Santa Teresa, Costa Rica has blossomed from a rural coastal village to a thriving beach town in the past decade, attracting visitors from all over the world seeking the ultimate surf, sun and relaxing beach vacation. With stunning white sand beaches, reliable surfing waves and a laid back vibe, visitors become so enamored with Santa Teresa that many stay and never leave or build their dream vacation home in the hills.
Although Santa Teresa is touristy, it’s wild at the same time. Getting there is an adventure in itself and the long curvy coastlines stretches for miles with little pockets and inlets, allowing visitors to feel like they’re the only ones there. Yoga, surf and wellness are the main attractions with nearly every hotel in town boasting their own surf camps, yoga decks and organic healthy food recipes. The one main road through town is still unpaved with crowds of backpackers, surfers and ATV’s blazing up and down the coast.
If you want to experience a laid back beach town that still retains the feeling of a “wild Costa Rica,” head to Santa Teresa. In our guide, you will learn all about this beach town to help plan your trip.
Location and Directions
Santa Teresa Costa Rica map
Santa Teresa is on the west coast of the Nicoya Peninsula in the Puntarenas province, about 90 miles west of San Jose.
How to get to Santa Teresa
Santa Teresa can be a bit tricky to get to. Luckily, there are many ways to get there but the downside is travel time since it’s tucked away in the corner of the peninsula.
How to get to Santa Teresa from San Jose
The most popular way to get to Santa Teresa from San Jose is by way of the Puntarenas ferry through the Gulf of Nicoya.
From San Jose, drive to Puntarenas on Route 27 to catch the Puntarenas Paquera ferry. Once in Paquera, drive west towards Montezuma. Go through Montezuma and Cabuya until you reach Mal Pais. This road is on a paved road until Montezuma. From Montezuma to Santa Teresa, it is all on an unpaved, potholey road so it is highly recommended to have a high car.
You could also drive the whole way if you aren’t able to catch the ferry for some reason. You will need to drive on Route 27 towards Puntarenas and continue on Route 1 north. Turn left onto Route 18, cross the Taiwan Friendship bridge and turn left onto Route 21 to the Nicoya Peninsula, going around the east coast. You’ll drive all the way around passing the Naranjo and Paquera ferry. (Get our Costa Rica car rental discount here.)
There is a direct bus from San Jose to Mal Pais (arriving in Santa Teresa) every day at 6 AM and 2 PM leaving San Jose at Ave 7, Calle 10 Terminal 7-10 with Transportes Hnos Rodriguez. This bus costs around 7000 colones one way per adult and is a 5.5 hour ride. It goes by the way of the ferry and includes the ferry ticket.
You can take shared and private shuttles to Santa Teresa from San Jose. A shared shuttle from San Jose costs $65 per adult with Interbus.
A private shuttle costs around $250-300 USD one way for up to 4 people.
The closest airport to Santa Teresa is Tambor. From Tambor, you can take a 40 minute taxi ride.
How to get to Santa Teresa from Tamarindo, Liberia or Coco
Unfortunately there is no road that connects all the way down the Guanacaste coast to the Nicoya Peninsula. There are a few ways to get there but the safest option is to stay on the paved road Route 21 around the Nicoya Peninsula.
You will have to drive to Santa Cruz and Nicoya and then around the east coast of the peninsula. Make sure to stay on Route 21, which is the paved road around the coast. 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 in awful condition.
This is super tricky. The least complicated way would be to bus from Liberia to Puntarenas, take the ferry and then grab the bus to Santa Teresa. It seems a bit roundabout but there is no road that connects all the way down the coast.
There are shared and private shuttles. A shared is $54 per adult with Interbus and a private is around $250.
How to Get Around Santa Teresa Costa Rica
The main mode of transportation is ATV and don’t forget to bring a bandanna or scarf to cover your face from the dust. You can rent them for $70 a day, $50 a day per week. You can also rent bikes or motorcycles.
There isn’t a bus that goes up and down the beaches (Manzanillo to Mal Pais) that frequently so it will be better to have your own transportation. You can walk but Carmen to Hermosa is around 4 miles. There are a lot of taxis in town you can take.
Santa Teresa itself is not that big but everyone groups Mal Pais, Carmen and Playa Hermosa under Santa Teresa. Mal Pais is 4 kilometers away but the rest are all connected and right next to each. From Carmen to Hermosa, it is around 6 kilometers (~4 miles).
You can find everything in Santa Teresa: pharmacies, banks, ATMs (only in Carmen), hostels, restaurants, small supermarkets, surf shops, souvenir stores, car rentals and more.
Costa Rica is notorious for bad roads and Santa Teresa is no exception. The one main road that connects Mal Pais, Santa Teresa and the neighboring beaches is only now undergoing renovations in 2018.
When we visited in February 2018, they were slowly clearing the road and putting layers of molasses down and I heard they are going to be putting concrete. This will help a lot because during dry season, the roads get incredibly dusty and it’s not very nice. I was having a bit of trouble breathing since I have bad allergies. After three days, our car was completely covered in dust so if you go during dry season, be prepared for lots of dust.
Beaches and Neighborhoods
This area can get a bit confusing when it comes to distinguishing what is and what isn’t Santa Teresa town. Most people don’t realize that there are several different beaches and call it all Playa Santa Teresa since the beaches all look the same with tan colored sand, palm trees, rocky coastlines and bright blue waters.
Mal Pais is a separate small fishing village, about 5 kilometers from Carmen and 7 kilometers from Santa Teresa. This town is pretty much just the fishing port, there isn’t much there. But many 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.
Carmen is the small community right in between Mal Pais and Santa Teresa. It’s the only place that has banks and ATMs and the gas station is up the hill from where Carmen starts. Carmen has a large number of restaurants, hotels, supermarkets and hostels. Most people like to stay in Carmen because it is convenient and you can walk to everything.
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. We saw a lot more people at this beach than the others since it’s the main one. The most northern part of the beach where a large rock formation is called Playa Cocal.
Playa Hermosa (Playa Cocal Grande)
Hermosa beach is at the northern end of Santa Teresa and is one of the better beaches for surf lessons. All the beaches are good, but Hermosa is particularly good for beginners). This is where Tom Brady and Giselle Bundchen built their house!
There are a few restaurants and small hotels in Hermosa but not as much as Santa Teresa and Carmen.
Playa Manzanillo is a beach about 8 kilometers north of Santa Teresa that people like to go to to escape the crowds since there is not much there. It’s not technically a part of Santa Teresa but it’s a nice empty beach. If you want to drive up the peninsula via the coast, you will need to drive on a small section of Manzanillo. We saw some ATV tours go through Playa Manzanillo.
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 temperatures in dry season range from mid 90’s to low 100’s and rainy season is mid 80’s.
This area during dry season is incredibly dusty which is one of the downsides, I had a bit of a hard time breathing when we were walking in town during noon because I have bad allergies. In fact, it’s how Mal Pais got its name (it means bad country in Spanish) because in dry season, all the rivers dry up and this area gets super dusty so it’s not nice for living.
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 but this area does lack rooms. Although it seems like there are plenty of hotels and inns, most of them only have a handful of rooms. There aren’t as many options for hotels compared to other beach towns in Costa Rica and there are only a couple high end hotels.
Here are our recommendations for hotels in Santa Teresa (prices in USD).
Hotel Santa Teresa: We stayed here five years ago with my brother and really enjoyed it. It’s right in Carmen, walking distance to the town and beach. Small pool but spacious 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.
Selina Santa Teresa: This new 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 low season, $600 in high. In Santa Teresa.
Otro Lado Lodge: The lodge has rooms, lodges and a house. It’s a little off the main road and has a beautiful garden, pool and open air sitting space. In Santa Teresa. They also offer wellness, yoga and surf retreats. Rooms start at $80, lodges start at $150.
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
Hotel Vista Las Olas: They have bungalows and villas, each with a stunning ocean view and outdoor bathrooms.
Santa Teresa Costa Rica Restaurants
Santa Teresa has a handful of delicious restaurants. In this area, you can find Italian restaurants, French cafes, Mexican cantinas, Spanish tapas and Mediterranean, Japanese fusion and Israeli food. Since so many foreigners from all over the world temporarily or permanently settle in Santa Teresa, it has some of the most diverse cuisine in Costa Rica.
Here are some of our favorite places to eat in Santa Teresa. Something extremely important to note is that credit cards are pretty much useless in this town as pretty much all restaurants are cash only.
Zula: An Israeli restaurant with hummus, falafel and that type of food.
Ranchos Itaun: 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: Yummy 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.
Santa Teresa Costa Rica Things to Do
Santa Teresa has an endless supply of fun activities so you can see and do a lot more than just the beach. Check with Zuma Tours for day excursions and activities.
Take a surf lesson or join a surf camp. Since all the beaches have good, reliable surfing waves, there are spots for beginners and expert surfers.
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. The Reserve is open Wed – Sunday and is recommended to take a tour.
Since nearby 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.
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.
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.
Surf and Yoga Santa Teresa
Here are some of the best places to take surf/yoga lessons or join a surf camp in Santa Teresa. This is one of the best areas in Costa Rica for surf and yoga retreats.
Believe Surf Camp and Yoga
Horizon Surf and Yoga Center
Lucero Surf Retreats
For nightlife, there are a few places to have a good time when the sun goes down. There aren’t any crazy clubs, discos or bars but 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).
Just a word of caution that the town is not very brightly lit and the unpaved road is not the nicest to walk on in the dark. It can also be hard to find taxis so keep that in mind if you plan to stay out late.