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Costa Rica — the Rich Coast — is awash with phenomenal beaches, and those on the Pacific Ocean at Santa Teresa are no exception. Located at Nicoya Peninsula in the Puntarenas province, the surf here attracts board-lovers from across the globe, and its white sand beaches fringed by tropical jungle are more than just a place to catch some rays. Lacking any high-rise buildings, Santa Teresa maintains an under-the-radar feel while upholding the quintessential image of unspoiled central American beaches. Having said that, the lure of the surf means the town’s main drag in Santa Teresa has a good choice of restaurants and accommodation, which ranges from the budget to the sublime.
- Debra Ryder
- From USA
The best time to visit Costa Rica is during the dry season, which extends from the beginning of December until the end of April. Coinciding with the annual migration of thousands of snowbirds to the beaches of Santa Teresa, you’ll be paying high season prices at hotels, but won’t be affected by rain or overcast skies. The hottest months are March and April, when both temperatures and humidity levels rise. Waves at this time of year are great for those learning to surf, with the biggest waves arriving during September and October, Santa Teresa’s wettest months.
1. Relax on a Santa Teresa beach
The beaches of Santa Teresa, including Playa Santa Teresa itself and Playa Carmen, are considered to be among the most beautiful anywhere in Costa Rica, and these beautiful stretches of pristine coast offer ample opportunity for sunbathing, reading beneath the shade of a palm tree, or even bathing in a tidal pool.
For a secluded spot head north from Playa Santa Teresa. Here, buildings along the shore and the road parallel become sparser, and the rockpools add a further area of interest. It’s around here you’ll also find the sugarloaf-shaped rock battered by waves known as ‘el Peñon’, and a large rocky tide-pool big enough for a spot of snorkeling as well as bathing.
Continuing further north you’ll soon come to Playa Hermosa, whose name aptly translates as Beautiful Beach. A large expanse of sand, Playa Hermosa provides just the right level of popularity to give it ambience without it feeling claustrophobic, while Playa Carmen (south of Playa Santa Teresa) is a little busier still.
Insider’s tip: Ocean currents can be strong, so swimming is best kept to tidal pools and inlets. Always ask someone in the know if you’re unsure.
2. Grab a board
Surfing in Santa Teresa when on a trip to Costa Rica really is a must, and is the reason a lot of visitors choose to spend their time in and around Santa Teresa, to the extent that many of the hotels in the area offer surf instruction and surf camps.
Playa Carmen in particular is a good spot for beginners due to its calmer long breaks, but also offers the chance of surfing at night, when the waves are lit up by flashlights. There are also plenty of more challenging spots for those with experience on the board. Playa Santa Teresa is one of these spots, and presents both point and beach breaks.
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3. Party the night away
Head to Santa Teresa beach towards sunset and you’ll discover much of the town’s resident population enjoying the staggering spectacle of colors and the cooling breeze that comes with it. While surfers continue to cut through the waves. It’s here that plans for the evening are made, with plenty of options to decide, especially during the high season of December to March.
It all comes to ahead around Christmas and the New Year, when international DJs sweep into town. For a little more local flair however, head for ‘La Lora’, a typical dancehall that regularly hosts a live band playing to the beat of Costa Rica’s favorite rhythms, samba and cumbia, though it can be a touch cheesy for some.
Insider’s tip: For the stalwarts of the party scene check out Kika on a Thursday, when a band covers rock tunes, and Roca Mar at the Blue Surf Sanctuary Hotel on a Sunday, which attracts the local expats for the weekly family-friendly live music.
4. Explore Santa Teresa’s natural wonders
Even if surfing isn’t your thing there’s still plenty of reason to take to Santa Teresa’s warm Pacific waters. From the small fishing port of Mal Pais nearby you can go on boat-based fishing and snorkeling trips lasting from a couple of hours to a whole day, including to the magnificent Tortuga (Turtle) Islands. Other water-based activities include stand-up paddleboarding and kayaking.
Adventures aren’t limited to getting your feet wet however. Horseback rides along the beaches of Santa Teresa are another popular pastime, while adrenaline junkies will adore the zipline on the jungle canopy tour of Cabo Blanco Reserve. Costa Rica’s oldest protected area, it’s home to monkeys, anteaters, wildcats and a huge number of bird species too.
Insider’s tip: Only a limited number of visitors are permitted into the Cabo Blanco Reserve each day, so making a reservation in town beforehand is advisable.
5. Trek to Montezuma Waterfalls
For an activity away from the region’s beaches head to Montezuma Waterfalls. While the entrance is just a short distance away from Santa Teresa by car or all-terrain vehicle, reaching the series of falls themselves requires an easy one-kilometer hike through the untouched rainforest. It’s possible to swim in the cooling pool at the base of the cascades, and even jump into them from the top of the 25-meter lower falls, should you dare.
Insider’s tip: Don’t forget to take plenty of water and slap on some sunscreen if hiking to the falls. It can get hot in the humidity of the jungle.
Santa Teresa in Costa Rica boasts many of the country’s finest Pacific beaches and offers a whole range of things to do from relaxing on the beach, surfing the breakers, staying out till dawn, exploring the surrounding jungle, and splashing about in its waterfalls. Make a trip to Santa Teresa and enjoy the best of the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica.