How to plan your trip from San José to Tamarindo, Costa Rica

Tamarindo is a fantastic beach town on the west coast of Costa Rica, famous for its solid surfing, gorgeous sunsets, and pumping nightlife. So if you are looking for the ultimate sunny holiday, Tamarindo is the perfect place to be. 

The best things to do are to hang out at Playa Tamarindo, enjoying the sun and surf while sipping cocktails at the beach. Otherwise, if you’re more of an adrenaline junkie, trying out some adventurous activities like zip-lining, scuba diving, and sailing may be more your style.

Tamarindo is located about 250 km (~158 miles) west of Costa Rica’s capital, San José. It is easy to travel between the two cities in an afternoon, especially since Tamarindo is on a well-beaten tourist path. 

How to get from San José to Tamarindo

After you’ve spent the weekend in San José, it’s time to hit Costa Rica’s Pacific coast. So figuring out the best way to get to Tamarindo is definitely a top priority.

There are a few options when it comes to traveling from San José to Tamarindo. You can take a bus or a shuttle if you prefer ground transportation. Fly if you’d rather get there faster and maximize your time on the beach. Or you can drive if you’re planning a Costa Rican road trip. 

Here is a breakdown of all of your options:

Bus

If you are looking to save money on transportation, consider taking the bus. The bus from San José to Tamarindo is the cheapest option and popular with locals and backpackers alike. There are various companies to choose from, each with its own departure times and stops along the way.

©Dennis Sylvester Hurd/Flickr

Tickets tend to range from $7-9 each way and take approximately five hours, depending on the time of departure and traffic.

Tralapa, Ltda operates the San José to Tamarindo bus route with tickets starting at $9 per person. Their buses depart the city at 8:00 am, 10:45 am, and 16:00 pm and are direct into the Pacific Park terminal in Tamarindo. 

Tralapa is a good option because you don’t have to change buses and the ride will have air conditioning. The seats are relatively comfortable, which is an added bonus considering that traffic can be bad leaving the city. Don’t be surprised if you are delayed and the five-hour journey turns into a six or seven-hour one. 

Shuttle

Another option is the San José to Tamarindo shuttle. Depending on your preferred travel style and your budget, you could book a seat in a shared shuttle or book a private transfer.

©Leonora (Ellie) Enking/Flickr

Interbus offers a shuttle service to Tamarindo for approximately $65 per person. You’ll be riding in a minivan that can hold up to 10 passengers. The vans are equipped with A/C, and the seats are fairly comfortable and recline. Some of these minivans even have WiFi, which is a great way to travel in style!

Interbus typically leaves San José at 7:00 am and arrives in Tamarindo between 10:00 and 11:00 am, depending on traffic. You will get hotel pick up and drop off with this company. 

It is important to note that a minimum of two people is needed for this shuttle. If there aren’t enough passengers, the company will contact you to organize an alternative. 

Marvelus Travel also offers a shared shuttle from San José to Tamarindo for $60 per person. You will be picked up from your hotel in a minivan that can hold up to 10 passengers and dropped off at your hotel in Playa Tamarindo. 

This shuttle leaves San José at 14:00 pm and takes about four hours to arrive. 

Flight

If you are itching to get onto the beach and don’t want to waste hours on the road, flying may be a good option for you. Flights from San José to Tamarindo are actually pretty reasonable, and it is possible to grab a great deal from time to time. 

©Michael McDonough/Flickr

The closest airport to Tamarindo, Costa Rica, is just 4 km (~2.4 miles) north of the city. The Tamarindo Airport is a domestic airport which makes it really convenient to fly in and get to your hotel (or the beach!) once you arrive. 

Sansa Airlines operates the San José to Tamarindo flight at 6:10 am and 14:10 pm daily. The flight takes just under an hour and ranges in price from $70-$150. 

Once you land, you can easily take a taxi or an Uber the remaining few kilometers to your accommodation. It shouldn’t cost more than $5-$10.

It is also possible to fly to Liberia and take a shuttle from there. Sansa operates daily flights from San José to Liberia, which depart at 15:00. These flights also take about 50 minutes and range in price from $90-$170.

Once you arrive, you will need to take a shuttle for the remaining 67 km (~41 miles). Traveling from the airport in Liberia to Tamarindo takes about an hour and fifteen minutes and will cost $79. The Liberia Airport Shuttle can be booked on demand when you arrive or a few days before departure. 

Considering how far Tamarindo is from Liberia Airport, this is an expensive option. However, it gives you the flexibility to travel at different times. The shuttle will drop you off in Playa Tamarindo. 

Drive

Your final option is to drive. Driving from San José to Tamarindo is certainly the quickest way to get there, as it is only about a four-hour drive. In addition, cruising through the Nicoya peninsula is a great way to see more of Costa Rica, and the road into Tamarindo is in relatively good condition. 

©Leonora (Ellie) Enking/Flickr

If you have rented a car or are considering a road trip, this is the perfect way to travel. Just be cautious of driving at night and always follow the posted road signs.

All you need to rent a car in Costa Rica is a valid driver’s license, passport, and insurance covering rental cars. Most travel insurance covers this, but it is always a good idea to double-check.

You should also note that you have to be 25 years old to rent a car. If you decline the (typically more expensive) insurance provided by the rental car company, they often put a $1,500 hold on your credit card. Renting a car can definitely be worth it, though, because it’s a cheap way to travel around Costa Rica, especially if you plan on seeing more of the lesser-known areas of the country!

In the end, the best way to get from San José to Tamarindo is the way that you feel most comfortable with. It is important that you’re happy with how you are getting from point A to point B. You’ll absolutely love the laid-back vibes of Playa Tamarindo, so no matter how you choose to travel, you’re bound to have a great time!

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