SANTA TERESA/ MALPAIS
This may be one of my favorite destinations on the PLANET. It’s a place that feels so remote and unplugged, yet has amazing connectivity by way of internet and infrastructure to get you in and out (although, a little time and patience IS required). This is the kind of place you feel like YOU have discovered yourself. A hidden gem! It has become very popular in the past few years, especially since Giselle and Tom Brady took up residency here (they can often times be spotted surfing on the beach, walking their dogs, or you may even spot them out to dinner!). Many expats from the States and Canada have relocated, opening up fine restaurants and yoga studios making this little rugged slice of heaven more luxurious! If you’re looking to escape from the world for a week or two, and feel completely OFF GRID- THIS is your place. If you need a remote place, away from tourists, to enjoy a beach vacation, but also wish to indulge in some pampering and delicious dining, then THIS is your place. If you work remote and are looking for a relaxed beach community to settle in to for a few months, while still being well connected for work purposes, THIS is your place. I’d be hard pressed to find a reason or situation that SANTA TERESA wouldn’t be your place to be honest!
It’s half the battle! There are 3 ways to get to the bottom of Nicoya peninsula where Santa Teresa is located. The first being driving from Liberia airport, which would take about 4 to 5 hours (weather permitting, roads here can get muddy). Another option would be flying directly into Tambor Airport (about 45 minutes from Santa Teresa Beach). You can book a direct connection from San Jose airport to Tambor on Sansa air, for around $100/ person. Here’s the link to book those tickets.
The third, and more affordable (than flying) and convenient (than driving the whole way) would be to take the passenger/ car ferry from Puntarenas to Paquera on the Naviera Tambor Ferry.
Passengers ride for around $3/person and cars are transported on average from $23 per vehicle. The most important thing is to arrive at least an hour before your ferry departs to line up and purchase tickets. You can also pre-purchase ticket online HERE.
Once you arrive in Paquera, it is a 45 minute drive to Santa Teresa area. THINGS TO NOTE: It’s bumpy and sometimes muddy! This is an area you’ll definitely want a 4×4 vehicle!
Once you arrive to the Santa Teresa area, I HIGHLY RECOMMEND you rent an ATV vehicle! If even just for a day or two, it’s a super fun way to adventure across the peninsula and explore remote beaches! Quite frankly, it’s ESSENTIAL if you plan on exploring off the beaten path.
We rented ours through OLLIE’S ADVENTURES. There are quite a few rental companies in town, and they are all competitively priced around $80/ day (for a 2 seater), and $130/ day (for a 4 seater). Most rental companies prefer cash (and may even offer a better deal). They also deliver and pick up from your hotel/ villa rental. We arrived to the area with our rental car we picked up at SJO and then we returned it to the Enterprise in town. We rented the ATV for the remainder of the time we were in Santa Teresa and I’m so glad we did!
Where to stay
First let’s explain the geography. The main areas to stay and visit are: PLAYA HERMOSA, SANTA TERESA, CARMEN BEACH, MALPAIS, and MONTEZUMA. They are all so close in proximity and you can easily plan to visit them all in one trip. Each area does offer a bit of a different charm, I will break them down with more description to help you narrow down the area in which suits you best.
Playa Hermosa has a “LOCALS ONLY” vibe to it. There are some great rentals on VRBO and AIRBNB in this area, and would be the perfect place to stay if you are looking for a very QUIET vacation, and/ or plan to surf often. It’s about 10 minutes from the “main drag” of Santa Teresa, so I’d say a vehicle would be essential if you stayed in this area, unless you were close enough to the beach and didn’t plan to do much else. Playa Hermosa was the beach we took a family surf lesson, and it’s not uncommon to spot Tom Brady and his kids surfing the waves here as well! It’s a very popular surf area, and has a few fantastic little surf shack restaurants where you can order the greatest breakfast burrito you’ve ever eaten! (Link to RED’S CAFE HERE check it out, seriously!)
SANTA TERESA/ CARMEN BEACH
These two areas are essentially one of the same, Carmen Beach being the center of the action! At the time we went, June of 2021, they had covid ordinances in place requiring restaurants and places to close by 9pm. So, we did not have any problem with late night noise, and we stayed right in town next to Banana Beach. I have heard that it can get loud at night if you stay close to the beach in Carmen Beach area, but we enjoyed being in the heart of all the activity! Here are a few specific rentals I would suggest:
We rented the Beach Front Palm Villa with Santas Cabinas and it was amazing. Perfect for our family of 4. It had a pool which the kids loved after a long day of exploring, and an incredible patio where we spent most of our time. It was also located ON the beach, which I loved to walk to in the mornings with my coffee. I must admit the very BEST part of this rental property was the property manager, Leah. She lives in the area and she helped us with ALL of our activity bookings. She has a family of her own, with young kiddos so she was always a step ahead in terms of knowing the little “extras” that make a vacation with kids more comfortable! She has terrific relations with everyone in town, and everyone she connected us with was trustworthy and professional. She ensured we got great tours, great deals, and had a safe and incredible vacation.
What to do
There are TONS of amazing opportunities for adventure in this area. Here are the top choices I recommend!
LESSONS: If surfing is, in fact, your jam, or you want to try it while you’re in Costa Rica (which I HIGHLY recommend) then I recommend contacting Manuel at YOUNG VISION SURF SCHOOL for a family lesson! He is affectionately known as “Maui” (due to his insane likeness of the animated character), and he is FABULOUS with kids. He is professional, FUN, and he was born and raised in the area. A TRUE Tican! But, don’t think for a second just the KIDS will be surfing! This is for Mom and Dad too! Per request, he will bring along a photographer and other instructors to ensure the entire family has an amazing time, all while being well documented!
LOCATION: The best place to surf is right in Playa Hermosa. There is a parking lot HERE and a path that leads right to a local surf spot. It’s hard to beat!
As I mentioned before, an ATV or 4×4 vehicle is essential to really experiencing this area (especially in the wet season). You can take an ATV TOUR, and I highly recommend you do when you first arrive! You can take a tour in your own rented ATV or Buggy, or they will set up a rental for just the tour if you wish. We set up a private tour with MANEUL/ MAUI from Young Vision Surf School. He is a native of the area, and a certified tour guide, and he was an incredible guide! He has tremendous pride in the area, and is a wealth of knowledge. He met us at our villa, and we followed him through the back roads to Montezuma where he guided us on a hike to the waterfall (more on that HERE). After a guided ATV tour, you get the lay of the land and should be able to handle back roading yourself for the remainder of your visit! Contact MANUEL and LEAH to set up an ATV TOUR HERE.
There are some beautiful studios to practice Yoga in the area! There are even full on retreats (many in Malpais). Seeing as though this area falls within the BLUE ZONE it’s no surprise wellness-seekers from all over travel to experience what it is that invokes peace, mindfulness, and the immense joy you come away feeling! For a refreshing yoga sesh with a view, I recommend Horizon or Tropico Latino (Links below). *BONUS: Both locations serve a fabulous breakfast. (GALLO PINTO for the WIN!!!)