San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

La Palapa Hotel and Restaurant Gives Shelter from the Tamarindo Storm

You’re staying in Tamarindo, the northern Pacific coast beach town known for its surf, precious beaches and hoppin’ nightlife. You want to be central, saving a long walk home at night and allowing easy access to your things and the respite of your cool room during the day. You also want to be on the beach, and have the sunsets filter through palm trees onto the porch where you sit and sip your drink of choice, breathing in the evening.Whatever to do?

The answer: La Palapa. A hop and a skip from Tamarindo’s central roundabout, and just a jump from the ocean, La Palapa hotel, bar and restaurant is central, yet its rooms and seating place you a good distance from the busyness of the street, walling out the cars and crowds while exposing you to waves and sand.

Federico Suárez is one of four partners – three Argentineans and one French citizen – who run La Palapa. They took the locale over in November 2005, and have sought to create a “tropical and relaxed environment,” he says, relaxing in the restaurant under a sign announcing “Milkshakes.”

“A lot of people come to see the sunset,” Suárez notes. And they wouldn’t be disappointed. From the street entrance, one steps down past booth seating, past the colorful and hip bar, and emerges onto a relatively secluded and ample section of the beach, enclosed on either side with coconut palms and plants, and filled each night with plenty of tables and seating that ends not far from the ocean’s high-tide mark.

On a recent evening, midweek, during the tourism low season, hotel guests and walkins alike slip into the silver chairs, enjoy dinner and sip Heinekens and a variety of mixed drinks from the bar as they watch beachgoers stroll and jog by, the red summer sun sinking into the ocean.

It is this feeling that permeates La Palapa – comfort and relaxation. And the amiable, laid-back staff help keep everything running smoothly.

Friendly Agustina Bartolelli is the maestra behind the bar who whips up a variety of mixed drinks that she insists are the best in town.

“Some people specialize in flipping bottles or pouring a lot of drinks very fast. I specialize in making cocktails,” says Bartolelli, who claims she is the only professional female bartender in Tamarindo. Bartolelli says she has been slinging drinks from behind the bar for 10 years, having honed her skills at the well-known Soul Café, in Barrio Belgrano in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She takes her craft seriously, Bartolelli says.

She flips through a menu that offers a plethora of mixed drinks to choose from, saying, “Even if you don’t like alcohol, you’ll like this. People have e-mailed after they left asking for my recipes.”

The all-ages pages of the menu serve up “an international selection on a foundation of Argentinean staples,” Suárez said, adding that the restaurant is open for dinner all week from 5 to 10 p.m. “Each night, La Palapa features two to four specials, such as lobster, Frutti del Mar pasta, milanesa and chicken or American-style pork ribs,” Suárez said. The good cuisine is set to chill international music.

A few steps from dinner and drinks are La Palapa’s six hotel rooms, sharing the tranquil backyard, set back behind more palm trees.

Each room has a small porch, equipped with a chair or two, and a large, glass front entrance, dappled in the afternoon with sun and shadows. The rooms themselves have a different feel – one could almost say they are reminiscent of a spacious cabin in a boat – and the feeling is definitely cozy.

Passing through the entrance, one is faced with a difficult choice: step down into a small sunken nook, mirrored, with either a couch or padded loveseat-type ledge; or up to the loft bed. From the loft bed, one can sit up and see the beach. In the sunken miniden, a small bathroom (actually, a little cramped) is off to one side, and a bookshelf laden with literature beckons. If reading isn’t your style, there’s a TV with cable and a DVD player installed in the upper corner of each room. For a night in, DVDs and board games are available at the front desk.

All rooms are air-conditioned. With taxes included, a double runs $90 in the low season and $110 in the high season; singles cost $70 and $90. Breakfast is included, and the hotel has two guards during the high season and one during the low.

The hotel is also available for weddings and parties, Suárez said. The Argentinean claims he had 1,500 people packed into his backyard during April’s Easter Week for a beach party. More recently, Juanita Hayman Viale, a Tamarindo resident and publisher of The Tamarindo News, got hitched on the beach behind La Palapa.

“It’s a great open-air place for a wedding,” Hayman Viale said. “I chose it because it is directly on the beach, and because La Palapa has so many beautiful palm trees. It was gorgeous – lilies and flowers everywhere.”

The new bride also enjoyed La Palapa’s central location, saying that most people go farther out of Tamarindo for weddings.

“There were so many people around, walking on the beach, and to have a wedding and everyone stops to watch when they see a bride – it was just fun,” she said, exuberant. For information, contact La Palapa at 653-0362 or


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