Given that Tamarindo delivers stacks of quintessential Costa Rican coastal experiences, many travellers want to know how to get from San José to Tamarindo. With lively nightlife, excellent surf, and top turtle-watching experiences awaiting those who make the journey, read on to find out how to do exactly that.
How to get from San José to Tamarindo
Located on the northern tip of the Nicoya Peninsula, Tamarindo draws a mix of travellers looking for a laidback beach experience. That and the town's lively surf culture, and proximity to special national parks.
In good news for visitors who arrive in Costa Rica’s capital hoping to enjoy Tamarindo’s varied delights, there are a few ways to get from San José to Tamarindo. In even better news, there are options for all kinds of budgets:
- plane - ideal for those in a rush,
- shared shuttle bus - perfect if you are watching the pennies,
- public bus - even cheaper option, however a journey can take up to seven hours,
- rental car or private transfer - if you need more freedom.
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How far is San José from Tamarindo?
By road, the journey from San José from Tamarindo is around 160 miles (258 km). It typically takes around four hours to drive the distance.
Though more rural areas of Costa Rica have a rep for being somewhat bumpy, note that the journey from San José from Tamarindo is pretty decent.
The combo of driving Route 27, Route 18, and Route 21 delivers a mostly-smooth road-trip across a mix of paved highways and toll roads.
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What's the quickest way to get from San José to Tamarindo?
It’ll come as no surprise that the quickest way to get from San José to Tamarindo is by plane. In just under an hour, a flight can take you from the capital to one of Costa Rica’s coastal hotspots.
Most of the road options come in at around 4-5 hours — that’s by shared shuttle bus, driving yourself in a rental car, or taking a taxi/private transfer.
Meanwhile, taking a public bus comes out with the longest journey time. Due to the multiple stops along the way, this can take up to 7 hours.
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By shared shuttle bus
Duration: 4-5 hours | Cost: from $60
Pretty comfortable, and more affordable than flying, the shared shuttle bus is one of the most popular ways to get from San José to Tamarindo.
With three principle operators offering the route — Paradise Shuttle, Caribe and Interbus — you can arrange to be collected from your San José accommodation, or else from the international airport.
Up to five services run each day, with the early morning departure options meaning you’ll be in Tamarindo before lunchtime. Our tip is to book your ticket online at least a few days before you intend to travel.
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By public bus
Duration: 6-7 hours | Cost: from $9
Hands-down the cheapest way to get from San José to Tamarindo, taking a public bus is the obvious option for budget travellers.
Given that public buses make stacks of stops along the way, with some journeys routing through Liberia, you’ll need to be prepared to travel for up to seven hours. Don’t be fooled by the oft-advertised journey time of five hours.
You should also be aware that these buses don’t come with air-con. We also suggest you keep your valuables with you, rather than stowing them in the main luggage compartment.
Tickets can be booked the bus stations and, in the case of Tralapa buses, online.
By rental car
Duration: 4-5 hours | Cost: from $50 a day
If you fancy the freedom of the open road, and want to make the most of the journey, as well as the destination, you could get from San José to Tamarindo in a rental car.
All being well, the journey will take around 4.5 hours, and you don’t need a 4x4 to drive it. Just avoid setting off between 15.00 and 17.00 on a Friday, and don’t take the trip during a holiday weekend.
By private transfer taxi
Duration: 4-5 hours | Cost: from $50
Travelling in a group? Taking a private transfer may well be the best way to get from San José to Tamarindo.
With fares starting from around $225 for a 5-seater vehicle, that can work out at $45 per person. If you’re travelling in a larger party, minivans can also be booked.
As with the shared shuttle option, private transfers can collect you from your hotel or the airport, But, with no need to pick up other travellers along the way, they’re often faster, more comfortable and more convenient.
Duration: 1 hour | Cost: from $150
Certainly the fastest way to get from San José to Tamarindo, taking a plane is also the most expensive option. A ticket will set you back around $150 each way, with a flight time of just under an hour.
Costa Rica’s regional Sansa airline operates flights between San José’s Juan Santamaria International Airport and Tamarindo.
With an average of four flights a day, you have decent flexibility, with an early morning flight departing at 05.50.