Getting There & Departing
By Plane: Both Nature Air (tel. 800/235-9272 in the U.S. and Canada, or 2299-6000; www.natureair.com) and Sansa (tel. 877/767-2672 in the U.S. and Canada, or 2290-4100 in Costa Rica; www.flysansa.com) have several daily direct flights throughout the day to the small airstrip outside Tamarindo. Fares run $90 to $155. During the high season, additional flights are sometimes added. Nature Air also connects Tamarindo and Arenal, Liberia, and Quepos.
Whether you arrive on Sansa or Nature Air, a couple of cabs or minivans are always waiting for arriving flights. It costs C9,000 to C12,000 for the ride into town.
If you’re flying into Liberia, a taxi should cost around $120. Alternatively, you can use Tamarindo Transfers & Tours (tel. 929/800-4621 in the U.S., or 2653-4444; www.tamarindoshuttle.com), which charges $20 per person, one-way, for an air-conditioned, Wi-Fi equipped shared shuttle, with a three-person minimum.
By Car: The most direct route from San José is by way of the La Amistad bridge. From San José, you can either take the Inter-American Highway (CR1) north from downtown San José, or first head west out of the city on the San José–Caldera Highway (CR27). This latter route is a faster and flatter drive. When you reach Caldera on this route, follow the signs to Puntarenas, Liberia, and the Inter-American Highway (CR1). This will lead you to the unmarked entrance to CR1. You’ll want to pass under the bridge and follow the on-ramp, which will put you on the highway heading north. Forty-seven kilometers (29 miles) north of the Puntarenas exit on the Inter-American Highway, you’ll see signs for the turnoff to the bridge. After crossing the river, follow the signs for Nicoya and Santa Cruz. Continue north out of Santa Cruz, until just before the village of Belén, where you will find the turnoff for Tamarindo. In another 20km (12 miles), take the left fork for Playa Tamarindo at Huacas and continue on until the village of Villareal, where you make your final turn into Tamarindo. The trip should take around 4 hours.
You can save a little time, especially in the dry season, by taking a rougher route: You turn left just after passing the main intersection for Santa Cruz at the turnoff for playas Junquillal and Ostional. The road is paved until the tiny village of Veintesiete de Abril. From here, it’s about 20km (12 miles) on a rough dirt road until the village of Villareal, where you make your final turn into Tamarindo.
You can also drive here via Liberia. When you reach Liberia, turn west and follow the signs for Santa Cruz and the various beaches. Just beyond the town of Belén, take the turnoff for playas Flamingo, Brasilito, and Tamarindo, and follow the signs. This route takes around 5 hours.
By Bus: Alfaro express buses (www.empresaalfaro.com; tel. 2222-2666 in San José, or 2653-0268 in Tamarindo) leave San José daily for Tamarindo at 11:30am and 3:30pm, departing from Calle 14 between avenidas 3 and 5. Tralapa (tel. 2221-7202) also has two daily direct buses to Tamarindo leaving at 7:15am and 4pm from their main terminal at Calle 20 between avenidas 3 and 5. The trip takes around 5 hours, and the one-way fare is around C5,800.
You can also catch a bus to Santa Cruz from either of the above bus companies. Buses leave both stations for Santa Cruz roughly every 2 hours between 6am and 6pm. The 4-hour, one-way trip is around C5,800. Buses leave Santa Cruz for Tamarindo roughly every 1 1/2 hours between 5:45am and 10pm; the one-way fare is around C700.
Gray Line (www.graylinecostarica.com; tel. 800/719-3105 in the U.S. and Canada, or 2220-2126 in Costa Rica) and Interbus (www.interbusonline.com; tel. 4031-0888) have two daily buses leaving San José for Tamarindo (one in the morning, one in the afternoon); the fare is $54. Both companies will pick you up at most San José-area hotels, and offer connections to other major tourist destinations in Costa Rica.
Direct buses leave Tamarindo for San José daily at 3:30 and 5:30am (except on Sun) and 2 and 4pm. Buses to Santa Cruz leave roughly every 2 hours between 4:30am and 8:30pm. In Santa Cruz, you can transfer to one of the frequent San José buses.