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Tamarindo

Once a funky beach town full of surfers and local fishermen, Tamarindo is now a pricey, hyped-up hive of commercial development and real estate speculation, happily accompanied by a dizzying variety of shops, bars, and hotels, and probably the best selection of restaurants of any beach town on the Pacific coast. There's a shopping center at the entrance to town with an upscale AutoMercado supermarket and a Scotiabank branch and ATM. On the downside, the congested two-lane beach road through Tamarindo comes to a halt at times throughout the day, especially when delivery trucks stop in front of shops and restaurants, while drivers inch past the flashing hazards and distracted pedestrians. Strip malls, billboards, and high-rise condominiums clutter the rest of the main street and obscure views of the still-magnificent beach. Beyond the chaos of Diria Grand Boulevard (the commercial center), the main road bends toward Playa Langosta and gains some composure and tranquility (other than the potholes).

Tamarindo serves as a popular base for surfing at the nearby Playas Grande, Langosta, Avellanas, and Negra. There are plenty of outdoor options in addition to surfing, among them diving, sportfishing, wildlife-watching, and canopy tours. You can also play 18 rounds at the nearby Hacienda Pinilla golf course, or simply stroll the beach and sunbathe. Some low-life elements are making security an issue, especially with car break-ins that occur minutes after you leave your vehicle. Most upscale hotels and inns have their own security and gated parking. Once you're on the beach, almost all the negatives disappear (just keep an eye on your belongings).

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