The Pacific coast of Costa Rica entices with its stunning beaches, lush green mountains, national parks, and abundant wildlife. When you’re traveling alone, the addition of a laid-back town that you can use as a base for activities is key. In the country’s northwest Guanacaste Province, Tamarindo is the ideal beach town for solo travelers — a walkable place that offers plenty of relaxed activities and opportunities for cultural immersion.
Despite its crowded beach town reputation, Tamarindo has the same warm and relaxed Pura Vida vibe that embodies the best of Costa Rica. Literally “pure life,” Pura Vida is more than just a phrase; it is a way of life and greeting, much like aloha is in Hawai’i. Here’s how to make the most of it.
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I traveled to Tamarindo via Miami, arriving in Costa Rica’s second major airport in Liberia. There, a taxi whisked me off to Tamarindo, a peaceful ninety-minute drive away. On our way, I took in the landscape: smooth roads, roadside food shacks called “sodas,” fruit stands, and lush forests as far as the eye can see. Costa Rica is one of the most eco-friendliest countries in the world with nearly 30 percent of its land reserved as national parks or private reserves, a huge draw for adventurous and eco-conscious travelers.
I could tell we were approaching Tamarindo as our travel slowed a bit with a few more cars on the road. Sidewalks — just a sandy part of the road — looked increasingly busier with people in flip flops and bathing suits. Beach-facing resorts, restaurants, cafes, craft stores, and surf shops came into view. Most importantly, I got a whiff of salt water, which means one thing — the beach was near.
Stay in an eco-hotel
You don’t need a plush bank balance to afford an eco-hotel, and there are many inexpensive and green-conscious hotels in Tamarindo. I lucked out with Hotel Boruca, a five-minute walk from Playa Tamarindo. It has a pool area surrounded by large coconut and shade trees, which are a boon in hot weather. If that’s your thing, you can do nothing but lounge at the poolside with a drink in hand and watch a family of monkeys jump from tree to tree in play. They come as far as the top of the fence that separates the property from its neighbor, but they do not enter the compound.
The rooms are clean with wooden bed frames, windows or a sliding door for natural light, the latter of which have room darkening curtains that must be drawn when the air-conditioner is on. There are notes to switch off lights and the a/c when going out or when not in use. This is part of Costa Rica’s engagement in tackling climate change as these measures save energy. Lastly, a cool feature at this hotel is the eco shower made of stone that allows for natural drainage into the stone cracks.
Celebrate your inner beach bum
If all you want to do in Tamarindo is lounge beachside until your departure, you will not be blamed for your decision because the ambience is relaxed, the town is safe for a solo female traveler, and the people are super friendly. Within Tamarindo are two white-sand beaches accessible on foot — Playa Tamarindo and Playa Langosta — and they are as different as night and day.
Where Playa Tamarindo is within Tamarindo beach town and is a 10-minute or less walk from surrounding hotels and beach-side resorts, Playa Langosta is a 20-minute walk through quiet, residential areas with private villas, resorts, and apartment hotels. Playa Tamarindo is popular with tourists because of its tiki bars, cafes, live music, crowds, and surfs, while Playa Langosta is more popular with surfers for its much stronger surfs and epic sunsets. Whichever you choose, grab some drinks and snacks, secure a deck chair and parasol, and plant yourself on the sand.
Unleash your adventurous side at the playas
Alternatively, indulge in activities at Playa Tamarindo like stand up paddle boarding (SUP), kayaking, ATV rides, boat tours, and even a sunset catamaran tour available from activities promoters at the beach. You cannot miss their advertising on the roadside or at beach stands — but, if you prefer a referral, ask any of the friendly locals or long-term expats for options. All levels are welcome so a novice surfer or paddle boarder can learn on calmer tides. All beaches have identical water activities, so if you miss one, you can get it in another.
If adventure for you is more about taking in the beachside wildlife, head just a bit north to the Las Baulas National Marine Park — an important site for leatherback turtle conservation. The park is open daily from 6:00 AM to 6:00 PM, but only until 5:00 PM during turtle nesting season from October through February. At that time — either when turtles come to nest or the hatchlings emerge and head out to sea — you may be able to participate in guiding tours designed to protect the endangered turtles.
Take a day trip to Samara Beach
Guanacaste Province is packed with other inviting beaches in even smaller beach towns. And while they are lovely beach towns for solo travelers, we think their small size makes them best suited as day-trip destinations. If you can cram a day trip into your itinerary, Samara Beach is a great option.
Samara is two hours from Tamarindo, through the towns of Santa Cruz and Nicoya. The ride is on smooth and fairly empty roads flanked by reforested trees on either side, planted as part of the Costa Rican government’s bid to offset greenhouse gas emissions and tackle climate change.
Samara is much smaller, low-key, and definitely less crowded than Tamarindo, but not without the Pura Vida atmosphere that is Costa Rica’s mantra. Rent an affordable deck chair and parasol, order some roasted snapper, fries, cold beverage, and people-watch your time away. If you choose to, partake in activities like stand up paddle boarding (SUP) or surfing lessons.
You can also kayak through the mangroves in Ora River between Samara and Playa Camaronal. You could do a horseback beach ride starting at $20 for a one-hour ride along the beach and to a nearby eco-friendly reserve. To check out the wildlife in the lush mountains that overlook the beach, you could take a ride in a gyrocopter. Gyrocopter tours start at about $130 per person for a 20-minute flight and go up from there.
Alternatively, yoga is as popular in each of these beach towns as surfing, and you’ll find opportunities for beach-side yoga in Samara and elsewhere.
Get your food fix at affordable local restaurants, right on the beach
All that lounging, watersports, and crisp air leaves one peckish, and you are spoiled for choice with food on the streets of Tamarindo. Tamarindo has a large expat population, predominantly Canadians and some Italians, who immigrated decades ago and have beach-centric businesses in town.
You will find popular spots like Jonny Tamarindo. It’s the in-spot and extremely popular with the expat Canadian community and tourists alike for its live music, prime beach-side location, food, and cocktails. It gets full in late afternoons as its sunset views are breathtaking. The best breakfast is at NOI Bistro, which serves a delicious shredded coconut pancake stack with orange juice for breakfast that is fuel for your day of activities. It is also part of a hostel, so it is a prime spot to make new friends, ask for recommendations, or people-watch.
There are also taco spots, sushi, Thai, Vietnamese eateries and food trucks for a wider culinary variety. For lunch or dinner, seek a seafood spot at many of the beach restaurants and have your fill of affordable lobster dishes. If available, try the national dish of gallo pinto or “spotted rooster,” made from stir-fry rice and beans with vegetables and some fried plantains. Wherever you eat, finish with a Pura Vida cocktail as you listen to live music at Jonny Tamarindo’s and watch the setting sun on the beach.
Browse Indigenous arts and crafts stores, then indulge in chocolate
You cannot miss the craft stores in Tamarindo with their attractive collection of Indigenous masks, hammocks, jewellery, baskets, art, and adornments. These craft stores are expat-owned and either source from local indigenous communities in Costa Rica or imported from South America or Bali — so always ask if you are interested in product sourcing.
Nevertheless, you will find many intricately crafted Boruca masks, baskets, and hand-drawn art. Boruca are a indigenous community famous for their carved masks, and you’ll find them in every craft store. Additionally, visit the Chorotega indigenous community in Guaitil, thirty minutes outside Tamarindo, and watch their sculptors create pre-Columbian-style pottery with clay and natural dyes; these are sold as their main source of income.
Costa Rica’s indigenous community makes up one percent of its total population. There are Indigenous reserves country-wide that fuse traditional activities into Costa Rica’s tourism initiatives supporting cultural preservation.
Another cultural activity a solo traveler can indulge in is a chocolate tour. Costa Rica is famous for the cacao bean — known as the “food of the gods” to the Mayan civilization — that gives us chocolate products and is still a large part of the country’s economic and Indigenous activities. You’ll find many chocolate tours in the area, but we recommend Reina’s Chocolate Tour in Tamarindo which offers chocolate tasting options, chocolate tea, organic Costa Rican chocolate, and chocolate drink recipes.
Soar in the clouds on a zipline or pound the pavement
Ziplining was invented in Costa Rica over 50 years ago by a biologist who wanted a means to study the forest canopy. Near Tamarindo, you can try your hand at platform ziplining. Book a tour with the Pinilla Canopy Tour, the Monkey Jungle Canopy Tour, or the Black Stallion Eco Park & Estates — all of which are relatively close to Tamarindo. It is an incredible feeling to quietly soar a few hundred feet above ground.
The best way to acquaint yourself with Tamarindo is by walking the length of its main street, Calle Central, northwards until the boisterous nature of the town subsides and then turn back. Pop into shopping malls, boutiques, eco-friendly shops, ice cream bars, and restaurants along the way. See what activity catches your fancy from the tour offices and book it on the spot, patronize Indigenous craft sellers in mobile kiosks, and indulge in the friendly “Pura Vida!” greetings from locals and fellow tourists alike. And hopefully, at the end of your stay, you can take some of the Pura Vida vibe back home with you.
A version of this article was previously published on July 7, 2021, and was updated on April 7, 2022.