San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

She lives in the hotel

Years ago, in an effort to please a man, I visited Tamarindo, Costa Rica. We ended up at a small hotel called the Best Western Tamarindo Vista Villas, because the hotel sat on a hill overlooking Tamarindo Bay and was conveniently located near six famous surf breaks in Guanacaste. That was important to the man.

Our Tropical Suite had a bedroom, living room and kitchen, with a patio and a partial ocean view, and we adored the wood and floral finishes. I spent my time looking out over the Pacific, soaking at the swim-up bar and dining at the topside restaurant, and it was a truly wonderful vacation experience. The friendly staff not only attended to our needs in the room, but were also eager to be our social guides in town. For me, the Vista Villas was instantly home.

The guests were a mix of surfers young and old, as well as families and travelers who, like me, had found the place on the Internet or through word of mouth and come to enjoy it on vacation. As a community gathering place, I met a lot of people from all around the world who had given up their previous lives and moved to Tamarindo to start new ones. I was intrigued.

Soon after we arrived, we learned a common adage: “It’s not a Costa Rica vacation unless you change your flight at least once.” Following suit, our 10-day trip was extended to two and a half weeks. We changed our flights twice.

When we left, I couldn’t keep Tamarindo and the hotel I had discovered out of my mind. To wit, I made three more trips down in the next six months, and on the final trip, I decided to move there, this time on my own. To make the move to Tamarindo, I needed to find a place that would have the facilities to allow me to keep my job from the United States, where I was a publicist in the entertainment industry. Back then, in 1999, telephones were few and far between in Tamarindo, and the Internet was dial-up. I had to find a place that would provide both of those services. After considering many different locations, I once again settled on the Best Western Tamarindo Vista Villas. The manager provided me with a nice room with a kitchenette, refrigerator, air conditioner, television (at the time Tamarindo didn’t have cable) and that all-important telephone.

best western view

The owner built the hotel up high so surfers could monitor the waves.

Ashley Harrell

Alejandro Berkowitz built the Best Western Tamarindo Vista Villas almost 20 years ago. An avid surfer, he chose the location on the hill so that others who participated in the sport would be able to check the waves from their room, pool or restaurant, then scamper across the street to the closest break. During my first two and a half-year stay living at the hotel, I too caught the surfing bug. I had met the infamous Robert August one day at the pool when I first came down, and when I moved he arranged for me to get my first surfboard, a 9’6 Wingnut Noserider. He also took me out downstairs and across the street to show me a few things in the water. He named our spot Ellen’s Reef.

During those first years with the Best Western Tamarindo Vista Villas, I often helped out with marketing and even did a short stint at its surf shop, originally run by the infamous Surf Patti, a woman known throughout the town for her vast surf knowledge. As a matter of fact, Patti wrote the surf column in the local magazine The Howler, and when she finally left Tamarindo, I inherited the job. That surf shop has remained an important asset for the hotel over the years, providing the guests with everything from surf wax to bikinis and board shorts, and valuable information about the area’s surf spots.

After 10 years of living in Tamarindo, I was ready to retire from the entertainment business; I wanted to start a new career in Costa Rica. After a conversation with Berkowitz, I found myself back at the Best Western Tamarindo Vista Villas, living in another room, and working as the new reservations manager. I just couldn’t stay away.

There’s a lot to be said about living and working at the hotel. My job is to fill the rooms on the property with guests from all over the world, and we receive a steady stream of people all year round. Sure, the hotel is a Best Western, but it is distinctly Costa Rican. Nearly all the staff is from this country, and the flourishes in the room and public areas reflect the local flavor.

The hotel itself has only 29 rooms – four standard, eight ocean view, seven tropical suites, four large “corona” suites, four newly-renovated corona deluxe suites, a three-bedroom imperial suite and a two-bedroom casita called the Pilsen suite. Most of the rooms have beautiful ocean views. Now the rooms offer WiFi, cable TV, air conditioning, safe deposit boxes and coffeemakers to clients from the United States, Canada, Argentina, Costa Rica, France, Germany, Venezuela, Israel, and the rest of the world. Certainly, our brand name helps with the bookings, but the 4- and 5-star TripAdvisor reviews don’t hurt either.

Since I eat most of my meals here at the hotel, I can speak with authority about their tastiness. Every night when I go for dinner, I meet some guests at the Crazy Monkey Bar or restaurant, dining on something from our chefs. We specialize in pizza, nachos, fish, hamburgers, chicken wings, ceviche, and more. Trevor greets the guests every morning at our free continental breakfast, and he seems to be able to answer just about any question about Tamarindo and Costa Rica.

The surf shop is now run by one of my oldest friends in town, former national surf champion Andrea Díaz. She used to be sponsored by Roxy, so she was able to make her Waves Costa Rica Surf Shop, the only Quiksilver/Roxy surf shop in the country, and the first in Latin America. Her lessons are terrific, as she offers ocean theory as well as the physical surf experience.

I’m also well-placed for nightlife, which comes to me every Friday night with a Salsa Dance Party right upstairs from where I live. The event draws an average of 300 people every week to dance, drink and have a good time at the hotel bar by the pool. In between the live set of band Vino Tinto, we feature the beats of DJ Pipe. The event has been going strong for 10 years, with no sign of letting up.

Of course, Tamarindo is so much more than a single hotel. I feel fortunate to be centrally located, near both the beach and the town. And when I don’t feel like venturing out, I just have to hit pool on Sunday, a draw for locals who come and use the facilities for the price of a drink or a meal at the restaurant.

With nearly three years as reservations manager with the Best Western Tamarindo Vista Villas, I can say I have found my home. I live in a little room under the stairs and I love my work at the hotel. I also love being a part of a place that can offer a great vacation to those who visit, and who knows? Maybe the experience I help provide might sway another guest to move to here.

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