Just over a decade ago, the long grey-sand surf beaches fronting the virtually seamless towns of MAL PAÍS (“Bad Land”) and SANTA TERESA, 12km southwest of Cóbano and also accessible via a steep and very bumpy road from Cabuya, began luring an increasing number of travellers. First came the surfers, then the hippies, and not long after, curious yuppies, celebrities and families started trickling in. A building boom over the past decade, particularly in Santa Teresa, has transformed this formerly sleepy stretch of Pacific coast into a trendy beach resort, and foreigners now outnumber Tico residents. The developers, banks and car rental chains show no signs of leaving town, and the fear on these dusty, rutted streets is that the neighbouring towns are well on their way to becoming “the next Jacó”. But as long as the roads here remain appalling, the area seems certain to retain its laidback charm; and in the rainy season at least, you can still walk along jungle-flanked surf beaches for hours and see few other people.
Surfing put Mal País and Santa Teresa on the map, and the two communities still very much revolve around the rollers just offshore. Playa Carmen is an excellent beach for beginner and intermediate surfers, with a long right and a shorter left breaking over sand. More experienced types head north to the steeper waves at Playa Santa Teresa, where there are beach breaks and point breaks; on high swells, particularly between March and July, Suck Rock, at its northern end, peels into long, right-handed tubes. Only pro surfers and masochists ride Sunset Reef (also known as Playa de los Suecos), an extremely dangerous shallow reef-break with a fast take-off at the far southern end of Mal País; rocky outcrops along the rest of Playa Mal País render it uninviting for both swimmers and surfers, though Punta Barrigona, a slow, long left-hander halfway between Sunset Reef and the intersection, works well on a high-tide swell.