The Tamarindo surf trip is a bit of a right of passage for the traveling surfer. Costa Rica is accessible, friendly, beautiful, and full of waves. That combination makes it the first international surf trip for many people, whether with their families as it is for my kids or when they are just starting to spread their wings, as it was for me in my twenties.
The surf in Tamarindo wasn’t always so accessible. Before the Liberia airport opened, just getting to Tamarindo could be an adventure in itself.
I’m definitely not going to get all “you should have been here before” about Tamarindo. I don’t claim to own any discovery here. I saw the crew on Endless Summer II head to Tamarindo and I figured, good enough for them good enough for me.
The reality, however, is that the opening of the Liberia airport to international flights definitely marks a before and after time to the history of surfing in Tamarindo.
The new flight options meant taking the drive to Tamarindo from five or six hours with plenty of chances for things to go wrong, to 45 minutes of pretty much guaranteed smooth sailing.
Additionally, having a flight out of San Jose, coupled with the drive, often meant losing a precious night on either end of your trip to laying over in San Jose.
Now, I recently went back to San Jose for the first time in a while and wrote about why you might consider a night there on your next trip to Costa Rica (hint: Barrio Escalante has become the coolest neighborhood!).
Ok, back to present day Tamarindo.
Tamarindo Costa Rica Surf
Tamarindo lies in the Guanacaste province of Costa Rica. Its location is a perfect launching pad for the plentiful surf in this area, although for many surfers the surf in Tamarindo is sufficient for a good trip.
The town of Tamarindo lies at the south end of Tamarindo Bay and is bordered to the north by the Tamarindo River.
The main road dead ends at a parking lot as you pull into town. This south end of town is relatively protected by swells and you’ll notice that that’s where all of the boats are moored.
The surf in Tamarindo, depending on season and swell direction, tends to get stronger as you head north toward the river.
Across the river is Playa Grande, a beautiful beach and turtle nesting refuge. It is possible to wade across the river and walk up to Playa Grande, but be aware of how the tide affects this journey.
I’ve walked across the river at low tide only to have to paddle across a pretty serious current on the return trip when the tide was coming in. Oh ya, that incoming current was pushing me up the river. And the river has crocodiles.
So maybe don’t walk to Playa Grande.
As Tamarindo has grown, so has the amenities and the development along the beach.
The beach front at Tamarindo is full of restaurants, bars, and hotels pumping music and drinks all day and night.
And this is where you have to decide if the Tamarindo surf trip is really what you are looking for.
The party scene in Tamarindo has always been pretty epic. There was a time when that was part of the draw for me to return there again and again. Surf all day, party all night. Plenty of action and not a lot of sleep.
That’s not my scene any more, but I don’t judge!
If you’re looking for a party trip with a little surfing, some beachside pina coladas, and not a ton of driving, Tamarindo can be your spot.
However, even when I was in my 20s, before the airport blew the town up, after a few trips there I began to want something different. Mainly this was driven by the desire to really work on my surfing and the party scene was too hard for me to avoid, so I had to isolate myself elsewhere.
Tamarindo Surf Spots
I didn’t have to go far to get out of the grip of Tamarindo. It is a launchpad for all sorts of amazing, and less crowded, surf spots in the area. From the thumping a-frames of Playa Grande to the points of Little Hawaii, there are a ton of waves on tap, you just have to be willing to drive a little to get there.
First things first, as I mentioned, you don’t really have to go anywhere else. Tamarindo gets plenty of waves, although is a bit more protected from certain swell directions than other more exposed beaches in the area.
It is also the most beginner-friendly wave around.
So if you’re just getting your surfing legs going, or perhaps traveling with the family, a full day at the beach in Tamarindo, complete with beachside amenities, restaurants and bars, may be your jam.
Just don’t expect it to be empty, or quiet.
I already alluded to my misadventure to Playa Grande above, but this beach holds a special place in my heart. As I hunkered down in Tamarindo, the adventure of making it up to this beach was some of my early Costa Rica adventuring.
I got crushed by the waves, tired from walking in the especially spongy sand (perhaps that’s what the turtles love about it) and scared to death of the crocodiles in the Tamarindo River (I had seen them in the back of a bar, not sure if that place is still there).
Years later, I returned to Playa Grande a much better, though still nothing special, surfer. I had a beautiful sunset session with no one else out.
As I sat out in the water, I could hear the thumping music drift across the bay from Tamarindo. I was glad I wasn’t staying there and marveled at what the town had become.
Just to the south of Tamarindo is Playa Langosta.