patio, and free Wi-Fi access. Eight units overlooking a nicely landscaped pool lent the hotel a cozy atmosphere.

I was joining Bryan and his friend Ben for dinner at Kahiki, a restaurant favored by locals for its tasty cocktails and eclectic cuisine. Dining out in Tamarindo is an adventure with endless possibilities. Choices range from fresh seafood and sushi to avant-garde cuisine.

Beach chairs at TamarindoKahiki had a chilled-out ambience. Ex-pats and locals mingled at the bar over martinis and Bloody Marys. I was craving something ethnic and spicy, and the savory hummus from the Pacific Rim-inspired menu didn't disappoint.

We drifted over to bar Babylon, where reggae night was just kicking off. With the Reggaeton thumping loudly amid pungent smoke and dreadlocked Rastas, we could have been in Jamaica.

I waxed poetic about my stint there as a Peace Corps volunteer and swapped stories with Ben, who had been stationed in Gambia, West Africa. While he was learning some rare African dialect in an impoverished country, Hotel Chocolate poolI was honing the fine art of yam and ganja farming with my Rastafarian homestay.

Bryan beat me badly at pool and, in a moment of temporary insanity and because I was on vacation, I agreed to a shot or two of guaro, the local firewater. Guaro is like tequila, minus the good flavor. Its headache-inducing properties are renowned, and even small quantities of the stuff make for an interesting night.

Day 4: Exploring Tamarindo Estuary in Pictures

You Might Want to Read This Too