The Southern tip of the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica feels like another world compared to the hustle and bustle of a town like Tamarindo, which is located just a few hours north. Nicoya Peninsula is known for its rolling green hills and lush surroundings thanks to the abundance of rivers and underground water streams in the area.
It’s not an area frequented by tourists (yet), but over the years, the towns of Santa Teresa, Montezuma, and Mal Pais have all welcomed their fair share of expats. At first, it was mostly avid 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 a little fishing village flourished into a destination that visitors now struggle to say goodbye to.
But don’t let that fool you. While many love the fact that Santa Teresa managed to maintain its rough around the edges feel, we feel like it’s our responsibility to tell you that it’s not a town for everyone.
Don’t get us wrong, we enjoyed our time in Santa Teresa, but without a board in hand we struggled to find our place in town or a good reason to recommend Santa Teresa to everyone visiting Costa Rica.
The main beaches in town, Playa Carmen, and Playa Santa Teresa are lovely. They are long and wide, but they aren’t the best swimming beaches in the country. Rough seas and ample of surfers in the water made it hard for us to get out for a swim. We enjoyed spending the afternoon catching some sun rays and walking along the beach, but all in all this area didn’t offer the best beach experience in the country.
If you are a surfer or someone who wants to take up surfing, you’ll love Santa Teresa! This region is known for different beaks and a constant swell all year around. Most hotels and shops dotted along the main road in town offer surfboard rentals and surfing 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.
Max debated grabbing a board and catching a few waves but since I couldn’t join him in the water after my surfing accident earlier this year, he decided against it.
There are lots of different activities offered in Santa Teresa. You’ll find everything from yoga and cooking classes to horseback riding and ATV tours. A lot of these can be booked at Ollie’s Adventures or at a number of other shops in town. But if you are looking for something unique to do in Santa Teresa, an activity that’s not available elsewhere in Costa Rica, you be hard pressed to find something.
Eating was by far our favourite pastime in Santa Teresa. When it comes to culinary delights this town is small but mighty. Our favourite spot was Habanero, a Mexican Grill and Bar with amazing food and delicious drinks, located on the beach at Playa Cielo. We took advantage of their 2 for 1 happy hour and indulged in some unique cocktails (tamarind-ginger and mango jalapeño margaritas…yum!) while enjoying a beautiful sunset.
We also really enjoyed our meal at the Argentinian joint, Las Piedras. The restaurant’s main draw is their open air BBQ grill that they used to cook up our incredible meat platter.
Burger Rancho was another one of our favourites, offering a great selection of gluten free dishes, burgers, and seafood specialties.
For breakfast, we opted to eat at a local soda, because no matter where in Costa Rica we are, we can never say no to a great traditional breakfast of Gallo Pinto, eggs, and fried plantains. If you are looking for a more American choice The Bakery across from Playa Carmen and Zwart Cafe offered some great, although slightly overpriced, options.
We’ll admit we were a bit underwhelmed by Santa Teresa. We expected a bit more. More nightlife (there was none), better swimming beaches (we eventually found one in Montezuma), more unique activities, and things that aren’t offered in every other Costa Rican tourist hub.
Should you add Santa Teresa to your Costa Rican itinerary? We’d say do it if you have the time. Come for surfing or surf watching and expect to spend your days relaxing. Be prepared to brave the horrific roads in town, and come to enjoy the real Pura Vida lifestyle.
If you are only in Costa Rica for 1-2 weeks and surfing isn’t high on your to-do list, skip it and spend your precious days exploring towns that offer more than paradise for surf lovers!
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What are draws you to new destinations? Is it activities, great restaurants, shopping, or something else? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below