A fun, funky beachfront town that appeals to a wide range of visitors.
I must say, Tamarindo impressed me. Plenty of surfers had told me about how crowded it was, overdeveloped, dirty, etc. But what I found was a charming little surf town that was much more pleasant than other Central American surf hubs such as La Libertad in El Salvador or San Juan del Sur in Nicaragua. Tamarindo seemed more along the lines of Sayulita, Mexico. A fun, funky beachfront town that appeals to a wide range of visitors.
Driving into town the first thing that I noticed was that the streets were clean and there were many tall trees and green plants everywhere. I was there in late May, the beginning of rainy season, so the town had a very lush feel to it. My first stop was Witch's Rock Surf Camp where I grabbed a board and hit the surf right out front. The waves were small and unimpressive, but any surfer visiting Costa Rica for the first time has to be stoked just to be in the water.
The vibe in the water was great. Everyone from local rippers to young kids with their dads were out having a good time. After getting out of the water you can rinse off at the great outdoor shower in front of Witch's Rock, leave your board and wet items right on the grass (or shrubbery) and enjoy a huge breakfast or lunch at Witch's Rock beach front restaurant. Even if you're not staying here, it's pretty easy to make it sort of a home base for the day. They have boards for rent, food to eat and a surf shop on site—what else do you need?
Heading up and away from the beach there are many homes and condos on the hillside with truly spectacular views. Don't go without taking time to hike or drive up a few hundred yards, then turn around and be amazed at the ocean views around you. Heading a little further into the main part of town (this means walking another 2 minutes from Witch's Rock) you'll find plenty of surf shops, restaurants, tour agencies, hotels, even upscale boutique shops and cafes.
Tamarindo then officially ends and Playa Langosta begins, but the transition is mostly seamless. The coastline takes a bend here which is a plus for surfers as you have more options for finding favorable swell and wind conditions. The Playa Langosta side is dominated by newer upscale condos and hotels. The Villa Alegre has been there quite a while and has some charm. At the end of the road is a great surf spot at the river mouth. There is the huge and sprawling Barcelo Langosta sitting right on the surf break. This resort would be good for a family, especially if you're used to staying at larger resorts with huge swimming pools and lots of people about. I took a quick peek, and though it's not my style the place looked very nice and you can't beat the location for surfing.
So if you're looking for a surf vacation, I would definitely consider Tamarindo. It's great for surfing families or first time travelers because of its close proximity to the Liberia airport, its gentle waves, plethora of surf schools and ample choice of accommodations. Even if you're a salty surfer who's been around the world, you'll find plenty of great waves like Playa Negra, Witch's Rock and Ollies Point all within close range.