Last Updated: July 1, 2020
Located in Costa Rica’s northwestern province of Guanacaste, Tamarindo is a bustling tourist town that lures surfers and sunbathers alike. The main draw here as you may have guessed is the beach. Playa Tamarindo is a long golden arc that stretches along the Pacific with verdant green mountains in the background. Sometimes such gems are remote, but not in Tamarindo. Here, hotels, bars, restaurants, shops, and tour companies are just a short saunter from your beach towel. Pair this with proximity to the international airport in Liberia, and you can see why Tamarindo draws a crowd. In this post, we’ll let you know what to expect in Tamarindo, including the best activities, restaurants, and hotels.
When planning our first visit to Tamarindo several years ago, guidebooks had us picturing skyscrapers, parking garages, and a Miami beach-like feel. Thankfully, that was not the case.
Although development has created a resort town with many amenities, it is far from a city. Even so, a handful of mid-rise hotels and condominiums do make a visual impact along the shoreline. Smaller one- or two-story shops and restaurants are sandwiched in between.
There’s one main road that brings you into town and along the beach, Route 152. This is where many of the beachside restaurants, hotels, and surf shops can be found. From there, one major dirt road forks off leading to other side roads, residential developments, and businesses. Everything is within a short walk or bicycle ride.
Staying on the main road heading south, you’ll find Playa Langosta. This is a small community, a sort of suburb of Tamarindo, made up of mostly condos and hotels.
When to Visit Tamarindo and What to Bring
When to Go
Tamarindo is located in one of the driest regions of Costa Rica. You’ll even notice some cacti growing here, but don’t forget, it’s still the tropics. The driest months conveniently coincide with North America’s and Europe’s winters, so snowbirds are prevalent between December and April.
One thing to keep in mind is that Tamarindo gets hot and arid towards the end of dry season. The landscape turns brown, which many people do not expect. Often, there are even forest or brush fires. Visit from December through February, before things get too dry. Or during the rainy season (May to November) to experience the forest at its lushest.
Shorts, T-shirts, and flip-flops are the standard dress in laid back Tamarindo. A light rain jacket or long-sleeve doesn’t hurt to have around, especially in the rainy season.
If you’re planning some late nights out on the town, be sure to bring something a little dressier than your standard board shorts and tank top, but don’t go crazy. During the rainy season, things are a lot greener as we mentioned, and you will definitely want to carry an umbrella.
For more information on what to pack for your trip, check out our post Packing for Costa Rica: The Essentials.
Activities in Tamarindo
Tamarindo is a surfing town, so if you haven’t learned to surf yet, this is the place to start. Competition keeps lesson prices low. An easy right-hand wave break occurring at around waist level provides the perfect conditions for learning.
Advanced surfers can use Tamarindo as a jumping-off point to get to more challenging beaches like Playa Grande to the north, or Playas Avellanas, Langosta, and Negra to the south.
Other Things to Do in Tamarindo
If surfing isn’t your thing, don’t despair, there’s plenty more to do.
For the family, check out the mini-golf course or arrange a horseback, ATV, zip line, or river boat tour through one of the operators nearby. Shopping enthusiasts can make a day of exploring the many boutiques, shops, and kiosks. Those craving some pampering can enjoy a day at the spa.
Budget travelers might rent a bike for the day to just cruise around, or spend the afternoon sharing backpacking stories over a good craft beer at Volcano Brewing Company. With a couple of different grocery stores, a picnic lunch on the less crowded beaches to the south is another possibility.
Below, we’ll highlight a few activities in Tamarindo that you won’t want to miss.
Guanacaste isn’t coined the Gold Coast for no reason. With stunning light-sand beaches running up and down the seaside, this region is the perfect place to take a catamaran tour. Not only will you get to enjoy some amazing views, but you’ll also be taken to a calm cove for time to swim and snorkel.
Several operators in the area offer slightly different experiences. Some are on larger party boats, while others are more intimate and better for families. They all typically include a nice meal on board and free drinks.
Diving and Snorkeling
One of the best places in Costa Rica for diving is the Bat Islands and Catalina Islands located in the calm Gulf of Papagayo. In the turquoise waters, you can see some amazing marine life, like white-tip reef sharks, giant manta rays, turtles, dolphins, moray eels, puffer fish, and giant schools of jacks and grunts.
You can snorkel at these same islands, but conditions aren’t as reliable. Snorkel tours typically go out with the dive tours. The best conditions are from May to September.
You also can snorkel right off the shore in some places in Guanacaste, like Playa Conchal, Playa Ocotal, and Playa Penca (near Playa Hermosa).
Finally, something we always recommend for those with a rental car is beach hopping. Playa Conchal, only 30 minutes north, is a gorgeous beach to visit for the day, with sand made of tiny crushed shells.
If you’re planning to rent a car, be sure to check out our Rental Car Discount to save 10% or more and get free extras. The rental company can even deliver the car to your hotel for free.
Playa Avellanas is another favorite. This small, locals’ beach is known mostly for surfing, but is a fun place to hang out. It’s super laid back and has a beach bar/restaurant where you can dine with your toes in the sand.
Help Booking Tours/Activities
For help deciding which tours to do and how to best spend your time in Tamarindo, feel free to contact us through our Tour Booking Service page. We’d love to help you figure out which catamaran experience would be best and set you up on a dive, snorkel, zip line, ATV, horseback, or other fun tour.
Restaurants in Tamarindo
The crowd in Tamarindo is mixed, with everyone from hostel-seeking college students to all-inclusive honeymooners and resorting families from around the globe. For that reason, it’s fitting that the dining options are also diverse.
Everything from falafel to filet minion to typical Costa Rican food fills the curbside menu displays. It’s worth exploring a little though, as many of the best restaurants are hiding behind the main strip on dusty offshoots.
You will find your own hidden gems in Tamarindo, but here are some places we recommend.
Santa Rita Café
This hip café serves up yummy, healthy breakfast and lunch offerings. They have comfort food like gallo pinto and omelets, but also some unique breakfast bowls made with tropical ingredients. For lunch, there’s fresh tuna sandwiches, burgers, and bruschetta, which make a full meal. Everything comes on homemade bread. Their smoothies are also delicious! Has A/C, Wifi, and also a small kids’ play area.
Another great breakfast or lunch spot is NOI Bistro. This place is right on the main strip in town. The owner is from France so you’ll find some French influence in the menu. Sandwiches, burgers, small plates, and salads are available. We loved our fresh tuna sandwich and the Green and Cheese, which has spinach, cheese, avocado, and pesto on homemade bread.
Dragonfly Bar & Grill
This dinner option has been around for years. Located just outside town on a small dirt road, Dragonfly Bar & Grill serves up refined seafood and meat dishes that come with delicious sauces. They also have some good vegetarian and vegan options. The ambiance here in the open-air palapa is quiet and romantic.
Fish & Cheeses
Fish & Cheeses is a super authentic Italian restaurant in Playa Langosta. They have a nice menu of traditional plates, including homemade ravioli, gnocchi, tortellini, and lasagna. There’s also a huge pizza menu. It’s a great place to grab take out items like fresh cheeses (made onsite), meats, fish, and Italian specialty items.
La Esquina Restaurant and Pizzeria
If you’re craving pizza, La Esquina is the place to go. This casual spot is open for dinner only and serves up tasty thin crust pies from their wood-fired oven. They also have calzones and a few other things for the non-pizza eaters like pasta, chicken, and burgers. Has an indoor play area for kids.
Eat at Joe’s
We’re mostly including this super casual bar/restaurant since it’s a fun place to hang out. Eat at Joe’s is right on the beach and has lots of TVs so you’ll see many people here grabbing the game. Since it’s located at Witch’s Rock Surf Camp/Volcano Brewing Company, they also have some delicious craft brews to kick back with. Has a full menu, but we’ve always enjoyed their sushi.
Hotels in Tamarindo
Like dining, lodging varies from five-star hotels set in the hills to quaint beachside B&Bs and casual surf camps. Here are some of our go-to recommendations for hotels in Tamarindo.
High End Hotels
Cala Luna Boutique Hotel
For a luxury escape, check out Cala Luna in Playa Langosta. This boutique hotel has modern bungalows that are stylish and comfortable as well as larger houses. The property is set in the thick jungle, so each unit feels private. Cala Luna is on the beach-side, about a 2-minute walk to the sand, and also has a spacious pool area. The made-to-order breakfast has several different options, and is wonderful. Bungalows, $270-$400/night. Villas starting at $700/night. Click here for rates and availability.
Capitan Suizo Beachfront Boutique Hotel
Another great high-end option on the southern end of Tamarindo is Capitan Suizo. Hotel Capitan Suizo is a favorite among travelers because of its location—it’s right on the beach and just far enough outside town to be private and quiet but still within walking distance to amenities. Rooms range from superior rooms to freestanding beachfront bungalows. $265-$600/night. Click here for rates and availability.
Jardin del Eden Boutique Hotel
This adults-only boutique hotel is in the heart of Tamarindo, but set far enough back to be quiet and private. The property at Jardin del Eden is tropical feeling, with many flowering trees and plants. Rooms have clean design and are very comfortable. The beach portion of the hotel is a short walk away. Rooms vary by view and amenities and are spread out along the property. $275-$600/night. Click here for rates and availability.
Mid-range and Budget Hotels
Sueño del Mar B&B
Sueño del Mar is a charming 6-room bed and breakfast on Playa Langosta. The stucco buildings have a lot of character, with Guatemalan textiles and unique Balinese-style outdoor showers. It fronts the beach and has chairs and hammocks set up to take in the rocky shore. $170-$350/night. Click here for rates and availability.
Hotel Arco Iris
This small hotel has several standard rooms and a few villas. It’s located just outside town, within walking distance to restaurants and shops. Rooms at Hotel Arco Iris are simple, but very clean. Has a nice pool and good on-site restaurant. $110-200/night. Click here for rates and availability.
La Botella de Leche Hostel
This upscale hostel is a great option for those seeking some comfort on a budget. La Botella de Leche has amenities like a pool, kitchen, and even an aerial yoga studio. Rooms are bright and cheery. You can opt for a private one ($50-$55) or bed in a shared dorm ($15). Click here for rates and availability.
Another well-liked hostel is Tamarindo Backpackers. This small hostel is run by friendly, welcoming staff. It’s a good place to relax and meet some new people. Located just a short walk to the center of town. Private room (some with A/C and a private bath), $30-50. Bed in a shared dorm, $12. Click here for rates and availability.
As much as Tamarindo is known for its beautiful beach, there is something else alluring here. Not so much a local Tico culture, but a strong sense of community between business owners, expats, and those surfers, who never seem to leave. The more time one spends here, the more likely they may be to stay too. Maybe you’ll be next.
Have you been to Tamarindo? How was your trip? We’d love to hear about your favorite restaurants and activities. Leave a comment below.
Last Updated: July 1, 2020
Looking for more information to plan your trip to Costa Rica? Check out these posts:
La Fortuna: What to Expect – A great destination to pair with Tamarindo is La Fortuna, only a few hours’ away. Here, you can experience the rainforest, see a volcano, and do many adventure activities.
Llanos de Cortez Waterfall – This is a gorgeous waterfall not far from Liberia. It’s a good one to visit on a day trip from Tamarindo.
Costa Rica Rental Car Discount – While you don’t need a car in Tamarindo, one can be nice to have for day trips. Check out our discount to save 10% or more and get a free second driver and free car seats.