Golden rays of the setting sun fell on my face and a soft breeze blew through my hair. I was sitting on the beach of Santa Teresa watching the sunset. Mesmerized and awestruck, I looked around, only to find the beach full of people. It was as if the whole town had gathered to watch the sunset.
Santa Teresa is not just about sunsets. With amazing surf breaks, palm tree-lined beaches, white waves, and vibrant yoga culture, this small, former fishing village has gained popularity among surfers (both experienced and beginners), yoga practitioners, and beach lovers from Costa Rica and around the world.
Located on the southern tip of the Nicoya Peninsula in Puntarenas, Santa Teresa is a small town that runs along a 4 km long street, with lush green hills on one side and the white sand beach on the other.
Visiting Santa Teresa: How to reach
From San Jose
By Car: Take Route 1, Route 18 & then Route 21. It is a 6 hours drive from San Jose Airport to Santa Teresa.
By Car & Ferry: Drive to Puntarenas which is a 2-hour drive from San Jose Airport. Once there, buy the ferry tickets to Paquera. You can also book the tickets online at https://www.quickpaycr.com/.
Please note – you need to buy a ticket for your car, and separate tickets for all passengers. It costs 12,882 colones for the car, and 800 colones per person (taxes extra).
It is a 1.5 hours ferry ride from Puntarenas to Paquera. After deboarding the ferry, continue to drive from Paquera to Santa Teresa which is a 1-hour drive.
By Bus: There is a direct bus from San Jose to Santa Teresa by Transportes Cobano at 6 am daily. Please note that as of September 2022, the bus stops after reaching Cobano and leaves for Santa Teresa only at 2.30 pm.
By Shuttle: You can also take a shuttle to Santa Teresa from San Jose. A shared shuttle from San Jose costs around 65 USD per adult and a private shuttle costs around 260 USD one way for up to 8 people.
By Flight: Take a domestic flight from San Jose airport to Tambor Airport, and then hire a taxi or rent a car to Santa Teresa.
By Car: Drive down Ruta 21 (make sure to stay on this route, and not other routes often shown by Google maps and Waze. The drive usually takes around 4 hours.
By Flight: Take a domestic flight from Liberia airport to Tambor Airport, and then hire a taxi or rent a car to Santa Teresa. It is a 40-minute drive from Tambor.
Activities: Things to do in Santa Teresa
There is no dearth of activities in and around Santa Teresa. Whether you prefer to relax on the beach, or indulge in outdoor activities, Santa Teresa has something to offer to everyone.
Here is what you can do when visiting Santa Teresa!
Wherever you go in Santa Teresa, you will find surfboards! Whether it’s outside the shops, mounted on an ATV, people walking with it in their hands, or lying around on the beaches.
But there is a reason for that! Santa Teresa is well-known among the surfing community for its incredible surf breaks and many surf spots. So whether you are a beginner or an experienced surfer, Santa Teresa is a place with a constant swell year-round and can offer you an amazing surf experience. You can either bring your surfboard with you or rent one while you are in town.
Exploring nearby beaches
Santa Teresa is a small beach in itself. What makes the experience great is clubbing visits to other beaches along with this one. Playa Carmen, Playa Hermosa & Playa Manzanillo are 3 other beaches nearby that are a must-visit. From Carmen to Manzanillo, it is an 11 km stretch and can be covered easily by car or ATV.
Yoga & Wellness
Like many other beach towns in Costa Rica, Santa Teresa, too, is popular for its yoga classes, programs, and wellness retreats. Many hotels and hostels offer yoga classes & wellness experiences for their guests (either complimentary or paid). There are also many yoga studios facing the beach.
One thing that you will instantly notice on arriving at Santa Teresa is the ubiquitous presence of ATVs. Due to unpaved, narrow roads and rugged terrain, travelers like to hire ATVs to explore the town and nearby beaches. It is the most convenient option for moving around, even more convenient than your personal car!
You can hire an ATV for the experience, or for exploring Santa Teresa and nearby beaches.
Mal Pais is a small fishing village south of Santa Teresa. A 15-minute drive away, Mal Pais is great for catching sunsets and relaxing on the quiet & less crowded beach.
Another impressive feature of Mal Pais is its tide pools. These are naturally carved pools that appear during low tides and can have hot or cold water. What’s even more amazing is that you can find marine life like fish, sea urchins, and crabs, in these pools.
If you are up for an adventure on your otherwise laid-back trip, hiking to the Montezuma Waterfalls will awaken the outdoor enthusiast in you.
There are 3 waterfalls in Montezuma – upper, middle, and lower. The lower one is the most attractive. The path is a mix of walking, hiking, and crossing hanging bridges.
Cabo Blanco Absolute Natural Reserve
Another outdoor activity that you can indulge in is the Cabo Blanco Reserve hike. You can take the shorter trails or hike the full circuit of 10 km. This is a great trail for spotting wildlife, and the trail leads to the secluded beach of Cabo Blanco where you can soak in the sun and wash away your tiredness.
Tortuga Island Tour
Tortuga Island is a 45-minute boat ride from the Santa Teresa area and is known for its snorkeling opportunities. There are many day tours from Montezuma beach to Tortuga Island.
You can either relax on the island, take a dip in the ocean, or take a guided snorkeling tour. Everything is taken care of by the tour company.
Restaurants: Where to eat in Santa Teresa
There is a mix of restaurants serving local food and international cuisine between Santa Teresa and Carmen. Here are a few restaurants under various categories –
- Asian Cuisine – Katana Asian Cuisine
- Israeli Cuisine – Zula Restaurant
- Latin & Caribbean food – El Tercer Ojo
- Italian Cuisine – Pronto Piccola Italia
- Breakfast & Bakery – The Bakery
- Beachfront Bars – El Carmen, Banana Beach
- Soda – Soda Pura Vida
- Burgers – Burger Rancho
- Vegan & Vegetarian – Drift Bar
- Icecream Parlor – L’arte del Gelato
Accommodation: Where to stay in Santa Teresa
It is important to understand the layout of Santa Teresa in order to pick suitable accommodation. The area between Playa Santa Teresa and Playa Carmen is the main and the busiest. Many hostels, hotels, Airbnbs, and resorts dot this stretch. You will be close to amenities and restaurants.
However, if you prefer a quieter and calmer stay, Mal Pais has a fair share of accommodations too.
I stayed at Point Break Santa Teresa, which is conveniently located close to Santa Teresa beach and 1 mile away from Carmen beach. The property boasts a garden, a shared kitchen, a BBQ facility, a terrace, and rooms with balconies.
Safety: Is Santa Teresa Safe?
Many tourists are left wondering if Santa Teresa is at all safe! Infamous for robberies in the past years, tourists visiting Santa Teresa often fear for their safety. While it is generally safe, you should practice general precautionary measures like you would at any other place. Do not wear jewelry, avoid isolated areas, leave your valuables at the hotel, park your car in a busy and well-lit area & never leave the windows down.
It is definitely a bad idea to walk on the beach alone at night. If you are returning from a late-night party and are not completely sober, make sure you are in a group and do not have valuables. It is preferred to take a hotel close to the town in case you do not have a car or rented ATV.
Things to know about Santa Teresa
- The closest gas station is at Cobano which is a 30-minute drive away.
- Though credit cards were not readily accepted earlier (it was cash only), they are welcomed now.
- The main road is not well-paved and not well lit. It is advisable to not venture out on foot late at night.
- Be prepared to brave a lot of dust (from the road) and the crowd (in the busy season).
- Accommodations are relatively more expensive than in other parts of Costa Rica. If you are okay with hostels, they are good for your pocket.
- It is not advised to drink tap water here. You will need to check with your hotel/property for that.
Summing it up!
When visiting Santa Teresa, it is important to know that Santa Teresa is a developing town, and the facilities are not that great! You may find construction everywhere and a lot of dirt & dust on the roads.
But, the raw beauty of Santa Teresa is what attracts travelers looking to unwind, rejuvenate, and reconnect with nature. Some are on a quest to find the purpose of their life while some are looking to hone their surfing skills. Whatever reason it is you are visiting for, go with the right expectation, and you will not be disappointed. The beaches and the sunsets are to die for!
I hope this travel guide was useful to you, and that you have a memorable stay in Santa Teresa. Cheers!