The southern tip of the Nicoya Peninsula feels like another world compared to the hustle and bustle of the tourist hubs in Costa Rica. This part of the country is known for its rolling green hills and lush surroundings, thanks to the abundance of rivers and underground water streams in the area.
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It’s not an area overcome with mass tourism yet, but in recent years, Santa Teresa and its neighbours, Mal Pais and Montezuma, have welcomed their fair share of visitors.
At first, it was mostly experienced surfers who needed very little to enjoy life on the shores of the Pacific Ocean—then followed the backpackers, who played a big role in placing Santa Teresa on the map as an off-the-beaten-path destination in Costa Rica.
With backpackers came hostels, B&Bs, restaurants, and shops, and just like that, the Santa Teresa area, once a little fishing village, had flourished into a destination that visitors now struggle to say goodbye to.
Best Time To Visit Santa Teresa
The good thing about planning a trip to a tropical town like Santa Teresa is you only need to keep two seasons in mind: dry and green (or rainy). The temperature ranges from about 30 degrees Celsius (87 degrees Fahrenheit) to 35 degrees Celsius (94 degrees Fahrenheit), though no matter what time of year you’re visiting, you’re still sure to catch some sun.
Expect no rain, lots of sunny days, and consistent waves during the dry season that runs through December until April. The perfect beach conditions mean this is also considered Santa Teresa’s peak tourism season, so while the setting is a tropical paradise, you’ll likely share the scene with lots of crowds and deal with higher hotel prices.
Green Season (Rainy Season)
The months from May to November make up the “green season” because of the rains that start to come and turn the island’s vegetation even more vibrant. Occasional showers in the first few months aren’t bad at all; the days are still warm and sunny, with light rainfall in the afternoon or at night to cool you down. Long, heavy downpours aren’t to be expected until around September or October.
These months also attract surfers. If you ask us, the green season is the best time to visit Costa Rica and Santa Teresa–not only do you get to catch the tropical colours in full bloom, but you also get to experience the waves with fewer tourists.
How To Get To Santa Teresa
This area is slightly off the beaten path, but it’s not that difficult to reach Santa Teresa.
Get a domestic flight from San Jose International Airport to Tambor Airport. This is the quickest and most convenient option, as the flights run daily via Nature Air or Sansa Airlines and only take 25 minutes. From Tambor Airport, you can take a ferry, shuttle, or private transportation to Santa Teresa.
The Puntarenas Ferry departs several times a day and takes approximately 1 hour and 30 mins to arrive at Paquera. The ferry’s availability and schedule depends on the season, so we recommend checking their website and booking your tickets ahead.
There are also private/shared shuttles from most of the major tourist destinations in Costa Rica.
From San Jose Airport, a direct shuttle runs to Santa Teresa or Mal Pais twice a day. The pick-up points are either at the airport or in most hotels in the San José International Airport Center and Alajuela, and the shuttle will bring you directly to the ferry in Paquera. Another shuttle picks you up on the other side, and the total travel time is approximately 6 hours. The shuttle departs at 7:30am and 1:15pm, costing about USD $50 per person.
From Downtown San Jose (Terminal 7-10), a direct bus by Transportes Cobano takes you to Santa Teresa/Mal Pais. The bus brings you directly to the ferry, and then picks you up on the other side, so make sure to keep your receipt so you can get back on the bus in Paquera. The bus departs at 6:00am and 2:00pm every day and costs about USD $12 per person.
Note that the bus schedules are timed to arrive at the dock right before the ferry is scheduled to leave. If the ferry schedule changes, it may affect the bus schedule as well. Make sure to contact Transportes Cobano to confirm your departure time.
Santa Teresa is located about 150 km (93 miles) from San José International Airport. If you rent a car at the airport, take Route 27 to Puntarenas, where you can take the ferry to Paquera. The ferry schedules vary depending on the season, so be sure to check out the ferry timetable before you go. The entire journey takes about 5 hours.
If you’re coming from Liberia Airport, reaching Santa Teresa is easier since there’s no ferry involved. Just follow Route 21 down the Nicoya Peninsula, which is a 170km (105.63mi) drive that takes just over 4 hours.
Book the Best Car Rental in Costa Rica
Renting a car in Costa Rica can be one of the most challenging parts of your visit! Unfortunately, car rentals in Costa Rica often come with significant hidden insurance fees, result in many frustrations at pick-up. The experience has ruined many trips and ballooned trip budgets for friends, family and followers. After years of not having a good solution, we finally found an honest car rental company that we proudly recommend to our readers.
We recommend booking with Vamos Costa Rica – a local car rental company that offers fantastic service and NO HIDDEN FEES and get 10% of your rental rate plus FREE additional driver, FREE child seat and other perks and benefits when booking through our link below!
Book early as rental car availability all across Costa Rica is currently lower than demand!
Traveling Soon? Here is a list of our favourite travel providers and accessories to help get you ready for your upcoming trip!
READ NEXT: Monteverde Costa Rica Ultimate Guide
Things To Do In Santa Teresa, Costa Rica
At first glance, Santa Teresa may appear to be rather remote and unexciting compared to Manuel Antonio. That’s how we remembered it from our first visit back in 2016. But once we gave Santa Teresa a chance, we found it to be an exciting destination full of activities.
Relax On The Santa Teresa Beaches
Just as you’d expect from a coastal town, there are plenty of beautiful beaches to choose from in and around Santa Teresa. Due to rougher seas and many surfers, the beaches aren’t known to be great for swimming, but there are a few bays and nooks on the shoreline where swimming is possible. You can also find some comfy beach chairs, sit back, and soak it all up.
Playa Santa Teresa (Santa Teresa Beach)
Playa Santa Teresa is a wide, long beach with soft sand with the sea on one side and jungle on the other. It’s one of the most popular spots in Santa Teresa. Check out the local dive bar “La Lora Amarilla” for dance and music events throughout the year.
Playa Carmen lies between Santa Teresa and Malpais. Its wide, sandy beach is great for soaking up the sun or catching a few waves. Swimming in Playa Carmen (and Playa Santa Teresa) is not recommended, as the waves and currents are very strong.
Santa Teresa North
The north end of the main beach is slightly rockier but makes for a very picturesque landscape. This is one of the more scenic beaches in the area and a lovely place to go for a sunset stroll. Go at low tide and enjoy the large pool, which is perfect for bathing and snorkelling.
If you take the road towards Samara and Nosara and turn off to the left, you’ll find Playa Hermosa. The name “Playa Hermosa” literally means “beautiful beach,” and it’s clear to see why! Wide, sandy, tropical beach lined with palm trees.
READ NEXT: Best Beaches in Costa Rica
Surfing In Santa Teresa Or Mal Pais
If you are a surfer or someone who wants to take up surfing, you’ll find no shortage of things to do in Santa Teresa! This region is known for its unique surf culture, different breaks, and a constant swell all year round. Most hotels and shops dotted along the main road in town offer surf rental shops and surf lessons.
Santa Teresa is also home to one of the most legendary surf breaks in Costa Rica, known as “Suck Rock,” located in front of the Red Palm Villas Resort. Next to Suck Rock, there is “La Lora,” known as one of the most consistent beach breaks.
Playa Santa Teresa, Playa Carmen, and the nearby beach in the town of Mal Pais all offer world-class surfing opportunities for surfers of all skill levels. Beginner surfers will particularly love Santa Teresa Beach, especially during the dry season when the waves are much calmer. Meanwhile, the rainy season sees way bigger waves, absolutely perfect for hollow breaks.
The gentle surf along Playa Hermosa makes it an excellent spot for teaching surf newbies.
Visit Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve
Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve is Costa Rica’s first protected area established back in 1963. The reserve encompasses 1,172 hectares of humid tropical forest and a rich jungle and marine ecosystem. It’s a mixed forest and is also home to many seabirds, including brown pelicans, laughing gulls, and ospreys.
If you’re lucky, you may also catch glimpses of some of the wildlife, such as white-tailed deer, armadillos, anteaters, howler monkeys, capuchin monkeys, porcupines, and coatis, to name but a few!
Cabo Blanco is located a short drive away from Santa Teresa and offers a few great hiking and horseback riding trails, ranging from 1km to 8kms. It’s an excellent place for a day trip.
Check Out Montezuma Waterfalls
Take a short drive (about 40 minutes) to the nearby town of Montezuma for an easy 1km (0.6 miles) hike to the famous Montezuma waterfalls. There are three waterfalls to visit: the upper falls, middle falls, and lower falls.
The upper falls are actually the smallest, which makes them a great option for those with kids. The middle falls are about 12 meters high and are actually quite hidden between the upper and lower falls, making it feel like a hidden gem when you come upon them.
The lower waterfall is the largest and most popular, with its 25-meter drop-off and a gorgeous pool suitable for a refreshing dip after a long hike.
Bring a bathing suit and some snacks, and you can spend a whole day hanging out by the different waterfalls, cooling off in the waters and just enjoying nature.
Experience the Montezuma Canopy Tour
Montezuma Canopy Tour offers an alternative way to see the Montezuma Falls. The Canopy (aka zip line) is owned by SunTrails and consists of 9 cables and 11 platforms suspended high above the rainforest.
You can fly high over the rainforest and finish your tour at the upper falls of the Montezuma Waterfall – so be sure to bring your swimming gear so you can take a refreshing dip afterwards!
Zip Line Tour departs daily at 9:00, 13:00, and 15:00.
This activity bears a 4 Leaf Sustainable Certification, so you can be sure that your tour will be responsible.
Visit Curú Wildlife Reserve
Animal lovers cannot miss visiting Curu Wildlife Reserve in Santa Teresa, the country’s first private wildlife refuge. This paradise covers about 1,496 hectares of forests, mangroves, beaches, and marine habitats. With its high biodiversity, you can spot monkeys, coatis, scarlet macaws, white-tailed deer, and hundreds of other species of tropical and migratory birds native to this region.
You can visit on your own or organize a guided tour. The reserve is open from 7 AM to 3 PM.
Practice Yoga in Santa Teresa
Surfing and yoga go hand in hand in most places, and Santa Teresa is no exception. Starting out as a small bohemian coastal town, there are plenty of yoga classes and yoga studios throughout Santa Teresa and the Nicoya Peninsula.
Let your practice take you to the beach at Vajra Sol, where you can choose from yoga, surf, and stand up paddle. If you want to try out all these activities while creating that inner harmony, there’s an extensive 7-day Surf & Yoga Experience that packs a lot of mindful and creative activities into one unforgettable week.
Visit Tortuga Island
Tortuga Island, located off the southeastern shore of the Nicoya Peninsula, is a lush tropical paradise with white sand beaches, green jungles, and calm, crystal-clear waters ideal for snorkelling.
It is only accessible by boat, but plenty of full-day trips leave from Santa Teresa, Puntarenas, or Montezuma every day. It’s not uncommon to see dolphins along the way. Once on the island, spend some time lounging on the beach or exploring the island’s many trails.
Catch A Sunset
The Pacific Coast boasts some of the world’s best sunsets, and Costa Rica’s are tough to beat. So, find a beachfront restaurant or nab a patch of sand at Playa Santa Teresa for priceless sunset ocean views.
You won’t be alone, either.
Playa Santa Teresa and other beaches in the area start filling up come evening time. Catching a glorious sunset is simply a right of passage for anyone spending time in beautiful Santa Teresa.
Where To Eat In Santa Teresa
With a stacked roster of delicious restaurants, eating was our favourite pastime in the area. When it comes to culinary delights, this laid-back beach town is small but mighty.
- Earth Cafe: Serving up delicious breakfasts and lunches, Earth Cafe in Santa Teresa offers tasty yet healthy bites. The cafe is an ideal lunch spot after a day on the waves, with colourful poke bowls, fresh seafood, and smoothies.
- Burger Rancho: Another one of our favourites was Burger Rancho, which offers a great selection of gluten-free dishes, burgers, and seafood specialties.
- The Somos Cafe: This former travelling Airstream is now permanently set up among lush trees and a sun-soaked patio. The Somos Cafe menu is made up almost entirely of house-made foods sourced from the surrounding areas.
- Zula: Curb your Israeli food cravings with Zula. They offer the best falafel and hummus in town and sometimes have live music.
- Papaya Lounge: Built into the side of a rocky cliff, Papaya Lounge offers some of the best views around. It’s part of the boutique hotel, Hotel Moana and offers a menu crafted from local ingredients.
- Kojis: We visited Santa Teresa’s iconic Japanese restaurant, Kojis, for dinner one night and were impressed to learn that all their food is locally sourced. They have great sushi, too! And if you’re hoping to mingle with Santa Teresa’s celebrity residents, Tom Brady is known to be a Kojis fan.
- Drift Bar: Vegetarians, head straight to Drift Bar! Most restaurants in the area offer veggie options, but Drift specializes in them. They also have an on-site art gallery and an extensive cocktail list.
- Local sodas (small Costa Rican eateries): For breakfast, we can never say no to a great traditional breakfast of Gallo Pinto, eggs, and fried plantains.
- The Bakery: If you’re looking for an American breakfast, this place across Playa Carmen offers great (although slightly overpriced) options.
- Zwart Art Cafe: Also a great breakfast spot, with an added bonus of art appreciation by the artist, Margriet Zwart.
- Green World Food Store: If you happen to be staying somewhere with a kitchen, or just want picnic supplies and snacks, head here.This gem sources from local farmers, and stocks mostly organic and natural goods.
- For helpful tips for travelling Costa Rica as a vegetarian or vegan, click here.
With some of the best sunsets on the Pacific, having a sundowner cocktail is a must on your visit. There are many beachside bars, some even hosting full-on beach parties. Banana Beach Restaurant is probably the most popular spot to flock for a nightcap, but we prefer a more peaceful setting.
Uma at Playa Cielo (formerly Habaneros) is an awesome relaxing spot to watch the sunset. Or, if you like to overlook the gorgeous beaches from the hillside, check out Brukas, not far from Kojis.
Where to Stay in Santa Teresa, CR
Looking to stay at a Santa Teresa hotel? Santa Teresa and the surrounding areas outside Santa Teresa town, from Malpais to Playa Manzanillo, are a haven of boutique hotels with an emphasis on sustainability. The best part is that they’re not all high-end luxury suites, so visitors on any budget can book their dream vacation.
- Cuatro Vientos: One of the best hotels in the area, These beautiful bright suites are steps from Playa Mal País and offer apartment-style accommodations. Cuatro Vientos is ideal for travellers on a tighter budget, being within walking distance of town and providing facilities to cook your own food. They’ve implemented several sustainable initiatives to reduce consumption and support the community.
- Canaima Chill House: The Canaima Chill House is an “eco-chic hotel” nestled in the jungle oasis, just 500 meters (0.31 miles) from the beach. It combines rustic charm, eco-design, and luxury with spacious suites, an outdoor hot tub, a swimming pool, bamboo hanging beds, massage services, and a sun terrace.
- Dreamcatcher Hotel – Atrapasueños: Steps from the beach, the Dreamcatcher Hotel – Atrapasueños is a picturesque retreat. Complete with an outdoor pool, spa, and wellness centre, the property is all about embracing nature. Enjoy tranquillity while still being close to lots of shops and restaurants.
How Much Time Do I Need In Santa Teresa?
Should you add Santa Teresa to your Costa Rican itinerary? We’d say do it if you have the time. Come for surfing or swimming and expect to spend your days relaxing.