Nosara vs Tamarindo: Which City Is Better For Your Vacation?

Nosara and Tamarindo are two incredible beach towns that are popular among Costa Rican surfers. Nosara is more laid back and quieter and offers long-lasting waves that are perfect for advanced surfers. On the other hand, Tamarindo is the complete opposite of Nosara. It is a more developed, bubbling tourist town with different water waves for levels of surfers. However, Nosara is best for digital nomads who want to travel alone and enjoy quiet time, while Tamarindo is a better option if you travel with kids.

Having visited both beach towns, I found Tamarindo to have more outgoing activities that are perfect for the entire family, including kids. The nightlife is always something to look forward to, which isn’t so in Nosara, where it is a yoga, vegan, and inclusive community. However, I loved the surfing schools that taught me how to surf even as a beginner.

So, my mornings were mostly spent practicing surfing, and in a week, I was well on my way to riding the ocean like a pro!

In this guide, I have explained the unique differences between Nosara and Tamarindo so you can seamlessly choose between both beach towns.

Key Takeaways

  • Tamarindo beach is a better option for beginners learning to surf
  • Nosara’s Playa Guiones is a better option for advanced surfers
  • Nosara is a more expensive beach town than Tamarindo
  • The food in both towns is great. However, Tamarindo offers more dining options, from international to local cuisines.
  • The road to Tamarindo is easily accessible than Nosara’s
  • Tamarindo is the liveliest beach town on the Costa Rican west coast.
  • Nosara offers the best yoga and wellness retreats than Tamarindo 

Location of Nosara vs Tamarindo

Both Nosara and Tamarindo are found on the coastal line. 

Nosara is located on the Nicoya Peninsula of the southwestern Guanacaste province and is considered one of the five blue zones in the world (meaning people found here tend to live longer)

On the other hand, Tamarindo is in the Santa Cruz district in the Nicoya Peninsula of the Northwestern Guanacaste Province of Costa Rica.

Getting To Nosara vs Tamarindo

Nosara is two hours and thirty minutes drive from the Liberia International Airport and five hours and 30 minutes from San Jose International Airport. It is remote, and the road leading to Nosara is tricky, winding through coastal rainforest, and can be challenging to drive, especially in the rainy season. (May through November) 

To be able to navigate correctly, you will need a 4×4 vehicle. It is fun but quite tricky for a beginner driver. 

I recommend you download either Google Maps or Waze for proper navigation. Better yet, catch a domestic flight from San Jose to Nosara and then take a taxi to the beach.

Tamarindo is straightforward to access and has paved, well-maintained roads from the nearest airport, the Liberia International Airport.

It is a one-hour-and-thirty-minute drive from Liberia International Airport and four hours and thirty minutes from San Jose International Airport.

Here’s a detailed comparison of how to get to Nosara versus Tamarindo from both San Jose Airport (SJO) and Liberia Airport (LIR):

RouteNosara from SJOTamarindo from SJONosara from LIRTamarindo from LIR
Distance228 km247 km92 km66 km
Travel Time by CarApproximately 4.5 hoursApproximately 4.5 hoursApproximately 2 hoursApproximately 1.5 hours
Road ConditionsMix of paved and bumpy roadsWell-paved roadsMix of paved and bumpy roadsWell-paved roads
Public TransportationBus: 6 hours; Shuttle: 4 hoursBus: 5.5 hours; Shuttle: 4 hoursBus: 3 hours; Shuttle: 3 hoursBus: 2.5 hours; Shuttle: 1 hour
Flight AvailabilityYes, SANSA flights availableYes, flights availableYes, SANSA flights availableYes, short flights available
Access to ElectricityGenerally reliable but can have outagesReliableGenerally reliable but can have outagesReliable
GPS AvailabilityAvailable but with occasional inaccuraciesReliableAvailable but with occasional inaccuraciesReliable

Comparison of Nosara vs Tamarindo

NightLife

When it comes to nightlife, I give it to Tamarindo. In short, Nosara does not come close to it. 

I have visited both towns, so I can categorically say that Tamarindo reigns supreme in nightlife activities compared to the humble, secluded village settings in Nosara, if I dare say.

Tamarindo does not reign supreme in Costa Rica only when it comes to nightlife. It is currently competing with other surf towns in different countries of Latin America.

The evening activities start with drinking some chilled beers in a sunset bar. Then, you move to other parts of town, where you get to eat delicious Asian and Costa Rican cuisines and then party all night on beach roads, event centers, or nightclubs.

On the other hand, Nosara is more relaxed. You can sit on the beach bars serving cold beers, watch the sunset, and maybe move to some rickety bars with karaoke. 

If that is what you want, you can go for Nosara, but for me, I choose Tamarindo.

Here’s a detailed comparison of the nightlife in Nosara and Tamarindo, two popular destinations in Costa Rica:

AspectNosaraTamarindo
Nightlife SceneMore laid-back, smaller, and community-orientedVibrant, diverse, and widely considered one of the best in Latin America
Popular VenuesTropicana (Latin dance), Black Sheep PubCrazy Monkey’s Bar, El Garito, Kinky Tamarindo, Volcano Brewing Company, Surf Club Bar & Grill
ActivitiesSalsa dancing, live music, casual barsNightclubs, bars, live DJ sets, themed parties, LGBTQ+ friendly venues
CrowdRelaxed, eco-conscious, smaller groupsEnergetic, diverse, larger crowds, including many tourists and expats
AtmosphereRustic, bohemian, focused on wellness and surfing cultureDynamic, party-centric, with a wide variety of music and entertainment options

Beaches

Both Nosara and Tamarindo have incredible beaches. 

Nosara has more beaches with superior beach fronts with massive golden sand washed by the waves. The most popular, which doubles as the main beach, is the Playa Guiones. 

However, I prefer both Playa Guiones and Playa Pelada because they offer better water waves for surfing. When it comes to swimming and snorkeling, Pelada is the better option.

On the other hand, Tamarindo has Playa Tamarindo, which is the main beach. 

It is trendy and always overcrowded, especially in the peak tourist season (December through April). However, a more serene beach called Playa Langosta helps you escape from the noise and offers a more family-friendly vibe and sunset.

Playa Grande is usually empty but a great spot to watch sea turtles nestling; however, you have to cross some crocodile-infested rivers.

I prefer Nosara because it is serene and offers more beaches with crystal clear waters and golden sand.

Here’s a detailed comparison of the beaches in and near Nosara and Tamarindo, two popular destinations in Costa Rica:

AspectNosaraTamarindo
Main BeachesPlaya Guiones, Playa Pelada, Playa NosaraPlaya Tamarindo, Playa Langosta, Playa Grande
AtmosphereTranquil, natural, less crowdedVibrant, touristy, bustling
SurfingExcellent for all levels at Playa Guiones and PeladaRenowned surf spot, beginner-friendly breaks
SwimmingGood, but with some rocky outcropsExcellent, with calmer waters at Playa Langosta
WildlifeHigh chance of seeing turtles at Playa OstionalNesting site for leatherback sea turtles at Playa Grande
Nearby BeachesPlaya Hermosa, Playa San JuanilloPlaya Avellanas, Playa Conchal

Cost of Living

Regarding the cost of living in these beach towns, Nosara is way more expensive than Tamarindo because it is more of an ecotourism-conserved area.

So, it offers a more boutique, family-friendly lifestyle.  

On the other hand, Tamarindo has a city vibe, so there is undoubtedly something for everyone. How much you spend depends on your finances, taste, and lifestyle.

Here’s a detailed comparison of the cost of living in Nosara versus Tamarindo:

AspectNosaraTamarindo
Housing$1,200 to $2,000 for small homes or studio apartments$400 to $3,000 per month, depending on location and amenities
Utilities$50 to $150 per month$50 to $120 per month
GroceriesHigher cost due to fewer local markets, more reliance on imported goodsModerate, with a mix of local and imported goods available
Dining OutBudget options available, high-end restaurants are expensiveWide range, from inexpensive local eateries to mid-range restaurants
TransportationLimited public transportation, high car maintenance costsMore developed transport options, but private car costs are high
HealthcareGenerally affordable, public healthcare available, private insurance recommendedSimilar costs, with good access to healthcare facilities
Entertainment & ActivitiesEco-tourism and wellness activities prevalentDiverse nightlife, variety of water sports and tourist activities

Population and Weather

Nosara has a smaller population, primarily natives, with a calm and tranquil neighbourhood, and the weather is a bit humid and rainy.

Tamarindo is a bustling town with a mixed population of different races and high rises. The neighborhood is always noisy, with young lads playing soccer on the street and plenty of traffic on the road.

The weather is always hot; hence, many people tend to go to the beach fronts.

Population:

Nosara:

  • As of 2024, Nosara has an estimated population of approximately 9,000 people. The population has seen significant growth due to its popularity as a tourist and expat destination​.

Tamarindo:

  • Tamarindo, part of the larger Guanacaste region, has a population of about 7,000 people. This number can fluctuate significantly during peak tourist seasons, attracting a large number of visitors​.

Weather:

Nosara:

  • Climate Type: Tropical
  • Temperature Range: Daily temperatures range from 31°C (87°F) in October to 35°C (95°F) in April. Evening temperatures range from 20°C (68°F) in January to 22°C (71°F) in April.
  • Seasons: Nosara experiences a dry season from December to April and a rainy season from May to November.
  • Rainfall: The wet season can bring heavy rains, especially from September to November​.

Tamarindo:

  • Climate Type: Tropical dry
  • Temperature Range: Similar to Nosara, with daytime temperatures typically ranging between 32°C (90°F) and 34°C (93°F). Evening temperatures are slightly cooler, usually around 22°C (72°F).
  • Seasons: Tamarindo also has a pronounced dry season from December to April and a rainy season from May to November.
  • Rainfall: Rain is less frequent in the dry season, with heavy rains in the wet season, particularly in October and November​.

Accommodation Options of Nosara vs Tamarindo

NOSARA

It is an expensive town, but when it comes to accommodation, there is a wide range of options that can suit your budget and lifestyle.

Here are some accommodation options in Nosara:

Tierra Magnifica Boutique Hotel is an intimate resort 2km from the Guiones beach with an outdoor pool and spa centre. The best part of the hotel is the rooms with ocean view balconies and fully fitted private bathrooms, free wifi, and free parking. A night cost $280

Olas Verde Hotel is a 4-star hotel located 600 meters from the Guiones beach. It offers restaurants, an outdoor swimming pool, free bikes to hike the mountain, a beachfront view from the rooms, and free Wi-Fi. It costs around $190 per night.

Lagarta Lodge is an exclusive 4-star hotel with an in-house restaurant serving various dishes. It offers mountain views, a hot tub, free wifi, and costs $236 per night.

Living Hotel: If you are looking for something pocket-friendly yet with excellent services, Living Hotel is for you. It is a five-minute walk from Guiones Beach. 

It’s a thatched-roof hotel that offers a swimming pool, spa services, horseback riding, surf lessons, and international and local cuisines. A night is around $75.

TAMARINDO

One of the things about accommodations in Tamarindo is that they are always fully booked, especially during the peak tourist period. So if you have plans to visit, then you must book ahead.

However, Tamarindo’s accommodation options are affordable compared to Nosara and offer excellent services.

Here are some on my list:

Hotel Arco Iris is 500 meters from the Tamarindo beach and offers gourmet dishes, an outdoor swimming pool, lush tropical gardens, free wifi, and a minibar. A night costs $112

Ten North Hotel is a three-minute walk from the Tamarindo beach. It offers various accommodation types that suit different travelers, mini refrigerators in the rooms, a living room and kitchen section, free wifi, arranged boat cruises, an outdoor swimming pool, and many more. A night costs $89

Villas Macondo is a 3-minute walk from the Tamarindo beach and offers an outdoor swimming pool, fully air-conditioned rooms, free wifi, free parking, and tropical garden views.

Best Western is a five-minute walk from the Tamarindo beachfront and offers an outdoor pool, fitness center, breakfast, ocean views, and a night costs $99

Things To Do in Nosara vs Tamarindo

Surfing

Take advantage of the beaches and go surfing in these two beach towns.

There is an area of beaches in Nosara where you can surf; however, ensure you are already an advanced surfer before stepping into the water because the waves are rougher and not suitable for beginner surfers.

I recommend Playa Guiones to get the best surfing experience.

Tamarindo Beach is beginner-friendly and perfect for all surfers of various experiences because the water waves are not as strong as Nosara. You can easily take a surfing class and start surfing in a week.

Horseback Riding

Nosara offers various horseback riding tours around the town, which are suitable for beginners and expert riders. These tours usually run for 2-8  hours or as you wish and take you to some fantastic sights and destinations in the area that can only be seen on horseback.

The best part is that one can ride in groups or in private with a tour guide. I prefer the former because nothing comes cheaply in Nosara, and the budget is from $50 to $200 for this tour.

Tamarindo is that one place to have an amazing horseback ride on the beach, and that feeling of a cowboy riding through the sunset that it gives is purely magical. 

In Tamarindo, you will spend between $30-$80 to ride on horseback, and there are guides to help you whether you are a beginner or an expert.

Take a Surf Lesson

Suppose you are visiting any of these beach towns for the first time, whether you are interested in surfing. I would advise you to take a surfing class to learn how it’s done and gain new knowledge.

Nosara has many surf schools with thoughtful,  friendly, patient, and knowledgeable teachers who care about your safety. I recommend starting at a beach where the waves are less intense and not in Playa Guiones or Pelada.

In Tamarindo, the surf lessons can be private or shared, catering to beginner and advanced surfers for all age groups. The instructors are patient, knowledgeable, and friendly.

I would also add that you don’t rush it. Two hours of practice a day would set you on becoming a better surfer in a week

Ziplining 

Try zip-lining if you want to view these towns from an elevated point, gliding through different terrains.

In Nosara, ziplining starts from the ground up for about 11km, which is what I love most. In addition, it caters to all ages and provides everything you need.

Tamarindo ziplines are one of the most extended zip lines I have seen, stretching over two miles and taking you outside Tamarindo. It is an enjoyable experience that helps you connect with nature as you glide through the air.

Yoga Retreats

Nosara offers the best yoga retreats not just because of the area’s tranquillity but also because the practice is age-long there.

The best part is that most hotels in town offer yoga retreats with experts in the field as part of their services. So whether you are looking for something simple or grand, searching your soul or relieving your mind, there is something for you.

On the other hand, Tamarindo also offers yoga retreats in most of their lodges. However, I prefer the ones at Nosara.

My Final Verdict

Nosara and Tamarindo are beach towns with excellent water waves for surfing any time of the year. 

Nosara’s main beach, Playa Guiones, is peaceful and offers advanced surfing and yoga retreats. In contrast, Tamarindo Beach is lively, with many youngsters enjoying the nightlife, horseback riding on the beach, and various International and local cuisines.

Nosara is a more conserved town, with more of the population being locals, and the cost of living is quite high. In Tamarindo, the population is mixed; you will mostly find teenagers playing soccer in the street. There are high rises, and the cost of living is suitable for all kinds of budgets and lifestyles.

So, the question of Nosara vs. Tamarindo: which is better? is left for you to answer based on your personal preference. However, I advise you to visit both towns to get a feel for what they are like.

All the best!

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About 

Born in California, Michelle traveled extensively through the USA and Europe before moving to South Florida during the pandemic. Her career in Marketing has taken her all across the world. Her favorite country is France but she'll never turn down a beach vacation!

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