In the southern region of the Nicoya Peninsula, there are many beaches known for their waves and beauty.There are small beach towns all up and down the coast, more rural than the beach towns you’ll find up north.
Big roads and buildings are rare here but you can find people from all over the world, brought together by one thing they love in life: to surf.
Visitors who want to experience the Costa Rican beach side before big developments should head to the Mal Pais in Nicoya Peninsula region. Here they can experience a more laid back town catering towards surfers and tourists but still keeping its pristine and rural feel.
Escape to Mal Pais to experience the real Costa Rican jungle and beach.
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Mal Pais in the Nicoya Peninsula
On the southwestern coast,Playa Carmen, Santa Teresa and Mal Pais are the three most popular beaches, connected by one 5km road where there are little shops, tasty eats and big waves. We spent a couple days in Mal Pais in the Nicoya Peninsula after taking a ferry from Puntarenas to Paquera and driving to Playa Carmen where we stayed.
The town has more of a laid back and chill atmosphere, a real surfer haven. We stayed at Hotel Playa Carmen which is a mere 2 minute walk to the beach and our hotel had a beautiful ocean view with balconies in each room.
Most of the shops and sodas are within walking distances from Playa Carmen but if you are heading to Santa Teresa or Mal Pais, take your car if you have one. It’s about a 20 to 30 minute walk from Carmen to Santa Teresa.
The Beaches of Mal Pais, Santa Teresa and Playa Carmen
Playa Carmen is sandwiched between Mal Pais and Santa Teresa with moderate waves and soft white sand that is great for beginner surfers. There is a beachfront restaurant and a man who will make jewelry out of the shells you find. We didn’t surf here and instead participated in another fun beach activity.
Santa Teresa is the more lively of the three, with expats from all over the world and locals mingling together with more modern development. There are plenty of activities to do on all beaches: surfing, ATV, bicycling, fishing and more. It is usually the favorite beach among surfers to catch waves.
We rented a board at one of the many surf shops at Santa Teresa for $10 for 24 hours.
All these beaches, especially Mal Pais have been regarded as some of the most beautiful in Costa Rica. Santa Teresa is more popular for it’s waves since they tend to be better than the other two. Unfortunately on the days we went, it was quite cloudy.
Where to Eat
There’s a tasty bakery around the corner from our hotel that was one of the most popular places in town. It was always packed and they have a good variety of pastries and breads with all you can eat pizza Monday for 5000 colones. There is also an Argentinian barbecue restaurant, Las Piedras that is highly recommended.
All the locals we talked to told us about it and it is the most popular restaurant in the area. We went one night and ordered the one that had a little bit of everything and it fed all 6 of us perfectly. They have a big grill over a fire so you can see how they grill their meat.
You can find plenty of sodas along the road but the one we loved the most was The Tiquicia. They gave huge portions and drinks along with some of the best patacones con guacamole we’ve had for fairly cheap.
Where to Stay
There aren’t a ton of hotels in Mal Pais itself but there’s a good chunk in the area for all types of travelers. You can choose from hostels, budget hotels, apartments and more high end hotels in Mal Pais, Santa Teresa and Playa Carmen. Since yoga is a big thing on this side of the country you can also find yoga and surf retreats.
Mal Pais Hotels:
Santa Teresa and Playa Carmen Hotels
- Hotel Playa Carmen – we stayed here, comfortable rooms, great location
- Lodge Ylang Ylang
- Cuesta Arriba B&B Hostel
- Florblanca Resort Nautilus
- Funky Monkey Lodge
- Esencia Hotel
- Otro Lado Lodge Red Frog Villas
- Pranamar Villas and Yoga Resort
- Latitude 10 Resort
- Sitting Bull Hotel and Hostel
A Favorite for Many Visitors
Although these beaches are more remote and the towns are more undeveloped, you will find everything with a local vibe. No touristy shops but local artisans. No big buildings but a small town feel. It’s quickly become a favorite of many visitors and I can absolutely see why. I love the ruggedness and the rural feel these towns give.
This is the perfect place to see Costa Rica beaches before big developments. Playa Tamarindo used to be like this but when they built a new paved road, everything changed. There’s nothing fancy or luxury about Mal Pais, just a true authentic feel of Costa Rica.
Check out Pollo Pass for Santa Teresa discounts!
Want to read about other beaches in Costa Rica? Here you go!
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