First came the surfers, then the hippies, before hipsters, celebrities and families started trickling in. Over the past decade, a building boom in Santa Teresa has transformed this formerly sleepy stretch of Pacific coast into a trendy beach resort. That said, the area retains its laidback charm. In the rainy season, at least, you can still walk jungle-flanked surf beaches for hours and see few people. Plan your trip to Santa Teresa with our guide to Santa Teresa — based on the The Rough Guide to Costa Rica, your travel guide for Costa Rica.
The best travel tips for visiting Santa Teresa
Across the El Cruce intersection lies Playa Carmen, which stretches several kilometres north and blends into Playa Santa Teresa. Note that most of the access points are pedestrian only.
The main road behind the beach is lined with restaurants and lodgings all the way through Santa Teresa. These start to thin out once you reach popular Playa Hermosa. Follow the signs for Couleur Café — a very rough track leads to the beach, some 6.5km north of El Cruce.
A couple of kilometres beyond here lies the sleepy village of Manzanillo, with another long stretch of rocky beach and a couple of point breaks on the western side of the peninsula.
Despite the long stretches of sand, all the beaches here are prone to riptides. While this means they're not ideal for swimming, there are often tidal pools to splash about in, and they're excellent for surfing.
Top attractions and things to do in Santa Teresa
Given that surfing put this town on the map, it follows that surfing is one of the best things to do in Santa Teresa. The community still very much revolves around the rollers that swell just offshore.
#1 Learn to surf at Playa Carmen
Extending for several kilometres before it becomes Playa Santa Teresa, Playa Carmen is the best place to come in the area if you’re a beginner or intermediate surfer.
It has a long right and a shorter left breaking over sand. Satisfying enough, but more manageable than other spots in the area.
Playa Carmen is also the place to come for beach horse-riding and treks into the surrounding jungle. Speak to someone at Star Mountain Lodge to arrange either trip — you don’t have to be a guest.
#2 Join the experienced surfers at Playa Santa Teresa
More experienced surfers will want to head north to the steeper waves at Playa Santa Teresa. Expect dramatic beach breaks and point breaks that’ll exhilarate and thrill.
On high swells, Suck Rock peels into long, right-handed tubes. These are especially notable between March and July.
If you’re looking for more high-octane surfing experiences, it’s worth considering this when trying to decide when to visit Santa Teresa. Suck Rock is located at the northern end of Playa Santa Teresa.
#3 Explore Sunset Reef
Only pro surfers and masochists ride Sunset Reef, also known as Playa de los Suecos. This extremely dangerous shallow reef-break with a fast take-off lies 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.
Having said that, Punta Barrigona works well on a high-tide swell. You’ll find this slow, long left-hander halfway between Sunset Reef and the intersection.
#4 Join yoga and pilates classes
If you’re looking to mix surf action with well-earned rejuvenation, you’ll be pleased to learn that a number of hotels and resorts offer on-site classes in yoga and pilates. Most of these are held in outdoor spaces with fabulous views.
And in good news if you’re not based in one of these accommodation options, non-guests can book the same classes.
Find more Costa Rica activity ideas in our customisable Costa Rica itineraries.
Best areas to stay in Santa Teresa
The ongoing construction boom has brought a smorgasbord of boutique hotels and even budget options here are surprisingly modern.
The majority of the accommodation is set along the shores of Playa Carmen and Playa Santa Teresa. As it can be hot day and night, it’s well worth splashing out on a/c.
Note that camping is officially prohibited on the beach, and most places shut down during September and October. All the options listed offer free wi-fi.
- Horizon Hotel & Yoga Center: romantic, stilted bungalows overlooking the jungle.
- Funky Monkey Lodge: a hillside lodge with pool and sushi restaurant.
- Makanas Beach Bungalows: affordable, set within a lush garden, with on-site activities.
Best places to stay in Santa Teresa
Browse more places to stay in Santa Teresa.
Best restaurants and bars in Santa Teresa
Santa Teresa’s large population of foreign residents translates into a wide range of restaurants, and increasingly, cafés and coffee shops.
For example, The Bakery is an appealing stop-off at any time of the day. Think delicious pastries for breakfast, light meals and salads for lunch, and top pizza for dinner, served from 6pm.
If you're looking to enjoy local food, Zula is a buzzing local restaurant that serves up traditional Costa Rican dishes, along with Israeli favourites. like falafel, shakshuka, kebabs and creamy hummus.
Seafood fans will want to head up to Brisas del Mar in Hotel Buenos Aires. Fresh and creative, with spectacular views, fish restaurants don’t come much better than this.
Meanwhile, self-caterers can make use of several well-stocked supermarkets, including Super Ronny’s, 400m north of El Cruce.
- Chicken Joe’s: delicious rotisserie chicken from enhanced with home-made hot sauce.
- Nectar Hotel Florblanca: artistic fusion cuisine with Latin, Mediterranean and Asian influences.
- Pizzeria Playa Carmen: the best pizza in town is served in an open-front restaurant overlooking the beach.
- Pronto: fabulous, authentic Italian food from Bari-born chef Giuseppe Morisco.
Discover more of the best places to eat in Santa Teresa
Find out more about eating and drinking in Costa Rica.
How to get around Santa Teresa
Most locals bounce along the roads on ATV/quad bikes. Alternatively, you could get around and explore on a bike.
- ATV rental: available at various points along the main coast road. Try Pacific Dirt Road, 75m from El Cruce on the road to the beach.
- Bike rental: most hotels and hostels rent bikes.
- Car rental: rental companies Budget and Toyota Rent a Car are both housed in the white strip-mall at El Cruce. Alamo is east of Frank’s Place.
How many days do you need in Santa Teresa?
If you’re just looking to soak up the vibe of the area as part of a bigger trip, three or so days in Santa Teresa should be enough.
In that time, you could take a surf class, explore the jungle and enjoy a few local restaurants.
Alternatively, if you’re a beginner surfer hoping to get a grip of the sport, or a long-time wave-rider looking for serious action, you’d do well to consider spending at least a week here.
What is the best time to visit Santa Teresa?
The best time to visit Santa Teresa, and Costa Rica more generally, is between mid-December and April. Being the dry season, this is the best time to enjoy the beach and outdoor activities.
That said, this is the most popular time to visit, which means busy coastal resorts and higher prices.
If you don't mind getting a little wet, visit Costa Rica between May and November. Accommodation prices are lower, and rain showers pause during June and July, offering a brief window for wildlife-spotting.
Travellers keen to head off the beaten track should steer clear of September and October. This is when the rain is at its heaviest, which means remote areas are inaccessible by road.
For more detail, read up on when to go to Costa Rica.
How to get to Santa Teresa
The most scenic way to get to Santa Teresa is by catching a ferry from Paquera. The ride is spectacular in itself, curving around the South of Nicoya Peninsula for about an hour. Other options are available.
Catch a flight from Juan Santa Maria Airport to Tambor Domestic Airport, where you can then get a bus or taxi straight to Santa Teresa.
Buses arrive at/depart from El Cruce. Transportes Cóbano (T2642 1112) runs to San José, but usually with a change of bus in Cóbano. From here you can get a connection to Montezuma or Paquera for the ferry; 4–6 daily; 30min).
If you’re driving from Montezuma, you can get here via Cóbano on a paved but pot-holed road. Take the very rough gravel road through Cabuya (crossing three small fords). There’s a petrol station 2km from El Cruce on the road from Cóbano.
TA taxi’s run from Cóbano to Mal País or Santa Teresa will set you back around US$25–30.
For more transportation tips, read our guide to getting around Costa Rica.
You might also want to arm yourself with The Rough Guide to Costa Rica.
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Featured image, Santa Teresa and Mal Pais Coastline © Jenin VA / iStock