From a small fishing village to now a booming tourist center, Playa Tamarindo has become one of the most visited surf towns in the country. Well known for great waves, stunning sunsets and some of the best eats in Costa Rica, Playa Tamarindo is destination popular for backpackers and families alike to experience all what Costa Rica has to offer.
Despite the huge increase of development the past few years, Tamarindo has still preserved the natural beauty and the surrounding wonders. However, one might argue that it deserves the nickname “Tama-Gringo.” Due to the exponential growth of the town, you’ll see many North Americans living in Tamarindo, either permanently or for a few months of the year.
Edging over Playa Jaco as the reputation for “sleazy gringo beach” Tamarindo is working hard to shut those rumors down and keep the allure as a pristine family friendly beach town. To this day despite being extremely touristic, visitors from all over the world fall in love with Tamarindo.
In this guide you’ll read about the beach, where to stay, where to eat, what to do and more.
Click the section to skip to it.
- Location and directions
- Playa Tamarindo beach
- The Town
- What to do
- Where to stay
- Where to eat
- Living in Tamarindo
Location and Directions to Playa Tamarindo
Playa Tamarindo is located about an hour from Liberia International Airport. Located inside a bay and sandwiched between a national park and an estuary, Tamarindo is very close to several important ecological areas.
- By bus: There is a bus from Liberia that leaves from the Mercado Municipal with the Transportes La Pampa company. It departs daily at 7, 8 , 10, 11, 1PM, 2PM, 4PM, 5PM and 6 PM, taking 1.5 hours and costs 1,275 colones ($2.50).
- From San Jose, there is one bus that leaves twice a day from Calle 14, Ave. 5 at 11 and 3:30. This takes around 5.5 to 6 hours and costs 5000 colones ($10)
- By flying: Tamarindo has their own airstrip for domestic flights on Nature Air and Sansa. From San Jose it costs around $70 one way and takes about 30 minutes. See what it’s like in this post about flying Nature Air from Tamarindo to San Jose.
- By shuttle: There are transfer companies that cost $20 per person one way minimum 2 people. Best to book in advance to guarantee a shuttle.
Directions to Playa Tamarindo from LIR Airport: Turn right out of the parking lot (only way to go) and you will come to the main road. Turn right onto the main road and you will continue on this road for about 28 kilometers and then turn right into a town called Belen, Route 155. You’ll pass a soccer field on school on your left after about 5 kilometers, then turn left at the small intersection. Continue on this road for another 18-20 kilometeres and then turn left at a town called Huacas. (You’ll see some signs for Playa Tamarindo, Playa Conchal, Playa Flamingo, Playa Grande on the way). Continue up this road about 5 minutes and you will see another intersection with lots of signs to Tamarindo, turn right. Continue about 4 kilometers and you will reach Tamarindo downtown.
Playa Tamarindo Beach
Tamarindo beach is a long one, stretching 3 and a half kilometers long with blue waters and tan sand. Every day, all year long you will see many people who come here specifically for surfing as it is one of the most popular beaches for catching waves.
Waves are perfect for beginners and it is also the base camp for anyone who wants to try Witch’s Rock or Ollie’s point, two places known for world class surfing. However, due to its popularity, sometimes there are so many surfers out there that it can be difficult for swimmers to find a spot to avoid the oncoming boards.
It’s also one of the best beaches to catch the sunset as you’ll get a full view of the sun going down for the night with a beautiful surrounding of many trees and nature.
With amazing weather with sun shining the majority of the year, there’s never an excuse to go and relax at the beach whether it is sunbathing, reading a book or even kicking a ball around in the sand.
During holiday season and high season, it does get fairly crowded with visitors from all over the world wanting to experience the beauty of Playa Tamarindo. Since it’s so touristic, it’s common for local vendors to be constantly trying to sell visitors items so don’t be surprised if you get approached many times on the beach.
Playa Tamarindo Town
Tamarindo town is actually not that big and the back roads are not paved. The main strip ends at a roundabout and there are many back roads with houses, restaurants, hotels and apartments. You have to go through Tamarindo to get to Playa Langosta.
See what the town looks like in our video!
Playa Tamarindo Things to Do
There is so much to do in Tamarindo including surfing, stand up paddle surfing, kayaking, sunset sailing, fishing, ziplining, mini golf, ATV tours, horseback riding and so much more. Surfing is definitely the most popular activity in town, with surf shops lining the main street.
But if you’re not there to surf, there are plenty of activities. Whether you are looking for land or water activities, eco adventures or thrillers, Tamarindo has something for everyone to enjoy.
Other beaches nearby to enjoy are Playa Conchal, Flamingo or Brasilito. National parks like Rincon de la Vieja or Barra Honda are not too far, perfect for adventure day trips. If you’re coming to surf, there is a shuttle called Avellanas Express that goes between Avellanas and Tamarindo every day and they also have routes to Conchal to go beach hopping. It costs $6 one way and surf boards are free.
You can also join a surf camp. We did one at Iguana Surf and Witch’s Rock also offers surf camps.
For more ideas, check out this post of 11 awesome things to do in Playa Tamarindo.
There is a place to stay in Tamarindo for every budget. There are several beachfront hotels or if you want to stay further away from the busy downtown, there are plenty of hotels/hostels located in the back roads of town.
For long term stays, there are apartments and condos and some hotels will rent out for long term for a week to months at a time. Airbnb (get $40 credit) is a good option if you prefer an apartment.
These are our recommendations for hotels in Playa Tamarindo:
- Hotel Mar Rey (formerly known as Zullymar) is a nice budget hotel right in the middle of town. They have spacious simple rooms with basic amenities like AC and fridge and a really nice pool area. For the location and quality, the price is very reasonable since you’re in the middle of downtown.
- Hotel Luna Llena – located further back in town, Luna Llena has spacious bungalows, a big pool and serves up a free hearty breakfast each morning. If you are an eco-conscious traveler, you’ll want to check this hotel since they are one of three certified sustainable hotels in Tamarindo.
- Hotel In the Shade – only a 5 minute walk to downtown and the beach, this new hotel is chic and quaint. It’s in a quieter part of town so you won’t be bothered by the parties but it’s close enough to join the fun. They offer breakfast at an additional cost.
- Cabinas Marielos – Basic rooms but literally right across the street from the beach. Next to Iguana Surf School. Quiet, clean and it’s nice to sit outside or lay on the hammock. Excellent choice for budget place that’s close to the beach.
- Esplendor – This hilltop hotel has a fantastic view of Tamarindo and an amazing infinity pool. However, the rooms are a bit small since the concept is to have a “city hotel” at the beach with city prices (not crazy beach touristy prices).
For hostels, Coral Reef Surf Hostel is the best. It’s right in town next to restaurants, the owner Jeff is super cool and it’s very clean and comfortable. They have dorms and private rooms so you don’t have to share if you don’t want to. The new Selina Hostel is a top choice as well with a fun party atmosphere and it’s right in town.
For luxury stays, you have to choose the Tamarindo Diria Beach Resort. It’s beach front with 3 gorgeous pools, an on-site restaurant, casino and it’s on the main street in town. For honeymooners or couples, Jardin del Eden is the top pick as it’s adult only and caters towards couples with romantic rooms and in room Jacuzzis. If you want to be close to Tamarindo but not in town and looking for a luxury hotel, check out the JW Marriott Guanacaste Resort & Spa.
Restaurants in Tamarindo
Playa Tamarindo has some of the widest variety of food in the country. With over 90 restaurants, you’ll be sure to find something good to eat! From Italian to sushi to Argentinian barbecue, your cravings will be plenty satisfied with the delicious eats around town.
Prices are a bit higher here due to the amount of tourists but you can find some cheap eats in the back parts of town. The fierce competition ensures high quality cuisine and new places are popping up constantly with fresh creative menus. You can say food in Tamarindo is top notch with variety you won’t find in other beach towns.
Here are some restaurants in Playa Tamarindo we like:
- Noguis: They have happy hour from 430 PM – 530 PM where you can get 2 beers for 1500 colones (~$3)! It’s right on Tamarindo beach by the roundabout so it’s an excellent place to enjoy a drink to watch the sunset.
- Breakfast Grinds: The best place for breakfast and has an ocean view. They have free coffee refills and I love their gravy.
- Longboards BBQ: Delicious barbecue sandwiches and you have to try the tama slaw! If you love pulled pork or brisket sandwiches, you must go here. They also have awesome chips and dip with beans and guacamole.
- NOI Bistro: Great place for lunch and dinner. They don’t have a huge menu but some favorites are the veggie burger, both chicken dishes and they have a good wine menu.
- Sno Shack: If you need to cool down from the heat as you’re walking around town, hit up Sno Shack in Plaza Conchal for a shaved ice.
- Venezia Gelati: My favorite place for gelato and cakes. Yum!
- Falafel bar: Great vegetarian/vegan option with hummus, pita wraps and shawarma.
- El Chilito Mexican Grill: Chipotle-esque Mexican grill where you can pick from tacos, burritos and burrito bowls.
- Tony’s Pizza: When you need a slice of New York style pizza, Tony’s is where to go.
- Dragonfly: Has the best curry I’ve ever eaten in Costa Rica. They also have seafood and steak. A little more expensive but one of the best fine-dining options in Tamarindo.
- La Pachanga: Excellent pizza and pasta place, they make their own noodles. I highly recommend trying their specials.
Living in Playa Tamarindo
Foreigners choose Playa Tamarindo as their new home due to several factors. Diversity, more business and job opportunities and not to mention the great location, weather and a tight expat community. In fact, that’s exactly why we chose to live in Tamarindo! We’ve been here for almost a year and it’s been great fun. A lot of digital nomads in Costa Rica pick Tamarindo for these reasons as well.
Most of the foreigners who move to Tamarindo are transients, meaning they are here for a few months of the year and not permanent expats. Additionally, there aren’t as many retirees in Tamarindo compared to other expat beach towns, most of the foreigners are young entrepreneurs, families or surfers.
With such a huge growth spurt, Tamarindo has become the ideal place for foreigners looking to start over a new life in a new country. And it’s not only US citizens who live here, there are plenty of Canadians and a strong South American community, particularly Argentinians and Venezuelans.
There is always something to do or something going on in Tamarindo so it’s never boring. You’re close to plenty of natural attractions, it’s easy to meet people and it’s a great place for families. For the travelers who don’t mind other tourists and a developed beach scene, Tamarindo is a top choice.
Want to read about more beaches in Costa Rica? Here you go!
Trying to decide between Jaco & Tamarindo for surfing? Read this post comparing the two!
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