About Tamarindo – Taking a Look Into the 90´s
Article written by Jorge Carmona from Tamarindo Real Estate
In the current era of Costa Rican tourism, visiting (or even living in) the Tamarindo area is pretty easy now… There’s a variety of hi-end supermarkets, multi-cultural restaurants where you can pick your gastronomic experience every night, also easy-to-find a pharmacies and private clinics in case of emergencies. Even though there is no uber in Guanacaste yet, but taking the bus, taxi or hanging your thumb out for the “colectivo” is much easier than it was say, 30 years ago in the 90’s
As for Costa Rica Real Estate, activity in the 90´s is far different than the present day because there simply weren´t many real estate agents or offices. Also with tourism and land development, there weren´t paved roads and accessing many off the well-known beaches we enjoy today involved a 4×4 vehicle and crossing through several private properties.
¿Habla usted español?
In the early 90´s and before, tourists were just a few ‘’gringos’’ looking to explore, fish, surf, or have a romantic meet-up with a local… There was not much opportunity to exchange some words in English with the few tourists in Costa Rica. Communication was hard for locals trying to explain daily life to foreigners and visa versa.
Public education along the coastline was also limited and private schools didn´t really exist in the Gold Coast. Imagine Brasilito and Tamarindo, two fishermen towns then, with a limited education access… By the 90’s the closest high school was Colegio de Cartagena, so any other teaching center had to be either Santa Cruz or Liberia and they did not teach English in elementary schools at all.
With time, education improved with more schools and government programs included English in classrooms. Thanks to this change, Guanacaste was able to be more competitive amongst the region in the upcoming years and was primed for the tourism boom to follow
The first private school in the area was CRIA (formerly known as Country Day School), founded in 1981 by a group of American parents who lived in the area. In the early years, the school operated in a small building with only three teachers and a few students. However, over time, it expanded and moved to its current location in Playa Brasilito, close to Reserva Conchal. Later some other private schools were founded, like La Paz and Educarte.
About the Guanacaste International Airport (LIR)
Try to picture Guanacaste without an international airport, hard to believe, right? And did you know that the name of the airport used to be “Daniel Oduber Quirós” and also “Tomás Guardia”? Both names are from Costa Rica´s former presidents and Oduber was the owner of “Finca La Flor” a 3,900 acre parcel (today is Universidad Earth´s campus), near Liberia and close to the airport. Oduber constantly visited Liberia and developed a profound love for Guanacaste’s coastline.
Liberia airport was first open in 1995, with a commercial flight from Miami. Sometime later it was Delta Airlines who started direct flights from Atlanta and due to this successful destination, soon United Airlines an American Airlines joined the list; the rest is history! Today there are commercial charters and private flights, approximately 53 weekly flights and 1500 daily passengers.
Yes, I’ve been there!
In the early 90’s, there weren´t many hotels or restaurants in the area. The very first mega constructions in the area were Meliá Conchal Hotel, in Reserva Conchal (now the Westin and W) and The Tamarindo Diriá. These hotels were the first major toourism employment generators in the area.
In Brasilito there´s a 70-year old building that once burned to the ground. Bar Indira (former name Cabinas Brasilito), an old looking concrete building across the plaza was first owned by doña Alicia Zúñiga, who was considered one of the first settlers in this fishermen´s town, along with her husband don Víctor Sequeira. When the couple first arrived from Santa Cruz, there was no electricity, instead they used kerosene as fuel, accepted coins only for payment, and as for roads, they were bumpy and rarely grated.
A popular meeting point for expats, tourists, and locals was the famous “La Boca de la Iguana” also in Playa Brasilito in front of the plaza. But as the Maritime Zone laws were enforced, the place had to be brought down due to beach regulations.
La Perla and Amberes: not to miss at all
In Playa Potrero, the famous corner restaurant in Surfside “La Perla”, was founded by Pearl, a Canadian woman in 1976. The eatery prepared food for fishermen initially. But eventually, Pearl decided to open this place for everyone! This place has changed in time and has had different owners, but it has kept the name and it´s a reference point in Potrero when it comes to good food and great live music.
The center of action and a hip place in Playa Flamingo was “Amberes”, a bar, restaurant an disco club. Everyone wanted to be seen in “Amberes”, plus it was the hot club to go during and after the world-famous Flamingo Fishing Tournament held every year in the old Flamingo Marina.
Flamingo for Rich and Famous Only
The real name for Playa Flamingo, used to be Playa Blanca or Playa Chorotega, however the reason why it’s called Flamingo now is because the first visitors found a lot of bright pink birds called Roseate Spoonbill herons, that were similar in color to flamingo birds.
Playa Flamingo became a very desirable and expensive destination thanks to the Flamingo Beach Resort (Margaritaville today), and the Presidential Suites, on top of the hills. The idea was to provide luxurious lodging to presidents and heads of states from the area in order to attract tourists and establish new international relationships.
There was as rumor in that some rich and famous were buying properties in Flamingo like Linda Evans (Wonder Woman) and Elizabeth Taylor.
Flamingo wasn´t the only popular place to visit or buy properties. Investors were also interested in Tamarindo. No wonder why these two beach towns have some of the highest land prices in the country.
Can you hear me now?
Imagine no cell phones! In order to make a phone call it was either from your house (if you had a landline) or go to a telephone booth.
But before these telephone booths multiplied on the streets, there were only telephones in specific places like groceries stores or even neighboring houses would allow you to make a phone call. You just had to provide the number you wanted to talk to, they dialed it for and when the other person answered, you picked the other phone line outside the place and talked. Of course there was a fee you paid when the call was ended. Can you picture all these steps just for a phone call?
Where to, mister?
Believe it or not, bank services, groceries, pharmacies, hospitals, supermarkets, bakeries and others were hard to find. You had to drive to Santa Cruz or Liberia for an important errand and it was an adventure thanks to a limited bus service and lack of taxi services and less than perfect roads
In 1996, Hurricane Cesar, hit central America and Guanacaste´s infrastructure was affected. The paved road between Belén and Huacas was inexistent due to the floods so it took more than one hour to drive 22 kilometers.
Surf ‘s up!
Playa Tamarindo used to be a laidback fishermen town, just a few visitors walking around (not close to the vibrant place it is now) and not to mention Playa Grande, a more remote place. Also electricity was limited and there was no drinking water from pipes. Even ice had to be brought in big heavy blocks on Thursdays, so if restaurants ran out of ice, customers had to drink beers at room temperature.
Lodging was limited in Tamarindo and Playa Grande. In the case of Tamarindo just a couple of basic cabinas. The very famous Tamarindo Diriá Hotel opened in 1972, and it´s considered the first large hotel in Tamarindo founded by the García family. They had the vision of providing lodging service to tourists visiting the beach not only for nature but also for surfing, and this market was for sure growing really fast, along with Playa Grande. In fact, it was the 1994 surf flick, the The Endless Summer II featuring Robert August, Pat O’Connell, and Robert “Wingnut” Weaver that put Costa Rica on the map as a surfing destination as this familiar crew scored waves in Tamarindo, Playa Negra, Ollie’s Point, and the famous, Witch’s Rock.
As for local restaurants, Nogui’s first opened in 1974 and is considered one of the very first spots in Tamarindo (can be found in Tamarindo´s roundabout), and it´s well known for fresh food every day. In 1996, hurricane Cesar partially destroyed the restaurant, but the owners rebuilt the place and it became one of the most popular restaurants in Tamarindo up to today.
What is going on now?
More than 30 years have gone by, and the Gold Coast has transformed. Tamarindo is not a fishermen´s town anymore; it´s a vibrant place with very attractive and high-end properties for sale. Even Villarreal and Huacas, both drive-through towns, have become very busy and are growing rapidly. In the past six months, significant amounts of asphalt have hit the ground. Most of the road through Avellanas and Playa Negra is now paved, along with the secondary Tamarindo entrance, which locals call Los Jobos.
Perhaps life in Guanacaste is more busy than it used to be in the 1990s. Despite the commodities we have today (with services, communications, and transportation), the beauty of a sunset and the Pura Vida lifestyle are constants for foreigners and tourists. For the expats and locals that live here full time, there´s a special joy in calling this unique place “home”.
Pictures from Norm Schriever, Facebook and locals.