Below are lessons learned from my trips to Tamarindo Beach in Guanacaste, Cost Rica and the surrounding area. I visited Tamarindo in 2006, the last week of November 2012 and late April 2021. I will note any information that isn’t from 2021.
Note that, at least in Tamarindo, everyone is very lax about social distancing and mask wearing. I would highly recommend getting fully vaccinated prior to traveling to Tamarindo. The larger US-branded resorts that are in neighboring towns seem to engage in more caution, but you will find little of it within the youth-oriented hostels, restaurants and bars of Tamarindo. Note that most venues are at least partially open air which provides a lot of mitigation if you stick to your own household. Air conditioned corporate venues (e.g., supermarkets, banks, airports, etc.) will tend to strictly enforce mask wearing. Indoor portions of bars, restaurants and small shops will often encourage masks but have varying degrees of enforcement.
You will be required to purchase covid insurance before checking in for your flight to Costa Rica. It is on the order of $15/day. You can get a letter from your insurance company stating that it will cover you in Costa Rica (most private US insurance will), but that will only save you a few $.
Liberia Airport (LIR) is very convenient, approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes from Tamarindo beach without traffic and about 10 minutes from the city of Liberia. It is also super modern and almost new. The best part is that it is small, so we had no issues with lines. The biggest surprise was that it had free (as of 2012) short-term parking about 100ft from the terminal’s side door.
Pretty easy experience on arrival. Immigration was maybe a 45 minute line, but that seems pretty par for the course if not arriving in your home country. Customs was a 30 second conveyor belt.
Back in 2012 I was annoyed to be surprised by an exit tax, now, at least with American, the tax was included in the ticket.
The American priority line took about 10 minutes, but the regular line looked like about 45 minutes, so plan accordingly. We set up Verifly before our flight for reporting our covid test and the gate agent took a 2 second look at our verifly check mark and didn’t need to go through all the steps of verifying the test so that helped a bit.
Immigration on the way out had no line and took maybe 15 seconds and security took about 60 seconds. They seemed a bit on the lax side, pretty much the equivalent experience of TSA Pre. Our tickets did say Pre, but I don’t think they looked at them. Or maybe I just didn’t notice.
The VIP club (take a left after security and about a 2 minute walk) accepts Priority Pass. Win! It includes quality internet (the airport also has internet by putting in your or any email), a soda machine (including ice, soda water and pepsi products), beer and wine. At lunch time at least they serve to your table a nice small meal. Note that you will want to get their attention and tell them that you want it. In 2021, I had linguini with meatballs. The meatballs were surprisingly very good.
In 2021, we were able to hail an Uber on the way out to bring us to Tamarindo for about $50. That said, I think we were very lucky. Were were not successful getting an uber after that for the rest of our trip. It is unclear if they are legal, but they are certainly unreliable. Note that in Tamarindo, there was one uber driver we found, but he would simply text and say that the “uber price was broken” and wanted cash. I had no interest in dealing with such sketch, so moved on.
To return to the airport we had the Botella de Leche call their preferred cab company. They charged $60 and was nice enough, however, telling him that we weren’t in a hurry didn’t stop the extreme tailgating, passing multiple cars at at time, etc. Next time I will pay up to get a “private transfer”, basically $80-$90 to get a nice van service. If you happen to book far enough ahead and are going the right time of day, there are shared vans for about $20-$25 per person.
Hotels and Hostels
Below is just a sampling of places to stay. There are tons of options. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to get a good understanding of the different options online, even with TripAdvisor since people’s expectations are very different and there really isn’t anything like an American suburban hotel in downtown Tamarindo. If you want something as new and sterile as you would find in a typically Courtyard Marriott in the States, you will probably need to go pretty high end. Think European standards.
We stayed at the Best Western Vista Villas in 2012 and have a detailed review here.
The Diria (+506 2653-0031) is a traditional higher end beach resort right on the water in the middle of town. They were over $100 per night )(as of 2012) and don’t take points, so we didn’t stay there. It did look like a very nice hotel and if you are looking for a traditional tourist experience, this is probably where you would stay.
The Chocolate Hostel and Hotel
In 2012, we stopped by the Chocolate Hotel (+506 2653-1311)and met Carlos (cell: +506 8841-5338), the local partner in the hotel that was recently purchased by him and two Americans. They have dorm rooms and hotel rooms. We looked at the hotel rooms and they were pretty nice and fairly large and included a nice kitchen. Seems like some stuff was still under construction, but didn’t look like a problem. This is probably where I would stay next time if I came with my wife. He was selling them for under $50, but I assume that price will go up after he is done.
We stayed at the Botella de Leche Hostel in 2021 and have a detailed review here.
Directly adjacent to La Botella de Leche. Seems nice as well, but didn’t spend as much time there. Emailed with their owner or manager in 2012, Mirum (cell +506 8747-8780), who seemed fairly helpful.
Also note that Playa Langosta is directly south of Tamarindo and easily accessible by car and cab (other towns require going back out to the main roads). They have hotels as well including Barceló Occidental Tamarindo that seemed pretty popular (though I only saw it from the beach).
Ok, so you are an avid Free Travel Genius reader and have points to burn (of course!). So what do you do? Assuming those points aren’t at the Best Western, you are going to need to stay outside of town.
The closest major brand is the JW Marriott Guanacaste Resort & Spa in Hacienda Pinilla on Playa Mansita next to Playa Avellana. See detailed info here.
The other option is the Westin (+506 2654-3500) on Playa Conchal a 20 minute (though further than the Marriott as the crow flies) to the north. This is an all inclusive resort. However, they claim “upgraded accommodation” and don’t have any rooms for regular SPG point redemption. That is total crap, so I would avoid this hotel.
Hilton Papagayo Costa Rica Resort & Spa
There is also a Hilton on this coast, the Hilton Papagayo (+506 2672-0000) on Playa Arenilla in the Papagayo Gulf that is over an hour away. Note that the Hilton is in a protected bay. Good for swimming, bad for surfing. If you want to stay at the Hilton for free, read this post to learn how.
We also spent three nights at the Hilton Garden Inn (+506 2690-8888) at Liberia Airport. See my detailed review.
Restaurants in Tamarindo
Tamarindo has tons of options to eat ranging from traditional and very cheap Costa Rican restaurants (called “Sodas”) to high end restaurants of all specialties including a lot of sushi. Note that the water is pretty safe in Costa Rica. We ordered tap water with ice at just about all of our meanl. Unless you are someplace really rural or sketchy, the water probably a safe bet.
We ate at the following places:
- (2021) Green Papaya Taco Bar - very good
- (2021) Falafel Bar - went twice, good.
- (2021) Antichi Sapori Tamarindo - good place for a date night, food was good but very pricey for Tamarindo
- (2021) La Oveja Tamarindo Mexican Bar & Grill - fun place to eat and drink
- (2021) La Kitchen - very good Argentine restaurant with large portions and reasonable prices. Their Milanesa Napolitana (made with chicken) was very good and enough for 2 people. Their empanadas were also very good.
- (2021) Shrimp Hole - The poke bowl was pretty good/
- (2021) Little Lucha - had a very good fish taco, wife also really liked the veggie tacos. Other tacos were less special but fine. Small place.
- (2012) Best Western Vista Villas – we ate the continental breakfast each day at our hotel. See our detailed review of the Best Western
- (2012) Soda Buen Comer – we had both a lunch and a dinner at Buen Comer (+506 2653-4691). It was great (assuming you like typical Costa Rican food) with wonderful staff. The lunch special is $4 including rice, beans, a plantain, a meat (a ~1/4 pound pork chop that day) and a drink (lemon-aid) that day. A humongous finely chopped salad was about $5 and a typical dinner is about $7 (not much different than the lunch, but without the drink and with a larger meat portion). Note that the place is not fancy – plastic tables under an awning with all the ambiance of a NYC corner pizza shop. We spoke to the staff (Spanish only, but the menus are translated) for a little while after. They were very nice. Three generations of family are working there. I would certainly go back.
- (2012) Witch’s Rock restaurant – went here twice as well for their “Nachoes as Big as Your Ass” (that is actually what they call it). Witch’s Rock is also an expensive surf camp.
Restaurants in Liberia
Liberia has a fair number of options, though we only tried three places. First was a local stand-up joint next to their central park. It was pretty good local fare. The next night we went to Palermo which was amazing. See my detailed review of Restaurante Palermo. Our final night in Liberia, we went to Sabor Porteno (+506 2665-6851) which was ok. See pictures from Sabor Porteno:
Stuff to do
See Surf Lessons
Tamarindo Fitness Center
A nice gym that is about $7 for a day pass (plus a bit to rent a towel that is required to use on the machines). In 2012 I called it a good with fairly new equipment. In 2021, it seems like they still had the same equipment, so it was getting a bit tired, but still very functional.
They have a full weight room including a pretty generous set of dumbbells (capping out at 80lbs) and various weight machines. Note that about half the weights are in lbs and half are in kg, but it should be obvious when looking at their size. They have a limited cardio area, maybe 1-2 of each major machine, but they usually don’t seem crowded. It is about 1/3rd of a mile up a dirt road from the center of town. Locals will probably be able to direct you and it is pretty much across the street from the La Botella de Leche and Pura Vida hostels.
In 2012, my wife and I took a fun spin class (taught in Spanish, but it’s spin, so who cares) by a very energetic young lady on pretty decent spin bikes (not super fancy gym level, but equivalent to a $50/month gym in Boston). The class was about half Ticas and half expats. We were the only short-term tourists, and, I was the only dude. Of course, when we saw they were offering a 45-minute power yoga type class right after, we stayed on. The teacher was just like the typical upper-end gym yoga teacher back home and even taught the class in English the first time since it was just a Swedish expat, my wife and I. We came back for her Thursday class which was in Spanish, but easy enough to follow. It was a great class for me, with about 35 minutes of intense yoga then a 10 minute nap (aka “shavasana”)
Tamarindo Fitness Center +506 2653-1423 Facebook Messenger: “Tamarindo Fitness”
Laguna Beach Club
They rent their facility out for day use. $10/day in low season and $20 a day in high season starting Dec 1st. Includes using their nice pool and lounging around in their chairs. Also includes a nice gym, much smaller than Tamarindo Fitness, but with newer equipment and nice windows. They do yoga classes most days, but those cost extra.
There are multiple wash and fold places in town. In 2021, we used the one just under Tamarindo Fitness. They charge apx $3.30/kg. They can do same day if you drop it off in the morning. They will also pick up and drop off at hotels but that could add days to the process if it isn’t timed right. I much prefer to avoid the hassle of checking bags and just get my laundry done every couple of days whenever I am on vacation and not moving around too much. If you don’t get free bags on the airline you are flying, your bag will typically cost over $50 round trip. That would cover 15kg of laundry, or enough for me for a week and potentially save you a lot of time at the airport.
There are tons of national parks in Guanacaste with all different types of hikes to do and nature to see. We only had a chance to see two. Ricon de la Vieja National Park which is a bit over an hour past Liberia Airport and Tenorio National Park which is about 90 minutes from Liberia airport but took us about 2 hours with road construction. See my detailed reviews and pictures of Ricon and Tenorio.
Every thursday night is an early evening family friendly party in Tamarindo at the Night Market.
Various US providers offer reasonable travel deals. Verizon charges $10/day of use. I have found that if I set up wifi calling before leaving home and turn data roaming off, I have a ready-to-go emergency phone that only gets charged for the days used. In my experience, it didn’t start a new day when an incomming call goes to voicemail or if I recieve a text. It does when using data, sending texts, making calls, etc. So basically I carry it around in this mode ready to receive a call from home, but only paying for maybe half the days as there is wifi in every hotel and storefront.
If you have a newer iPhone, another option is to move your US plan to your “esim” and then use a local physical sim. This lets you switch back and forth without futzing with sim chips. There are some ways to use both at the same time, but I have not tried that.
Getting a local SIM chip in Costa Rica is very easy. If you are in liberia, as of 2012, there were a few phone shops that sell SIM’s in the Jumbo Super Market plaza at the corner of route 21 and route 1 (Pan American) that are open pretty late.
How to use ICE Kobi
ICE is the state utility company covering phones and electric. They are the main brand so probably easiest to go with them. Don’t know if their competitors are cheaper, but they sure are cheap enough. Their prepaid phone brand is “Ice Kobi”. As of 2012, it was about $6 to buy the SIM and it comes with around $6 of phone time. Local calls are something like 6 cents and calls to the US are supposed to be under 30. Unlimited internet is about 60 cents per day for pretty good 3G speeds.
Some key things to know:
- press 1150 then press: 1 to recharge balance, 2 to hear how much money you have left and 5 to change language (to english, for example
- text “dia” to 6060 to get 24 hours of unlimited internet for about 60 cents. I have been told you can text “Semana” for a week of it, but that didn’t work for me
Key Phone Numbers
Note, Costa Rica’s country code is +506. You don’t dial the +506 when you are in country, but do need to dial +506 from most other countries or 011-506 from a US landline.
- Emergency: 911, 117, +506 2653-0611
- Fire: 118
- Directory Assistance: 113
- Tourist Info: 192
- US Embassy: +506 2220-3939
- Tamarindo Police: +506 2653-0283
Have you been to Tamarindo? Have some additional tips? Please include them in a comment below to help out other readers.
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