National

Unspoiled Beaches of the Nicoya Peninsula

Written by Tamarindo News

Santa Teresa, Costa Rica’s excellent surf, wild beaches and lively yoga scene has turned this rural coastal village into a thriving beach town and one of the most popular tourist destinations in Costa Rica.

If you’re planning a trip to Santa Teresa, Costa Rica, this guide will help you plan your visit.

How to Get to Santa Teresa

There are many ways to get to Santa Teresa but there are some very important things to know as this beach town sits at the tip of the remote Nicoya Peninsula.

4×4 Required

First and foremost, if you are renting a car, you should rent a 4wd or 4×4 for Santa Teresa. Although a part of town is now paved, the majority of roads in Santa Teresa are still not paved. The roads are bumpy and have huge potholes, especially in rainy season. Additionally, the small roads stemming from the main street up to the mountains are unpaved so make sure to check with your hotel if you need a 4×4 or if a 4wd is OK.

I’ll talk about Santa Teresa roads more below. Renting a car? Don’t forget to check our exclusive Costa Rica car rental discount and extra benefits for Mytanfeet readers!

How to get to Santa Teresa from San Jose/SJO Airport

The most popular way to get to Santa Teresa from San Jose is by way of the Puntarenas ferry through the Gulf of Nicoya.

Driving and Ferry

If you are renting a car and landing at San Jose International Airport, you’ll drive to Puntarenas to catch the ferry to Paquera. This drive is around 2 hours and is on a highway the whole time.

Once in Puntarenas, board the ferry to cross the Gulf of Nicoya and it’ll take you to Paquera on the Nicoya Peninsula. The ferry with the boarding and unboarding takes about 1.5 hours. From Paquera, Santa Teresa is about a 1 hour drive. The road is paved for part of it and then becomes unpaved once you get closer to Santa Teresa.

To plan your ferry ride, check our Puntarenas Paquera ferry guide to find out everything you need to know about purchasing tickets, schedules, etc.

The driving and ferry travel time from San Jose International Airport to Santa Teresa is around 5 hours. However, if you are purchasing ferry tickets in person as opposed to online (more on how to buy tickets in our ferry guide above), then we do recommend to arrive as early as possible during high tourism months of December through April.

Driving the Whole Way

You could also drive from San Jose to Santa Teresa the whole way. Instead of going to Puntarenas and taking the ferry, you will take Route 1, Route 18 and Route 21. The driving time from San Jose Airport to Santa Teresa is around 6 hours.

Bus

There is a direct bus from San Jose to Santa Teresa every day at 630 AM and 30 PM leaving San Jose at Ave 7, Calle 10 Terminal 7-10. This bus costs around 8000 colones one way per adult and is a 6 hour ride. It goes by the way of the ferry and includes the ferry ticket. This bus also stops at Paquera, Tambor, Cobano and Montezuma, ending in Santa Teresa.

Shuttle

You can take shared and private shuttles to Santa Teresa from San Jose. A shared shuttle from San Jose costs around $65 USD per adult with Interbus.

A private shuttle from Liberia to Santa Teresa costs around $260 USD one way for up to 8 people. Need a private shuttle? Contact us to book your private transportation to Santa Teresa.

Flying

The closest airport to Santa Teresa is Tambor. You can take a domestic flight from San Jose to Tambor (30 minutes) and then from Tambor, it is a 40 minute drive to Santa Teresa. Check Sansa or Green Airways for domestic flights.

Location and Directions

Santa Teresa Costa Rica map

Santa Teresa is on the west coast of the Nicoya Peninsula in the Puntarenas province.

How to get to Santa Teresa from Guanacaste (Liberia)

Unfortunately there is no road that connects all the way down the Guanacaste coast to the Nicoya Peninsula. You will have to go around the Nicoya Peninsula on Route 21.

Driving

The best route from Northern Guanacaste is to go to Santa Cruz, Nicoya and then around the Nicoya Peninsula. Make sure to stay on Route 21, which is the paved road around the coast.

Driving tip: Sometimes Waze or Google Maps will take you through some “shortcuts’ which are the horrible roads through the peninsula that require river crossings and are basically cow roads. Do NOT take these shortcuts. Always stay on the main road.

Bus

There is no direct bus from Guanacaste to Santa Teresa. One bus route would be Liberia – Puntarenas – Paquera – Cobano – Santa Teresa. Make sure to leave early enough to be able to catch all the buses.

Instead of the bus which as you can see is a bit complicated from Guanacaste, it will be easier to book a shuttle. One company is Tropical Shuttles that offers shuttles from Guanacaste like Tamarindo to Santa Teresa for ~$52 USD per person. A private shuttle is around $280 USD one way for up to 8 people.

How to Get Around Santa Teresa, Costa Rica

As the area from Mal Pais to Playa Hermosa stretches over 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) on a mostly unpaved road, the main mode of transportation in Santa Teresa is car or ATV. You can rent an ATV for around $70 USD a day or $50 USD a day per week. You can also rent bikes or motorcycles.

Santa Teresa town
Santa Teresa town

There are a lot of taxis in Santa Teresa and we recommend to taxi if you’re out after sunset. For car rentals, there is an Alamo and Budget office in town.

Unfortunately our car rental partner Adobe Rent a Car, does not have an office in Santa Teresa. If you wish to have your car delivered to Santa Teresa, there is a hefty extra fee ($230 USD) for this service. Therefore we recommend to rent a car in San Jose or Liberia when you land if you want to rent with Adobe Rent a Car or rent a car with Budget/Alamo when you are in Santa Teresa.

The road is paved for a short section in Santa Teresa but just a short part. The rest of the roads are unpaved.

Santa Teresa Town

Although this coastal village may be far away from any sort of booming metropolis, Santa Teresa offers the amenities and services of one. The only things to note are the always busy ATM located in Playa Carmen and the missing gas station. To fill up your tank, you’ll need to make the 30 minute trek to Cobano where the closest gas station is.

Santa Teresa Costa Rica Town

Just driving through the streets of Santa Teresa gives you a good idea of what this trendy beach town is all about. ATV’s blazing up and down the road, colorful surf boards outside every door and groups of young, tan, bright eyed travelers looking for the next exciting chapter of their life.

We personally like to stay outside of downtown Santa Teresa where it’s a bit quieter. Learn about the beaches and surrounding neighborhoods below.

Beaches and Neighborhoods

Mal Pais

Mal Pais is a small fishing village, about 7 kilometers (4.3 miles) from Santa Teresa. Tourists enjoy staying in Mal Pais instead of Santa Teresa because it’s much quieter with less people. If you stay in Mal Pais, you will need to go to Carmen or Santa Teresa for supermarkets, the bank and restaurants.

You can read our Mal Pais Costa Rica guide here to learn more. We stayed in Mal Pais twice and really enjoyed being outside the hustle and bustle.

Playa Carmen

Santa Teresa Costa Rica - Playa Carmen
Santa Teresa Costa Rica – Playa Carmen

Carmen is the small community right in between Mal Pais and Santa Teresa. It’s the only place that has banks and ATMs. Carmen has a large number of restaurants, hotels, supermarkets and hostels. Most people like to stay in Carmen because it is convenient, where most of the ruckus is and you can walk to everything.

Playa Santa Teresa

Santa Teresa Costa Rica - Playa Santa Teresa
Playa Santa Teresa

This is the main beach of the town that everyone goes to, Playa Santa Teresa. You’ll see surf lessons going on, people walking, relaxing and hanging out at the vast tan sand beach and dogs running around. The most northern part of the beach where a large rock formation is called Playa Cocal.

Playa Hermosa and Playa Cocal Grande

Hermosa beach is at the northern end of Santa Teresa and is one of the better beaches for surf lessons. Known as the “Beverly Hills” of Santa Teresa, this is where celebrities like Tom Brady and Giselle Bundchen have built their luxury ocean view mansions.

Santa Teresa Costa Rica - Playa Hermosa
Playa Hermosa

There are a few restaurants and small hotels in Hermosa but not as much as Santa Teresa and Carmen.

Playa Hermosa Playa Cocal Grande
Cocal Grande beach

Playa Cocal Grande is right next to Hermosa so most tourists refer to both beaches as Playa Hermosa. We stayed here for 3 nights and really enjoyed staying here too. It’s just a tad far from the center of town so you definitely need a vehicle to get around.

Playa Manzanillo

This beach is about 8 kilometers (5 miles) north of Santa Teresa. It’s a popular spot for ATV tours to stop at. It’s not technically a part of Santa Teresa but it’s a nice empty beach.

Santa Teresa Weather

Santa Teresa experiences typical tropical weather with a rainy and dry season. Rainy is approximately end of April to end of November and dry is beginning of December through April. The rainiest months are usually October and November and driest months are February – April. Average day time temperatures in dry season hover around the mid 90s F (35 C) and rainy season is mid 80s F (29 C).

This area during dry season is incredibly dusty.

Santa Teresa, Costa Rica Hotels

Santa Teresa has a wide variety of lodging options and you can find hostels, cabinas, villas, vacation rentals, standard hotels and yoga/surf camps. Luxury vacation homes are of no shortage in Santa Teresa.

Santa Teresa Costa Rica - Hotels
View of Santa Teresa. Hotels and houses up in the mountains

Below are some hotel recommendations (prices in USD).

Hotel Santa Teresa: We stayed here for our first visit to Santa Teresa and really enjoyed it. It’s right in Carmen, walking distance to the town and beach. Small pool but comfortable rooms. Rooms are around $100

Casa Chameleon Mal Pais: Upscale adult only hotel with villas in Mal Pais. Each villa has an ocean view and their own private plunge pool. Romantic hotel, perfect for couples. Villas start at $595.

Hotel Nantipa- A Tico Beach Experience: A beautiful luxury beachfront hotel in Santa Teresa, spacious rooms and private pools. Get a bungalow for more privacy.

Selina Santa Teresa: This hostel chain is centrally located in Santa Teresa. It has a dorm and private rooms. Dorms start at $25 a bed, private rooms start at $150.

Florblanca Resort: Luxury resort with 1 and 2 bedroom ocean view villas, yoga classes, gardens, outdoor showers and a spa. Great place for couples too. Villas start at $400. In Santa Teresa.

Banana Beach Bungalows: Has 7 bungalows and casitas, pool, restaurant with a good nightlife and live music. In Santa Teresa on the beach. Rooms start at $150.

Hotel Vista Las Olas: They have bungalows and villas, each with a stunning ocean view and outdoor bathrooms. Rooms start at $150.

Lua Villas: Cute boutique hotel with apartments and villas on Playa Hermosa. A five minute walk to the Playa Cocal Grande Surf spot. Stayed here 3 nights and really liked it. Starts at $75.

Santa Teresa, Costa Rica Restaurants

Santa Teresa has a handful of delicious restaurants. Here are some of our favorite places to eat in Santa Teresa. It is also very easy to eat vegan/vegetarian/pescetarian/gluten free in Santa Teresa.

Costa Rica vegan food
Santa Teresa vegan food at Drift
  • Zula: An Israeli restaurant with hummus, falafel and wraps.
  • Ranchos Itauna: They have a wide variety of food from curry to Brazailian but the reason to go is for their barbecue on Thursdays.
  • Las Piedras Parrilla: Really good Argentian barbecue grill.
  • Habaneros: Mexican restaurant on the beach, they have good drinks.
  • Burger Rancho: Great burgers!
  • The Bakery: Awesome pastries and standard bakery goods. Good place for breakfast.
  • Zwart Art Cafe: Another good place for breakfast with lots of vegan options.
  • Banana Beach: Right on the beach, good place for drinks at sunset.
  • Somos Cafe: Cute cafe for breakfast, lunch and brunch. They have sandwiches, acai bowls and other pastries.
  • Product C: Amazing fish tacos and sandwiches.
  • Red’s Cafe: Great place for breakfast and lunch in Playa Hermosa.
  • Drift Bar: One of the best places for vegetarian/vegan food. Their vegan burger and vegan BLT are super good. Also has excellent smoothies and a bakery.
  • Eat Street: Fun outdoor style food court with burgers, bowls and sandwiches.
  • Katana: Asian fusion, super good. Make a reservation in high season.
  • Vermu: Great breakfast tacos, bowls and smoothies.
  • Soda Pura Vida: The more popular local Costa Rican restaurant for typical food (can be a bit slow at times)
  • Nami: Excellent sushi place
  • El Facon Grill & Bar: Nice spot if you’re in the mood for meat, burgers, etc. Make a reservation.
  • Cafca Cafe: Nice place for coffee and smoothies

Santa Teresa Services (Laundry, Supermarkets, Shopping Etc.)

Most restaurants in Santa Teresa offer delivery. The delivery fee isn’t cheap though, we paid 5000 CRC for Burger Rancho delivery to Playa Hermosa (to be fair it was pouring rain).

There are laundry services in town such as Laundry Express, Elys Laundry and Santa Teresa Laundry.

There are convenience stores, small grocery stores and standard supermarkets throughout Santa Teresa such as Super Ronny #1, Super Ronny #2, Super Muralla, Mini Super Frank’s Place, Mini Market Italian Store, Super Costa, Super La Hacienda and Super Hermosa.

Want to shop for some new swimwear? You’re in the right spot. There are a bunch of cute stores like El Paseito, Santa Swimwear, Alaia, Roots Town and Kina Surf Shop. Dutzy Supply Co has some nice skate and surf wear.

Things to do in Santa Teresa

Besides being a beach bum, there are a lot of fun things to do in and around Santa Teresa.

Surfing

Take a surf lesson or join a surf camp if you’re a newbie or beginner. Group lessons are around $90 USD per person. You can rent boards for about $20 USD a day.

Playa Hermosa surfing
Santa Teresa surf

There are surf schools and surf shops everywhere in Santa Teresa so just pop into any one of them to schedule your lesson.

Cabo Blanco Reserve Hike

This reserve is at the tip of the Nicoya Peninsula and has two nice hiking trails for visitors to see the forest and spot some wildlife.

Fishing

Since Mal Pais is famous for fishing, you can go on an off or in shore fishing trip to catch rooster fish, sail fish, tuna, grouper, jacks, snappers and more.

Yoga

Take a yoga class at one of the many hotels or studios that offer classes. They have everything from beginner to expert level yoga classes and even have acro yoga, couples yoga and private classes.

Tortuga Island

Take a day trip to cruise through the Gulf of Nicoya and spend a day at the picturesque Tortuga Island. If you don’t have time in Santa Teresa, you can also do this as a day trip from San Jose.

Explore Beaches

Whether you explore by horseback ride, ATV or foot, there are miles of pristine coastline to discover in Santa Teresa. One of our favorite beaches in Costa Rica is Playa Cuevas in Mal Pais that is a must. Another is Playa Mar Azul and Playa Ventanitas.

Playa Mar Azul
Playa Mar Azul

Montezuma Day Trip

Head over to Montezuma, a small Bohemian coastal town on the other end of the Nicoya Penisula 30 minutes away. Walk along the beach, hike to the incredible Montezuma Waterfall and watch the baby sea turtles release.

Santa Teresa Nightlife

For nightlife, there are a few places to have a good time when the sun goes down. Beach bonfire parties were common before COVID and there are some places with live music and a good happy hour. We recommend going to Hotel Vista Las Olas or Banana Beach Restaurant for sunset happy hour cocktails first. Then check the schedules (there are always flyers on trees at the beach or people handing out flyers) for what’s going on that night.

Rancho Itauna has a weekly beach party on Tuesdays with a fireshow, bonfire and DJ’s. Banana Beach has live music on Saturdays and fireshows and if you’re there end of February to beginning of March, you can go to Cobano (the nearby local town) to visit the fiestas civias (local parties).

Things to Know About Visiting Santa Teresa, Costa Rica

  • The town is not very brightly lit and the unpaved road is not the nicest to walk on in the dark. Take a taxi if going out at night.
  • Credit cards are more readily accepted now in Santa Teresa. Before, it was cash only but all the restaurants we went to took credit card. It is still necessary to carry cash with you though (Costa Rican currency or USD).
  • The closest gas station is in Cobano (30 minutes drive).
  • Internet is not that bad in Santa Teresa. With the influx of digital nomads, many places offer 10-50 mbps Internet and even fiber optic. There are also co-working spaces in town. Make sure to ask your accommodation to send you a screenshot of their Internet speed (up and down) in case you require a stable connection for Zoom calls and your job. Something to note that Internet may go in and out occasionally – that’s just how it is in Costa Rica.
  • Santa Teresa is growing rapidly. Be prepared to run into construction.
  • Looking for a long term rental in Santa Teresa? Start with Peace Lofts, Yoko Village (also has co-working spaces) and Apart ZulaInn.

Read more about other beach towns below!

Jaco, Costa Rica

Tamarindo, Costa Rica

Dominical, Costa Rica

Playas del Coco, Costa Rica

Samara, Costa Rica


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