Tamarindo Costa Rica is a cute (but big) seaside town in the Guanacaste region. We were really impressed when we visited for the first time. We had heard that there is a big drug and partying culture in Tamarindo, so we figured it wouldn’t really be a place for us.
In actuality, the downtown area feels like a mini Miami. The restaurants and shops are gorgeous and you really don’t feel like you are in Costa Rica. I have started calling this area the “kids pool of Costa Rica” because it is the perfect place to visit on your first trip to Costa Rica if you would like to get a feel for the country while still feeling a bit like you are in your own country.
It is also a prime surfing destination.
We were so impressed with Tamarindo that we decided to host our wedding here.
Now on to the rest of the Tamarindo budget travel guide!
TAMARINDO BUDGET TRAVEL GUIDE: CLIMATE
Every time we have been in Tamarindo it has been really hot. Bring a lot of strong sunscreen here. You’ll need it!
The most popular time to visit Tamarindo Costa Rica is between the end of December through early May. This is dry season in Tamarindo. You can expect extremely hot weather and no rain.
We like to visit this area between May through mid-August. At that time of year, you will likely have a daily afternoon thunderstorm, but there are far fewer tourists, and everything is green and blooming.
From mid-August through mid-December you can expect the temperature to cool off a bit and more rain.
TAMARINDO BUDGET TRAVEL GUIDE: TRANSPORTATION INFO
GETTING TO TAMARINDO
The easiest way to get to Tamarindo is to fly into the Liberia airport instead of San Jose. If you have the possibility of flying into Liberia you will save yourself a lot of driving time.
It will take you about one hour to drive from the Liberia airport. It will take you four hours or more to drive from San Jose. More and more airlines are starting service to Liberia so check out the rates. It may be worth it for you.
The best option to get to Tamarindo is to rent a car. If coming from San Jose or from Liberia you can rent a car from close to the airport (but free transportation to the rental car office is provided from the airport).
We suggest using Adobe because they are the most trustworthy rental car company in this country and we have a 10% discount for you. You can read more about renting a car here.
The drive from San Jose is long, but the roads are well maintained throughout. You will not need a 4×4 to get to Tamarindo, but if you plan on exploring a lot of the little beaches and areas around Tamarindo 4×4 will be helpful. There are a lot of unpaved roads if you head to the beaches south of Tamarindo.
If you don’t feel comfortable driving that long distance on your own, the cheapest option is to take the public bus. The bus leaves from San Jose every day at 11:00am and 3:30pm. It will take you about five hours to get to Tamarindo. The public bus from Liberia to Tamarindo leaves almost every hour from 3:50am until 6:00pm.
It’s not the most comfortable ride, but it’s cheap (under $10 per person). Definitely get there early before the departure time because once all the seats are taken you may be left standing for a long ride.
Pro tip: Download the free app Off the Grid Traveler to see bus connections and schedules to and from everywhere in Costa Rica. It’s seriously a lifesaver.
GETTING AROUND IN TAMARINDO
We suggest depending on a car while in Tamarindo unless you plan on only hanging out in downtown Tamarindo and hitting the beach there. Tamarindo is a great jumping off point for tons of cool day trips. You will want a car so that you are not depending on expensive pre packaged tours to get around.
If you opt to take the bus up, you can rent a car from Adobe and input Tamarindo as your pick-up location. In the comments section specify that you need the car delivered to you at your hotel in Tamarindo. They will deliver it to you free of charge if you are within 12 miles of their location.
Pro Tip: Rent a car with Adobe through our site and you will get a 10% discount! Score! You can find out more about it here.
TAMARINDO BUDGET TRAVEL GUIDE - ACTIVITIES
Walk the downtown: There are tons of nice shops lining the streets of downtown Tamarindo. We usually don’t buy much because it can be expensive, but there are some really cute shops that are definitely worth checking out.
Go surfing: There are a lot of surf shops in Tamarindo that offer lessons and board rentals. We have not personally tried out any of these shops so we can not suggest any to you. Instead, we think you should ask at your hotel if they have a place they suggest. Sometimes they partner with local surf shops and can get you a discount.
Visit Playa Avellana: A little bit south of Tamarindo is this quiet gem of a beach. It’s best to have a car that can handle some dirt roads if you plan to visit. It’s the perfect spot to spend a relaxing afternoon. If you’re looking for a good meal or cocktails definitely check out Lola’s restaurant on the beach. We have a full guide to visiting this beach here.
Visit the farmers market: Every Saturday morning from 8:00 am until 1:00 pm there is a nice farmers market located next to Restaurant Pescador. Definitely check this out if you are interested in trying unusual exotic fruits that you probably have never seen before.
Go partying: Tamarindo has a serious nightlife scene. If you are into partying, just walk the downtown area and you will find plenty of cool bars and clubs.
Rent a SUP board: If you’d like to do some stand-up paddle boarding, Kelly’s Surf Shop has boards for rent at $25 for two hours or $40 for a full day. If you are new to SUP you can also take lessons (but I think you can figure it out on your own without paying the extra money).
Visit Marino Las Baulas National Park: This national park is located slightly north of Tamarindo. The beach here (Playa Grande) is absolutely beautiful and far less busy than Tamarindo. People may tell you that you need to go there with a tour, but that is simply not true. You are welcome to walk the beach on your own. However, it is a turtle nesting site (so if you are lucky you’ll see some little babies hatching or mommas laying their eggs) and if you disturb the turtles you may get in trouble. Although, I know none of you would do that anyway.
Drive to Playa Flamingo: About 45 minutes north of Tamarindo is Playa Flamingo. We have seen Flamingo on many lists as the top beach of Costa Rica. We think it is definitely in our top ten. If you visit here, definitely grab a meal or at least a cocktail at Coco Loco. They catered our wedding and we love their beachfront restaurant.
TAMARINDO PHOTO BREAK!
TAMARINDO BUDGET TRAVEL GUIDE - FIND ACCOMMODATIONS
Les Voiles Blanches: This place is paradise. It is located a bit out of the downtown area, so don’t stay here if you want to be in the middle of the action. For about $50 you can stay in a really nice room with a view of their beautiful pool.
Hotel Pueblo Dorado: This place is basic but super well maintained. or about $45 you can get a double room with breakfast included. There is also a nice pool on site.
Hostel Pura Vida: One of the nicest hostels ever! The vibe here is amazing. For about $45 a night you can stay in a double room with a shared bathroom. The rooms all have cool paint jobs and there is a shared kitchen on site.
Hotel Mahayana: This place is basic, but has a really nice vibe. For about $45 a night you can stay in a double room with a terrace. There is also a shared kitchen which guests can use.
Another great option is Airbnb. We have had great luck with Airbnb in Tamarindo. You can read our guide to using Airbnb here.
TAMARINDO BUDGET TRAVEL GUIDE - PLACES TO EAT
Honestly, pretty much every restaurant in Tamarindo Costa Rica is amazing. This town is foodie paradise, but here are a few of our favorites.
Green Papaya Taco Bar: Super casual and laid back taco/ burrito bar which is crazy tasty!
Lola’s: Not the cheapest, but a great place for an afternoon cocktail outside on the beach. Super cool vibe here.
Shrimp Hole: I can’t really tell you how good this place is because I’m allergic to seafood (yea my life is hard), but I know tons of people who love this place. Their menu is small (they stick to what they do best, shrimp) and it is totally affordable.
Santa Rita Cafe: The vibe here is perfect. I highly recommend this place for breakfast or lunch.
Surf Shack Burgers: This doesn’t look like much from the outside, but the burgers are cheap and great. It’s perfect for when you need a break from Costa Rican food.
La Bodega: Go here for breakfast. I promise you’ll love it!
El Sapo Ristopizza: This place does amazing wood fire pizza. I’m a bit of a pizza snob and I loved it.
Seasons by Shlomy: This is a bit fancier restaurant, but the prices are totally far. Get the sashimi. It is the best sashimi I’ve ever eaten
ARTICLES ABOUT TAMARINDO
TAMARINDO BUDGET TRAVEL GUIDE: OUR ADVICE
– Use Tamarindo as a jumping off point. It is a great place to stay for a week and take tons of day trips.
– Please be careful of the crocodiles. In recent years there are crocodiles between Tamarindo beach and Playa Grande. During low tide, it is an easy swim and although it may seem very tempting, don’t do it! For a few dollars, you can pay for a boat to take you to the other side.
– It can get really busy here. Tamarindo is a popular spot so be prepared that if you visit in the dry season it gets very crazy, especially during the week before Easter when everyone in the country is traveling.
TAMARINDO BUDGET TRAVEL GUIDE - GEAR SUGGESTIONS
WHAT TO PACK FOR TAMARINDO
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Let us know if you have any questions about visiting Tamarindo in the comment section below. We are happy to help you out!
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