Most guides to Tamarindo, Costa Rica tell you all about the attractions outside of town, all the things to do on day trips. But what if you don’t want to leave town? What if a short walk from your hotel is all you want after Costa Rican adventures elsewhere?
Let’s get one thing clear straight away. We’re big Tamarindo fans.
We say this, because often when you mention Tamarindo, Costa Rica, you’re greeted with derision. Tamarindo is “Tamagringo”. Too touristy, not “pure” enough.
Phooey to all that. Tamarindo is fantastic. It’s Costa Rica’s favorite surf town, set on a beautiful beach. What’s not to like about the place?
Now, that said, many come to Tamarindo to stay and end up doing a bunch of things outside of town. Which is cool. There’s a ton of stuff to do outside of town, from zip lining to national parks and volcanoes.
But if you don’t want to leave town at all, you needn’t. Maybe you just want to relax without taking a tour. You want to enjoy your time without getting into a car or minibus.
That’s fine. Tamarindo is one place in Costa Rica where you can hang out without leaving the place. It’s perfect for that.
So let’s look at what you need to do in Tamarindo without ever leaving Tamarindo.
Find a Tamarindo hotel.
Tamarindo has plenty of places to crash, but you want to do more than just crash while here, don’t you? You want pampering in one of Tamarindo’s – no, one of Costa Rica’s – most exquisite boutique hotels.
Cala Luna is in Playa Langosta, a neighborhood south of the main town. We’re talking a couple minutes in a car from the center, less than 10 minutes cycle ride, or about 15-20 minutes walk. Cala Luna is quiet and exclusive and perfect for staying in town without staying in town.
It’s been one of our favorite hotels for years. We’d say that although you can stay in any of the myriad of hotels and rentals Tamarindo has to offer, nowhere else will enhance your time here more than Cala Luna.
The place comes with either rooms or villas, depending on your budget and what your dynamics are. For families or couples seeking absolute privacy, the two/three-bedroom villas work best. These units are massive, super-tastefully decorated, and best of all, come with their own private pools.
Costa Rican Vacations client Paul Rogers, traveling to Tamarindo with his family, summed up his Cala Luna villa by calling it his “dream home”.
And he’s right. I mean, most hotel rooms get old after a while, right? But you could easily live full time in a Cala Luna villa.
The rooms are great, too. Much better if you’re on a budget or traveling alone or as a couple. Those bathrooms are to die for! And don’t worry about the lack of a private pool either. The main pool at Cala Luna is perfect. You also have the beach, down a short trail, all white sands and cute rock pools to cool off in.
If you’re there at sunset, you’ll also get a free fruit cocktail to enjoy!
Watch the sunset at El Be.
And talking of Tamarindo sunsets, if you want somewhere other than Cala Luna to check it out, go to El Be Club in the center of town, right on the beach.
I love this place. Every afternoon starting at around 5:00 PM, they have live music to go with the sunset. If you’re there when the Brazilian guy plays his bossa nova, you’re in for a treat!
Outside of the live tunes, El Be has eclectic tastes for music lovers of all flavors. I mean, what other bar in Costa Rica could you expect to hear proper Golden Age of Hip Hop tunes on a midweek afternoon? Walking past on the beach the other day and having Eric B and Rakim’s “Move The Crowd” entice me in could be a highlight of my 19 years in Costa Rica (I’m easily pleased).
They run a great happy hour each afternoon too and the bar food is delicious, too. Try the fondue!
Hang out on southern end of beach and check out the crocodile.
If you’re coming into town from say, Cala Luna, stop outside the Mono Loco hotel. Across the street you’ll find a little road taking you to the beach. This is the main access to the southern end of Tamarindo Beach, a lot more chilled than further up in town.
It’s less crowded here and the waves are that more mellow, making this end better for swimmers and families with kids.
And there’s a crocodile, too! That might seem contradictory to the whole “better for swimmers and families with kids” spiel, but the truth is crocodiles are all over Costa Rica. This one here seems placid enough, hanging out in his lagoon next to the parking lot.
Definitely worth a look and a few photos, anyway.
Then afterward, stroll down the beach towards the bars and restaurants.
Tamarindo is, for all intents and purposes, a surf town. Let’s scrap the middle bit. Tamarindo is a surf town. Tamarindo is the surf town.
It’s the surf that turned Tamarindo from an all-but-inaccessible fishing hamlet without electricity into the bustling beach town we see today.
Back then, in the 70s, Tamarindo was a true secret spot for surfers.
The hardy travelers who reached Tamarindo found empty waves of all shapes and sizes and conditions. They found gentle beach breaks on Tamarindo Beach itself, perfect for learners and novices. The best place to learn is right in front of Witch’s Rock Surf Camp at the north end of town, before the estuary.
But Tamarindo Beach accommodates all surfers. There’s another beach break at the estuary itself, a sweet right, suitable for more intermediate surfers. And then you have Pico Grande and Pico Pequeño south of Witches Rock in front of the Tamarindo Diria. Not advisable for newbies.
And all this on the same beach.
The southern end of Tamarindo Beach, in front of Capitan Suizo, mellows out a little more and beginners can have fun here.
Elsewhere in the area you have Playa Grande across the estuary with solid, consistent beach breaks. South, there’s Playa Langosta, where we recommend the more experienced hang out to take advantage of some powerful river mouth peaks.
Further afield you’ll find other great surfing beaches. But if you never leave the immediate vicinity of Tamarindo, arguably Costa Rica’s surfing capital, you won’t be disappointed.
Watch people surf.
And if you don’t surf yourself, not important. Sit on the beach and check out the action in the late afternoon and wait for one of Tamarindo’s classic sunsets.
Or do the same from Witch’s Rock’s Vaquero Bar, the Tamarindo Diria, or a myriad of other places along the beach.
Difficult where to start when talking about eating in Tamarindo. The El Mercadito Gourmet Food Market, with its selection of different food stalls from around the world and live music in the evenings is awesome. You’ll know you’re there when you see the boat-shaped bar in the middle.
El Mercadito is next door to Patagonia, an Argentinean restaurant with some great ribeye steak game going on.
Another spot we love is the Falafel Bar in the heat of town near Pacific Park. It does what it says on the tin and if you love Israeli and Eastern Mediterranean food, you’ll be happy here.
You’ll find great bar food at El Be and Vaquero. Check out the Surf Shack off the rotonda for an extensive selection of burgers and some solid cheese and bacon fries.
And for some good fine dining with a laid back, tropical twist, Cala Luna’s restaurant is perfect.
We could write thousands of words about Tamarindo’s restaurant scene and one day we will. It’s criminal to talk about eating out here in a couple of paragraphs. But if you’re a food enthusiast in this town, you’re in for an adventure!
Like eating out, Tamarindo’s bars need an article all to themselves. This is a party town with plenty of places to check out and enjoy some liquid rejuvenation.
Mellow places, crazy places, family places, late night places, Tamarindo has everything. We already mentioned El Be as a perfect surrounding to your sunset, but any place along the beach will do, from the places around the rotunda to Vaquero and the Crazy Monkey Bar at the Best Western with its famous Ladies Night.
The burgeoning craft beer scene in Costa Rica hasn’t escaped Tamarindo, either. Those ever-resourceful guys at Witch’s Rock also have their own brew pub on their premises, to compliment Vaquero. Volcano Brewing Company features dozens of Witch’s Rock’s own brews. Pale ales, brown ales, IPAs… whatever your tipple is. If you’re a beer enthusiast, you’ve come to the right place.
For late night action, we recommend El Garito for decent electronic music that sounds different from everywhere else in town.
Again, so many places here we can’t even begin to crack into. Any of the eating places we mentioned are also good for drinking and vice versa. The best thing you can do is show up, have a look around, and find your spot. That’s all part of the fun!
Rent a golf cart.
If you’re hanging out in Tamarindo, you don’t need a car. Sure, one is fine if you’re planning on checking out surrounding beaches, but for staying in town, walking is fine.
But if you do want wheels, consider renting a golf cart. You’ll see them zipping around all over the place in high season and they look a lot of fun. And when it’s so hot your sweat sweats, you might be glad of a nice canopy to sit under.
Do the Ocaso Festival.
You need to be in Tamarindo during the first week or so of January each year to do the Ocaso Festival, but if you’re into your electronic music, there’s no better place on the planet to be around that time. We’re talking about good electronic music, the underground stuff for the purists of the genre here. We’re not talking the stuff you hear in any old club.
Ocaso swaps between different venues during its time in Costa Rica, from the outdoor jungle set of La Senda in the hills outside of town to a pool party at the Crazy Monkey and a beachside soiree at El Be. They have a vibe for all tastes.
If you want to be part of Ocaso 2020 (and if you love this scene, you’ll want to be), things kick off again on January 9th. Get onto their mailing list for updates.
Do you like boutique beachwear? Sarongs, designer bikinis, board shorts, and all that stuff? If so, you’re in luck because just about every other store in Tamarindo will hook you up.
So what, you might say. Every beach town in Costa Rica, nay, Central America is the same. That’s true, yeah. But we always found Tamarindo’s boutiques to be a cut above the rest. Check out EK Art Jewelery, Azul Profundo Boutique, or Neptuno Surf Shop. And go visit Juan Diego at Cheboards if you want a custom-designed surfboard.
In a town like Tamarindo it would be amazing if there wasn’t a place to buy homemade jam, artisan cheeses, and organic papayas from a guy with a beard. You know what we mean.
The Tamarindo Farmers Market takes place on Saturday mornings from 7:00 AM next to the Green Papaya restaurant and is a great place to grab breakfast and listen to live music while buying that cheese.
You also have the Tamarindo Night Market on Thursday evenings, way down past the Banco Nacional on the road the Falafel Bar and Oveja are on.
This is a cool spot for food trucks and more artisan stuff, worth checking out if you’re around on a Thursday.
Check out the Tamarindo estuary.
The estuary separates Playa Tamarindo from Playa Grande and offers some cool tours and things to do.
At the very least, you can hire a guy to take you across to Playa Grande. You’ll find a bunch of boats hanging out all the time waiting to ferry people over or offer more in-depth tours of the mangroves.
These brackish waters host a whole range of wildlife from crocodiles to monkeys to more birds than you can poke with a stick (don’t poke birds with a stick, by the way).
If you’re feeling more energetic, take a kayak tour.
The Tamarindo estuary is perfect for getting close to nature while staying in town.
And finally… please quit with the “Tamagringo” thing.
This is more of a thing not to do than to do. Over the years, Tamarindo has grown. We understand that to many, Tamarindo isn’t what they’d call the “real Costa Rica”, whatever that is.
It’s become fashionable to deride Tamarindo as somehow not “pure”, not adventurous enough. Fashionable to sneer at Tamarindo and those who live, move, or travel there.
The haters call Tamarindo “Tamagringo” because it’s a tourist town. And they don’t say that as a compliment.
To us, Tamarindo is as real Costa Rica as anywhere else. What does “real” mean, anyway?
Tamarindo is a great little town with a great vibe and friendly people, all on a beautiful beach. What’s not to love?
So if you’re living in Tamarindo, planning to live in Tamarindo, or simply traveling to Tamarindo, you’re lucky. Be proud of your town. And if you hate and deride the place, don’t come. Or if you’re open-minded enough, come. We reckon you’ll be impressed in spite of yourself.
What else can you do in Tamarindo without leaving Tamarindo? What are your favorite stores, restaurants, hotels, and bars in Tamarindo? Let us know in the comments below.
James Dyde is the editor of CentralAmerica.com. He lives in Escazu, Costa Rica.