Before I get into the differences of life in Tamarindo vs. Playa Flamingo, let me say this: Life and lifestyle are both very personal decisions – ones that you’ll need to make for yourself. Yes, there are ways to compare and contrast the two but ultimately, there’s the very real component of how you feel about which town suits you best.
I strongly (note: strongly) recommend you visit both (and any other towns on your shortlist) before you make any major decisions.
That said, if you asked me for my knee-jerk, top-level, most down-to-basics comparison of Tamarindo vs. Playa Flamingo, I would say this: Tamarindo is a surfing beach that attracts a younger crowd, as it has lots to do and incredible nightlife. And, at only about one square mile (but a PACKED one square mile), Tamarindo is also supremely walkable. But it also offers superb investment potential, as many visitors make their first Costa Rica trip to Tamarindo and, therefore, vacation rental potential is great.
By comparison, Playa Flamingo is best known for its white-sand beach, complete with swimming and snorkeling, as well as deep-sea fishing. The brand-new marina (inaugurated 2023) is now a huge draw, calling out to those who love boating and yachting. While Flamingo has access to all major services and good dining options, it’s somewhat more spread out, so it’s not a huge walking town like Tamarindo. You’ll also notice that residents lean more toward the family and retiree demographics.
As I said – those are my top-level, simplified, just-the-basics comparisons. Now, let’s get a little more in-depth:
Tamarindo vs. Playa Flamingo: The Basics
Just so we’re on the same page, let’s boil both towns down to their absolute basics.
Tamarindo, sometimes called Playa Tamarindo or Tamarindo Beach (for the eponymous beach along its coast) is located at GPS coordinates 10.300846258789758, -85.84060195323838, about 23.5 kilometers (15 miles) south of Playa Flamingo 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 is a full-on, oceanside city (a “city” that’s about 1 square mile, but still!) with a wide array of grocery stores, restaurants (easily 50 within walking distance!), basic medical care, shopping, and other everyday amenities. Tamarindo private schools are also some of the best in the region. For major amenities, like a regional hospital, you’ll drive 90 minutes to Liberia.
Flamingo, sometimes called Playa Flamingo or Flamingo Beach (also for the eponymous beach that lines its coast) is located at GPS coordinates 10.430568047810754, -85.79290079864914, about 23.5 kilometers (15 miles) north of Tamarindo and 52 kilometers (33 miles) southwest of Liberia, the capital of Guanacaste province and home to Liberia International Airport (LIR, also known as the Daniel Oduber International Airport).
For decades, Playa Flamingo was viewed more as a glam getaway than a true town, although that was never wholly true: Flamingo has long had access to the basics of everyday life and now, with the recent inauguration of the new Flamingo Marina, the town is booming. Here, you’ll have access to everything you need (ex. banking/ATMs, pharmacies, etc.) and a lot of what you want (excellent restaurants, the marina, etc.), with all other major amenities (ex. a hospital) in Liberia.
Tamarindo vs. Playa Flamingo: Vibe Check
Though I strongly believe and advocate for anyone considering relocation to visit first – there are so, so many intangible, hard-to-describe factors that may sway your decision-making – I’ll do my best to compare what it feels like to live in Tamarindo vs. Playa Flamingo.
With a motto of “surf, eat, and have fun!”, it’s clear that Tamarindo is proud to wave its free-spirited flag. And yet, Tamarindo is so much more than what the tourist guidebooks say – more than a party town, more than a surf town, more than a sportfishing town, more than a seaside party town. (Although it is all those things, too!)
Having lived in this area for years, I can best describe Tamarindo as a laid-back kind of place that’s a great choice for culture vultures, beachgoers, and expats seeking minimal culture-shock. That’s because it’s inarguably one of Guanacaste’s most amenity-rich beach towns. And if you haven’t yet spent significant time here, then I’ll translate why that matters: As you settle into life in Costa Rica, culture shock can sneak up in the strangest of ways. Tamarindo mitigates that, to some degree.
Culture shock can hit in everything from banking to finding your way at the feria (farmers market). Most often, it’s the little things, like trying to communicate something important in your rudimentary Spanish (there are lots of English speakers in Tamarindo, FYI) or trying to find that one key ingredient to that one recipe you’re desperate to make, and while the ingredient would be easy to find at even the smallest grocery store “back home,” you can’t find seem to find it anywhere in your new home. And here’s where Tamarindo becomes clutch: If that ingredient is available locally, it’ll be available somewhere in Tamarindo. As trivial as that sounds, it can make a huge difference to your adjustment here.
Often referred to as the Beverly Hills of Costa Rica, Flamingo definitely has that polished, upscale vibe that can feel a tad discerning, although usually sans pretension. I could describe it as exclusive but not exclusionary, sophisticated without being snobbish… But that still wouldn’t quite tell the whole Playa Flamingo story.
I suppose you could think of it less like Beverly Hills and more like the French Riviera (of the Saint-Tropez variety): sun-splashed, glittery, and the kind of place where life feels like a year-round vacation. Because here, it is, thanks to Playa Flamingo’s white-sand beaches, scenic tree-lined coast, excellent restaurants, upscale amenities, Ecological Blue Flag, and now, the new Flamingo Marina, which brings a whole new level of yachting, dining, and other perks to town.
Tamarindo vs. Playa Flamingo: Beaches, Surfing & More
The true bottom line is you cannot go wrong with either Tamarindo or Playa Flamingo. Both are scenic, both offer diverse recreation, and both are easily accessible. Now, let’s talk a little about their coastal differences:
A beach that was beautiful enough to inspire an entire tourism industry! Yes, there’s a reason that Tamarindo is so popular for visitors: its deep blue waters and powdery white sands, which span a deep (wide) beach, are absolutely gorgeous. Then, there’s the mostly sandy ocean floor and varying wave conditions, which can range from gentle enough for swimming to serious churn for even more serious surfing.
That said, Tamarindo’s popularity comes at a price: It can get crowded. That’s due not only to the diversity of its conditions, but also the town’s general popularity and accessibility: People love it here and there are ample beach amenities, including beachfront restaurants and facilities, including restrooms, showers, and changing rooms. Even so, know that there’s always a sunny spot where you can lay out your towel, stroll the sand, or settle in for one of the country’s best sunsets.
Flamingo’s white-sand beach is gorgeous and truly striking: its off-white sands, gentle waves, and tree-lined coasts seem almost drawn from a picture-perfect postcard fantasy. Even better: This gorgeous coast is also the recipient of Costa Rica’s Ecological Blue Flag, awarded for beach cleanliness and environmental stewardship.
If you’re looking for a slightly quieter – but not secluded – beach experience, Flamingo usually delivers. Thanks to its smaller waves, this is less a surfing beach (unless you’re a beginner working on getting up on your board and balancing as you ride baby waves) and more a destination for swimming and snorkeling. Up the ante by heading out to the Catalina Islands, home to some of Guanacaste’s best snorkeling and scuba diving (the giant manta rays are truly breathtaking!).
Tamarindo vs. Playa Flamingo: Real Estate
As I mentioned above, Tamarindo has traditionally been home to younger and/or more extroverted residents (as well as vacation rental investors), while Playa Flamingo is quite popular among families and retirees.
Both towns’ real estate somewhat reflects these trends:
Tamarindo offers ample investment opportunities, often in functioning businesses – everything from restaurants to vacation rental homes with a proven history.
Regarding residential real estate, you’ll find many lifestyle and luxury condominiums here, offering everything from the basics of security and maintenance to upscale amenities including resort pools and outdoor kitchens. 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 residents who seek the fun, laid-back, amenity-rich lifestyle that Tamarindo affords.
Additionally, Tamarindo is home to a few gated communities that combine the convenience and location of downtown with the incredible lifestyle and amenities of a master-planned community. Two of my top recommendations are Senderos Tamarindo and the brand-new Tamarindo Park.
With the inauguration of the new Flamingo Marina, Playa Flamingo real estate is booming. Most real estate currently on the market are single-family homes, often in hillside communities overlooking the Pacific Ocean and Flamingo Marina.
Additionally, Playa Flamingo is home to a handful of exclusive, upscale gated communities that strongly appeal to families, retirees, and anyone else who seeks resort amenities (Beach Clubs, resort pools, hiking/biking trails, and more) paired with sweeping ocean views. Two of my top recommendations are Mar Vista and Flamingo Estates.
Considering Tamarindo vs. Playa Flamingo? Or any other town in 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.
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