Located on the Northern Pacific coast of Costa Rica in the province of Guanacaste, the town of Tamarindo swells from a mere 500 to 5000 due to its popular tourist attractions, including surfing and eco-tourism.
Tamarindo is known for its beautiful beaches, particularly Playa Tamarindo--which has several excellent breaks for surfers--and Playa Grande, which is famous as the nesting ground for Leatherback turtles.
The town is very small, you can walk everywhere. It has everything you would expect of a small, touristic surfer town: an overload of surf schools, surfboard rentals and souvenir shops. In addition, locals swarm the streets and beaches offering all sorts of services, local crafts and even drugs.
This can get a little annoying when you're trying to enjoy a nice breakfast on the beach and the 7th person within 15 minutes comes over to showcase a wooden flute whose resembles some bird's mating cry. I don't know who still buys these type of gadgets, but apparently enough people do to make it worth the seller's time.
Tamarindo has plenty of bars where you can kick back and knock down a beer or two. As most of the tourists are from the US, a number of bars show American sports and you can pay with dollars everywhere. The town hosts a number of local restaurants as well as some international options such as Argentinian, Asian and Italian.
Tamarindo has a long stretched sandy beach, ideal for sun seekers. Those who want some privacy will be able to find a quiet spot. There are a few good breaks for the more advanced surf lovers. Beginners can practice pretty much anywhere along the beach. There is enough space for both surfers and swimmers to enjoy the nice warm tropical waters.
The beach is facing the west, which makes it ideal for watching the sunset.
If you look the outdoors, you won't get bored in Tamarindo. There are plenty of things to do to keep you busy.
The main activity in Tamarindo is surfing. There are several breaks for beginners as well as more experienced surfers. I've personally found Tamarindo to be a great place to learn how to surf. The waves are fairly gentle and there is a lot of space, so you don't have to worry about someone crashing into you. Maybe in the high-season it's more crowded though.
There are plenty of surf schools, all located right on the beach. Lessons go for $25 / hour. Surfboards can be rented for $10 a day or $60 a week, although some places will try to make you pay more, up to $20 a day.
To get an idea of what the surfing is like, check out the video below.
ATV tours are quite popular in Tamarindo and there are several tour operators offering ATV rides. I did a tour with a girl named Veronica to Playa Conchal. It's a 45 minute ride to get there. The beach was quite nice, but the ride was nothing special.
Our tour guide Veronica wasn't very good either. She wasn't very helpful when the lady who sold us some chicken-skewers at Playa Conchal tried to rip us off, charging us $4 per stick instead of $2. Our tour guide pretended she didn't know the price and then got all defensive about it. To make matters worse, she abandoned us on the way back by suddenly taking a different turn. Fortunately, we remember how to get back. At arrival she tried to make us pay $20 extra because we took longer as we had to find our own way back.
If you want to go for an ATV ride, I recommend Flamengo Adventures. They offer several different tours and I heard good things about them. The tripadvisor reviews speak for themselves.
I did a two-tank dive tour with David at Tamarindo Diving and had a great experience. He's a really good dive instructor and super friendly. We dove at Los Duendes and at Arco Iris. Los Duendes is perfect for beginners or as a warm-up dive for those who haven't dived in a while. Hightlights of the dive were a big school of Banana fish, a large number of moray eels and two eagle rays.
Arco Iris is a good spot to spot sharks, white tip reef sharks in particular. We saw four of them, one of which was pregnant. The video below is a compilation of the two dives.
Both dive sites are a 30 minute boat ride away from the marina, which is a 15 minute ride from Tamarindo. I paid $100 for the dives, including equipment, drinks and snacks.
Las Baulas National Park
Just on the edge of the village there is a national park called "Las Baulas." It consists mainly of rivers and mangrove forests. A number of companies offer two hour boat tours through the park to spot the Howler monkeys and Crocodiles that inhabit the area. As far as the monkeys are concerned, you don't really need to go on a boat tour to see them as they hang out all around Tamarindo.
If the Crocs is what you're looking for, make sure to go during low tide. They'll be much easier to find, resting on the sand banks. During high-tide they hide between the mangrove trees and it becomes a bit of a challenge to find them. That being said, on my tour we did find one as you can see in the video below.
Other things to do in Tamarindo
- Diving, snorkeling, body surfing, zip-lining, estuary trips, horseback riding and fishing.
- See the leatherback turtles nest: October to May.
- Take a tour by horse with Casagua Horses Tours at the Painted Pony Guest Ranch. Experience the horse culture of Costa Rica and ride some historic trails around Tamarindo. Contact the ranch for packages and pricing. Book here.
- Take a zipline canopy tour to see the landscape and local wildlife. Contact Monkey Jungle Canopy Tours for details.
- Go on a catamaran snorkeling tour. Sailing Hibiscus offers a range of sailing services, including snorkeling and sunset tours.
- Rent a bike at one of several local bike shops for $15-$25/ day to explore the ocean-side and mountain trails. Check out the Bike Shop when you’re in town.
- Head over to Playa Grande, a protected beach, to see local wildlife and for great surfing.
- Playa Conchal: Head to this beach, known as the most beautiful in Costa Rica that got its name from the conch shells that wash up on the sand.
Where to stay in Tamarindo
I stayed the first week of my visit to Tamarindo at a condo in the IBIS building, just outside the center of town. The apartments are really nice and they come with one major benefit: membership to the Langosta Beach Club, located right on the beach, just across the road from the apartment complex. The membership includes access to the gym, swimming pool, lounge chairs, cabanas and WiFi. This really is a great benefit. I paid $1100 / week for a two-bedroom.
In addition you'll have the privilege of being woken up around 5am by a group of Howler monkeys that reside in the forrest just behind the building. I would watch them sometimes from my balcony while eating my breakfast. Not a bad way to start the day. Here's a video to give you an idea of what these noisy fellows look like.
My second week I stayed at an apartment complex called Sunshine Tamarindo. It's located in the center of town, right across the road from the beach. The apartments are very spacious and have everything you need. Definitely recommendable and the best value I could find in Tamarindo.
I booked a great two bedroom condo through Blue Water Properties for less than $900 a week. They gave me a big discount because I was a "walk-in." The best price I could find online was over $1200. They have condos in other buildings too and I recommend them as they were very attentive to my needs and they have good deals.
There are plenty of food options in Tamarindo. My favorite by far was the local food served out of the trunk of car by this woman:
It's delicious and very affordable. She usually parks her car across from the Diria hotel around lunch time. If you walk down the main street you can't miss her.
If you have a bit of money to spend I recommend checking out Pangas Beach Club. The food is great (cook your own Lomo on hot stones) and the location is great, right at the estuary. You can eat on the beach and most of the time there will be some monkeys around to keep you company.
Another good option is the Langosta Beach Club. The owner is French, which is always a good sign. Not the cheapest option but well worth it specially if you're looking to enjoy a romantic night with your better half.
For breakfast, I agree with Yeison and Samantha, Kahiki Restaurant is the best choice. If you prefer to have your breakfast on the beach, try Nogui's or Nibbana. Both places serve pretty good omelets.
Drinking and Nightlife
The nightlife in Tamarindo is quite good given it's small size. People usually gather at one spot depending on the day.Tuesday's is open mic at Yucca bar and Friday's there is a live band at Crazy Monkey bar that pretty fun. On Saturday they do lady drinks at Sharky's.
Here's a list of the main nightlife spots:
- Aqua Discoteque: For a young party crowd, this dance club with a waterfall in the middle of the dancefloor is the place to go.
- Crazy Monkey Bar: Popular with an older surfing crowd, this bar often has live salsa.
- Hotel Capitan Suizo: For a more laid-back evening, try the hotel cocktail bar, extensive barbeque buffet, and live folk music.
- Sharky’s: Great pub food, loud music, and sports.
- Playa Langosta Beach Club: listen to live jazz outside with a beach view.
- Copacabana on Tamarindo Blvd: great beach-side seafood and the best caipirinhas in town.
- Pacifico: the best dive bar in town.
For international arrivals you have two options: book an international flight directly to Liberia Airport or fly to San Jose first and take a domestic flight to Tamarindo Airport.
- You can fly into Tamarindo from San José via both Naure Air and SANSA. These flights are usually under $100 and do not show up on major flight search engines, which means they cannot be booked online along with an international flight. Most flights leave early in the morning, so if you're flying internationally into San Jose you will most likely have to stay there overnight and fly out the next morning. Tamarindo airport is very conveniently located minutes away from the center of town.
- Liberia International Airport is located about one hour away from Tamarindo by car. The airport serves several direct routes to many major American and Canadian cities as well as San Salvador and Panama City. A taxi from Liberia Airport to Tamarindo will set you back between $75 and $110, depending on your negotiation skills. An alternative option is to book the Tamarindo shuttle. The cost is $20 per person with a minimum of two during the day and three at night. Tel: 2653-4444 or 2653-2626.
NOTE: there is a $28 departure tax at Liberia Airport for international departures, payable in cash.
If you’re travelling by car: from Liberia, go south on the highway and turn off at Belén, then go west, turning left at the Heacas crossroads.
Access to cash or payment options isn't an issue in Tamarindo. You can pay with US dollars or Colones, the local currency. The exchange rate is US$1 to CL500 as of May 2014. There are plenty ATMs that accept major debit and credit cards.
Credit cards are also widely accepted in retail shops, restaurants and bars.
With the growing tourism in Tamarindo, prices are a bit inflated compared to other areas in Costa Rica. However, it's still very affordable when compared to most western countries.
A hostel bed in a shared dorm runs from $10 - $20 a night. Expect to pay $50 - $80 for a private room in the cheaper one or two star hotels and $100 up in a more upscale hotel.
Eating & drinking
Breakfast start at around $5 and upwards depending on where you go. For lunch and dinner, expect to pay around $10 - $15. Drinks in most bars cost about $5.
Although Tamarindo has some annoyances that are typical for touristic places, such as the hawkers constantly trying to sell you stuff, I did really enjoy my stay. I mostly enjoyed practicing surfing, swimming in the warm ocean water, scuba diving and the Howler monkeys keeping me company when I'd have my morning coffee on my balcony. However, if you're looking for an authentic off-the-beaten-path experience, Tamarindo isn't the place to go. If you're on a budget, you better go elsewhere too. Due to it's touristic nature, Tamarindo is overpriced compared to other locations in Costa Rica.
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