Hordes of people and a few too many strip mall-looking commercial centers can almost sour the surf-and-sun experience that makes the beach town of Tamarindo such a draw for tourists in the first place. At Hotel Bula Bula in Playa Grande, just a short water taxi ride away from the nonstop action of Tamarindo, visitors can escape the crowds and relax properly. The resulting feeling is one of being delightfully isolated, while still having the assurance that scores of nightclubs and restaurants are just a stone’s throw away.
In addition to being within spitting distance of Tamarindo, the hotel is a short walk from Las Baulas National Marine Park, home to Playa Grande and its barreling surf breaks. Compared to its neighbor beach across the estuary, Playa Grande is sparsely populated – except at nighttime during nesting season, November through April, when it fills up with giant leatherback turtles coming ashore to lay their eggs. Hop aboard a boat headed in the other direction and you’ll find yourself in the raw heart of the Tamarindo Wildlife Refuge.
Bula Bula owners Todd Redecker and Wally Beck didn’t just stumble upon the property by accident. With years of experience in the hotel industry, they knew exactly what they wanted and spent months combing Costa Rica’s Pacific coast until they found a location that was absolutely perfect. Since then, they have had eight years to refine their creation and make Bula Bula an ideal getaway on the northern Pacific coast.
The hotel’s name comes from a Fijian greeting meaning “happy happy,” and every aspect of the establishment is designed to evoke this emotion. The 10 rooms, with their brightly painted walls and comfortable, king-size beds, put off some definite good vibes and are fully loaded with everything guests need to feel at home, including TV and DVD player, mini-fridge and safe. Outside each room, on a covered veranda, are two rocking chairs that allow visitors to enjoy the hotel’s nature-inspired landscaping, even in the case of pouring, tropical rain.
Shaded by palm trees and lush vegetation during the day and lit from underneath at night, Bula Bula’s recently remodeled swimming pool is deep and cool, making any hour of the day or night the perfect time for a dip.
The hotel’s most famous permanent resident is Bert the parrot. This intelligent bird’s reputation has spread worldwide. Apparently even other parrots know who he is. According to Redecker, an escaped parrot turned up in the U.S. city of Seattle repeating the word “bula” over and over. The finder-keeper called the hotel wondering if Bert might have flown the coop. The fine folks of Bula Bula have no idea who this mystery imposter is, but Bert isn’t going anywhere. He’s more than happy hanging out on his swinging perch and mingling with the hotel’s guests when he gets a chance.
Where Bula Bula really shines is in its bar and fusion-cuisine restaurant, The Great Waltini’s. Dive into fresh seafood enchiladas or a massive marlin steak and then wash it all down with one of the bar’s absurdly large and delicious drinks. Think white Russians made with vanilla ice cream and piña coladas so fruity and strong that they could be meals in themselves. Have a couple while shooting the breeze with the amiable bartenders, and you really will feel happy happy.n
Hotel Bula Bula is in Playa Grande, 21 km north of Tamarindo. From the Huacas crossroads, drive west to Matapalo and then south to Playa Grande. From Tamarindo, water taxis will take you across the estuary to Playa Grande for $3. Keep your eyes open for crocodiles.
Double room rates during high season are $140 per night; discounts are available for longer stays and through the reservations page on the hotel’s website. Room rates include made-to-order breakfast.
Bula Bula also now manages rentals of luxury beach homes in Playa Grande. Houses can sleep from four to 14 people, with rates ranging from $85 to $1,100 per night. Guests have access to all hotel amenities.
For reservations and information, call 2653-0975 in Costa Rica or 1-877-658-2880 in the U.S. and Canada, or visit www.hotelbulabula.com.