Sunset view of Playa Tamarindo, Costa Rica, surrounded by jungle greenery.

Travel Guide to Tamarindo, Costa Rica

Straddling the Pacific Ocean and dense jungle, the sleepy beach town of Tamarindo is tucked in the northwest corner of Costa Rica’s Guanacaste region. Walking through the town center, monkeys swing across power lines, and yielding to iguanas puttering across the dusty roads becomes part of your routine. 

Near-daily rain showers keep Tamarindo lush, weaving natural cut-outs of jungle brush as you stroll from the town center to the dark-sand beach, Playa Tamarindo. You’ll meet travelers from around the world partaking in all Tamarindo has to offer, from surf lessons to Spanish classes and family vacations. Practicing your basic Spanish will earn you some respect, and why not try it? The locals are nice and will encourage you.

If you’re looking for relaxation and adventure, captivating nature and a slowed-down pace – the Pura Vida lifestyle – Tamarindo should be your next travel destination. This guide will cover everything you need to know to travel to Tamarindo, including transportation, where to stay, and the best things to see, do and eat.

How to get to Tamarindo

The closest major airport to Tamarindo is the Liberia Airport (LIR). Flights arriving at Liberia are usually more expensive than flights to San Jose, the capital. But it’s worth the extra money to land in Liberia because of how much closer to Tamarindo it is. You can get from Liberia Airport to Tamarindo in less than two hours by car or bus.

I took the cheaper flight to San Jose, then boarded a small Cessna plane and flew directly into Tamarindo. It went by fast, but it was a little scary! Some buses will take you to and from San Jose to Tamarindo in about 4 hours each way, too.

One tip about booking a flight to San Jose is to double-check your booking to make sure the arrival destination is San Jose, Costa Rica, and not San Jose, California. It’s a common mistake! 

If you stay in Tamarindo, you don’t need a rental car to get around town. You can get to most places on foot. For day trips outside of Tamarindo, you can organize excursions through your hotel or directly with the local tour companies. They will arrange to pick you up and drop you off at your hotel or a nearby one.

What to wear in Tamarindo

Year-round, you can pack casual beach attire for your trip to Tamarindo. Tamarindo has two main seasons: the rainy season (May-Nov.) and the dry season (Oct.-April). It stays warm year-round, so think of bringing a mix of loungewear, sporty clothes, and beach basics for most days.

Comfortable shorts, sandals, and swimsuits are essential year-round in Tamarindo. Sarongs, tank tops, and swim cover-ups are the easiest ways to dress for the beach. The rainy season brings daily rain showers to Tamarindo and calls for a lightweight rain jacket. Other packing list essentials are high-quality bug spray, sunscreen, and a quick-drying towel.

Patio of Cafe Tico restaurant in Tamarindo, Costa Rica

Budgeting for Tamarindo

Prices in Tamarindo are comparable to or a little less than what you pay at restaurants and shops in the United States. Tour prices are also similar to the U.S., ranging from $100-$300 per person for a half or full-day excursion.

Tamarindo is walk-friendly, and hotel prices are reasonable. You can save money on your trip by being selective about where you choose to stay and not having to rent a car. 

Hotels in Tamarindo

Tamarindo has a variety of budget-friendly and luxurious accommodations. You can find everything from 5-star hotels to beachfront condos and eco-friendly cabanas. Most accommodations are within a short walk of the main beach, Playa Tamarindo. 

Here are a few Tamarindo hotels that fit every budget: 

Hotel Villas Macondo 

Villas Macondo is a small property tucked amid wild greenery in the heart of Tamarindo. Each room is a mini cabana-style house with a covered patio by the front door, and each unit surrounds the pool. 

The nightly price is affordable to pay by yourself, and incredibly cheap to split with others. I loved staying here and I can’t recommend this place enough if you’re looking for something simple yet cozy and convenient. 

Tamarindo Diria 

Tamarindo Diria falls in the mid-range of price per night. The property is divided into sections along Tamarindo’s main street, Calle Central. One side of the property faces the Pacific coastline, and the other doesn’t. Tamarindo Diria has amenities like pool areas, bars, onsite dining, and manicured gardens. It seems like a great place to stay, especially if you’re traveling with a family. 

Jardin del Eden

Hidden away from the busy road, Jardin del Eden is one of the most luxurious boutique hotels in Tamarindo. It has restaurant dining under palapas, private beachfront access, and tropical gardens. For the service and experience you get, it seems like an excellent value for the price.

Restaurants in Tamarindo

There is no shortage of delicious restaurants in Tamarindo. If you know the right places to go, trying the local restaurants will be one of your trip highlights.

Here are my restaurant recommendations you should save on your Google Maps as you plan your trip to Tamarindo: 

Pasta Casera 

Taking empanadas to go from Pasta Casera will quickly become part of your beach prep routine. Grab some of these fresh empanadas and enjoy them as a snack at the beach. The empanadas have fillings like shredded chicken, beef, spinach and cheese, and more. They’re incredible!

Cafe Tico

Locally-sourced coffee in the morning and a full menu of breakfast plates make Cafe Tico easy to love. The owners are friendly, and so are the giant iguanas who visit the cafe. Cafe Tico is one of the best places in Tamarindo to try Costa Rica’s famous dish Gallo Pinto, a breakfast plate with black beans, rice, and choices of sides like eggs and fresh fruit.

Little Lucha

Little Lucha is a must-visit if you’re craving Mexican food. The tacos are street-style with fresh toppings, and there are churros for dessert! It’s busy at night and a fun place to sit at the bar, have a beer, and eat well. 

El Chiringuito

Visit El Chiringuito for a drink and ceviche while you’re at Playa Tamarindo and stay for the sunset. The prices are higher than what you’ll find in town, but it’s worth the beach views from your cute wooden table set on the sand. 

El Mercadito

El Mercadito has everything from vegan food to pizza and poké. It has the perfect outdoor market vibe with string lights, a bar, and music. My favorite food at El Mercadito was the arepas at a booth called Arepas Venezolanas. 

The 8 best things to do in Tamarindo

Exploring Tamarindo and its surroundings is enough to keep you busy for a 7 to 10-day trip. Keep in mind that some of the recommended activities I list below need to be booked in advance. You can find tour companies by Google searching for phrases like “Tamarindo river tour” or “sunset catamaran Tamarindo”. If you’re staying at a hotel, the front desk can also recommend tours they work with and will organize booking for you. Below you’ll find a complete list of the 8 best things to do while you’re visiting Tamarindo. 

View of Honeymoon Island off the coast of Tamarindo, Costa Rica

Watch sunsets on Playa Tamarindo

Every night, the sunsets at Playa Tamarindo change colors with rose and purple hues one evening and fiery orange sunsets the next. After a day at the beach, you can walk to the beachfront restaurant and bar El Chiringuito, complete with shading palm trees, sand under your feet, and sunset views. 

Day trip to Rio Celeste waterfall

Rio Celeste is about 2 hours away from Tamarindo. If you organize a guided tour, the drive will be broken up with stops at scenic outlooks along the way. This is how you might be able to catch a sloth in its natural habitat! 

Rio Celeste Park is teeming with bright green plant life. It’s about a 15-minute walk down a rugged path with interesting plants and bugs before you reach a steep stairway leading to the 100-foot Rio Celeste waterfall. If it’s rained recently, the water won’t be celeste. But it’s still worth it, even on a rainy day!

Take a Tamarindo River excursion

Tamarindo sits at the crosshairs of the fierce Pacific Ocean, the Tamarindo Bay, and the Tamarindo River. Local tours offer an early morning ride on a dinghy that cruises through the Tamarindo River. The guides are knowledgeable about where to look for river creatures like alligators (!), and on my tour, we parked the boat and walked through the jungle brush where we saw monkeys swinging in the trees. 

By the time the river tour is over, you’ll still have the rest of the day to spend at the beach or exploring the town. 

Book a sunset catamaran

There are so many sunset catamaran tours you can find when doing a quick online search, but the easiest way is to go to your hotel’s front desk and ask what they recommend. Whichever tour group you book, make sure you ask about what stops they make, and if food or drinks are provided. 

The sunset tour I went on took us out to Honeymoon Island where we stopped to swim and snorkel before anchoring down in the water to watch the sunset. I recommend choosing a similar catamaran tour that lets you get out and swim. 

Visit the Tamarindo Night Market

Locals end their day when the sun goes down in Tamarindo, and the Tamarindo Night Market is one of the few busy places at night. The market is on open land with food trucks and stalls selling everything from vegan food to handmade trinkets and art. They serve drinks and have music playing, and it’s a great social scene for meeting new people. 

Take local lessons – surf, Spanish, or yoga

You can find everything from private surf lessons to surf camps in Tamarindo. The waves coming into Playa Tamarindo can be strong, but beginner lessons are early in the morning when the water is calmer. 

There are immersive, conversation-style language schools around Tamarindo to practice your Spanish. If you’re in Tamarindo for more than a week, I also recommend hiring a local tutor for one-on-one or small-group lessons with a native speaker.

What better place to practice yoga than in a naturally stunning place like Tamarindo? You can find private yoga lessons on the beach or take a group class at a local studio. 

Shop along Calle Central

The shops lining Calle Central are full of souvenirs and boutiques. I recommend getting a pretty sarong; You’ll get a lot of use out of it in Costa Rica and it’s cute for future beach travels. You’ll also find high-quality swimsuits at local boutiques like Papaya Con Leche.

Visit Playa Langosta

Quiet, empty, and tranquil. If this sounds like your ideal beach, then you must visit Playa Langosta. It’s a quick getaway less than 2 miles south of Tamarindo. Pack a small picnic, throw out a big blanket, and enjoy the change of scenery. 

Sunset over the Pacific Ocean at Playa Tamarindo, Costa Rica

Honorable mention: dance on the beach, chill out, and embody all the good feelings Tamarindo brings out of you. There’s nothing like being immersed in unforgiving nature to remind you that this life is both a fleeting and beautiful thing. Find yourself present in the moment, appreciating the simple things like sitting on a washed-up log on the shore with a bag of plantain chips at sunset. If you can appreciate the peace of that, you will never want to leave the Pura Vida in Tamarindo.

Looking for more Latin America travel inspiration? Check out my 10 takeaways from Colombia post next!

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