As you may know, my boyfriend, Owen, and I went to Costa Rica not too long ago. Let me start by saying it was one of the best trips I’ve ever experienced! It was absolutely beautiful and everyone was so friendly and ready and willing to help us. It was everything I dreamed it would be and more!
If you’re trying to figure out where to take a vacation this summer, I can’t recommend a trip to Costa Rica enough, which is why I wanted to share my amazing experience in Tamarindo and Santa Teresa, Costa Rica and tips on everything from activities to packing.
We flew into Liberia Airport and it was smoother than I expected. We had a super early flight, so we were probably the first international flight of the morning. That might sound exhausting, but it made customs so quick and easy. Honestly, Owen and I got through customs within minutes which has never happened to us before!
A few things to note
Make sure you have your flight number and the name of your hotel or Airbnb somewhere on your phone that doesn’t need service to access (photos or notes work great!) because you probably won’t have service right when you land.
One more thing is to schedule a transfer beforehand so that you don’t have to wait for a taxi. If you do this, then make sure to bring water and snacks, especially for early flights, because Owen and I didn’t have any while waiting and the taxi driver didn’t have any either!
Tamarindo is only about an hour and a half drive from Liberia Airport, so we decided to stop there first. Tamarindo is a touristy/party beach town. We stayed at The Coast Hotel and I can’t recommend it enough! They had everything we needed and then some. Not only did they provide a complimentary breakfast, they offered laundry services for an extra fee and trust me, you’ll want to do it.
The hotel was also only a 10-minute walk to the beach and they offered paid surf lessons and rentable surfboards. Seriously, you need to take this opportunity because the waves aren’t that big so it’s easier to learn! Owen and I rented two surfboards and I was able to get up with no problem! Perfect for those who’ve never surfed before. (Me!)
If you’re fairly coordinated and/or athletic, it’s really easy to get the hang of! If you know you’ll need some extra help getting your footing, utilize their amazing instructors. They’re so helpful and make it easy to get the hang of. The best part is surfing can be a spontaneous and fun thing to do! No need to schedule because there are almost always available instructors.
Party and Snorkel Catamaran
While Owen and I scheduled this through Trip Advisor, we were also told we could negotiate on the beach for a lower price. We found that scheduling it ahead of time was easier and it gave us peace of mind knowing when and where the excursion was going to be!
This excursion is NOT the most kid or family friendly place. The people here were ready to party. And the families and kids that were on the tour with us all gathered in the corner where it “wasn’t as rowdy”. But the whole boat was rowdy. Owen and I wanted the rowdy atmosphere, so it made for one of the highlights of our trip! We met a lot of mid-twenties people our age from all around the world and it was a blast!
Conchal beach was a 40-minute taxi ride from the Coast Hotel and we scheduled the taxi through our hotel front desk! Scheduling taxis anywhere in Costa Rica can be done through the front desk of where you are staying. Once your taxi drops you off, you have about a mile walk to get to the beach.
This beach was awesome to go to if you want to switch things up from the tamarindo beach!
The water was crystal clear. Owen and I took our scuba gear there and had a lot of fun looking at the fish and shells in the clearer water!
A few things to note
This is where all of the upscale resorts like the Westin are located. Once you get to the beach, you’ll notice there are tons of families set up for the day under the trees. If you are only going to be at this beach for a couple hours, I would find a little spot under the trees to set your stuff up. If you are going to go there for 3 hours and longer, I highly recommend bringing your own tent to set up. If you don’t have your own tent, there will be people selling them right when you get there. Worth the price in my opinion!
I also recommend packing lunch, snacks, and water! Restaurants are not located on the beach, they are at where the taxi drops you off. Also, there’s so much you can do at this beach! You can rent jet skis, kayaks, and other things just to name a few.
Playa Negra and Playa Avellana
According to my travel agent from Modern Travel, “Playa Negra and Playa Avellana are slightly further away, but can easily be reached by car. Nature lovers won’t want to miss Playa Grande to the north — it is a major nesting site for huge leatherback turtles.”
I did some research, and it looks like leather bag turtle season is October until March with its peak in January!
With that being said, I don’t recommend shopping in this town, unless you are there for the farmers market located in the center of Tamarindo every Saturday! This is where you will get to see ALLLL of the small business clothing shops.
My favorite restaurants in Tamarindo
I got the chips and salsa/guacamole, and the chicken fajitas! This meal was amazing, but what really put the icing on the cake was the atmosphere of the restaurant. The vibes were immaculate and the service was amazing!
Their yogurt bowl and pancakes were AMAZING!!
Honestly, the pun alone makes it worth the trip. I highly recommend their banana bread and overnight oats!!
This was such a cool place. It was just a cluster of food trucks with seating in the center, it was adorable.
A must have!!! Some of the best waffles I’ve ever had.
Things we wish we would’ve done
We spent 6 nights in Tamarindo. Other than the sunset cruise and Conchal Beach, we didn’t really do any other excursions because we both got a stomach bug. If we hadn’t, we would have done cloudy rainforest excursions, but our physical health wasn’t in good enough shape (due to being sick) to do the 3-4 hour drive. Everyone we met there was RAVING about the ziplines, and La Fortuna, so we’re planning on coming back to Costa Rica to stay in the cloudy rainforest for 2-3 nights!
Santa Teresa was absolutely beautiful! It was about a three-hour drive with a pre-planned shuttle, but once we got there, we realized how different it was from Tamarindo. Santa Teresa is known for its surfing, so the waves are MASSIVE and the water isn’t really swimming friendly due to its currents. That being said, Owen and I both agreed that we LOVED Santa Teresa so much more than Tamarindo. It’s just harder to get to!
If you’re planning a trip to Santa Teresa, I recommend getting an ATV as soon as you get there. Owen and I were so confused as to why everyone kept saying to get one, but we quickly realized you needed one to get anywhere. Plus, you have more freedom to drive to Waterfalls, and other excursions that you don’t need to pay for! I’ll get into this a little later.
We stayed at Selina South & Surf School. While this was a cool place, we realized it wasn’t necessarily for us. This was more of Hostel style living, but Owen and I got one of the few rooms with our own bathroom. After some exploring, we realized we should have stayed up the mountain more because getting around wouldn’t be a problem with our ATVs. Plus, the views up the mountain were so beautiful!
Where we wish we would’ve stayed at
Absolutely gorgeous view!
Even the photos of the tropical gardens are enough to completely relax me.
Sleek, modern AND right on the beach!
The view, the peaceful atmosphere, the easy access to the beach. It seems like the full package, honestly.
Activities & excursions we recommend in Santa Teresa
Owen and I did a lot of amazing things in Costa Rica, but the highlight of our trip was definitely Tortuga Island! We recommend this tour instead of the large catamaran tours because there are a lot less people, so you get more of a local experience. Seeing all the wildlife was amazing too.
During our 45-minute boat ride to the island, we saw and got really close to dolphins and got really close to them and on a tour the week before, we saw whales! It was amazing.
Before going to the island, we stopped in places to snorkel! Owen and I made friends with one of the tour guides, and he actually took us to a spot we stopped at to see and swim with white tip sharks! This was one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever had, so whatever company you choose to go with, I recommend asking about the sharks on the side!
This was VERY easy to get to on our ATV and it was so fun. The only bad part of this excursion is that we went in the middle of the day, which we don’t recommend. Earlier in the morning seems like the best time to go. The drive on the ATV was beautiful, and once you park, it’s about a 2 kilometer hike to the falls!
Tip: wear water shoes like Teva’s! The hike is a lot easier wearing these because you don’t have to avoid the water during the hike. More on that later.
The first falls you will see are the lower falls, which is the biggest waterfall! It was stunning and the swimming was so fun! There are upper falls too. I would suggest making this hike only if you’re comfortable because it’s a little trickier and around 30 minutes to get to. Honestly, it was so worth it because we saw monkeys on the way up!!
Tip: Pack a snack like a PB&J and a lot of water!! You will be on a trail in a forest, so there won’t really be any options as far as food and water go.
This was by far one of the best yoga classes I have ever taken! I loved it because it helped me stay on my yoga routine with classes everyday at 9 a.m. Not to mention, the view was absolutely breathtaking!
My favorite sunset spots in Santa Teresa
Vista De Olas infinity pool
It was the coolest sunset view with a swim up bar. Honestly though, I don’t recommend making dinner plans here.
Playa Santa Teresa
You get to see the more experienced surfers during this time and it was so cool to see them do awesome surfing tricks! When you’re planning for your trip, I would check to see if there are any local surf competitions you can watch because it’s so entertaining and somewhat relaxing to watch.
This place was so cool! If you are going during the day, you can probably find an open cabana they can sit you in, but if you want to stay during the sunset, I would recommend calling ahead for a reservation! The drinks here were amazing, and the food was great too!!
Shopping in Santa Teresa
I loved shopping in Santa Teresa. There were a lot more options and all of the small boutique shops are so fun to go in!! It was a much better shopping experience than Tamarindo.
Food in Santa Teresa
Not great and a little overrated
The banana bowl was the best smoothie bowl I’ve ever had and the breakfast tacos were great!
Great service, great food, great vibes all around! The portions are large, just to keep in mind so you’re not overspending or wasting food.
This was the place I mentioned before in my favorite sunset spots.
Overrated in my opinion
I had the best vegan breakfast sandwich EVER here. I highly recommend this place.
The iced chai latte was amazing – it was like an icy! Also, the surfers breakfast was your standard filling and tasty meal.
The iced almond latte was amazing! It’s like a big food hall, you can pick and choose what meal you want AND there’s a bar. The nomad tacos were awesome!
Make sure you have a reservation, great sushi!!!
Definitely try the amazing salmon bagel.
How to pack for Costa Rica
I am the QUEEN of over packing and packing things that I don’t end up using. So this is what I wish I had packed based on the activities we did on our trip!
These are NEEDED with the Costa Rican heat. These are the hydration packs we used and they were great!
Don’t mess around with this, the sun in Costa Rica is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before. We used Sun Bum for the entire trip and it was amazing!
While I usually wear Tula, my face needed a much higher SPF, so I went with Supergoop since it has an SPF of 50.
Only use filtered water in Costa Rica!!! This one was perfect because it held a lot of water so you didn’t have to worry about constantly refilling it.
These are adorable and you always need a good pair of sunglasses. When the sun reflects on the water, it can be really bright, but these were perfect in letting me enjoy the view without burning my eyes!
I recommend packing multiple bathing suits that are activity friendly. Here are a few of my favorites!
When Owen and I did things like shopping, going out to eat or literally anything, I just wore a swimsuit top with a coverup and it was perfect.
I wish I had packed more of these, but if I had the chance to go back, I would’ve packed at least 3-4. You may think you’re going to dress in anything other than athletics shorts, but there’s a really good chance you won’t. I recommend Aerie’s athletic shorts because they white pair and green pair are adorable and SUPER comfy!
These pair perfectly with the athletic shorts! They’re nice for popping on over your bathing suit and I love how light and comfortable they are.
Like I said earlier, you need water shoes. I definitely suggest water shoes that can be used for hiking and are light so they aren’t getting sucked in the sand or mud when walking through the water. Honestly, I wore these for most of the trip.
People were wearing these EVERYWHERE! I wish I had brought my pair, so I highly recommend bringing these. Don’t worry about bringing a formal pair of sandals because you probably won’t wear them anyway.
You can never go wrong with bringing a good pair of jean shorts. You can wear them with your bathing suit or a cute top!
I only brought one dress and that was plenty. Save up space in your suitcase because you really don’t need a dress for every day of the week.
I like this dress because I could easily wear a bralette with it!