The beaches of Tamarindo are located in three large areas: Playa Tamarindo is on the bay; Playa Grande is to the north, on the other side of the Tamarindo estuary (the largest in Central America); Playa Langosta is to south on the far side of San Francisco estuary.
Located directly in front of the town for which it is named, Playa Tamarindo is the easiest beach to get to. If you’re planning to take your surfboard along (or to rent one there), remember that surfing is allowed at four locations on the beach. Since Playa Grande is part of a national park, urban development is prohibited in its vicinity. Its virgin beaches are coveted by surfers, even though it is harder to reach this beach. Playa Langosta to the south is somewhat calmer. It is a favorite of expert surfers drawn to the challenge of its short and quick waves. Be careful with the rocks and corals in certain areas of the sea.
Since 1991, all of the aforementioned beaches and estuaries make up the Parque Nacional Las Baulas, created to protect the leatherback sea turtle. The largest turtles in the world, these creatures, which can weigh up to 880 pounds, are in danger of extinction.
From October to March, leatherback sea turtles come to these beaches by night to lay their eggs. While it’s possible to visit the beach to see them, it’s best to make a reservation in advance since only sixty people are allowed at a time.
During the day, the park is open to the public from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. While there are no turtles to be seen at that time, the mangrove estuary is worth the visit. This low-island area with trees that grow in salt water is an ideal habitat for alligators and crocodiles, monkeys and coatis, and many other species that you can view from just a few yards away.
In addition to the beaches, in Tamarindo there are a number of tourism agencies that organize outings and excursions like trips in boat or kayak to explore the Tamarindo estuary through the Río Matapalo. This is an authentic maritime safari where you can get a close look at a wide range of animals like crocodiles and monkeys. The best time to go is early morning. Other sea excursions last four or five hours and allow you to enjoy amazing sunsets, cocktail in hand. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a close look at dolphins, turtles, and even whales. Some excursions stop so that you can take a dip and go snorkeling, though you can also do that from the beach. The best place for snorkeling is Playa Conchal, to the north of Playa Grande. Thanks to the crystalline waters, it’s not uncommon to see manta rays and leatherback sea turtles.
Fishing trips are also a popular outing in Tamarindo. Some restaurants even offer to cook and serve your catch.
If you’re up for adventure, you can explore the Tamarindo region in an all-terrain vehicle. For golf lovers, the town has a wonderful eighteen-hole course on Playa Avellanas.
Generally speaking, the best restaurants in Tamarindo are known for three things: a lovely view of the beach and sea; a rustic yet chic atmosphere with wooden décor; a wide range of novel cocktails and wines.
In terms of the food itself, Tamarindo has top-rate raw material when it comes to fish and seafood because of its proximity to the Pacific Ocean. Red tuna and lobster are favorite local specialties. One place to try them is the romantic Nogui’s. Open for over forty years, this restaurant is a must visit. The Coconut is another tried-and-true favorite for seafood. Its offerings include lobster with pineapple, raisins, and ginger.
Guests at the classic Lazy Wave sit on couches and eat at low tables, enjoying the warm candlelight. Dragonfly is another faithful exponent of local cuisine. Make sure to try one of the tropical fruit-based Tiki cocktails typical of the Pacific Isles.
Thanks to the foreigners who have settled in Tamarindo in recent years, some interesting fusion restaurants have opened where native products and foreign flavors mingle. The Israeli chef at Seasons by Shlomy serves dishes with a Mediterranean touch. Nibbana and Cala Moresca offer lobster and tuna pizza and Italian dishes. And Patagonia Grill is a typical Argentine barbeque restaurant where you can try classic empanadas as well as excellent grilled meats.
For US-style BBQ, head to the popular and friendly Black Stallion Café & Surf Saloon or El Lagarto, located on Playa Samaras. The place for sushi is La Caletta, with its comfortable low couches, or the modern Koi, with all-you-can-eat sushi for a set price.
For pizza, try Buon Apetito, which also serves great sandwiches to go, or La Baula.