If you’re looking for a bit of adventure and lots of relaxing and surfing, Tamarindo, Costa Rica is your place. This sleepy little beach town is located on the Northern Pacific coast in the Guanacaste region of Costa Rica. The town is so small that you can easily walk from one end of the main street to the other in about 30 minutes. The heart and a big draw to visit this city is surfing, which is why we ended up here in the first place. It’s also a popular place for expats and tourists.
For some, it will be a simple, relaxing and budget-friendly trip to one of the most natural countries in the world. For others, it’s a great introduction to the beach atmosphere of Costa Rica.
Here are some tips on where to stay, where to eat, what to do, and things you should know.
Where to Stay in Tamarindo
Hotel Arco Iris – We stayed at this cute bed and breakfast on our first trip to Tamarindo. It was a delightful stay with a very comfortable room with a newly renovated bathroom and a plentiful breakfast buffet with made-to-order omelettes.
Capitan Suizo – While we didn’t stay at this beachfront hotel ourselves, we spent a lot of time there while our friends stayed there. Their rooms are very comfortable and luxurious, though you do pay for the luxury. We enjoyed a spectacular dinner at their restaurant, they have a pool and ping pong available, and the staff is very friendly. The only downside is that the hotel is on the far south side of the city, so getting to all the shops and restaurants will be a trek.
Where to Eat in Tamarindo
When in Costa Rica, expect simple and fresh food. I enjoyed the fresh fish, gallo pinto (their special rice and beans recipe), fresh fruit, and good coffee. But you can also walk down the main street and find familiar foods like pizza, nachos, and sushi. Ask around and you’re likely to find the cuisine you’re looking for in Tamarindo because of the expats that have opened restaurants there. Here are some of the ones I enjoyed. (If you want more info on the cuisine, check out my Eating and Drinking in Costa Rica post.)
- Fiesta del Mar – Tucked away on one end of the main street of Tamarindo is this truly local Costa Rican restaurant, recommended to us by our kayaking guide. It was our favorite place to eat both times we visited Tamarindo.
- El Vaquero – This beachfront brewpub is a favorite. We went here a couple of times because the surfboard rental we used was in the same complex and they have live music on the weekend. Volcano Brewing Company is also part of the complex so they have craft brews on tap. For food, I recommend nachos.
- Falafel Bar – We enjoyed a very quick lunch here on the first trip and the chicken pita was delicious.
- Nari Pizza and Pasta – Recommended by friends, we tried this pizza place out for lunch and it did not disappoint. Three of us devoured slices of the Nari pizza and Margherita pizza.
- Sharky’s – To get your sports fix, this is the place. Their multiple HD TVs make sure you don’t miss playoff games even when you’re out of the U.S.
- Longboards BBQ – If all the tables at Sharky’s are taken, head a couple of doors down to Longboards. Their TVs aren’t as good as Sharky’s but they’ll get the job done. We tried the brisket nachos with tropical slaw and they were good.
- Seasons – The restaurant at Hotel Arco Iris was a casual and outgoing place to have dinner. We enjoyed mussels, coconut curry shrimp, and red snapper.
What to Do in Tamarindo
Surfing and Beach Hopping – Surfing in Tamarindo is good for all levels of experience. If you need a lesson and didn’t have time to plan, surf instructors are ready and waiting for you on the beach for an immediate booking. You can also get a $10 per day surfboard rental right on the beach. If you want a better selection of boards, you’ll find multiple shops on the main street and they also run $10 to $15 for a board per day. If you get tired of Tamarindo Beach, there are several beaches (Playa Grande, Playa Langosta, Playa Avenellas) 15-30 minutes away. Ask your hotel about a shuttle.
Sport Fishing – Fishing billfish is a popular activity. You can book an eight-hour, day-long trip that includes the boat and two crewmen. The crew will do all the leg work and get you set up to start reeling in. If you don’t get billfish, you can catch dinner for the night as we did with our 25 lb amberjack!
Shopping – Tamarindo has many cute shops on the main street. You’ll find a variety of souvenirs and by the restaurant Fiesta del Mar, you’ll find shops with unique t-shirts.
Diving – If you want to scuba dive, be sure to book your trip before you arrive or after you arrive and two days before you want it to happen. Dive trips are at Catalina Island where there is lots of wildlife.
Things to Know
Currency – It’s ok to use U.S. dollars here, but when you withdraw money from an ATM or get change back from a restaurant, it’s likely that it will be in Costa Rican Colones. You’re also at the cashier’s mercy to whatever exchange rate they use. So, decide what you want to do before you go or play it by ear! In 2022, they are changing their paper money to plastic money and some vendors may not accept the paper money.
Beer – You’ll have your choice of Pilsen, Imperial, or if you’re lucky, the local brews from Volcano Brewing Company in Tamarindo.
Breakfast – From the experience of three hotels in Tamarindo (and two hotels in Arenal), hotels included breakfast (usually buffet) with your stay.
Transportation – If you are only visiting Tamarindo or less than two places in Costa Rica, a rental car is definitely not needed. Shuttles are available and you need to book them before you arrive. I recommend Ecotrans or Interbus. Your hotel can also help with booking transportation. Tamarindo is small enough to walk everywhere or they have taxis.
Liberia Airport – The Liberia airport is the closest one to Tamarindo. It’s about a 50-minute drive away. You’ll want to arrive two to three hours before your departure time to work your way to your gate. Flights leave in the same time period so the airport gets very crowded and a little hectic.
A lot of locals understand English, even if it’s only a few key phrases. Still, it’s helpful to know a few phrases that might not be part of the regular Spanish education. Here are some of the phrases I think you should know.
Tico (colloquial term for Costa Rican): You’ll find this to describe things that locals like, such as ’tico breakfast’ and Costa Ricans call themselves tico or tica.
Pure Vida (translates to Pure Life): This phrase is a way to express the happiness of being in Costa Rica. It’s like ‘heck yeah’ or ‘this is the life!’
Comida Tipica or Comida Casado (translates to Typical Food): the name of the standard and simple dish that includes gallo pinto, fried plantains, a salad, and some kind of protein.
Guaro: a clear liquor made from sugar cane found in Central America. The Costa Rican brand is Cacique Guaro.
Pescado, Carne, Pollo (translates to fish, beef, chicken): You usually get your choice of protein in your comida tipica dish.
Piña (translates to pineapple, pronounced peen-ya): You’ll find this fruit plentiful in Costa Rica. Get them in a fruit bowl or smoothie.
Costa Rica is beautiful, friendly, and full of adventure. The great thing about Costa Rica is there is an abundance of places to visit and a variety of things to do. From the Pacific side to the Caribbean side, beach to rainforest, there are memorable experiences throughout the country. No matter where you go, the friendliness and tourism-focused people will win your heart and make you feel like family.
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