The Nicoya Peninsula often attracts a special type of traveler and many of them head straight to Santa Teresa, Costa Rica. Whether you are traipsing about on your honeymoon or traveling solo, you can count on meeting a mix of laidback Ticos, barefoot ex-pats, and eco-conscious backpackers when you touch down in Tambor (a landing that feels like a scene right out of Jurassic Park, we should mention).
The Nicoya Peninsula’s designation as one of the world’s five Blue Zones makes Santa Teresa an off-the-beaten-path escape from the buzz of the modern world. Sure, many of the hotels have wi-fi, but you may find yourself less interested in our email and more in tune with the lazy sway of local life. Some even travel to the region Specifically for a self-imposed digital detox. Fresh seafood and tropical fruits, rich in nutrients, are staples in Noycan cuisine, further bolstering the area’s reputation as a haven for wellness.
How do you get to Santa Teresa?
The roads to the southern Nicoya Peninsula are notoriously rough. Travel by ground is long and bumpy, especially in the green season (May – October). The smoothest way to reach Santa Teresa is via plane, flying into Tambor. The most common domestic route is a 40-minute scheduled flight from San Jose, though flights from other destinations are available by private charter. Once you’re in the area, your hotel can arrange for taxis and transfers to wherever you want to stay. Anyone looking for a bit more independence can opt for a 4×4 rental vehicle (for confident drivers who don’t mind gravel roads).
When should you visit Santa Teresa?
Some hotels close for repairs and updates in October, which is typically Cost Rica’s rainiest month. Otherwise, Santa Teresa is considered an excellent year-round destination. *Be sure to inquire about closures when booking a trip late September – early November.
Related Article: 10 Costa Rica Rainy Season Travel Perks
Finding Your Balance: Best Santa Teresa Tours and Activities
For many, the Nicoya Peninsula offers all they could ever want in a Costa Rica vacation. Stray from the country’s more famous locales and you’ll be met with rugged coastal landscapes, magnificently empty beaches, and a long dry season. Here’s a taste of what you can expect to do and see on a Santa Teresa vacation:
Santa Teresa Yoga & Wellness
Yoga and wellness travel are ubiquitous across the region, with many top hotels including complimentary classes with your nightly stay. What else would you expect from one of the world’s five Blue Zone destinations?
Nantipa creates a custom wellness experience from top-to-bottom, including Ayurvedic spa treatments, nourishing meals, and unique variations of yoga practice available to guests.
Spa Bambu makes Florblanca Resort worth a visit, as do the hotel’s offerings of pilates, yoga, and other fitness-focused activities designed for the most active of Santa Teresa travelers.
Surfing in Santa Teresa
It would be impossible to visit Santa Teresa and overlook the influence of the area’s surf culture. Mal Pais is one of the most beloved surfing areas in Central America and Santa Teresa is where all the wave fiends tend to congregate. Walk along the beach and witness lifelong surfers – local and international – navigate the amazing breaks along the rugged coastline. If you’re ready to paddle out and catch a wave for yourself, you won’t have any trouble arranging it in Santa Teresa. Between the surf lessons offered through the hotels and the endless selection of rental shops, you can have the Santa Teresa surf experience best suited for your level of experience. Take a guided surf lesson or rent a board and surf solo. Playa Carmen, La Lora, and Playa Hermosa are the best surfing beaches in Santa Teresa, according to locals. True ‘soul surfers’ should head to Mar Azul for a less crowded ride.
Fishing and Snorkeling in Santa Teresa
Half-day (in-shore) and full-day (off-shore) fishing trips are available from Santa Teresa, with the variety of fish dependent on the seasons. Nantipa famously offers a special artisan fishing experience, immersing guests in local fisherman culture while giving them a chance to snag sailfish, marlin, tuna, roosterfish, and more.
The best place for snorkeling in Santa Teresa is Tortuga Island. This beachy day trip location is about 45 minutes by boat from the Santa Teresa area and gives travelers a chance to swim and snorkel in azure waters. It’s a nice break from the strong currents and rocky coast of many Santa Teresa beaches.
Santa Teresa Nature & Wildlife
Most people picture sand, surf, and yoga when they think of Santa Teresa but amazing nature and wildlife opportunities abound
About 45 minutes from Santa Teresa by 4×4 car or ATV, the Montezuma Waterfall is one of the most popular Nicoya Peninsula attractions for visitors. With your guide, you can hike along a stream past a couple of smaller falls before coming to the star player, a massive water cascade that has been photographed by tourists and posted on Instagram countless times. It’s a real crowd-pleaser! If you’re feeling especially adventurous, you can also take a canopy zip-line tour here.
El Chorro Waterfall
If you’ve already conquered Montezuma or it simply feels too crowded, head out to the seaside waterfall El Chorro, which only emerges at certain times depending on the weather. Five miles north of Montezuma, it takes a roughly 2-hour hike on the beach to reach it.
If you have time at the end of your adrenaline adventures, spend some time on Montezuma Beach to get a feel for the gritty backpacker culture that has made Montezuma notorious among budget travelers.
Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve
Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve is a protected conservation area with over 1200 hectares of mixed forest. This seabird sanctuary is popular with travelers who want a taste of coastal birdwatching in Costa Rica. Around 240 bird species have been recorded in Cabo Blanco, along with several mammals. You might spot armadillos, anteaters, monkeys, coatis, and if you’re lucky, the ever-elusive ocelot.
Curu Wildlife Refuge
Curu Wildlife Refuge is another popular choice for nature lovers staying in the Santa Teresa area. Search for Capuchin and Howler monkeys as you make your way through the coastal forest trails of Curu, observing towering Guanacaste trees and a variety of interesting flora along the way.
Barra Honda Caves
Barra Honda Caves National Park is an extensive network of caves about 40 minutes from Samara Beach. The caves hold a number of secrets off-limits to the public like indigenous artifacts and the remains of humans. Only one of the caves, Terciopelo Cave, is available to the public. Guided tours with equipment are available in the dry season from the end of November through April. The 3-hour tour begins with a 62 ft (19 m) descent into the interior of the cave. Brave adventurers at Barra Honda will discover the wonders of this limestone cavern, including stalactites, stalagmites, soda straws, cave grapes, and more.
Horseback riding along the beach is another great way to take in the local scenery. Wind through coastal trails with your horse and local guide and you may have the luck of spotting coastal birds and mischievous mammals along the way.
Isla Chiquita Glamping Resort
Isla Chiquita Glamping Resort may be the best way to experience nature in the Santa Teresa vicinity. Located on a private island accessible only by boat, Isla Chiquita is more “off-the-beaten-path” than most tourists ever dare to travel. With 3 nights at the eco-resort, guests can comfortably tour Curu Wildlife Refuge, take a morning birdwatching hike, explore Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve, and spend a day snorkeling Tortuga Island. This is also one of the only places in Costa Rica to offer the Bioluminescence Experience (either by boat or kayak). The stunning natural phenomenon of bioluminescence fascinates guests with an unreal glow upon the water, which is produced by high concentrations of light-emitting plankton, creating a ‘starry night’ effect after dusk.
There are a couple of ways to reach Isla Chiquita:
- If you’re already in the Santa Teresa area, you’ll simply take a 45-minute ground transfer to the boat dock in Paquera. From there, it’s just a couple of minutes by boat to Isla Chiquita.
- If you’re not already in the Santa Teresa area, you should fly to Tambor. From here, you can transfer by ground to the boat dock in Paquera. From there, it’s just a couple of minutes by boat to Isla Chiquita.
- If you want to avoid flying, there is an option to travel by ground and boat. You will first need to transfer by ground to Puntarenas on the Central Pacific Coast. Here you will meet a private boat that will take you directly to Isla Chiquita. Note: This option is best for people staying near San Jose, Monteverde, Manuel Antonio, the South Pacific, and Arenal. This option is not available in areas like Nosara, Tamarindo, Papagayo, or other locations in the Guanacaste area. To connect with Isla Chiquita from the Guanacaste area, a private flight is recommended.
It may sound a bit complicated, but the secluded location is worth the effort! Plus, Costa Rica Experts can handle the logistics, allowing you a stress-free vacation experience.
Once you’ve arrived at Isla Chiquita, you’ll notice yourself among just a handle of guests as far as the eye can see. It’s an especially good choice over the holidays when Costa Rica sees a huge influx of tourists on holiday.
Santa Teresa Restaurants and Dining
More than anywhere else in the country, travelers can find an offering of healthy and eco-minded cuisine in Santa Teresa. Natural smoothies made with fragrant tropical fruit, inventive catch-of-the-day creations, locally grown vegetables, and fresh sushi are common players in the area’s cuisine. Hotel restaurants offer a gourmet twist on Blue Zone dining while local eateries are great for getting your fill of typical Costa Rican food. If you need a break from coastal dining, head to a local bar for chifrijo and chili guaros.
For some of the freshest sushi you’ll ever have, try local favorite Koji, where Tom Brady has been spotted ravaging a roll or two. Don’t worry, the paparazzi won’t be joining you.
If you’ve been out of the waves surfing all day, you might want to replenish your carbs at Al Chile Viola, an Italian dining staple. Zula keeps it light with Mediterranean mezze plates and falafel (and a laid-back atmosphere).
Nantipa’s beachfront restaurant, Manzu, is the best spot for sunset ocean views and expertly crafted cocktails in Santa Teresa. The trendy, open kitchen design allows guests to witness world-class chefs reinvent Costa Rican cuisine with a modern twist.
Best of Santa Teresa, Costa Rica:
Best Santa Teresa area beaches: Playa Santa Teresa, Playa Carmen, Playa Hermosa, Playa Manzanillo, La Lora/Suck Rock, Mar Azul
Best Santa Teresa dining: Kavita, Manzu, Koji, Katana, Al Chile Viola, Zula
Top Santa Teresa attractions & activities: day trips to Tortuga Island, horseback riding, canopy tours, Montezuma Waterfall, Barra Honda Caves, Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve, Curu Wildlife Refuge, fishing, surfing, yoga, wellness, and spa travel
Santa Teresa Travel FAQ:
Come to Santa Teresa for a couple of days away from the real world. You’ll be in good company; stars like Matt Damon, Britney Spears, Diane Lane, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers are known to base themselves here during extended getaways. The lazy pace of local life attracts artists, environmentalists, and dreamers from all over. The eclectic mix of surfers, fishermen, yogis, lifetime backpackers, and locals creates a sense of global community in one of Costa Rica’s most scenic settings. Santa Teresa offers a one-of-a-kind beach and nature for families, couples, and friends alike. Check out the Expert’s itinerary recommendations or call for a custom vacation plan crafted around your specific interests!