Tamarindo is not your ordinary Costa Rican town. Situated on the Pacific Coast, it possesses beautiful beaches, surf spots, and national parks, offering a great mix of attractions for couples and families who want to savor an exciting and well-deserved vacation. The town is serviced by Tamarindo Airport, a private air terminal with flights to and from other Costa Rican towns and cities, such as San José and Liberia.
Taking the plane is the fastest way to reach Tamarindo from other parts of the country, but if you’re up for a scenic ride, you can also take a bus or go by car. Land travel from the Alfaro Bus Station in San José to Tamarindo is approximately 4 - 5 hours by car and 5 - 6 hours by bus, with various stops along the way.
Thinking of taking a trip to Tamarindo? Here’s a list of some of the town’s best attractions that you shouldn’t miss:
First order of business: Tamarindo’s beaches! Playa Grande, an unspoilt beach, is popular among surfers because of its consistent surf breaks throughout the year. The mile-long (1.6 kilometer-long) shoreline is also an eco-tourism destination. It serves as a nesting place for the endangered giant leatherback turtles. Another must-see beach in Tamarindo is Playa Avellana, known by locals as Little Hawaii. Its 18-foot (5.5-meter) waves are the delight of experienced surfers from all over the world. Non-surfers, however, can still enjoy the white sand beach and the beachfront bars scattered throughout the area.
2. Monkey Park Wildlife Sanctuary
Managed by a non-profit foundation, Monkey Park Wildlife Sanctuary aims to educate visitors about the conservation of Costa Rica’s wildlife. They participate in animal rescue and also provide rehabilitation for the rescued animals. Some of the animals you will see inside the sanctuary are porcupines, owls, macaws, parrots, spider monkeys, and American crocodiles. For an extra fee, a guide can explain further about Monkey Park’s mission while walking you through the facility. Visit during early morning or late afternoon to avoid the crowds.
3. Tamarindo Farmers Market
The freshest products in town are sold at Tamarindo Farmers Market, known locally as Tamarindo Feria. Most vendors are local farmers themselves, ensuring that the items are delivered directly from the farm to the market. Some of the items you can find here are dairy products, fruits, vegetables, chocolates, and local spices. Aside from the market experience, it is also an opportunity to meet the locals and learn about their daily lives. On Saturdays, Tamarindo Farmers Market becomes even livelier with artisans and live music performers present in the area.
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4. Monkey Jungle
Here’s something for thrill-seekers! Monkey Jungle, located on the outskirts of Tamarindo, is a recreational park situated on a private reserve area. Their canopy tours and ziplines allow guests to travel easily from the hills to the tree tops while observing the animals in their respective dens. There are Congo monkeys, white-faced monkeys, and wild boars, as well as lizards and armadillos. If you’re lucky, you might even get to spot some small deers and jaguars. Included in the entrance fee is the service of guides and the use of safety equipment.
5. Barra Honda National Park
One of the most popular hiking destinations in Tamarindo is the 5,600-acre (2,266-hectare) Barra Honda National Park. It has a network of hiking trails leading to caverns frequented by monkeys, deers, raccoons, and anteaters. There are over 40 caves inside the park, mostly well-maintained but a little challenging to access because of their vertical entrances. This is why visitors are required to wear climbing gear and secure a permit before attempting to enter the caves. It is also advisable to hire a guide who knows the ropes of caving. Meanwhile, for those who wish to stay overnight, there are cabins and camping areas near the ranger station.
6. Palo Verde National Park
Palo Verde, a state-owned national park spanning 19,800 hectares (48,927 acres), is another must-see natural attraction in Tamarindo. Since it is located between the rivers of Tempisque and Bebedero, cruise tours to the reserve are widely popular. Along the way, you will see mangrove trees, which serve as breeding grounds for various aquatic and terrestrial animals. The park is also an ideal destination for bird-watchers. A number of local and migratory birds find shelter here, including macaws, herons, guacacos, woodstorks, and kingfishers.
7. Catalina Islands
The Catalina Islands, often referred as “the Cats”, encompass a total of 20 islands surrounded by pristine waters and home to a number of marine animals. They are home to spinner dolphins, humpback whales, pilot whales, killer whales, whale sharks, and tiger sharks, rare species that you might not encounter anywhere else in the country. With warm waters and good visibility all year round, there’s no wonder why it is considered a paradise by advanced scuba divers and marine photography enthusiasts alike. However, divers are still advised to be cautious of strong currents on certain occasions. Also, scuba diving around the Catalina Islands is strictly for certified or licensed divers only.
8. Golf courses
Costa Rica’s best golf courses are easily accessible from Tamarindo. If you are into this sport, playing a round of golf in the tropics while surrounded by great ocean views is surely a must. Some golf courses, like the Hacienda Pinilla Golf Club and Reserva Conchal Golf Course, even have their own sanctuaries, where monkeys watch and birds fly around as you play. They call it an “eco-golf” experience, combining appreciation of nature and the pleasures of playing golf. Another unique golf course worth checking out is Four Seasons Resort Peninsula Papagayo, which was named as one of the Top 20 Golf Courses in the World by Travel and Leisure magazine.
9. Arenal Volcano National Park
Arenal Volcano National Park is a Costa Rican geological gem. It was named after a 5,357-foot (1,633-meter) active volcano located within its premises. It is also home to Chato Volcano, an inactive volcano that ceased activity 3,500 years ago. Some of the nature trails inside the park pass through both the forest and the lava fields. Like other nature reserves in Tamarindo, animals can be easily spotted just by walking along the trails. Some of the animals that can be seen in Arenal Park are howler monkeys, white-faced monkeys, deers, and tapirs. Plants like palms and bromeliads are also abundant here.
10. Costa Rican food
Costa Rica is known for its traditional home-cooked meals. The country’s national dish is called Gallo Pinto, which is made of stir-fried beans and rice and then seasoned with cilantro, onion, and red pepper. It is usually served for breakfast with eggs and cheese. Meanwhile, for lunch, the local favorite is Casado. Like Gallo Pinto, it has rice and beans, but instead of being mixed, they are served separately. A serving of meat and a salad complete the dish.
Take me to Tamarindo!
Tamarindo hasn’t always been this grand. It was once a quiet hamlet where locals relied on fishing to make a living. The town waited for years before it was developed and turned into one of Costa Rica’s most sought-after tourist destinations. The good thing is, despite its advancements, the laid-back vibe that makes Tamarindo special is still present. Arrange your visit to Tamarindo and enjoy a different side of beautiful Costa Rica.
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