Tamarindo or TamaGRINGO: Tourist Mecca On The Costa Rican Riviera

southside beachIn mid-May we crossed the width of Costa Rica from the Caribbean shore to the Pacific coast heading for the small town of Tamarindo where our next housesitting assignment would be.  By one estimate, 25% of the people who deplane in Costa Rica will end up hanging out in Tamarindo for some part of their vacation. When you consider that in 2012 over 2,000,000 visitors came to this small Central American country that’s a passel of folks to pack into a small sea-side town.access to swimming beach

In 1995, when the regional airport facility was upgraded to the Daniel Oduber Ouiros International Airport in nearby Liberia the response from the commercial carriers was a stifled yawn; one charter flight per week was the total through-put for the tourist invasion in that year.  Fast forward to the turn of the twenty-first century and the main highway into Tamarindo was still not entirely paved.  So what happened to turn this sleepy, insignificant fishing village on the northwestern Pacific coast with the Costa Rican Riviera as its new moniker into a mecca for hard-body surfers and eco-tourists? Surfboards and surf schools

The genesis of Tamarindo is probably known to some of the life-long residents who remain in the area and perhaps those who wish to sift through the property records. Quite possibly it was a keen-eyed surf fanatic, with some connections, who noticed that Tamarindo Beach had two main breaks for the ride seeking surfer; Pico Pequeño, a rocky point in the cove, and El Estero, the excellent river mouth break. On these two breaks, the biggest waves can get up to twelve feet during November and December and the rest of the beach breaks are perfect for learning.

south end

As word spread, or was promoted, money arrived to support the gringo dollars just beginning to flow into the economy. The pump had been primed and the spigot was about to open.

Banks, ATMs, Realtors & Shops

Banks, ATMs, Realtors & Shops

One ex-pat, who was present at the creation, recounts that the boom began around the turn of the century. The city had been growing slowly but steadily with new businesses like hotels, restaurants, and surf shops opening but, seemingly in a blink of the eye, growth accelerated and continued at a frenetic pace until the economic bust of 2008. The sunny shores of the Golden Coast of Guanacaste, Costa Rica were not immune to the plight of the “too big to fail” crowd and the boom cycle stalled.multiple signs

Now, that economic reality does not diminish the fact that this little burg is a hopping place – especially during high season.   The small town of approximately 3,000 residents in the low season can swell to 10,000 and more when the tourists arrive in force in November through April.tourist businesses

And it’s not just the surfers anymore. Eco-tourism is a substantial portion of the economic vitality, which is no accident as Costa Rica is perhaps the most protective of their natural resources of any nation in Central America.  Playa Grande, north of Tamarindo, is where the Leatherback Turtles come to lay their eggs. The Leatherbacks take over the beach from November to April, digging their nests on the beach, covering them with sand and returning once again to the sea.  With Las Baulas National Marine Park and other bio-preserves readily available there are numerous eco-friendly activities, including night turtle watching, diving, snorkeling, body surfing, zip-lining, estuary trips, bird watching, horseback riding and surf fishing.

playing in the water

Tamarindo and the surrounding areas fit many sizes and shapes: surfers, nature enthusiasts, honeymooners, families, backpackers and all-inclusive mavens delight in Tamarindo’s multi-cultural community and tropical paradise activities. And the development has left niches for almost every class and every budget. The town’s combination of affluent foreign culture, chic cafés and restaurants, all in the flavor of authentic Tico culture, has a strong appeal for locals, expats and foreign visitors. So in a short time the original drowsy beach village of Tamarindo has evolved into the most bustling tourist destination on the Costa Rican Riviera. Not too shabby.

Doctors and Pharmacies

Doctors and Pharmacies

By Richard and Anita, June, 2014



  • Thanks for the history lesson, although I usually steer away from crowds, a beautiful beach can be a real draw. I have a friend with a house there, and your information confirms what she’s been saying about the beauty as well as the increase in travelers. Tamarindo will get some further investigation from me thanks to your coverage!

  • Excellent history and fine pics A ‘n R, but… I must say this particular post makes me a bit sad. I first dropped into Tamarindo in the late 80′s when the air “strip” (you couldn’t really call it a full-fledged “airport” in those days) was but sand, a palm tree and a rickety wooden bench. ;) I also was among the first to venture solo across the estuary after dark to sit silently on the beach awaiting the huge “boulders” (a.k.a. the magnificent giant Leatherback sea turtles) slowly make their way out of the surf and up the dunes to lay their eggs. Quietly witnessing the event there solo in the moonlight was truly unforgettable.

    Later, as an Int’l tour operator specializing in travel to Belize and Costa Rica, I ran small group trips there for 20+ years. And yes, I saw Tamarindo change from a drowsy hideaway to an ever more popular beach hot-spot. But it’s been a few years now since I’ve retired, and it makes me kinda misty-eyed to learn that it’s now become a veritable “Tamagringo” tourist mecca. ;(

    • I would have loved to have seen the town before it was discovered and I can’t even begin to imagine how awesome it would have been to see the Leatherback sea turtles nesting! Luckily we’re here for six weeks on a housesit because the prices are exorbitant and some of the highest food costs we’ve paid anywhere. However, the beaches are lovely, the expats and locals are very friendly and we’ve had several amazing business transactions that take some of the sticker price shock away: computers repaired for $30 and $15 respectively with a free follow-up house call when the problem reappeared and a mechanic who appeared 10 minutes after we called to fix a flat tire. We’re used to living in the city so living out in the countryside has been a fun experience.

  • Some years ago (like more than 10), when winter in Philadelphia had me in the depths of Seasonal Affective Disorder despair, I saw an ad for a trip to Costa Rica that was for a 4 day ecotour and 3 days at a Guanacaste resort. We were flown into Liberia on a charter run by UPS —I kid you not. The plane was brown. I remember driving past Tamarindo on our way to the resort. (Well, a van driver was driving— a van that seemed about to flip over from the way they loaded suitcases on top. I was sure our bodies were going to have to be flown home—-I figured that at least UPS was accustomed to delivering “packages”. )

  • Thank you for the history lesson of Tamarindo. I have heard of it, but never really understood exactly where it is. We are planning a Costa Rica trip next summer, this info really helps! Loved your photos too!

    • So far it seems that the most important thing when planning a visit to Costa Rica is to decide which coast to visit as they are distinctly different. The Caribbean side is more sparsely populated, feels more remote and receives fewer tourists than the far more popular Pacific side. That said, there’s a feeling of discovery when you visit the Caribbean side versus the feeling of familiarity on the Pacific shore.

  • I’m increasingly hearing more about Costa Rica – and from your post – I’m not surprised -
    It has climate, the beach and cafes!
    Love your style – Information in bite sized pieces broken up with images;)

    • It is a beautiful country and has worked hard to become known as an eco-tourist destination as well as offering mid-priced accommodations and super luxurious spas. It has also become a very popular country for foreign retirees, especially from the US and Canada.
      Thanks for your comment on how we’ve chosen to present our blog – feedback is always appreciated!

  • i enjoyed reading about the history of Tamarindo. I hope to get there someday.

  • I’ve never been to Costa Rica but I’ve heard about Tamarindo. This story and your pictures make me want to visit all the more. Thanks.

  • Tamarindo looks like the exact type of place I like to stay when I vacation. I’m not a city girl – smaller towns always seem so much friendlier in my experience. I bet those waves can be fun to watch and play very carefully in.

    • We like small towns, too. They’re easier to get around in by foot and it’s easy to form a nodding relationship with the various shopkeepers. The beaches here and near Tamarindo have golden sand and there are some swimming beaches along the coast but you’re right, with the rip currents it’s best to “play carefully!

  • Costa Rica wasn’t on my radar but now it is. Looks so unspoiled and inviting!

  • Costa Rica is the epitome of a perfect eco-tourism location. Lots of beautiful nature to enjoy and explore, a stable economy, safe environment for travellers. Love it!

  • What a wonderful place and I love the how the town is thriving. I’m an adrenaline junky and would love to zip line in that beautiful setting.

    • We’ve talked to several people who have gone zip-lining through the rainforests of both Costa Rica and Nicaragua and they raved about their experiences (one girl said she did a second trip upside down, too!). Unfortunately, neither of us fall into the “adrenaline junkie” category (we lack the thrill-seeker gene) but if someone double-dog-dares us we might just have to do it!

  • So, I just have to ask… is there any connection between the name Tamarindo and the Tamarind seed pods? Just curious. ;) Costa Rica isn’t on my radar, but I’m enjoying seeing it through your posts.

  • It sounds like a fun place to relax and enjoy the beautiful area and coastlines, my kind of vacation

  • So far neither of us have tried zip-lining although people who have done it say it’s exhilarating. Hate to say we’re too old for swinging about in the trees but there may be some truth to that statement! As for R & R, we’re actually going to a pretty ritzy place and doing yoga as well as some awesome reflexology massages with our feet. Definitely feeling relaxed…

  • Excellent history of Tamarindo. I know you are enjoying your stay. We were there about 5 years ago. I’ll bet it’s grown even more, now.

    • It’s always interesting to check out the histories of places we’re going to and we really lucked out this time with a couple of people who have been here for several years. Of course, it’s low season and a lot of the business in town are running on shorter hours or even closed temporarily but there is the sense that this place is ready and gearing up to grow if the economy ever recovers!

  • Still reading every single Blog and loving it! Your pictures added to your vivid descriptions always take me where you are! Love you guys!

  • Beautiful and interesting photos. :)

  • Anita and Richard

    I so look forward to your next stop. Since I have spent the last 5 winter vacations in Costa Rica, I can relate to your experiences.Will you try the ZIP line and swing among the trees? Manuel Antonio and the State Park is very colorful and touristy, of course.On this beach, rental lounges and massages are available along with some wonderful spas offering R&R.

    Keep well


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