Last updated on January 18, 2024 by Stefano Ferro, founder of MEL365, following extensive travelling in Costa Rica

Tamarindo Vs Santa Teresa – Which One Is Better In 15 Key Differences

Comparing two destinations is always challenging even more so with Tamarindo Vs Santa Teresa because both towns offer so much.

Surfing is certainly at the center of both, contributing to the great vibe that you can experience in these two lovely towns. Both beaches are amazing but so different from each other.

If undecided about whether Tamarindo or Santa Teresa works better for you, then the 15 key differences below should give you all of the information for a final decision.

But let’s start with a quick comparison table

Renting a car in Costa Rica will take you to some amazing beaches in the country
The spectacular beach of Santa Teresa

Tamarindo Vs Santa Teresa – A Quick Comparison Table

Here below is a comparative table for a quick overview of the differences. But keep reading for more information.

You can click on the subject for more details. Swipe left or right on a mobile to see all the columns

SubjectTamarindoSanta TeresaFinal words
Access and TransportationEasily accessible, close to the 2nd Int’l Airport.More complex journey, with rough roads.Tamarindo for better accessibility.
BeachesCommercial, lively, wide sand stretch.Natural, peaceful, separated by forest.Tie; Tamarindo for party, Santa Teresa for tranquility.
SurfingGreat for beginners, gentle waves.More challenging, suited for experienced surfers.Tamarindo for beginners, Santa Teresa for experienced.
ActivitiesDiverse activities, good for diving.Nature-oriented, ATV exploration.Tie; Tamarindo for variety, Santa Teresa for nature.
VibeLively, bustling, energetic.Chill-out zone, authentic experience.Santa Teresa for chill vibe, Tamarindo for energy.
Town StructureOrganized, convenient, built-up.Spread out, hidden, more character of Costa Rica.Tamarindo for convenience, Santa Teresa for uniqueness.
For FamiliesWide spectrum of kids ages, convenient.Nature-oriented, better for grown-up kids.Tamarindo for convenience, Santa Teresa for nature.
For CouplesLively atmosphere, entertainment.Secluded, romantic, intimate.Santa Teresa for romance, Tamarindo for entertainment.
4 to 5-Day ItineraryBlend of adventure and relaxation.Laid-back, focused on nature.Tamarindo for activities, Santa Teresa for relaxation.
AccommodationsWide choice, developed.Small-scale charm, natural beauty.Tamarindo for variety, Santa Teresa for charm.
BudgetBetter value, more competition.More expensive, unique experience.Tamarindo for budget-friendly, Santa Teresa for uniqueness.
Shopping and SupermarketsPlenty of shops, except big supermarkets.Limited shopping, better supermarket experience.Tamarindo for retail options, Santa Teresa for local experience.
FoodVibrant culinary scene, varied options.Laid-back dining, authentic flavors.Tamarindo for variety, Santa Teresa for authenticity.
NightlifeLively and diverse, beach bars.Subdued and chill, relaxed scene.Tamarindo for energy, Santa Teresa for tranquility.
HoneymoonRomance, adventure, luxurious options.Secluded, intimate, boutique villas.Tamarindo for excitement, Santa Teresa for intimacy.
Tamarindo Vs Santa Teresa – 15 Key Differences

If you plan to spend most of the time in Tamarindo or Santa Teresa (or even both) I would not suggest driving in Costa Rica. You can get around with public transportation and private vans.

However, if you want to discover the essence of this country, I definitely recommend renting a car in Costa Rica. It will open up so many opportunities to stop at isolated and idyllic beaches, lush forests, amazing waterfalls and I could keep going.

I usually rent my cars on DiscoverCars, a great website that compares the prices of most global and local rental agencies, providing the best options.

There are two things that I love about DiscoverCars: they provide a rating of the rental agencies based on customer feedback (a sort of Airbnb of car rentals), so useful, and they offer full insurance for just 7€/day, essential for peace of mind (some roads are quite rough in Costa Rica).

The main beach gets very popular in Tamarindo on sunset time
The main beach gets very popular in Tamarindo at sunset time

Access to Tamarindo Vs Santa Teresa

Tamarindo

Tamarindo’s accessibility is one of its strong suits. Located close to Liberia, Costa Rica’s second major airport, it offers travelers a quick and hassle-free journey.

Whether you’re arriving by flight or other means, Tamarindo’s well-connected roads and transportation services ensure that you can hit the beach in no time.

From Liberia, it’s a mere one-hour drive, and there are plenty of transportation options available, from taxis to shuttle services.

Santa Teresa

Santa Teresa presents more of a challenge when it comes to transportation. Though there’s a small airport nearby, it’s not as well connected, and the journey can be more complex and costly.

Most travelers have to fly to San Jose and then take a bus or rent a car. The trip can take 4 to 5 hours, and the last few kilometers are known for their bumpy roads.

Conclusion

In terms of accessibility and convenience, Tamarindo takes the crown. The town is close to a major airport and the quality of the roads is better overall.

Tamarindo Vs Santa Teresa - Doesn't matter which town, I always suggest renting a car in Costa Rica to explore the magnificent nature of this country - Lush vegetation, hidden beaches, incredible waterfalls and I could keep going.
Tamarindo Vs Santa Teresa – Doesn’t matter which town, I always suggest renting a car in Costa Rica to explore the magnificent nature of this country – Lush vegetation, hidden beaches, incredible waterfalls and I could keep going.

Beaches in Tamarindo and Santa Teresa

Tamarindo

Tamarindo’s beach is a lively hub of activity. It’s certainly more commercial and touristic, it’s lined with resorts, bars, and entertainment venues.

The setup is lovely with palms and a very wide sand stretch in low tide. The atmosphere at sunset time is magical with probably most of the town down at the beach playing any kind of sport or just chilling out and having a drink.

Santa Teresa

Santa Teresa’s beach is a stark contrast to Tamarindo’s. There is so much more nature and for the most part of it, you will not see any commercial buildings. The beach is in fact separated from the town by a 50-100m forest section that completely hides houses, bars, and restaurants.

It’s all about you, the sand, and the beautiful waves. Santa Teresa Beach is more peaceful and authentic Costa Rican. And for sunset, bring your own drink to the beach. There are a couple of bars but they are somehow not fitting in the natural beauty of the environment.

Conclusion

For a tranquil and natural beach experience, Santa Teresa is the undisputed winner. However, if you are more into party time, then Tamarindo works better.

Santa Teresa Beach at sunset time
Santa Teresa Beach at sunset time

Surfing: is Santa Teresa or Tamarindo better?

Tamarindo

Tamarindo is a surfer’s paradise, especially for beginners. The waves here are very gentle and forgiving. Tamarindo is in my opinion one of the best places for beginner surfing in Costa Rica.

The waves have just the right size and laziness to wait for you to jump on the board. You will not be disappointed. There are also plenty of surf shops to rent your board and book a lesson.

Based on my experience in the country, Tamarindo has been the place so far where I got the best prices too. If you are a skilled surfer, you should head north to Playa Grande where the waves are more challenging.

Santa Teresa

Santa Teresa caters to a more experienced surfing crowd. The waves here are more challenging. They work better for intermediate and advanced surfers.

But that doesn’t mean beginners are left out; nearby Playa Hermosa (3km) offers more easy surfing. This beach is one of the most beautiful in Costa Rica, so laid back. Surfing at sunset is magical and then all around a big fire on the beach of course.

There are also in Santa Teresa plenty of surf shops. Take the board with you if heading to Playa Hermosa because there is not much over there.

Conclusion

Tamarindo works better if you plan to begin your surfing adventure. It’s better organized and the surfing condition is more forgiving. Santa Teresa is the place to be for a more chilled-out community.

Beginner surfing in Costa Rica, even for the very small kids
Beginner surfing in Costa Rica, even for the very small kids

Activities available in Santa Teresa and Tamarindo

Tamarindo

I have talked already about surfing, the main sport practiced in town. Santa Teresa has also some good scuba diving, with a few sites within an hour’s drive. Then, of course, ziplining and horse riding, either in the countryside or at the beach.

You can also easily organize day trips in any of the agencies in town or just rent a car or an ATV to explore at your own place.

I suggest going to Playa Langosta in the low tide for a splash in the natural pools that create between the rock formations.

Santa Teresa

Sure, there’s surfing in Tamarindo, but it’s the ATV rentals and exploration of the surrounding areas that steal the show. Imagine riding to Montezuma Falls or exploring Hermosa Beach.

Scuba diving is available but honestly, it’s not as good as Tamarindo, in fact, I would personally not suggest it. Santa Teresa is for those who want to immerse themselves in the environment and experience Costa Rica’s wild side.

Conclusion

If diving and a variety of activities are your thing, Tamarindo is the place to be. But if you’re looking for a more nature-oriented experience, Santa Teresa will win your heart.

Vibe in Tamarindo and Santa Teresa

Tamarindo

Tamarindo’s vibe is lively and bustling. It works so much better if you are looking for nightlife, bars and music. The town is more built-up, and the commercial aspect is evident. But it’s not all about partying; there’s a tropical charm that makes it appealing.

If you’re looking for energy and excitement, Tamarindo has it in spades.

Santa Teresa

Santa Teresa is the chill-out zone of Costa Rica. I believe the natural environment and lack of buildings bring everyone to just take life easier and slower.

Most of the accommodations are in the jungle and you will very likely have your breakfast in the total wilderness. It’s a more authentic Costa Rican experience.

Conclusion

For a chill-out and natural vibe, Santa Teresa is the place to be. Tamarindo works better if you’re after a more energetic and lively atmosphere.

Horse riding is a popular activity in Costa Rica, more so around Tamarindo
Horseback riding is a popular activity in Costa Rica, more so in Santa Teresa and Tamarindo

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How are the towns

Tamarindo

Tamarindo is built along the main road parallel to the beach, with small roads branching off. You’ll find restaurants, shops, accommodations, and even a few resorts and condos. If you’re after convenience and plenty of options, Tamarindo has it all.

Santa Teresa

Santa Teresa is more spread out and hidden in the jungle. The houses are mostly on one and two floors, and even the expensive villas are tucked away.

When you are at the beach, you will not even notice there is actually a town behind the palmy vegetation. The town is more subtle and secluded, it’s more Costa Rican.

Conclusion

For a more organized and convenient town, Tamarindo is the winner. If you’re after a more unique and hidden experience, Santa Teresa offers a one-of-a-kind setting.

Walking around Tamarindo Town
Walking around Tamarindo Town

Tamarindo or Santa Teresa For Families

Tamarindo

Tamarindo offers more for a wider spectrum of ages. Let’s start with surfing, so much easier and it can be practiced by anyone.

On my last trip, I was there with my 8 years old boy who started surfing in no time and without any fear. And that’s not because he is fearless, just because the conditions are so perfect.

Then you have soccer and volleyball fields for the kids to play, besides the possibility of some horseback riding straight at the beach.

The town is very convenient too, with plenty of shopping and restaurants choice. There is even a skatepark for some late rides.

There are a few condos with some practical 2 and 3 bedrooms apartments and a swimming pool, really all you need. The only recommendation is to book your stay far from the bar areas for a quiet night (more suggestions in the accommodation comparison)

Santa Teresa

Santa Teresa offers a more nature-oriented family experience. In my opinion, it works better if you are traveling with grown-up kids, especially if they are already practicing surfing back home and they are experienced with intermediate-level waves.

There are also plenty of opportunities for hiking and discovering waterfalls, like the Montezuma Falls. However, the less developed infrastructure might be a consideration for families with very young children.

Conclusion

For families looking for convenience and a variety of activities, Tamarindo is the top choice. If your family is more into nature and a tranquil environment, Santa Teresa is a beautiful option.

Sure there is no shortage of any supply at the beach
Sure there is no shortage of any supply at the beach

Tamarindo or Santa Teresa For Couples

Tamarindo

Tamarindo offers couples a lively atmosphere for both the day and the night. Imagine watching the sunset with a cocktail in hand at one of the beach bars, or taking a moonlit stroll along the shore.

Of course, you will find also plenty of dining and entertainment options, besides many boutique accommodations.

Santa Teresa

Santa Teresa is certainly more romantic if you are after nature, secluded beaches, and hidden accommodations. I highly recommend renting an ATV to explore more than the usual suspects (Playa Carmen and Playa Hermosa).

Conclusion

For couples seeking a secluded and intimate experience, Santa Teresa is the dream destination. If you prefer a mix of romance and entertainment, Tamarindo offers a vibrant and lively atmosphere.

Fire by the beach - The best way to finish a surfing day
Fire by the beach – The best way to finish a surfing day

4 to 5-Day Itinerary: Tamarindo Vs Santa Teresa

Tamarindo

Day 1: Arrive and explore the town. Enjoy a sunset beach party.
Day 2: Surfing lessons in the morning, followed by a catamaran cruise.
Day 3: Visit nearby national parks or take a scuba diving trip.
Day 4: Shop for souvenirs, relax on the beach, and enjoy a fine dining experience.
Day 5: Departure or optional horseback riding or zip-lining.

Santa Teresa

Day 1: Arrive and unwind on the secluded beach.
Day 2: Surfing at Playa Hermosa, followed by a beach bonfire.
Day 3: Rent an ATV and explore Montezuma Falls.
Day 4: Yoga on the beach, followed by a romantic dinner at a hidden jungle restaurant.
Day 5: Departure or optional hiking in nearby nature reserves.

Conclusion

For a lively and activity-packed itinerary, Tamarindo offers a blend of adventure and relaxation. For a more laid-back experience, focused on nature, Santa Teresa may work better.

Amazing Tamarindo Beach at sunset time
Amazing Tamarindo Beach at sunset time

Accommodations in Santa Teresa and Tamarindo

Both Santa Teresa and Tamarindo are popular places to stay in Costa Rica.

Tamarindo

You will find a wider choice of accommodations in Tamarindo. The town is more developed. There are condos with fantastic views and typically shared pools. There are all-inclusive resorts, secluded villas, cheap backpackers, beachfront or countryside houses. Really, the choice is yours.

Here below I have picked 3 possibilities from my guide to where to stay in Tamarindo with the best areas and a few suggested hotels, condos, and villas, of course, for any budget or type of trip.

Here are 3 of the best accommodations in Tamarindo Town:

BoHo Tamarindo – Adults Only ($$$$): An exceptional boutique oasis in Tamarindo! Stylish, immaculate, and relaxing. Wonderful hosts, delicious breakfast, and close to the beach.

Tamarindo Blue ($$-$$$): 1BR and 2BR apartments, spacious, clean, great location, friendly staff, and beautiful surroundings

Hotel Boruca ($$): Great location, friendly staff, delicious breakfast, and comfortable rooms with excellent amenities, fantastic value for money

Santa Teresa

Santa Teresa’s accommodations are more about small-scale charm and natural beauty. You won’t find any condos here, but there are lovely hostels and boutique hotels hidden in the jungle.

The accommodations in Santa Teresa tend to be more expensive, probably because the choice is limited, and for this reason, I suggest booking well in advance. If you’re after a more laid-back and authentic Costa Rican stay, Santa Teresa is the place to be.

Here are 4 of the best accommodations in Santa Teresa from my guide to where to stay in Santa Teresa, including best areas and suggested hotels

Hotel Nantipa ($$$$): Idyllic beachfront escape with excellent service. Comfy rooms, stunning pool, and serene surroundings. A memorable Tico experience

Canaima Chill House ($$-$$$): Serene hillside retreat with spacious suites, pool, and hot tub. Charming eco-friendly haven near Santa Teresa Beach.

Fuego Lodge ($$$): Stunning oasis near the beach with comfy rooms, friendly staff, and an inviting pool. Perfect tropical getaway.

Santeria Lodge ($): Cozy rooms, friendly staff, and a convenient location. The pool is fantastic and the place very clean

Budget

Tamarindo

I feel like overall, Tamarindo offers better value for money. There is more competition in everything, accommodation, bars, restaurants and cafes. Prices tend to be lower overall.

For example, I rented boards in Tamarindo typically for $10/day meanwhile in Santa Teresa they charge at least $15/day

Santa Teresa

Staying in Santa Teresa can be more expensive. Both food and accommodation can be 20% to 40% higher than in Tamarindo. The lack of condos and the more boutique nature of accommodations contribute to the higher costs.

However, the unique experience and beautiful surroundings might make the extra expense worth it for some travelers.

Conclusion

For a more budget-friendly vacation, Tamarindo offers more options and generally lower living costs.

The quiet Playa Langosta, only 2 miles from Tamarindo
The quiet Playa Langosta, only 2 miles from Tamarindo

Shopping and Supermarkets

Tamarindo

Tamarindo has plenty of shops around. You can find literally everything, except big supermarkets. For that, you have to drive to Auto Mercado (well stocked but expensive), around 1 mile from the town center, or to the village of Villareal, where there are 2-3 local supermarkets, less stocked for the international market but prices are much cheaper.

Around Villareal, you will find also a few local farmers selling their own fresh products by the road, which are excellent in both quality and price.

Santa Teresa

Santa Teresa offers a very limited shopping experience. Moreover, 80% of the shops are selling or renting surfing equipment and ATVs.

Surprisingly, in Playa Carmen (next to Santa Teresa) you can find a well-stocked supermarket, Mega Super, with reasonable prices too.

Conclusion

For those looking to shop and enjoy a wider variety of retail options, Tamarindo is the clear winner. If shopping isn’t a priority and you prefer a more authentic local experience, Santa Teresa has what you need, besides a better supermarket experience.

Santa Teresa Vs Tamarindo for Food

Tamarindo

Tamarindo’s culinary scene is as vibrant as its beaches. With a plethora of restaurants offering everything from local Costa Rican dishes to international cuisine, foodies will find themselves in paradise.

Whether you’re craving fresh seafood, gourmet burgers, or traditional “casados,” Tamarindo has something to satisfy every palate.

Santa Teresa

Santa Teresa offers a more laid-back dining experience. While the options might be fewer, the focus here is on fresh, locally-sourced ingredients and authentic Costa Rican flavors.

You will find also more “casados” in Santa Teresa and even more in Playa Carmen. These are local restaurants, typically much cheaper, with a menu based on beans, rice, and chicken.

Conclusion

For a wide variety of dining options and a bustling culinary scene, Tamarindo takes the lead. However, Santa Teresa and Playa Carmen have more authentic options. Prices in Tamarindo tend to be cheaper.

There are many eateries and cafes along most roads in Costa Rica - Great places to stop and respite
There are many eateries and cafes along most roads in Costa Rica – Great places to stop and respite

Tamarindo Vs Santa Teresa Nightlife

Tamarindo

Tamarindo’s nightlife is lively and diverse. From beach bars to nightclubs, there’s something happening every night of the week.

The starting point is a drink by the beach at sunset time, followed by dinner in one of the many restaurants or eateries in town. The El Mercadito de Tamarindo is getting very popular for both food and cocktails. The El Garito is at the moment the most popular club in Tamarindo and a great place to finish off the night.

Santa Teresa

Santa Teresa’s nightlife is more subdued and chill. There are a few bars along the main road and a couple at the beach, but the scene is more relaxed. It’s more for a peaceful and romantic evening than a full nightlife experience.

Conclusion

For lively and energetic nightlife, Tamarindo is the place to be. If you prefer a more relaxed and intimate evening, Santa Teresa offers a tranquil setting. I may add here that you also want to check out Jaco if nightlife is important to you, a town that offers so much more in terms of clubs and late-night parties.

Santa Teresa Vs Tamarindo Honeymoon

Tamarindo

In Tamarindo, you can find a great mix of romance, adventure, and luxurious accommodations all within walking distance of a spectacular wild beach.

Couples can indulge in relaxation and excitement, from sunset cruises to couples’ spa treatments, in a romantic setting with all the amenities that make honeymoons unforgettable.

Santa Teresa

In Santa Teresa you will not find luxurious resorts, however, you can definitely book your stay in a boutique villa, immersed in nature, possibly with your own private pool.

It’s going to be a different experience, much more secluded and relaxed, especially if you stay in Playa Hermosa.

Conclusion

For a honeymoon that offers both romance and excitement, Tamarindo provides a beautiful and lively setting. If you’re seeking a more secluded and intimate experience, Santa Teresa is the idyllic choice.

Costa Rica - Pura Vida which means all and none but mostly take it easy
Costa Rica – Pura Vida which means all and none but mostly take it easy
Stefano Ferro - MEL365.com Founder and Editor

About the Author

Stefano is a seasoned travel expert and the visionary founder of MEL365.com, a leading travel website with traffic across 6 continents. With a rich background in the travel industry, Stefano spent four pivotal years at Amadeus Travel Distribution System, gaining invaluable insights into travel technologies and distribution.

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