Destination Comparison: Living in Tamarindo vs. Playa Grande

main photo Tamarindo vs. Playa Grande

One of the most common questions I get from clients is regarding the differences between the many towns that dot Guanacaste’s sunny coast. Tamarindo vs. Playa Grande vs. Flamingo vs. Potrero vs. Coco… and well, you get the picture! After all, they’re very close to each other geographically, so what distinguishes one from the other? 

Quite a bit, as it turns out. But before we get into the comparison of Tamarindo vs. Playa Grande, I’ll start by saying that life and lifestyle are very personal and, often, cannot be stated or told; they’re felt. Felt by you, specifically: There’s that unequaled quality of how you feel when you’re there. And so, I encourage you to visit and explore for yourself. Yes, do your research but don’t depend on any third party’s research alone; be sure to check out these towns for yourself!

With that said, let’s talk about the differences (and similarities) between the sister towns of Tamarindo and Playa Grande:

Tamarindo vs. Playa Grande: The Basics

Tamarindo vs. Playa Grande_ The Basics

From the purest down-to-basics comparison, here are the core what’s-whats of Tamarindo vs. Playa Grande:


Tamarindo, which we locals loving refer to as “Tama” – and which you may also see styled as Playa Tamarindo or Tamarindo Beach, both for the town’s eponymous beach – is located at GPS coordinates 10.300846258789758, -85.84060195323838, about 23.5 kilometers (15 miles) south of Playa Grande and 78 kilometers (48.5 miles) southwest of Liberia, the capital of Guanacaste province and home to Liberia International Airport (LIR, also known as the Daniel Oduber International Airport). 

Tamarindo can truly be considered an oceanfront city, despite the fact that downtown is only about one square mile! The classification comes courtesy not of Tama’s size but amenities: You can find almost everything here, including grocery stores, shopping, basic medical, plenty of Tamarindo private schools, and ample dining and nightlife – easily 50 options within walking distance! And for major amenities, including a regional hospital, you’ll make the 90-minute drive to Liberia.

Playa Grande

Playa Grande is located just across the estuary from Tamarindo, at GPS coordinates 10.324460241019363, -85.8417823876363, about 20 kilometers (12.5 miles) south of Playa Grande and 77 kilometers (48 miles) southwest of Liberia, the capital of Guanacaste province and home to Liberia International Airport (LIR, also known as the Daniel Oduber International Airport). On foot, it’s an easy estuary ride away and by road, you’ll route through Villareal. 

Playa Grande is a Costa Rican OG – Original Guanacaste, that is! The town is home to some of Guanacaste’s original oceanfront homes and surf casitas, built to celebrate the sand-between-your-toes and surf-all-day lifestyle, as well as a growing selection of new construction, often with incredible ocean views. All that, and you still have easy access to a handful of in-town amenities, dining, and private schools, and an easy drive to Tamarindo for everything else.

Tamarindo vs. Playa Grande: Vibe Check

Tamarindo vs. Playa Grande_ Vibe Check

I am a strong proponent of visiting before you buy. That’s because there are so many intangible and unquantifiable aspects that figure into whether you “vibe” with a specific town (and home, for that matter). That said, I’ll try my best to reveal a bit of the lifestyle flavor, at least when it comes to living in Tamarindo vs. Playa Grande:


Tamarindo undeniably feels like a bustling mini-city with a free spirit and serious joie de vivre. (Literally. The town’s motto is “surf, eat, and have fun!”) What everyone says is true: Tamarindo is a surf town. It’s a party town. It’s a sportfishing town. And yet, it’s also a lot more than that. 

Yes, there is always something happening here. And yes, there are lots of tourists here. And yes, Tamarindo likes to stay up late. But Tamarindo is also a community. If you choose to set down roots here, you’ll soon find yourself enveloped into the Tama fold, which is as close-knit as it is laid-back. From beach lovers and families to digital nomads and foodies, this place attracts joiners and extroverts and expats who seek minimal culture shock.

That’s because Tamarindo takes full advantage of its “city” vibes and goes big on the amenities. Whether you’re looking for hard-to-find ingredients or social outings in English, Tamarindo is likely to have it. And that can make a huge difference to your life here: Culture shock can be brutal at times, and any chance to mitigate it is well received by anyone who has ever experienced it. So, as trivial as it sounds to say you can ask a question in English or find a supplement when it matters, these things can make a huge difference to your adjustment here.

Playa Grande

I like to think of Playa Grande as Tamarindo-lite: Even more laid back, several dozen decibels quieter, and seemingly a world away. This could be the perfect place to call home if you seek a quieter and more tranquil existence without having to eschew important (or even desirable) amenities. 

The town – also named for its eponymous beach – is also a wildlife paradise and surf haven. Let’s start with the second, because it is seriously impressive: Playa Grande (both the town and the beach) is famous for its world-class surf, which hosts intermediate to advanced breaks, including at Casitas, El Estero, and Playa Grande itself. And as for the first, know that Playa Grande is housed within Las Baulas National Marine Park, home to mangrove forests, estuaries, and critical leatherback sea turtle nesting sites. And that makes your potential new home an excellent choice for anyone who loves and reveres nature.

Sometimes, when you’re here, it can be hard to believe that Playa Grande and its natural wonders are so close to Tamarindo’s city atmosphere and excellent amenities. For many, it’s the kind of best-of-both-worlds scenario that we’ve been told doesn’t exist. Only here, it does. And that’s why so many love Playa Grande.

Tamarindo vs. Playa Grande: Beaches, Surfing & More

Tamarindo vs. Playa Grande_ Beaches, Surfing _ More

If you love the beach, then you’re going to love both Tamarindo and Playa Grande. That’s because both towns cradle beautiful coastline, which is known for its world-class surf, estuaries and mangroves, and diverse recreational offerings, many of which are easily accessible by car. With that in mind, here’s where diverge (a little): 


Tamarindo is a serious tourism draw in Guanacaste, thanks to its deep blue waters and powdery white sands that really make you want to dig your toes in. And then, there’s the epic surf and sandy (mostly) ocean floor, which have long been a draw to surfers, who come from far and wide to experience the waves at Tamarindo. 

Know that this near-perfection now has a bit of a price, and that price is crowds. Tamarindo is undeniably popular, both for tourists and area residents seeking a day at the beach. A beach that’s easily visited by car and that offers dozens of oceanfront restaurants and bars, after-dark fire dancing, and a host of amenities, including restrooms, showers, and changing rooms. 

Playa Grande

Again, I describe Playa Grande as Tamarindo-lite: Much of the same draws, not quite the same crowds. Here, you’ll see a definite bias toward serious surfers and casual beachgoers, who come primarily to stroll the sand and lounge beneath the trees (Playa Grande is not a swimming beach).

And, while there aren’t enough daytrippers or residents to support a huge restaurant scene, Playa Grande does have its fair share. From vendors hawking pipa (ice-cold coconut water, still in the coconut) to ocean-view restaurants, you’ll have sufficient options from which to choose.

Tamarindo vs. Playa Grande: Real Estate

Tamarindo vs. Playa Grande_ Real Estate

When it comes to real estate, Tamarindo is something like Playa Grande’s extroverted big sibling: Attracting a slightly younger, free-spirited crowd to vertical condos (not quite high-rises), townhomes, and a growing selection of single-family homes. Playa Grande, on the other hand, skews more toward homes and villas.  


Tamarindo offers an incredible selection of residential real estate of almost every type and any price range. The town’s lifestyle and luxury condominiums promise excellent value, packing upscale finishes into vertical condos and townhome communities with their own amenities – from the standard 24/7 gated security to resort pools and fitness centers. 

You’ll also notice an emerging trend of more single-family housing (and lots zoned for residential use), which mark Tamarindo’s rising popularity among digital nomads, younger expats, and other beach-loving urbanites. Tamarindo also offers excellent investment opportunities – everything from functioning businesses to development parcels.

Tamarindo is also home to a few gated communities, both within town limits and just outside, that combine the convenience and location of downtown with the incredible lifestyle and amenities of a master-planned community. 

>> Tamarindo Real Estate <<

Playa Grande

Playa Grande offers a strong residential real estate market, focusing mostly on single-family homes, with lots and homesites peppered in for the builders among us (hi, that’s me!).

Additionally, the area is seeing growth in planned communities. In addition to the beloved gated community of Las Ventanas de Playa Grande, several others have also popped up in recent years, including at Grande Salvaje, Palm Beach Estates, Playa Grande Estates, and Corona del Cabo (between Playa Grande and Matapalo). 

>> Playa Grande Real Estate <<

Considering Tamarindo vs. Playa Grande? Or any other town in Guanacaste? 

Considering Tamarindo vs. Playa Grande or Guanacaste

Hi, I’m Rebecca Clower. (My friends call me Becky.) In 2006, I did what you’re either preparing to do or have already done: I followed my heart and moved to Costa Rica. 

Over the years, I’ve strengthened my roots here. I’ve given birth to my two boys and raised them here in Costa Rica. I’ve founded a wildly successful business. I’ve been on TV. I’ve given back to my community. I’ve taken on major positions of responsibility and authority. I am a dual citizen and have completely integrated into Costa Rica and my community. 

Along the way, I’ve become an expert on Costa Rica relocation. And so, for years, I’ve made it my job to help other people make their own successful transitions to Costa Rica life and living. I offer real, honest advice and expertise to my clients. 

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