Beaches, and waterfalls, and surf – oh my! Our Montezuma travel guide whisks you away to the secluded, bohemian and completely chill, oceanfront Montezuma – a town relatively untouched by tourism. (It has its location – the rough and rugged Nicoya Peninsula – to thank for that.) The result? While Montezuma is developed enough to have great restaurants and tours, the streets are sandy, the surf uncrowded, and the people friendly.
- Area: Nicoya
- Average Temperature: 71 to 92°F (22 to 33º C)
- Closest Airport: Daniel Oduber International Airport (LIR), 4 hours; Juan Santamaría International Airport (SJO), 4.5 hours (including a ferry ride); Tambor Regional Airport, 40 minutes
- Can’t-Miss Attractions: Beaches, Cabo Blanco Absolute Reserve (hiking and wildlife), Curu Wildlife Refuge (hiking and wildlife), Various Waterfalls (hiking, swimming, waterfall rappelling), Isla Tortuga (catamaran cruise, snorkeling, beaches)
- Hot Activities: Surfing, Horseback Riding, ATV Tours, Sport Fishing, Nature Tours, Waterfalls, Snorkeling, Whale Watching
- Great for: Budget Travelers, Families, Surfers, Couples & Honeymooners
Montezuma is the quintessential bohemian beach town in Costa Rica. Known for its eclectic residents and stunning natural beauty, this remote little town offers a completely different experience than any other location in the country.
Originally a fishing village, it gained popularity in the 1980’s as a budget destination for tourists who were interested in visiting the nearby Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve, Isla Tortuga and Curu Wildlife Reserve. Over the last few decades, this laid-back village has attracted a unique, multi-cultured mix of people of all nationalities, who have chosen to relocate here. This multi-culture community has created an alternative lifestyle that is unique to the rest of the world.
The remoteness of the town, and the difficult pathway to it, means this place is seldom crowded and ideal for those who wish to disconnect. The town center is lined with old wooden houses, some of which are painted in bright colors giving it a vibrant Caribbean flair.
“Montezuma resembles a modern-day hippie commune, with its artist, surfers, yoga instructors, and weekend organic farmer’s market featuring impromptu jam sessions between the local musicians”
Montezuma’s natural beauty includes mangroves, estuaries, jungle covered hills and small rivers. These rivers form magnificent waterfalls and swimming holes. The town is also known for its creative and healing arts. There are several yoga and meditation retreats in the area. Surfing in this area is good, but strong rip tide currents can make it dangerous, so be careful.
Our Montezuma travel guide introduces you to best beaches, most epic surf spots, gnarliest adventures, and can’t-miss restaurants and hotels around Montezuma.
What to do in Montezuma
The jagged coastland along Montezuma has a plethora of activities to offer its visitors. The area is a hiker’s paradise with mountains and beautiful beaches to explore, not to mention the gorgeous waterfalls and Nature Reserves.
The beach that gives name to this little town lies a short walk north of town. This large sandy beach is perfect for sun bathing and swimming. Its proximity to town makes it a very convenient spot to hang out. Waters here can sometimes be a little rough so please keep this in mind if you decide to go for a swim.
If you head north from Playa Montezuma, after a 15-20-minute hike you will reach Piedra Colorada. This small cove, nestled between rocky outcrops, offers a lot of shade and a unique rock sculpture garden. Years back a local artist used to hike to Piedra Colorada every day to rebuild these structures he created. Although this artist no longer lives in Montezuma, the locals have kept up the tradition. There is a small river that spills into the ocean creating a beautiful little waterfall and fresh water pools. This beach is also a good spot for snorkeling.
Playa Grande of Montezuma
When you travel through Costa Rica, you will notice that locals have a tendency of giving the same name to different locations. There is more than one playa Grande. The one located close to Tamarindo is the better known, but there is also a Playa Grande in Montezuma.
To reach it, you will need to continue your hike north after Piedra Colorada. Make sure to bring plenty of water, snacks, sunscreen and sturdy shoes as it will take you about 45 minutes. The trail goes on and off the beach, sometimes going into the nature reserves that border the coast.
As the name suggests, Playa Grande (Big Beach) is a huge stretch of sand. It is considered the best surf spot in the area, but again please be mindful of strong riptides. The beach is backed by the Romelia Wildlife Refuge, so be on the lookout for exotic birds and playful monkeys, and remember not to leave your litter behind.
Located about 1.25 miles south of Montezuma, Playa Manchas (Spotted Beach) is a spectacular white sand beach. It gets its name from the large schools of fish that can be seen from the shoreline. Considered by many as one of the prettiest beaches in the southern Nicoya Peninsula, the water is a beautiful turquoise color contrasting against the white sand. The clear waters make it a popular snorkeling destination for both locals and tourists.
The beach is divided in two by rocks. Waters pours in from the right side and can create a short, but very powerful riptide that can carry you out. Should this happen, swim sideways to the right and you will be out of the riptide in a few seconds. Avoid going into the water when the waves are large. It is typical for them to crash against the beach with unusual force, which could be dangerous.
Because of the geography, most of the rain that falls on the Nicoya Peninsula drains to the south towards Montezuma, creating a series of spectacular waterfalls and swimming holes.
The Montezuma River has 3 waterfalls and some of the best pools. They are very close to town and therefore are some of the most popular. The amount of water in the rivers greatly diminishes during the dry season. Luckily they never go completely dry, so the waterfalls are always an alluring attraction.
The lower waterfall is the biggest one and the easiest to access. It has an 80-ft. drop into a tranquil swimming hole lined with smooth rocks; perfect for relaxing. It is not safe to cliff dive from this waterfall so please do not attempt to.
The middle waterfall is somewhat hidden, you must swim to the edge of the pool of the top waterfall to see it. Not as tall as the lower waterfall, it has a 40-ft. drop and although some daredevils do jump from it, there have been serious accidents and it is therefore not advisable.
The top waterfall is the smallest by far at about 15 feet, but its pool is nice and deep so you can jump into it without risk of injury. There is a rope swing on one of the trees at the edge of the pool which adds to the fun.
How to get to the Montezuma Waterfalls
“It is best to hire a guide when visiting the Montezuma Waterfalls. It is easy to lose the trail, and nothing ruins a vacation like being lost in the jungle”
The Riverbed Trail: This is the easiest way to reach the lower waterfall. The lower cascade is 0.3 miles from town, which explains why it is the most visited one out of the three. Accessing the waterfall is free unless you drive; there is a $2.00 parking fee. During the dry season the hike along the riverbed is an easy one, but during the rainiest months when the water levels rise, it can become somewhat difficult. In some spots there are ropes along the riverbank to assist you. Make sure you have appropriate foot ware as the rocks can get very slippery.
You can access the top waterfalls this way, but it requires going up a set of rustic and steep stairs that go up the hill through the jungle. This is a moderate to difficult hike. At one point, the trail will enter the property of Sun Trails (Canopy Tour operators). Here you will be charged about $2 per person to be able to keep going.
Canopy Tour Trail: This is the easiest way to access the top waterfall, but it means you either need to drive or get a ride to the Sun Trail Canopy Tour facility. Sun Trails will charge $4.00 per person to allow you access to their hanging bridges and trails that lead to the top waterfalls. This is a much easier hike than the riverbed trail. You can go down to the lower waterfall from here, but it involves going up and down some 300 very steep and rustic steps.
South of Montezuma lies the small village of Cabuya. Just off shore, you will find this small and mysterious island that can be accessed on foot during low tide. Make sure to check the tides to avoid getting stuck on the island . The island is best known for its cemetery. Walking among its tombstones is a surreal experience. Legend says the island is haunted by the spirits of the dead.
The north side of the island is a great snorkeling spot during the low tide. Octopuses, sea turtles, puffer fish, lobsters and other types of marine animals inhabit the hard-coral reef and can easily be seen. The south side of the island is great for surfing, although because of the trek out to the island, not a lot of surfers go there.
Montezuma Travel Guide to Bars and Restaurants
Considered one of the best restaurants in Montezuma, it sits right on the water. Arrive early to see the last rays of the sun as it sinks into the horizon. The ambiance is wonderful. Lit by candles, with the sound of the ocean, makes a visit the perfect way to end a day. The food is to die for and the menu changes every night, so it’s worth going at least twice.
On the grounds of the Mariposario Montezuma Gardens (Butterfly Gardens), this restaurant is open for lunch and dinner from Tue-Sat. It is known for its house craft beers and Latin-flare tapas menu. Not close to town, it is about 0.6 miles up the hill, but you won’t be disappointed. Prices are reasonable and the food is very good.
Located at the hotel Cascada, this is the perfect place to go after your hike to the waterfalls. B.Bar offers ice cold beers, burgers, fries, sandwiches, pizzas and really good empanadas. The owners Tricia and Jorge are the most gracious hosts. An added bonus, the bar/restaurant has great views.
Montezuma Travel Guide to Hotels
Mariposario Montezuma Gardens: This small bed and breakfast is a little gem hidden in the hills of Montezuma. Powered by solar panels, rooms offer A/C, private baths, hot water, satellite TV and free Wi-Fi. Guests can enjoy a complementary rotating full breakfast every morning from 7-9 a.m., as well as unlimited access to the butterfly garden. As mentioned above, their bar/restaurant Clandestina offers six different house craft beers and excellent food.
Amor de Mar: The hotel has 9 rooms and two villas, located just outside the town center next to the Montezuma river that leads to the waterfalls. All the rooms have great woodwork that give you the feeling of being on a boat. Surrounded by beautiful gardens, it offers a restaurant serving breakfast and lunch as well as a spa. The hotel supports local artists and it shows in its décor; unique artistic pieces can be found everywhere.
Ylang Ylang: The most luxurious accommodations in Montezuma, the resort is located north of town overlooking a secluded beach. It offers private bungalows, suites and tent cabins all surrounded by manicured gardens. In addition, there is a nice swimming pool and a restaurant specializing in organic healthy meal options.
Getting to Montezuma
There are several options to get to Montezuma. These depend mostly on your budget and time constraints.
If you are driving make sure you rent a 4×4. Some of the roads are in rough shape and it would be difficult to manage with a sedan or compact car.
The drive from San José to Puntarenas takes about 1 to 1.5 hours depending on traffic. The easiest way is on route 27. In Puntarenas, you will need to board the Ferry to cross the gulf. For information on schedules, please visit http://www.navieratambor.com/horarios-y-tarifas. The ferry will take you to Paquera, some 30 miles from Montezuma. The drive from Parquera to Montezuma will take about 1.5 hours. You will pass through the towns of Tambor and Cobano before arriving to your destination.
Direct buses depart from San José twice a day, at 6:00am and 2:00pm. Buses leave from Terminal 7-10 in downtown San José. Returns are also twice a day, leaving Montezuma at 6:30am and 2:30pm. Buses are very comfortable and budget friendly.
To book your tickets please go to: https://www.laterminalcostarica.com/
The beach and town of Montezuma are in the province of Puntarenas on the southern tip of the Gulf of Nicoya; about 87 miles from San José (140 km).
Montezuma has very steady weather conditions throughout the year, with daytime highs reaching the low 90’s and nighttime lows falling into the upper 70’s.
In general, if you do not enjoy rain at the beach, it is best to stay away between the months of September and November. December to the early part of April see the least amount of rain and you can enjoy endless sunny days.
This secluded bohemian town, surrounded by nature reserves, is one of the last under-developed coastal towns in the Nicoya Peninsula. The closeness of wildlife and the carefree attitude of its artsy bohemian residents make it a truly exceptional experience.