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How to Get From San Jose to Tamarindo

How to Get From San Jose to Tamarindo

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Hey there fellow traveler! I’m glad you’re considering going to Tamarindo. It’s an amazing beach town with incredible food and plenty of things to do. It really embodies that pura vida lifestyle we love and moved to Costa Rica for.

If you’re trying to figure out how to get to Tamarindo from San Jose, look no further. We’ve got you covered! In this blog, we will go over all of your options, some tips, and our personal recommendations from years of living here and making the trip ourselves. So let’s get right into it!

The 4 Best Ways to Get from San Jose to Tamarindo  

Bailey with a rental car in Costa Rica
Renting a car is one option!


You’re on vacation, so why not let someone else do the work? You can book this private shuttle to pick you up from the airport or anywhere else in San Jose for a laid-back ride to Tamarindo. We have done this plenty of times and have also taken shared shuttles which are even cheaper, but less flexible. 

Driving (Rental Car) 

With some great stops along the way to Tamarindo (more on that below) and the gorgeous Costa Rican jungle to take in, renting a car is a fantastic option. The roads are well-maintained and easy enough to navigate with only a few tolls. Just do me a favor and don’t drive at night! We will go over some safety tips and recommendations soon.

A shuttle stops for a break during a trip in Costa Rica
Shuttles are an extremely convenient way to travel in Costa Rica

Local bus and charter buses 

While there is a local bus to Tamarindo, it can take up to 7 hours, usually isn’t airconditioned, and a seat isn’t guaranteed. So I only recommend it for the bravest of travelers with a good back. However, for only a couple of dollars more you can book a direct airconditioned bus with a guaranteed seat online making the experience much more tolerable and less of a hassle.


Flying is a breeze thanks to Sansa Air offering daily direct flights that only take up 50 minutes of your day. The whole process from booking online to landing in Tamarindo is straightforward and much cheaper than you would think. You can even have a rental car ready for you at the Tamarindo Airport when you get there!

Shuttle from San Jose to Tamarindo

A shuttle picks up up in Costa Rica
A typical shuttle in Costa Rica

When it comes to getting around Costa Rica, nothing beats the convenience of this private shuttle. I love taking shuttles because they give me the chance to just sit back and enjoy the views and not have to stress about traffic or loco motorcycle drivers!

From San Jose, the drive to Tamarindo takes between 4-6 hours depending on traffic and breaks for food or the bathroom on the way. I know that’s a long ride, but Tamarindo is worth it!

If you’re flying into San Jose and heading straight to Tamarindo, I highly recommend you do two things. The first is to download WhatsApp before your trip and the second is to purchase a prepaid SIM card at the airport after you land. This way you can easily communicate with your driver and find them instead of searching for who knows how long. Your vacation will be substantially more “Pura Vida” with a working phone, trust me.

Already going to be staying in the city? Shuttles can easily pick you up from your hotel and take you to Tamarindo as well!

You have a couple of options when it comes to choosing a shuttle to get you there. We always opt to take this highly-rated private shuttle since it can pick you up from the airport or your hotel at any time and it will wait up to 3 hours at the airport if your flight is delayed. Bonuses include that the drivers are bilingual, and there is AC and WiFi!

Another good and cheaper option is to look for shared shuttles on Bookaway. Prices vary depending on where you need to be picked up from, but generally, a shared shuttle is $54-$70 USD. The only downside to these shuttles is that stops are scheduled and not by request, and most only have a few departures each day. So if your flight is delayed or you miss pickup, you’re out of luck.

While it’s more expensive, we recommend taking this private shuttle if it’s in your budget because it’s just more convenient, comfortable, and easy to plan. Plus, you can ask them to stop at a fruit stand so you can indulge in a delicious treat!

Related Read: Grab a spot on a few of the most popular experiences with our list of the 10 best tours in Tamarindo!

Driving from San Jose to Tamarindo

A view of the road on the drive from San Jose to Tamarindo Costa Rica
On the way!

One of our preferred ways of getting around Costa Rica is by car because of the flexibility and freedom it offers. If you’re curious about all of the ins and outs of doing it yourself, we put together this comprehensive guide about renting a car in Costa Rica.

The drive to Tamarindo from San Jose is 258 kilometers (160 miles) and takes anywhere from 4-6 hours depending on what stops you make and how traffic is. There are a couple of ways to get out of the city, but I recommend Route 27. The road is well maintained and is straight for the most part with a few winding spots, but nothing crazy. So if you are worried about the drive, I can confidently tell you that it’s safe and you’re good to go!

Daniel fills up our rental car in Costa rica
At a gas station in Costa Rica

There are 3 tolls along the route that add up to a total of about $4 USD or 2,000 colones. I recommend having small bills to pay the fares instead of using a credit card since you pay more due to conversion rates with a card. Colones are also helpful for buying gas, although just about all gas stations accept international cards nowadays.

If you’re getting into San Jose late, consider staying the night and leaving in the morning. Driving at night is dangerous because all of the jungle animals start to roam and drunk drivers are more frequent. We avoid driving at night at all costs, it’s just not worth the risk!

When you inevitably need to take a bathroom break I recommend stopping at a Delta Gas Station. They are safe, clean, and you can top up on gas! Three birds, one gas station, or stone, however that saying goes.

Finally, if you need a vehicle, our go-to place to book a rental car is Discover Cars. We’ve rented using their site all over the world and never had an issue!

Places to stop along the way

Rescate Wildlife Rescue Center

Two monkies at Rescate Wildlife Center
There are lots of wildlife to see, even some rescued from captivity not native to Costa Rica

Rescate Wildlife Rescue Center is one of our favorite animal rescue centers we’ve visited. It also happens to be the largest in Central America!

It’s located just outside San Jose, only 20-30 minutes from the airport. If you’re heading to Tamarindo directly from the airport, it’s a great way to start your trip. You can get some fresh air, stretch your legs, and see wildlife all in one go!

When we came here, we really enjoyed strolling through the gardens – the animals were the icing on the cake! We saw so many animals we’d never seen before. We spotted sloths, capuchin monkeys, margays, and vibrant scarlet macaws.

It’s open daily from 9 am to 5 pm, so squeezing it into your road trip is easy. Visiting here also doesn’t involve any crazy detours since it’s right off the freeway.

To make it even easier, you can grab tickets ahead of time to skip the line upon arrival. Tickets cost $35 USD and there’s free cancellation up to 24 hours in advance if your plans change.

Botanical Orchid Garden La Garita  

An orchid at Botanical Orchid Garden La Garita Costa Rica
The orchids here are beautiful!

I’m a sucker for some pretty flowers and beautiful nature. Luckily, located right outside San Jose is one of my favorite lesser-known stops on the way to Tamarindo. 

The Botanical Orchid Garden La Garita is more than just orchids and stunning plants. It’s a haven for local bird species like robins, wrens, and my favorite, parrots! 

There are tons of greenhouses here and depending on when you visit, different flowers and plants will be in bloom. Peak flowering season is January through March so if you’re visiting then you don’t want to miss out!

Tickets for entry are $13 USD and they are open every day except Monday from 9 am to 4 pm.

Chocolate Tour  

Bailey holds dried choco beans on a chocolate tour in Costa Rica
Drying chocolate!

I feel like most people reading this won’t need to be convinced to take a chocolate tour, but just in case you’re on the fence about it, don’t miss this! The famous Choco Tour is hosted at a local property in the San Mateo area, about an hour from San Jose – here’s the Google Map location of the farm!

The 90-minute tour not only includes some tasty eats, but also a comprehensive history of the most famous treat in the world. It’s hosted by Chef Alex and he’s a chocolate master. He walked us through all parts of how cacao becomes chocolate before helping us make our own chocolates. They were so good!

It’s short, sweet (literally), and a great way to learn about cocoa’s role in the development of Costa Rica. You can book your tickets here in advance at either 9 am, 11 am, or 4 pm for $45 USD per person.

NATUWA Wildlife Sanctuary  

A marmoset monkey at the NATUWA wildlife sanctuary Costa Rica
A Marmoset monkey!

When it comes to organizations that rehabilitate animals my heart gets a little mushy. I just can’t help it! I love seeing people care for animals that wouldn’t be able to make it in the wild on their own.

The NATUWA Wildlife Sanctuary is located about 2 hours from the airport in San Jose and it’s home to some of Costa Rica’s most famous animals like sloths, jaguars, ocelots, monkeys, and tapir. So many cute animal friends in one place!

What I loved most was seeing all of the volunteer veterinarians and caretakers with these animals and watching them interact. You can volunteer yourself if you want! If you want to see them for yourself and support their cause, entrance costs $38 USD and can be paid with cash or card.

Local bus and charter bus from San Jose to Tamarindo  

A public bus in Costa Rica
Taking a public bus in Costa Rica

When it comes to cheap adventurous travel in Costa Rica, the public transportation system is the best and also worst (in some ways) when it comes to getting from point A to point B. 

I only recommend you take the public bus to Tamarindo if you really want to save money, don’t mind it taking 7 hours, and speak a little Spanish. If you like the idea of cheap, but are not so much into the adventure, you can book a faster, more comfortable, airconditioned bus to Tamarindo through Transporte Inteligente Guanacaste. I will go over how to book each so you can decide for yourself!

Let’s talk about public transportation first. While the information I give you here is as accurate as I can make it from our experience, please keep in mind things like the schedule and cost can change. I recommend that you go to the public bus terminal a day or two before you leave to confirm times and costs as well as get a feel for the station.

The first step to taking the public bus to Tamarindo is getting to the Empresa Alfaro Bus Station before one of the two daily departures at 11:30 am or 3:30 pm. The busses are usually not airconditioned and seating room is not guaranteed for the 6-7 hour journey. Even for experienced travelers, it is a rough trip without a seat. Although, it will only cost you $10 USD or 5,000 colones that you can pay to the driver when you arrive. 

The second option and the one I will always recommend is to book a direct airconditioned bus with guaranteed sitting room. While tickets are a little more expensive at $24 USD per person, the comfort and convenience are worth it. You can book online in advance for one of their two daily departures at either 8:30 am or 3:30 pm which take you directly to Tamarindo. All you will have to do is get to the TIG Terminal before your scheduled departure and you’re good to go! 

Related Read: If you are traveling on a budget, our list of free and cheap things to do in Tamarindo will come in handy!

Flight from San Jose to Tamarindo

Flying to Tamarindo from San Jose with Sansa Air Costa Rica
Flying to Tamarindo with Sansa Air

If you don’t mind spending a little extra and cutting out all the hassle of the long drive between San Jose and Tamarindo, taking to the sky is your best bet. Sansa Airlines is the best (and only) in the business when flying to Tamarindo and I love how easy they make it to go between the two. 

One-way direct flights take 50 minutes and can cost anywhere from $130-$180 USD per person and include one checked bag and a carry-on. Additional luggage can be added for a fee determined at the airport by weight and availability on the plane. 

Traveling with a bike, surfboard, or your pet? Sansa Airlines says “No hay problema amigos” and invites you to take it along (for a small fee). 

With multiple departure times throughout the day, it’s easy to work into your itinerary and saves tons of time. Now that’s Pura Vida baby!

Our preferred way to get from San Jose to Tamarindo  

Flying into Tamarindo with Sansa Air Costa Rica
Flying to Tamarindo with Sansa Air

From our experience, the best and easiest way for you to get to Tamarindo is to fly there with Sansa Air. Sure, it costs more, but it’s just so convenient! And once you land in Tamarindo you can pick up a rental car from the airport so you have a way to get around easier.  

If you don’t want to fly, I suggest taking this private shuttle. Letting someone else drive means you can relax, listen to music, enjoy the scenery, or just take a nap. Plus you can ask to stop whenever you want for food, the bathroom, or to take pictures!

Finally, if you have a do-it-yourself attitude and don’t mind driving, renting a car is never a bad choice. Trust me, I completely understand! My one suggestion is to consider leaving early to make it there before night or splitting it up into two days and making some stops along the way.

Must-do Activities When You Arrive in Tamarindo

Bailey on staircase looking down at Rio Celeste Waterfall in Rio Celeste, Costa rica
I think this is my favorite waterfall in Costa Rica!
A Turtle swims in the ocean in Costa Rica
So amazing to see in the wild!

Once you arrive in Tamarindo, you are in for an amazing visit! Our full guide on what to do in Tamarindo is filled with ideas, but I’ve rounded up a few of our can’t-miss experiences below:

  • Visit Rio Celeste – One of the most beautiful rivers and waterfalls in Costa Rica is within reach of Tamarindo. Rio Celeste Waterfall is a natural phenomenon where two rivers meet and cause the water to literally turn blue. Since it’s 2.5 hours away, unless you have your own vehicle, you’re going to need to join a tour. This specific tour leaves Tamarindo at 6:30 am and includes everything from hiking to a swim in the turquoise waters and even a visit to a wildlife sanctuary to see sloths!
  • Learn to surf – Tamarindo is arguably the best place for beginners to learn to surf. You can take surf lessons any day of the week, and there are tons of surf schools in town. This two-hour surf lesson is top-rated and has 2,000 five-star reviews!
  • See turtles – Getting a chance to see turtles in Costa Rica is amazing. Luckily there are some secluded beaches around Tamarindo where turtles come to lay eggs from November to April. This turtle nesting tour is an evening experience (that’s when turtles come ashore) and if you’re really lucky you’ll even see baby turtles hatching and making their way to the ocean.
  • Adventure tour – If you’re craving a day bursting with fun activities, this Guachipelin Adventure tour delivers! It’s an epic full-day experience with ziplining, river tubing, horseback riding, a visit to natural hot springs, a volcanic mud bath, and a full buffet lunch. It’s so popular because, with all those activities, the tour only costs $135 USD for the self-drive option (what we did) or $149 USD for the included transport. 
  • Check out a local market – On Saturdays, the Tama Market is the place to be in Tamarindo! From 8 am to 2 pm, the market is bustling with stalls where you can do some shopping, pick up fresh fruit or veggies, or even grab lunch. We tried some excellent cold brew coffee here and I found a sunscreen I love made with natural products!

Where to Stay in Tamarindo, Costa Rica

lady sits poolside at Selina Tamarindo, Costa Rica
Relaxing poolside at Selina!

You have so many choices when it comes to places to stay in Tamarindo! There are over 100 hotels and hostels in the downtown area catering to all needs and wants. These are our favorites:

Hotel Tamarindo Diria Beach Resort – $$$

Those with a luxury budget should check out Hotel Tamarindo Diria Beach Resort. This is one of the most beautiful hotels in Tamarindo, and it’s not only located on the beach, but they also have a pool with ocean views. 

All of the rooms have a seating area and a mini-bar. Prices for a room start at $224 USD per night. You can book Hotel Tamarindo Diria Beach Resort here on

Tamarindo Bay Boutique Hotel – $$

If you’d prefer a little more luxury, the Tamarindo Bay Boutique Hotel comes with gorgeous rooms, a large pool, and a very modern and sleek design. However, the location is slightly back from the beach, and it’s not for families. 

The hotel’s terrace overlooks the property’s tropical gardens, and breakfast is served outside here from November 1 to April 30. Rates for a one-night stay begin at $160 USD. Reserve a room at Tamarindo Bay Boutique Hotel here.

Selina Tamarindo – $

The Selina is a good option for budget travelers, and I have personally stayed here. It’s an upper-market hostel with a great atmosphere and pool. The location is also right near the beach, and the dorm rooms and private rooms all have AC.

Rates for a private room start at $139 USD per night, and a bed in the dorm rooms starts at $71 USD per night. You can book Selina Tamarindo on HostelWorld or

Pura Vida!

Bailey and Daniel on a sunset cruise in Tamarindo, Costa Rica
Thanks for reading!

I hope you’re all set for your journey from San Jose to Tamarindo! There are many ways to get here, but no matter which one you choose, you’re going to love Tamarindo when you arrive.

If you need help planning your trip to Costa Rica, check out all our blogs here. Or I put a few specific Tamarindo blogs below that I think will help you get hyped for your trip!

4 BEST Sunset Cruises in Tamarindo +What to KNOW Before You Book

12 BEST Restaurants in Tamarindo, Costa Rica

Best Ziplining Tours in Tamarindo and 8 Things to Know BEFORE Booking