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Best things to do in Santa Teresa, Costa Rica

Santa Teresa is a small village on the Nicoya Peninsula, along the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. It is composed only of a central street along a white sand beach. It is in this central street that all the hotels, the youth hostels, and the restaurants are located. Indeed, Santa Teresa lives mainly off of tourism, and the infrastructure has developed a lot in the last 10 years.

Despite this, there are very few high buildings, and the forest that stretches to the edge of the beach remains very well preserved. Moreover, all the accommodations, and in particular the lodges, blend perfectly into the landscape. The place remains very pleasant for nature lovers. So what are the best things to do in Santa Teresa, Costa Rica?

Best things to do in Santa Teresa, Costa Rica

Santa Teresa Beach 

Santa Teresa’s beach is particularly popular for its waves and for the quality of its waves, which are ideal for the practice of surfing. In addition, there are numerous stores in the village where you can buy or rent a plank or other equipment, and numerous schools that offer classes for all levels and ages.  

If you are not a fan of this sport, there are many other activities available to you! For example, you can go horseback riding, boating, quad biking, tree climbing, zip lining in the Cabo Blanco National Park forest, or take yoga and pilates classes to relax your body and mind. In the evening, sit on the beach and enjoy an incredible sunset.

What to do in Santa Teresa?

If you stay several days in the area and wish to extend your visit, there are several other very pleasant places to discover around Santa Teresa, such as Montezuma or the Cabo Blanco reserve.

The village of Montezuma is very picturesque and quiet. It is also known for its impressive waterfalls, about 30 minutes’ walk from the center. The reserve of Cabo Blanco is the oldest protected area in the country.

It has been reforested to 85% after long years of deforestation, and this has allowed many animal species and many fish in danger of extinction to reproduce in the reserve.

You will be able to admire many species such as howler monkeys or white-faced monkeys, squirrels, deer, agoutis, and coatis, as well as many birds such as toucans or migratory birds, and finally, many marine species, among which mollusks or crabs.

Read more: What to do in Manuel Antonio.

Best things to do in Santa Teresa, Costa Rica

Surfing in Santa Teresa

You like surfing, nature, coconut palms, beaches without artifice, good little restaurants. Don’t look any further; Santa Teresa is made for you!

Santa Teresa and Malpais form a group of several beaches that are highly sought after by surfers. This area is well-known among surfers for its long, straight lines that can be surfed in any season!There is a minimum of one meter every day with clean water. It’s ideal for beginners and experts!

For beginners, no worries! Let yourself be guided by the locals, many of whom give surfing lessons from the beach! In a pura vida atmosphere, surfing and relaxation are guaranteed. You will see your progress immediately!

My favorite spot is the one known as “la Lora,” located in front of Santa Teresa. Here you are in front of a white sand beach without any rocks and with regular waves.

Santa Teresa restaurants

To reduce Santa Teresa to surfing would be a mistake, here you will find a region in perfect harmony with nature and its inhabitants are the living proof. Indeed, you will find many inhabitants like howler monkeys (Mono Congo), agoutis, capuchin monkeys and kinkajou.

You are only 25 kilometers from the Cabo Blanco reserve, one of the first protected reserves in Costa Rica. A little known place but I will help you to visit with pleasure!

If you want to dive and enjoy the sea bed with mask and snorkel or with tanks, the area will delight you. Its waters are full of tropical fish, dolphins and in season whales migrating off the coast. My favorite spot is the one known by the locals as the secret beach or “los Suecos” located next to the Cabo Blanco reserve. Here natural pools form at low tide allowing you to easily observe hundreds of colorful fish, octopuses and crustaceans!

Santa Teresa and Malpais are also great places for wellness. Many hotels have magnificent spas, with treatments based on cocoa, volcanic stones from nearby volcanoes, natural creams from local fruits! A happiness!

Finally, I must mention the cuisine. Here, many restaurants offer traditional dishes. Here you will enjoy dishes with unique flavors using local ingredients. Almost all restaurants offer vegetarian and/or vegan dishes. Stop by and say hello to the team at Manzu restaurant, who work with the best small local producers!

Best things to do in Santa Teresa, Costa Rica

Lazing and sunset on the beach 

Although the beach is less suitable for swimming than others in Costa Rica, there is more than just surfing to do on the beach. You can simply enjoy its beautiful white sand bank and splash around no matter what without going too far. Lazing around is great too!

A great classic in Santa Teresa is the magnificent sunsets. No one misses it. The beach is so big that even in high season, you will have the impression that there are fewer people. The sun sets around 5:30–5:45 pm and people go there at 5:00 pm with their friends to watch the show. In some places (ask the locals), there is entertainment on the beach (music, DJ, jugglers, dancers, acrobats, and giant fire!

If you are on vacation in Costa Rica with your children, you can also go to Montezuma, which is much more family-friendly than its neighbor, Santa Teresa. The beaches are numerous and very pretty. If you plan to swim with your children, avoid the beach of Montezuma, where there are rocks and a little current. The surrounding beaches are quieter. Besides, the landscapes are breathtaking. You will love them as much as I do.

Horseback riding 

As in many places in Costa Rica, companies offer horseback riding. This is the case on many of the country’s most beautiful beaches.

The ride usually starts in the heart of the rainforest in the heights of Malpais. You will have the chance to see many animals and climb the hills overlooking Santa Teresa. The viewpoints are all more beautiful than the others.

The walk continues at the end of the day on the beach, where you will trot along the water’s edge with a view of the setting sun. A fresh fruit juice break will be offered before returning to the lodge. A program that seduces every time. We would come with you!

Check all adventures and adrenaline sports in Costa Rica guidebook!

Parc Naturel de Curu

In terms of nature reserves, Costa Rica is going to treat you. Are you probably planning to go to the famous Monteverde Reserve? If not, you must. But there are others. Want to see animals up close? You should definitely go to Cur, especially if you have children.

This paradise, located 1 hour from Santa Teresa, covers about 1,496 hectares of forests, mangroves, beaches and marine habitats. With its high biodiversity, you are guaranteed to see monkeys, coatis, scarlet macaws, white-tailed deer, and hundreds of other species of tropical and migratory birds native to this region.

But the main mission of the Curu refuge is to safeguard the endangered species of spider monkeys that live in semi-liberty in an enclosure. Go see them; they are adorable.

Several paths are to be crossed. We are far from the ascent of the Arenal volcano and other more sportive hikes of Costa Rica, but among all the natural reserves of the country, this one is the least marked and therefore the wildest. That’s why we recommend it to you.

Finally, if you are already in need of the sea, there is a very beautiful beach in the shape of a shell where it is good to swim because there are few waves. A heavenly place!

Montezuma waterfall

Only 45 minutes from Santa Teresa is the village of Montezuma. You will enjoy visiting the surroundings, which are quieter and more familial than their neighbors. After strolling through the streets of the village, go and see the Montezuma waterfall, which is only 10 minutes away.

There are three to visit:

  • The upper falls
  • The middle falls
  • The lower falls

The upper falls are actually the smallest, which makes them a good option for those with children. The middle falls are about 12 meters high and are fairly hidden between the upper and lower falls. The lower waterfall is the largest and most popular, with its 25-meter drop and a nice pool suitable for a refreshing swim.

Parc National Cabo Blanco

If you’ve had your fill of surfing and yoga, you can take a trip to Cabo Blanco. This nature reserve is a short drive from Santa Teresa and offers some great hiking trails. The reserve encompasses 1,172 hectares of tropical rainforest. Only a few hundred hectares are open to the public. The rest is reserved for wildlife protection and only scientists have access to it.

The reserve is home to, among others, many seabirds. If you are lucky, you may also see some wildlife, such as deer, armadillos, anteaters, howler monkeys, capuchin monkeys, and coatis. If you visit with a guide, you will have a better chance to see them!

The park is open from Wednesday to Sunday. The entrance fee is $10 per person. The ranger will show you the different trails that exist. It’s your choice!

The Phenomenon of Cabuya

In front of Montezuma is the cemetery island of Cabuya. Creepy, you say? Not at all! It is a cemetery that dates back to the pre-Columbian indigenous period. This island is accessible only twice a day when the sea withdraws. Indeed, it is at low tide that the way which leads there is discovered and thus accessible on foot from the coast. 

Beyond the cemetery, the island is nice to visit. It is covered with vegetation which must resist the local climate. You will see several species of Yucca and other succulent plants. Enjoy the beautiful views of the ocean or the coast. This island is particularly easy to reach; it would be a shame to miss out on it!

Visit the Mariposario butterfly garden

In this beautiful park, you can see up to 1500 butterflies of 150 different species. You should know that the life expectancy of a butterfly is 2 to 3 weeks. As a result, if you return several times, you will see different species than the previous time.

The park also shows you all the stages of life and development of this fascinating insect. From the egg to the caterpillar, you will learn more about their behavior, such as courtship or mating. In all modesty.

You will probably also have the chance to observe a hatching. Butterflies are born almost every day at the maryposium! In a nutshell, an amazing, one-of-a-kind, and exciting maternity!

Snorkeling on Isla de Tortuga

The name “Turtle Island” does not come from the turtles that can be found there, but rather from its atypical shape that reminds us of the animal. Several companies offer boat tours to Isla de Tortuga. This is notably the case of Zuma Tour, which I highly recommend for their exceptional service that I could test. Starting with a 45-minute boat ride, you can be dazzled by the beauty of the Nicoya Peninsula’s coast. Depending on the season, you may have the chance to see dolphins swimming next to the boat, manta rays or turtles.

The boat will then anchor off Isla de Tortuga to let you admire the fish during a snorkeling session. The company will lend you masks and snorkels to admire the multitude of colorful fish around you. I advise you to follow the guide, who will dive with you to show you tropical fish that you didn’t even notice. I was able to see a Fugu, the famous spiny fish, and nurse sharks.

After this diving session, you will go to the turtle island, where lunch will be waiting for you. You can choose between grilled fish, barbecued chicken, or sautéed vegetables. You can then enjoy the afternoon walking along the beach or swimming as much as you like, before returning to the boat to go back to Montezuma.

Best way to get to Isla de Tortuga?

The best way is to rent a car and take the ferry. The best and fastest way is to follow Route 27 for about an hour and a half, which will take you to Puntarenas, where you will have to take the ferry across the gulf to the town of Paquera. Ferry schedules are seasonal, so be sure to confirm the times before planning your trip.

Once the ferry docks in Paquera, 70 minutes later, just follow the main road towards Mal Pais for about an hour, which will take you to the Playa Carmen junction. Be careful with the schedule of this one, because, especially in high season, there are few places and if you miss the ferry, you can easily wait 4 hours for the next one. 

The roads of Costa Rica are not necessarily all well maintained. Furthermore, it is better to have a powerful rental car of type 4×4. You are on the Nicoya peninsula, but don’t think you can go from Samara to Santa Teresa in 30 minutes… No, you will need 4 hours! Study the itineraries well before leaving, and this is valid for most of the routes in the country. It is part of the charm of the place.

Best things to do in Santa Teresa, Costa Rica

From San Jose to Isla Tortuga

From San José, the best and quickest way is to follow route 27 for about an hour and a half, which will take you to Puntarenas, where you will have to take the ferry to cross the gulf to the town of Paquera. Ferry schedules are seasonal, so be sure to confirm the times before planning your trip.

Once the ferry docks in Paquera, about 1 hour and 15 minutes later, just follow the main road towards Mal Pais for about an hour, which will bring you to the junction of Playa Carmen.

Pay attention to the ferry schedule! In the high season, there are few places, and if you miss the ferry, you can easily wait 4 hours for the next one. The same goes for Montezuma. Road time from Samara is 3h15. 

From San José, you will also have to take the ferry, and then you will have to drive for 1 hour and 30 minutes to reach the village. 

Where to stay in Santa Teresa?

Lodging in Santa Teresa

Located in the south of the Nicoya peninsula, Santa Teresa is quite far from everything, so you have no choice but to sleep there. It is more reasonable. After all, you are on vacation in the land of Pura Vida. Above all, don’t rush! You will see what you have to see in due time.

There are many hotels or guest houses in Santa Teresa. Check them all in the Costa Rica guidebook. You will easily find something to stay in, but if you can anticipate it, it’s always better! Airbnb offers you a wide choice for all budgets. Treat yourself!

Lodging in Montezuma

If you are not in a festive mood, or rather an early bird with your children, sleeping in Montezuma is a great idea. Life there is calm and relaxing. “La Pura Vida!”

You will easily find hotels, hostels, or guesthouses for all budgets. If you come in the high season, try to book in advance, although it is not the most popular city unfortunately, but good for you.

For example, after visiting Santa Teresa Beach, you can continue your trip to the south and go to the Manuel Antonio National Park, for example, before going to see a volcano like Cerro Chirripo. The distances are long, but if you rent a comfortable car, you will just have to enjoy the scenery as it passes by. Enjoy your trip!

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