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 might have guessed is the beach, Playa Tamarindo, with its long golden arc stretching along the Pacific and verdant green mountains in the background. Sometimes such gems are remote but not in Tamarindo. Here, hotels, bars, restaurants, stores, and tour companies are just a short saunter from your beach towel. Pair this with its proximity to an international airport in Liberia and you can see why Tamarindo draws a crowd.
In planning our trip to Tamarindo, 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, with smaller one- or two-story shops and restaurants 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 Langosta, a sort of suburb of Tamarindo made up of even more condominiums, resorts, and hotels.
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 and 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. When in doubt, ask the many experts in town like Witch’s Rock Surf Camp or Banana Surf Club.
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 an ATV, zip-line, or river boat tour through one of the operators in town. Shopping enthusiasts can make a day of exploring the many boutiques, shops, and kiosks, and those craving some pampering can enjoy a day at the spa.
Budget travelers might rent a bike for the day to just cruise around ($20), 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 also on the table.
Lastly, if you’re visiting during leatherback turtle nesting season, November through April, arrange a night tour at Las Baulas National Marine Park for the unique opportunity to watch some of the rarest turtles in the world lay their eggs.
Tip: Expect that when walking along the main beach you will be a moving target for the plethora of surf instructors, souvenir vendors, and tour operators. It’s no wonder why the majority of visitors here seek the peace and quiet of a surf board at some point. Instead of just saying “no gracias” which can be viewed as rude in Costa Rica, try “otra día” which translates to “another day.”
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 like rice and beans or ceviche fill 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 (or muddy) offshoots. You will find your own hidden gems in Tamarindo but there are two places we absolutely recommend: The Green Papaya, which serves up healthy, original tacos while you sway in rope-swing chairs, and La Pachanga, which has authentic Italian food that rivals any of our North End favorites back home in Boston. As we observed, the nightlife starts later here than elsewhere in Costa Rica. The streets don’t start to become crowded until well after dark and a busy bar scene lasts longer into the night than we did.
Like dining, lodging varies from five-star hotels set in the hills to quaint beachside B&Bs and casual surf camps. For a luxury escape, check out Cala Luna, located close to the beach in Playa Langosta. This boutique hotel has modern rooms and even villas with private terraces and pools for the ultimate indulgence. Another great option on the southern end of Tamarindo is Capitan Suizo. Capitan Suizo is a favorite among travelers because of its location—it’s right on the beach and just far enough outside of Tamarindo to be private and quiet but still within walking distance to the amenities. If you’re looking for something more economical, consider Hotel Pasatiempo. Hotel Pasatiempo is inexpensive for Tamarindo at under $100 but still has clean, comfortable rooms with A/C and TV.
When to Go/What to Bring
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 snow birds are prevalent between November and April. Shorts, T-shirts, and flip-flops are the standard dress and 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 from May to October, things are a lot greener and you will definitely want to carry an umbrella.
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 it may be that they stay too. Maybe you’ll be next.
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Have you been to Tamarindo? How was your trip? We’d love to hear about your favorite restaurants and activities. Leave a comment below.
Post by: Jennifer Turnbull-Houde & Matthew Houde