The bohemian, surfer-cum-hippie vibe reigns supreme on the southern tip of the Nicoya Peninsula, once home a scrappy fishing hamlet and now one of Costa Rica’s most desirable coastal destinations. Our Santa Teresa and Mal País travel guide takes you to these twin beach towns, which welcome all manner of sun-lovers and free spirits drawn to the postcard sunsets, reliable surf, and laid-back ambiance.
- Area: Nicoya
- Average Temperature: 74 to 94º F (23 to 34º C)
- Closest Airport: Daniel Oduber International Airport (LIR), 2 hours; Tambor Regional Airport, 1 hour to Santa Teresa and 1 hour + 15 minutes to Mal País
- Can’t-Miss Attractions: Beaches, Curu Wildlife Refuge (tropical dry and wet forests, wildlife, and beaches) and Cabo Blanco Reserve (rugged beaches & rainforest)
- Hot Activities: Zip Lining, Surfing, Sport Fishing, Wildlife & Nature Tours, Snorkeling
- Great for: Surfers, Families, Solo Travelers, and Budget Travelers
Over the last few years, Santa Teresa has become a hugely popular vacation destination for surfers and beach-lovers alike. The area generally referred to as Santa Teresa, is an 11km stretch of stunning coastline that stretches from the edge of the Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve all the way to the end of Playa Hermosa de San Martín. The area actually encompasses three separate villages – Malpais, Santa Teresa and Playa Hermosa.
Malpais is rugged and rocky, while Santa Teresa and Playa Hermosa offer long stretches of white sand. The beaches are fringed by almond trees and tropical palms, with a thick forest that extends up into the hills. Sunsets here are spectacular year-round. Howler monkeys and white-faced monkeys make regular appearances in the trees around town. You are also likely to spot large iguanas and lizards, beautiful tropical birds (including hummingbirds, toucans and the bare-throated tiger heron), incredible butterflies, turtles and sometimes even whales and dolphins.
This Santa Teresa and Mal País travel guide introduces you to a popular surfing destination, with waves that are suitable for all levels of surfers. However, the town has a lot more to offer than just surfing. Here you will find world-class yoga, ATV adventure tours, waterfalls, zip-lining, deep-sea fishing, scuba diving, snorkeling, tours to the Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve and the Curu Reserve, kayaking, horse riding and much more.
There is a large expat community in Santa Teresa, and visitors are often surprised at the quality and range of international cuisine that can be found at this remote beach town. There are also a number of delicious local Costa Rican options too. The area can be quiet during the height of rainy season, September and October, but visit during high season and there are fun options for nightlife.
Our Santa Teresa and Mal País travel guide takes you there – to the best surf, the can’t-miss activities & attractions, and the best hotels, restaurants, and bars in Mal País.
What to do in Santa Teresa
Here are some of the top tours and activities that Santa Teresa has to offer.
Santa Teresa enjoys consistent waves throughout the year, and there are surf breaks for all levels of surfers. The most consistent surf breaks are to be found at Playa Carmen, Santa Teresa and Hermosa. Malpais does have one intermediate reef break for experienced surfers.
There are many places around town that you can rent surfboards or hire a surf instructor. One of our favorite places is Kina Surf.
The second most popular activity in Santa Teresa is yoga. Yoga of different styles and levels is available throughout town. Some of the top places to practice yoga are, Pranamar Villas (with Nancy), Horizon (with Jessica, Yoav and Gali) and Flor Blanca (with Stefano).
If you feel like a jungle adventure, you can rent ATVs and take yourself through the jungle, over the peninsula to the beautiful waterfalls of Montezuma. This is a lot of fun, but make sure to drive carefully on the bumpy, pot-holed roads.
Fly through the forest with Canopy Malpais. This tour is very popular and gives you another perspective on the beach, with beautiful views down the coastline. This could also be a good chance to spot some monkeys and other wildlife in the treetops.
Gallop along the beach at sunset, or head inland to explore the lush farmlands and rivers. One of the top horse tours is in Manzanillo, which takes you through four different eco-systems – the beach, the Ario-Caletas Nature Reserve, rich farmland and along the banks of the Ario River. Your guides on this tour are a bi-lingual naturalist and a Costa Rican cowboy. This tour is highly recommended.
Even though the visibility is not as clear as the conditions on the Caribbean coast, the scuba diving in Santa Teresa is exhilarating. There is a lot of marine life to see, and the local Scuba Diving outfit is top-notch.
Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve
The Cabo Blanco was the first Nature Reserve to be established in Costa Rica, dating back to 1963. There are two options for visitors to the Cabo Blanco Reserve – there is the easy, gentle trail that will take you about 1.5 hours, or there is the 4 hour round trip to a beautiful deserted beach in the middle of the reserve. It is pretty spectacular. Make sure you bring plenty of water.
You can read more facts about the Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve here.
Santa Teresa and Mal País Travel Guide to Bars and Restaurants
There are so many good restaurants in Santa Teresa, that it would be impossible to give an exhaustive list here. These are some of our top picks:
Koji’s – Located in Playa Hermosa, this restaurant is not to be missed. The chef, Koji, provides a range of traditional Japanese dishes and delicious sushi. It is recommended to try his signature Koji Roll. You can enjoy some tasty sake with your meal, or go for something from the delicious cocktail menu.
Al Chile Viola – Al Chile Viola is located in Santa Teresa and is a Sicilian restaurant that serves mouth-watering Mediterranean dishes. There is often live acoustic music. Try the Green Feather cocktail.
Café Social – This is a new café, opened by the owners of Kika (a great Argentinian restaurant also located in Santa Teresa). Café Social is open for breakfast and lunch, and serves some delicious, fresh organic dishes. There are many options that are suitable for vegans.
Zwart Café – The Zwart Café is a café, art studio and bookshop all rolled into one. The café serves fresh, healthy food, as well as great coffee. Open for breakfast and lunch only.
Las Caracolas – If you are looking for traditional Costa Rican cooking, you will want to check out Las Caracolas on the beachfront in Malpais. The food is great and the location is stunning. A great place to watch the sunset.
Santa Teresa and Mal País Travel Guide to Hotels
There is a large range of hotels in Santa Teresa that cater to all budgets. Here are some of the top hotels in town.
Flor Blanca – This is a high-end, luxury hotel on the beachfront in northern Santa Teresa. The hotel offers spacious one or two-bedroom villas, with exceptional service, great yoga and a delicious restaurant. Perfect for people looking for a romantic setting and privacy.
Pranamar Villas – Located on the beachfront in Playa Hermosa, Pranamar Villas is another top-end hotel. There is a great beachfront restaurant, as well as some of the best daily yoga in town.
Tropico Latino – This hotel has a fabulous beachfront location, only steps from some of the best surfing in the area. Rooms and bungalows are either set within a lovely tropical garden or facing the ocean. There is a great restaurant serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as daily yoga at the beachfront yoga deck.
Griss – Griss is a lovely, quiet hotel in the center of Santa Teresa, and a very short walk to the beach. The rooms are beautifully designed and comfortable. One of the best things about the Griss hotel are the incredibly friendly and welcoming Italian owners, who make sure all their guests are well looked after.
Horizon – The Horizon hotel offers amazing ocean views, wonderful yoga and a delicious tea-house.
Santa Teresa is located on the western tip of the Nicoya Peninsula, in the province of Puntarenas. While it is just 150 kilometers from San Jose, its remote location and at times extremely bad roads can make the journey to the beach long and tiring. The best options for traveling to Santa Teresa are by rental car or by domestic flight.
It is never cold in Santa Teresa, with temperatures ranging from 70 to 95 degrees depending on the time of year. Generally it is hot, but don’t forget a raincoat if you are visiting in the rainy season.
The dry season (and hence high season) is from December through to the end of April. March and April can be particularly hot, with days reaching up to 95 degrees.
The rainy season is from May to November. The months of June, July and August can be a lovely time to visit. While there is a risk of rain during the day, generally speaking the rainstorms arrive late afternoon/early evening.
September and October are traditionally the rainiest months. During these months a lot of the restaurants and bars will be closed. The waves can be a little less predictable due to the frequent storms. It is still a beautiful time to visit if you enjoy tranquility and tropical storms.
Getting to Santa Teresa
Be aware that the roads on the Nicoya Peninsula can be rough. Some are paved and some are not. We would recommend hiring a car with 4-wheel drive.
Driving from San Jose to Santa Teresa
Driving from San Jose to Santa Teresa takes between 5 and 6 hours. From San Jose take Route 27 to Puntarenas (approx. 1 hour 30 minutes). At the port town of Puntarenas you take the ferry to Paquera (approx. 1 hour 20 minutes). The ticket for the ferry will cost about $25 one-way for the car. From Paquera follow the road to Cobano, and then on to the cross roads of Santa Teresa and Malpais (approx. 1 hour 30 minutes).
Driving from Liberia to Santa Teresa
From Liberia the journey will also take between 5 and 6 hours. Take Route 21 through Santa Cruz and Nicoya and on to Playa Naranjo. From Naranjo take the unpaved road to Paquera. From Paquera follow the signs to Cobano and then on through to the crossroads of Santa Teresa and Malpais.
It is also possible to take a coastal road down from Tamarindo, through Nosara, Samara, Playa San Miguel and Coyote, Manzanillo and on to Playa Hermosa. However, this road is only passable in the dry season and it is not well marked. We would advise taking the clearly marked and paved Route 21 if in any doubt.
Domestic Flight to Santa Teresa
The closest domestic airport is Tambor. You can take a flight from San Jose with either Sansa or Nature Air. The flight takes approximately 25 minutes. From Tambor you can either rent a car or hire a taxi to drive the 45 minutes to Santa Teresa. A taxi from Tambor will cost $50-$60.
A flight to Tambor will provide you with some beautiful views down over the country. Be advised, however, that these are small, 20-seater planes and hence there are strict baggage limits. The flight can also be bumpy. Take a look at the Sansa and Nature Air websites for more information.
There are other options for traveling to Santa Teresa, depending on where you are planning to travel from. Other options include – shuttle bus, speedboat from Herradura, helicopter or charter plane.
Contact us if you would like help booking your travel to Santa Teresa.
Visit Santa Teresa
If you are a beach lover, Santa Teresa is a destination not to be missed. Whether you are looking for relaxation and tranquility or high-adventure in the jungle, this remote beach town will not disappoint.