A sprawling tourist hotspot, Tamarindo enjoys a lively beach culture and raucous nightlife, at least during high season. Many come here to learn to surf (the gentle breakers are an ideal training ground) or simply to laze on the beach, which is undeniably gorgeous. Plan your trip to Tamarindo with our guide to Tamarindo — based on the The Rough Guide to Costa Rica, your travel guide for Costa Rica.

The best travel tips for visiting Tamarindo

Though fishing still plays a small part in the local economy, Tamarindo’s transformation from village to booming beach resort has been rapid. These days, locals are outnumbered by tourists.

The village loop at the end of the main road effectively constitutes Tamarindo’s small centre and is lined with places to eat, souvenir stalls and surf shops.

While swimming isn’t great around Tamarindo, because of choppy waters and occasional riptides, most people are content to paddle in the coves and tide pools south of the town.

Tamarindo is, however, an ideal surf spot because of the reliable, but relatively gentle, waves. As a result, the beach attracts a combination of enthusiastic surfers and well-to-do Costa Ricans, who own holiday houses in the vicinity.

In the evening, the main activity here is watching the opulent sunsets, as the sun disappears into the Pacific just beyond the rocky headland that marks the southern end of the beach.

North of the Tamarindo river estuary begins the long sweep of Playa Grande, where leatherback turtles lay their eggs. Turtles also come ashore at Tamarindo, but in much smaller numbers.


Playa Tamarindo, Costa Rica © Shutterstock

Best things to do in Tamarindo

While surfing is the number one reason a lot of people come here, Tamarindo is also a great place for travellers who are looking for lively nightlife.

While you won't see much authentic Tico culture in Tamarindo these days, you can get to see extraordinary wildlife and natural attractions, and from some extraordinary angles, too,

#1 Go surfing 

The Tamarindo area has always been a surfing paradise, and its credibility was upped several notches when Bruce Brown’s seminal surfing docudrama Endless Summer II was partly filmed here.  

Most surfers ride the waves at Tamarindo, Playa Grande and adjacent Playa Langosta, an excellent surf beach a couple of kilometres south.  

There are some hazards, however. In 2016, an American surfer was attacked by a crocodile, which had apparently swum out of the river into the sea in search of food. While attacks of this nature are very rare, they’re still something to be aware of. 

All schools rent surfboards - typical prices are US$150–30 for a day’s rental of a long board, or US$100 plus for a week. You can also rent bodyboards, windsurfing equipment, and masks and snorkels.

#2 See leatherback turtles

Located on the Río Mata estuary between Conchal and Tamarindo, Parque Nacional Marino Las Baulas was created in 1995 to protect the nesting grounds of the critically endangered leatherback turtles.

Leatherbacks have probably laid their eggs here at Playa Grande for millions of years, and it’s now one of the few remaining such nesting sites in the world.  

In leatherback nesting season (Nov to mid-Feb), you can head out on a turtle tour (US$350/person; about 2hr). Trips leave in the evening, the exact hour depending on the tide.  

Turtle nesting takes place only in season and at night, with moonlit nights at high tide being the preferred moment. Note that you are not guaranteed to see a nesting turtle on any given night, but those who do are moved both by the sight of the turtles’ imposing bulk, and by their vulnerability. Numerous Tamarindo operators run these trips.

Officially, Tamarindo is within the boundaries of Parque Nacional Marino Las Baulas, insofar as the ocean covered by the protected area extends out in an arc, encompassing Tamarindo beach.

The Las Baulas park authorities have also bought up the beach south of Tamarindo to Playa Langosta, preventing further hotel development and allowing turtles to continue coming ashore along this entire stretch.

Turtles nesting

Tamarindo, Costa Rica, is a prime place to watch turtles © Shutterstock

#3  Watch wildlife on a boat trip

Many operators in town run a popular two-hour boat excursion that takes you around the river estuary. 

Winding you into the tangled mangroves of Las Baulas National Park, you’ll get to see the likes of howler monkeys, crocodiles, and countless birds in the company of a local guide. 

The experience feels a world away from the bustling beach and bars in town, yet it’s right on the door step.

Fancy a day at the beach? Find out all about the best beaches in Guanacaste

#4 Go on an epic gyrocopter trip

Is it a plane? Is it a helicopter? No, it's a gyrocopter, and there's no better way to see the coast around Tamarindo than boarding one for an epic bird's eye view. 

Based near Playa Grande, Fly With Us offer 20-minute, 30-minute and one-hour trips — useful if you’re on a budget and aren 't sure about splashing out for the more expensive, longer options.

Note that there’s only space for the pilot and one passenger, though you can ask about booking two flights at the same time. That way, you and your best mate/ nearest and dearest can experience the exhilarating ride in tandem.  

At times, the pilot swoops low, giving you the chance to see turtles in the ocean and crocs in the estuary. Magic.

#5 Visit Palo Verde National Park

Located on the northern bank of the Río Tempisque, Palo Verde National Park is within reach of Tamarindo, and offered as a day-trip by some operators in town  

Created to preserve the habitat of migratory birds, the park is home to one of the largest concentrations of waterfowl in Central America, with more than three hundred species of bird. These include the endangered jabiru stork and black-crowned night heron.   

Further from the riverbank, you may spot toucans, and perhaps even one of the increasingly rare scarlet macaws.   

The best months to visit are at the height of the dry season, between January and March. And what reason? This is when most of the 250 or so migratory species are in residence.    

Love nature and wildlife? Discover the most beautiful national parks in Costa Rica. Chances are, you’ll also love our customisable Costa Rica Eco Adventure trip.

Scarlet macaw, Carara National Park, Costa Rica

Stunning scarlet macaws, Costa Rica © Shutterstock

Best areas to stay in Tamarindo

Many of Tamarindo’s hotels are very good, if expensive. That said, there are options for all budgets. For example, if you're watching the pennies, Playa Tamarindo has a few friendly hostels that are set-up for surfers.

At the other end of the scale, you could bag yourself a large suite with a private terrace in a fancy resort.

While staying in the village places you steps from the heart of the action, it's worth considering staying in Playa Langosta.

Here several swish B&Bs and hotels offer a retreat from the hectic Tamarindo beachside scene. These are just a quiet 15–20min walk away.

Browse places to stay in Tamarindo, Costa Rica.

Best restaurants and bars

For breakfasts and snacks, Tamarindo has several excellent cafes and bakeries that serve fresh local coffee. Many of these focus on organic produce. 

Given Tamarindo’s boom as a tourist area, it’ll come as no surprise that eating here has an international flavour, with Italian joints rubbing shoulders with Asian fusion restaurants and Costa Rican fare. 

For nightlife, Babylon reggae bar remains the place to be as the week draws to a close. Right in the village centre, about 100m from the beach, it draws tourists and locals alike. There’s frequent live music, particularly at the weekend. Though it’s often packed, thanks to ocean breezes it never feels sweltering.

    Recommended restaurants in Tamarindo

  • La Bodega: this organic café and shop serves some of the best breakfasts in town. 
  • Green Papaya Taco Bar: an attractive café serving flavoursome tacos and burritos. 
  • Nogui’s: a long-running favourite where you can dine well throughout the day. 

Though international, you can enjoy Costa Rican cuisine, like gallo pinto, in Tamarindo, Costa Rica © Shutterstock

How to get around

Tamarindo offers various transportation options for getting around, including renting bicycles or golf carts to explore the town's beaches and nearby attractions. Additionally, local taxis and buses are available for convenient and affordable transportation within Tamarindo and to nearby towns for further exploration.

By car, scooter or bike

For getting around the area and out to Playa Langosta, the beach just south of the village, you can rent a scooter or mountain bike from CR Paradise, among other places.

Numerous places rent cars, including Alamo, which is on the main road at the northern entrance to the village.

By taxi

Taxis congregate on the loop across from the bus stop. Trips to Las Baulas and Playa Avellanas are cheap and easy to arrange. These cost in the region of US$20–30.

How many days do you need in Tamarindo?

Dedicated surfers will be rewarded by spending at least a 4-5 days in Playa Tamarindo.  

The same can be said of travellers looking for a mix of a chilled-out beach break and lively nightlife. Think long, sunny days stretched out on the sand and long balmy nights in boisterous bars.

Then, for those days when you need more action than sunbathing and beach strolling, you could spend a few days exploring the area’s natural attractions.

For example, take a half day boat trip to Las Baulas National Park. We also recommend devoting a full-day to visiting Palo Verde National Park.

Need help planning your trip? Check our Costa Rica itineraries, or talk to our Costa Rica experts.

What is the best time to visit?

If you want a top wildlife-watching experience, visit Playa Tamarindo between November and mid-February. This is when leatherback turtles come ashore to lay their eggs. 

This also overlaps with the best time to visit Playa Tamarindo if you’re hoping to witness the spectacle of migrating birds in Palo Verde National Park. Between January and March most of the 250 migratory species will be in residence here. 

Bear in mind, though, that these dry season, peak months for wildlife-watching also fall within Playa Tamarindo’s high season. As a result, expect parties to be in full flow, and accommodation to be busy and more expensive. So, you’ll want to budget accordingly and book early to bag your preferred place to stay.

For more on the best time to visit different destinations in Costa Rica, read our guide to when to go to Costa Rica.

Beautiful aerial view of Tamarindo Beach and Town in Guanacaste Costa Rica © Shutterstock

Aerial view of Tamarindo, Guanacaste, Costa Rica © Shutterstock

How to get here

To get to Tamarindo, Costa Rica, you can fly into Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport (LIR), which is the closest airport to Tamarindo, and then take a taxi or shuttle to reach the destination. Alternatively, buses available from various locations in the country, including San Jose and other major cities.

By plane

NatureAir, Sansa and Skyway fly to the small airport 4km north of the village off Hwy-152. Both companies have offices in town.

By bus

Buses arrive by the village loop. Connections along the coast aren’t great, so you may want to take one of the shuttle services run by Interbus and Gray Line.

Destinations: Liberia (every 30min–1hr; 2hr); San José (4 daily; 5hr 30min–6hr); Santa Cruz (9 daily; 1hr).

For more transportation tips, read our guide to getting around Costa Rica.

Looking for more inspiration? Read up on the best things to do in Costa Rica, and get yourself a copy of The Rough Guide to Costa Rica. Our Costa Rica travel tips will also help you plan your trip.

Not keen on planning? You'll love our customisable Costa Rica itineraries.

We may earn commission when you click on links in this article, but this doesn’t influence our editorial standards. We only recommend services we genuinely believe will enhance your travel experiences.

Top image: Sundown at Tamarindo Beach, Guanacaste, Costa Rica © Andaman/Shutterstock

Rough Guides Editors

written by
Rough Guides Editors

updated 06.03.2023

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