- Central America & the Caribbean
- Costa Rica
The popular seaside village of Montezuma, Costa Rica, lies about 40km southwest of Paquera, near the southern tip of the Nicoya Peninsula. Some three decades ago, a handful of foreigners seeking solitude fell in love with Montezuma and decided to stay. Back then, it was just a sleepy fishing village, largely cut off from the rest of the country. These days, Montezuma draws tourists galore, and virtually every establishment in town offers gringo-friendly food and accommodation and sells tours. Plan your trip to Montezuma with our guide to Montezuma — based on the The Rough Guide to Costa Rica, your travel guide for Costa Rica.
The best travel tips for visiting Montezuma
As a result of large-scale development being kept to a minimum, and given that it still takes a bit of an effort to get here, Montezuma still feels like a village.
The main draw is some of Costa Rica’s loveliest coastline. Leaning palms and jutting rocks dot the wild, sandy beaches, with uninterrupted views of the Pacific. Meanwhile, inland, thickly forested hills, including rare Pacific lowland tropical forest, dominate the landscape.
In December–May high season, there’s a festive atmosphere to the place, with performers entertaining the crowds every night.
Best things to do in Montezuma
It's (almost) all about beaches in Montezuma, most of which are mostly of greyish, volcanic sand.
In essence, other than hanging out and sipping smoothies, there’s not much to do in Montezuma itself. Most visitors surf, swim, take a trip to Tortuga or simply lounge on the area’s palm-fringed beaches.
If that sounds like your kind of trip, you might want to read up on the best beaches in Costa Rica.
Playa Montezuma itself comprises the small bay at the village, and the more attractive stretch immediately to the north. Though it features clean, almost golden sands, there are lots of rocky outcroppings. Some of these are hidden at high tide, and the waves are rough and the currents strong.
Beach-life aside, Montezuma also presents great opportunities for more adventurous activities — think hiking, kayaking, horse-riding and surfing.
#1 Explore nature trails near the Northern beaches
From the Ylang Ylang Beach Resort at the northern end of Playa Montezuma it’s possible to walk along the coast to a series of secluded beaches, with plenty of squawking parakeets and turtle-nesting sites along the way.
The trail first cuts across a headland and down to Piedra Colorada. This protected cove has a small beach and an assortment of sculptures at the northern end, across the creek.
From here the trail cuts through the Nicolas Wessberg Natural Reserve onto the first, rocky section of Playa Grande. Walk a bit further and you’ll come to a gorgeous stretch of untrammelled sands. Allow 45min from Playa Montezuma, and bring plenty of water.
The jungle behind the beach is part of the semi-private Refugio Nacional Mixto de Vida Silvestre Romelia. Olive ridley turtles nest along this stretch, with egg-laying and -hatching season running August through January.
Continue walking beyond the next headland and you’ll reach Playa Cocolito, another remote beach wth enchanting El Chorro at its far end. This picturesque waterfall tumbles straight into the ocean. You can swim in the waterhole here.
#2 Surf the Southern beaches
South of Montezuma, a bumpy gravel road lined with several small, enticing coves runs 7km to Cabuya.
The first is Playa Las Palmeras, while the similar Playa Las Manchas lies half a kilometre further on.
Experienced surfers head to Playa Cedros, a left-hand reef break 3km south of Montezuma. Another surf option is a kilometre further on near Playa Lajas. The right-hand point break at the mouth of the Río Lajas has a very rocky spot best surfed at high tide.
From here, it’s possible to walk up the relatively gentle course of the Río Lajas through pristine jungle, to the sizeable Lajas Falls. Allow 2hr each way from the river mouth.
#3 Visit Las Tres Cascadas
A number of waterfalls lace Montezuma and its environs. The closest and most popular of these is Las Tres Cascadas, or just Cascadas de Montezuma. It's clear to see why it made it into our run-down of the best waterfalls in Costa Rica.
Located on the Río Montezuma, this is one of the most popular sights in the region. While visiting can be a fun adventure and the falls themselves are very pretty, it’s important to note that two to three tourists die on the falls every year, and many more are injured.
So, don’t believe the local hype — it's not an easy and accessible hike. Trails are not marked and are slippery, muddy and very steep, which means proper footwear is essential.
#4 Go horse-riding
Another top thing to do in Montezuma is horse-riding — there' s no better way to see some of the area's top natural attracrions.
Located in the centre of town, Cabo Blanco Traveler offers horseback 2-3 hour rides to El Chorro or Pura Vida waterfalls.
The same outfit also run day-trips (with snorkelling) to Islas Tortuga, and hikes around Cabo Blanco.
#5 Enjoy canopy tours, kakaying and diving
For an exhilarating Montezuma experience, Sun Trails (northwest of Amor de Mar hotel T2642 0808), offers a canopy tour comprising nine ziplines. The trip also stops at the Tres Cascadas for a quick dip, and can inlcude kayak tours to Vivo Beach.
Meanwhile, Zuma Tours in the centre of town offer the largest range of tours in Montezuma. These include day-trips to Islas Tortuga, diving, and horseriding tours around the region, They also host guided, five-hour trips to Refugio de Vida Silvestre Curú.
Best areas to stay in Montezuma
While convenient, staying in the village can be noisy due to traffic and the shenanigans at Chico’s Bar.
Elsewhere, you’ll find it peaceful, with choices out on the beach, on the road that heads southwest to the Reserva Natural Absoluta Cabo Blanco, and on the sides of the steep hill about 1km above the village.
Camping is prohibited on the beach, but there are a couple of campsites on the edge of town.
Best restaurants and bars in Montezuma
Montezuma’s varied menus offer not just comida típica but a slew of tourist favourites, though you can still find a couple of (relatively) low-cost sodas too.
Self-caterers can stock up at Super Montezuma on the main street (daily 7am–9pm), or pick up organic produce at the Saturday morning market in the park opposite (10am–12.30pm).
If it's nightlife you're after, this centres on Chico’s Bar, where a mix of local kids and tourists guzzle from a wide choice of alcohol. At closing time (2am) people tend to adjourn to the beach for some alfresco drinking.
- Organico: this charming restaurant sees vegans particularly well catered for, with live music most nights.
- Playa de los Artistas: fresh fish, lobster, and sushi — candlelit beachside dining doesn’t get any better.
- Soda Típica Las Palmeras: beyond the falls, this offers great home-cooking, from red snapper to chicken curry.
Recommended restaurants in Montezuma
Find out more about eating and drinking in Costa Rica.
How to get around Montezuma
Other than walking, the most popular way to get around Montezuma and the surrounding area is by quad bikes/ATV rentals from vendors in the centre of the village. Rates aren't cheap, though.
In addition, Zuma tours offer a huge range of taxi and shuttle services. These include water taxis, private van services, transfers, and taxis around the country.
How many days do you need in Montezuma?
Beach bums could easily while away a week (or more) in Montezuma, especially if you're also up for lively night-life and fancy a spot of adventure between chilling and cocktail-sipping.
For example, you could devote a day to exploring the northern beaches, and a second day to those lying to the south. If you’re a keen surfer, you may well want to return for more waves another day.
What’s more, the jungle and trails backing both sets of beaches and coves could keep nature-lovers happy for a couple of days.
You’ll also want to allow a day to visit Cascadas de Montezuma. Add to that a boat trip to Islas Tortuga, and a horse-riding or kayaking excursion and your week will be over in a flash,
What is the best time to visit Montezuma?
During the December–May high season, Montezuma has a fun, festive vibe, with nightly performances of everything from drum troupes to fire-eaters.
This party atmosphere coincides with the dry season, which is the best time to visit Montezuma if you’re hoping to explore Las Tres Cascadas. And the reason? Flash floods can strike here during rainy season, making it hazardous. Wet season starts in May and usually tails off at the end of November, with the highest rainfall in September and October.
If you’re keen to keen to see olive ridley turtles along Refugio Nacional Mixto de Vida Silvestre Romelia, egg-laying and -hatching season is August through January.
For more on the best time to visit different destinations in Costa Rica, read our guide to when to go to Costa Rica.
How to get to Montezuma
Montezuma is easy to reach. Especially if you have a rental car. These are your best options to get here.
Buses stop at the dedicated area behind El Sano Banano Hotel in the centre of Montezuma. Local buses also head to Cabo Blanco and Cabuya.
Transportes Cóbano runs the Montezuma to San José buses via Cóbano, Tambor and Paquera.
For Mal País and Santa Teresa take the 10am or 2pm bus to Cóbano to connect with onward services there (departs Cóbano daily 10.30am & 2.30pm; 30min).
Destinations: Cóbano (8 daily; 30min); Paquera (for the ferry; 6 daily; 2hr); San José (daily 6.20am & 2.20pm; 5hr).
Montezuma is well-connected to Costa Rica’s tourist shuttle network, with daily departures to San José, Monteverde and Fortuna, Manuel Antonio and Dominical (all usually at 9am), plus Sámara/Tamarindo (usually 8.15am).
All local tour operators and most hotels can arrange tickets, which cost substantially more than local buses. Most hotels can book you local shuttle bus rides to Tambor and Mal País/Santa Teresa.
Taxis are available to/from Mal País/Santa Teresa and Tambor Airport.
The Zuma Tours taxi-boat from Playa Herradura, 7km north of Jacó (minibus between Herradura and Jacó included), is by far the quickest way of getting between Montezuma and the Central Pacific (1hr). Boats depart Herradura daily at 10am and depart Montezuma beach daily at 8.30am.
For more transportation tips, read our guide to getting around Costa Rica.
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