Montezuma, Santa Teresa & Mal País: Costa Rica road trip

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Beach at Mal País

After Jacó we decided to visit the Nicoya Peninsula; catch a glimpse at Montezuma and indulge ourselves on the beaches of Santa Teresa and Mal País during our leg#4 of our Costa Rican road trip. All of those towns are known as a surfers’ paradise and an adventurer’s playground, like so many Costa Rican beach villages on the pacific Ocean.

To get there from Jacó, we first had to drive up to the city of Puntarenas to catch the ferry. New experience, new challenge!

The Ferry

Naviera Tambor is the ferry that leaves from Puntarenas to Paquera and provides a direct transfer to the dirt roads leading to Montezuma and Mal País. Six departures are scheduled per day.

The ferry leaves from Puntarenas at

  • 5.00 am
  • 9.00 am
  • 11.00am
  • 2.00 pm
  • 5.00 pm
  • 8.30pm

Buying your ticket beforehand is a whole other story!

And with good reason: the ticket “office” is located just before the ferry port. If you arrive from Jacó watch out for the bakery – a BAKERY! – on your left on the road leading to the port. You got it I guess? Here you can buy your tickets.

That being said, to find a parking spot in front of that bakery in the middle of the bustling and hustling street is a foolhardy enterprise. You are not allowed to park your car in the ferry port before having bought your fare tickets! By the way, buying those ferry passes is a preposterously stressful and very sweaty business as well, involving a lot of mouthy and pushy people… and not a single baked product!

But once on the ferry, there’s nothing more rewarding than to install yourself on deck and enjoy the fresh sea breeze! Watch out for confused birds and the treacherous sun, though!

Montezuma (on the map)

Before reaching Mal País, we wanted to make a pit stop in the picturesque little village of Montezuma. This village is known for the beauty of its beaches, the surrounding lush landscapes and its bohemian atmosphere.

And bohemian it was! At first, I thought we had done a leap backwards to the hippie heyday era. Montezuma was literally swarming with fake gypsy travellers of the free-spirited world! The only thing beside that entire masquerade I remembered Montezuma was the overpriced organic juice I drank at one of the shacks… This place was definitely not for me.
But hey, tastes differ and so do people. Have a look and decide for yourself if Montezuma is your cup of tea!

Montezuma Waterfalls

Before leaving we still wanted to see the famous Montezuma Waterfalls; apparently they are wondrous and refreshing natural showers that one absolutely has to see! Unfortunately we had to put our cheerful anticipation aside: The falls were closed due to excessive rainfall and dangerous hazards… The joys of travelling during wet season!

After our Montezuma-flop, if I might say, we were ready to travel on and discover what the villages of Santa Teresa and Mal País had in store for us.

Santa Teresa & Mal País (on the map)

Santa Teresa and Mal País are two small neighbouring coastal towns in Puntarenas Province, Costa Rica.

Playa Hermosa

Like other beach villages on the Nicoya Peninsula, Santa Teresa and Mal País started as remote fishing villages, but nowadays they have become a sought after destination by surfers and adventure travelers from around the world.

While Santa Teresa attracts mainly a community of keen surfers and the younger crowds due to its scenic shores and beloved surfer’s spots; Mal País is most prominent for its incredible beauty: white sand coves overlooked by steep rainforest-covered hills and rock formations… what does an adventurer’s heart want more?

The Beaches

The 3 main beaches to visit are: Playa Carmen, Playa Santa Teresa and Playa Hermosa…, which by the way is truly “hermosa” (beautiful)!

There are a lot of friendly dogs roaming around the beaches
There are also some rocky outcroppings

Getting to those beaches is already an adventure for itself. You drive alongside the coast on a potholed and dusty dirt road. Be prepared to get thoroughly shaken inside of your car before coming to a halt just next to the sea. And by the way, parking your car under a coconut palm tree? Not such a great idea!

The Activities

Santa Teresa and Mal País offer so many activities that I don’t even want to pretend to list them all! Here’s just a little insight of the leisurely pastimes offered to travellers.

There are for example organised boat tours around Cabo Blanco Natural Reserve were visitors can go snorkeling, diving, fishing or whale watching. You can also typically take surf lessons or simply watch the spectacular sunsets over the Pacific Ocean.
We spend two days exploring the surrounding beaches, walking around for hours, taking in the beautiful scenery under the blue sky and fleecy clouds. Those languid walks were of course interrupted by the occasional splash into the sea and followed by cocktails and late night dinners in some of the delightful open-air restaurants. Our stopover in the Nicoya Peninsula was definitely a treat, where we indulged ourselves and pampered our bodies and souls.

The Food

Speaking of open-air restaurants, in Santa Teresa and Mal País travelers are beyond question, spoiled for choices. Thai, Japanese, fusion, Italian, …  vegan, vegetarian or gluten free … hot, cold, sweet or sour: You name it!

Places to sip a cold beer or dig into a hearty meal are literally spread all over the place. The multicultural crowds of former travellers, who’ve settled down on this coastal stretch and opened their own restaurant, offer an international cuisine with exotic tastes to every hungry mouth in search of a delightful feast.

Red Snapper Seafood Restaurant and Katana Asian Cuisine are two restaurants we visited. Both offered us, each one in their own way, a little piece of heaven on a plate.

The Read Snapper Seafood Restaurant excels, as the name says it already, in the art of preparing fresh fish, seafood and paella dishes.

The Red Snapper Seafood Restaurant
The Red Snapper Seafood Restaurant

Katana Asian Cuisine is ranked among the top 10 eateries on tripadvisor and if you still have any doubts, just have a look at the mouth-watering pictures on their Facebook page!

Katana Asian Cuisine

The accommodation

Santa Teresa and Mal País offer a large choice of accommodation, Hotels, B&B’s, hostels, … you’ll find everything from high end to low budget. Both towns are specialized in accommodating surfers and young adventures. This means that you come across some very cool, cozy and laid-back apart’ hotels, which are definitely worth a try.

We stayed at the family owned Hotel Oasis, where the individual bungalows where equipped with a nice little terrace kitchen. Slurping your coffee to the sounds of the awakening nature with the sun raising … there just are no words!
Hotel Oasis also comes with a small swimming pool (but who needs a swimming pool, when the Pacific Ocean around the corner?) and very, very friendly staff!

All the way up to our bungalow through the lush tropical garden
The swimming pool

Santa Teresa and Mal País are villages, which recently developed into beloved travellers destination with the help of former travellers. The loved the place so much, that they decided to settle down and welcome in turn other globetrotters. 
For my part, I totally understand why they got hooked by this destination. From time to time I too picture myself secretly living the slow life on one of the beaches in Santa Teresa.

Read more about Costa Rica:

Plan a road trip in Costa Rica – Practical Information
Leg #3 of our Costa Rican road trip: Jacó
Leg #2: Costa Rica Ecotourism – The Rainmaker Conservation Project
Discover Manuel Antonio National Park – Leg #1

28 COMMENTS

    • That’s really a coincidence Tom! You are really lucky to travel to Costa Rica in 2 weeks. It was one of the best road trips EVER! The country is so beautiful and the sceneries are different from destination to destination and the locals are just so friendly. You will definitely have a blast 😉

    • Costa Rica is quite a popular place to travel to. If you go during high season book everything ahead, I went there during beginning of rain season, you are more free to improvise and the weather was ok too.

  1. Its a bummer you didn’t get to visit the montezuma waterfalls. I’ve heard they are stunning.
    A road trip in Costa Rica especially in such beautiful places is always a great way to spend a trip.

  2. A well-written detailed post on Costa Rica. The whole place and landscapes in Costo Rica are amazing. I never thought about this place as a travel destination but it is for sure amazing. I loved the way to your Bungalow- it looks so clean and green. Thanks for sharing.

  3. I love this because I only really associate Montezuma with food poisoning anf not an actual place. So this post makes it real. And it’s hillarious that they sell ferry tickets in the bakery. Thanks for the heads up. 🙂

    • Hi Ami, the best months to go are from January-March and June- September … I would rather avoid high season though and try to travel to Costa Rica Feb/March or June and end of August. You should definitely visit this amazing country! 😉

  4. I keep hearing about how awesome Costa Rica is and this makes me want to go even more. I like that there was vegan food on Santa Teresa too. That is great for us. The beach looks like a lot of fun. You don’t make me want to visit Montezuma.

    • I guess the whole country is really awesome and worth a visit! Montezuma, I guess will be either loved or hated… that will depend on the people.

  5. I need to go to Costa Rica SO BAD! I chose Guatemala/Belize over Costa Rica/Panama last time I was in Central America, and as much as I LOVED my time in the first two, in hindsight I wish I’d gone for CR/Panama. Only because I was there during Hurricane Earl so there were very little sites and activities reachable due to the aftermath of the weather, and Cabo Blanco is one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen in pictures .
    I’ve heard that in comparison to the rest of South/Central America, Costa Rica is quite expensive and almost on par with Western prices. How did you find the cost of everything over there?

    • Hi Rhiannon, I have to admit that Costa Rica is quite an expensive country! Prices are almost as high as in central Europe. But then again, visiting the country is an awesome experience, there are so many different things to do. The country is also very safe, you can drink tabwater from everywhere, health facilities are good if ever you should need them… For me, Costa Rica is really a gem in central America!

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