Essential Guide to Santa Teresa, Costa Rica’s Laidback Beach Town

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Santa Teresa Costa Rica - view of sandy beach with water to the left and vivid green jungle to the right.
Santa Teresa’s jungle-fringed beaches. Photo credit: Adina Keeling

Over the past year of living in Costa Rica, I’ve collected answers to the question, “What is your favorite place in Costa Rica?” After polling both travelers and locals, I’ve found two common answers: Puerto Viejo and Santa Teresa. I visited Puerto Viejo earlier this year, and it exceeded my expectations, so naturally, when my travel cravings hit once again, I had to take a little solo trip to Santa Teresa.

This charming surf town is located on the Nicoya Peninsula in Puntarenas, a province that covers most of the country’s Pacific Coast. With a laid-back atmosphere, stunning sunsets and beautiful beaches, Santa Teresa attracts surfers, backpackers, yoga enthusiasts, and other free spirits.

The town is made up of one road that stretches for 1.8 miles. Trendy beach boutiques, beach bars, and local restaurants are sprawled along this street. Expats and locals alike zoom down the road on ATVs, motorbikes, or jeeps.

From surfing to horseback riding to snorkeling, there’s lots to do in this dream town. Here’s everything you need to know about going to Santa Teresa, Costa Rica.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Unfortunately, Santa Teresa is not as walkable as some of the other Costa Rican beach towns. Trucks, ATVs, and rental cars speed down the main road, which can be a little stressful for pedestrians. Avoid walking down this road by renting a vehicle for yourself.

Santa Teresa Costa Rica - View of fenced-in building in the jungle in the rain, with mud-filled pathways surrounding it.
A rainy Santa Teresa. Photo credit: Adina Keeling

Rainy Season vs. Dry Season

If you’re visiting Santa Teresa during the rainy season, your dreamy beach vacation might not turn out quite as you expected. The rainy season is between May and November. During this time, you can expect heavy downfalls in short bursts throughout the day. The rest of the year, there is little to no rain.

I traveled to Santa Teresa during the rainy season, and while I still really enjoyed my stay, I do think I need to return during the dry season to get the full experience. The prices were much lower during that time, and the mornings were still clear so I did still get some beautiful beach time, but my afternoons were wet and a little gloomy.

Read More: The Ultimate Costa Rica Packing List

Santa Teresa Costa Rica - View from ferryboat of the bow loaded with vehicles, heading over gray-blue water toward a distant coastline with white clouds above.
Taking a ferry across the Gulf of Nicoya. Photo credit: Adina Keeling

Getting there

Due to its remote location, Santa Teresa isn’t easy to get to. It takes about six hours to get here from San Jose, the country’s capital. This journey can be done by shuttle, public bus, or rental car. Regardless of your choice, you’ll need to cross the Gulf of Nicoya on a ferry, which takes about 70 minutes.

Luckily, vehicles can board the ferry as well, so if you’re renting a car, you can drive straight onto the ferry. Many shuttles and public buses from San Jose also board the ferry, so you won’t have to worry about transferring to another bus or shuttle. These services are also timed with ferry crossings, so you won’t be waiting at the boat dock for long.

I did this journey on the public bus, and while inexpensive, it wasn’t an easy trip. The bus company is called Transportes Cobano and can be booked in advance through La Terminal. Although the website advertises transportation straight to Santa Teresa, that’s not true. The bus travels from San Jose to a town called Cobano, 20 minutes from Santa Teresa. Here, you’ll have to transfer to another public bus that will take you to Santa Teresa.

The drive to Cobano also includes the ferry transfer. For this, you’ll have to get out of the bus, board the ferry on foot, and then board the bus again on the other side. The ticket for the ferry is included in the bus ticket, so if your bus driver shoves a little piece of paper into your hand, hold on to it. That’s your ferry ticket.

There is also an option to fly from San Jose. Flights go to Tambor Airport, which is about a 35-minute taxi from Santa Teresa. This is the fastest way of getting there and costs about $190 a person. These flights fill up quickly, so you’ll have to book in advance.

If you’re flying into the country’s other airport, LIR in Liberia, you spare yourself the boat journey. You can take a shuttle or public bus from the airport and arrive within about four hours.

Santa Teresa Costa Rica - View of wooden tables, benches and stools under a lit pavilion with jungle, surfboard and hammock in the background near a building that says 'Akhi Pods Hostel' on the outside.
Lively outdoor seating at Akhi Pods Hostel. Photo credit: Adina Keeling

Where to stay

Accommodation options in Santa Teresa range from trendy boutique hotels to jungle bungalows to lively hostels. For a more luxurious stay, consider Hotel Nantipa, located just steps from the beach. There is a wellness center where guests can receive massages, facials, and holistic treatments.

Another great option is Gigi Brown Beachfront Santa Teresa. Each room at this 5-star hotel has a patio, and some even have a private pool. Other popular hotels include Manala Hotel and Fuego Lounge.

Save money by opting for one of Santa Teresa’s many lively hostels. The Selina, which offers both private and shared rooms, boasts a pool, a cinema room, a coworking space with fast wifi, a juice bar, and surfing classes. If you’re a yoga fan, stay at Casa Zen Guesthouse & Yoga Center, a boutique hostel with a yoga deck and daily classes, and if you’re a surfer, opt for Surf Hostel Somos. Other popular hostels include Akhi Hostel Pods and Zeneidas Surf Garden.

If privacy is what you’re after, check out the options on Airbnb. There are plenty of trendy apartments with amenities like pools and private decks. There are also private villas, such as La Lora Beach Villa, that visitors can rent.

Where to eat

When it comes to dining options, Santa Teresa has a little bit of everything. You’ll find upscale gelato places beside inexpensive local restaurants, called sodas. There are art cafes, smoothie places, and beachfront bars.

To try local food, head to Soda Tiquicia or Soda Pura Vida. There’s also a delicious Indian restaurant called Maharaja Bhog Authentic Indian Food. I normally wouldn’t recommend trying Indian food in Costa Rica (in my experience, it’s usually pretty disappointing) but this restaurant was an exception.

Katana Asian Cuisine is another popular restaurant that serves sushi, spring rolls, bao, curries, pad thai, and other Asian dishes. For some Italian food, check out Pronto Piccola Italia and Pizza Tomate. Romantic beachfront dining is available at Banana Beach Restaurant and Uma Santa Teresa.

During my stay, I also grabbed an afternoon snack at Zwart Cafe, a trendy coffee shop with colorful art on display. The Bakery is another great spot for a sweet treat.

Santa Teresa Costa Rica - view of sandy beach with shallow waves to the right, a large rock outcropping in the distance and jungle to the left.
Santa Teresa’s stunning beach. Photo credit: Adina Keeling

Things to do

1. Take a surf lesson

Santa Teresa is a surfer’s paradise. Although the town attracts surfers of all levels, it’s a great place for beginners to practice the sport. Visitors can purchase private or group lessons with a certified instructor. Surf packages include transportation as well as surfboard rentals. Those who are really dedicated to learning can purchase a multi-day or even a week-long surf package.

2. Visit Tortuga Island

Tortuga Island is just a short boat ride from Santa Teresa. With white sand beaches and crystal clear water, this is the perfect place to go snorkeling and see the local marine life. If you’re visiting between March and May, keep an eye out for humpback whales, manta rays, dolphins, and turtles.

Tours to and from Tortuga Island often include pick-up and drop-off, a meal, drinks, and snorkel equipment. You can purchase a tour online through Tours Paradise or on Go Get Your Guide. Alternatively, there are lots of tourism agencies in town that offer tours to Tortuga Island.

Santa Teresa Costa Rica - View of sandy beach with people walking in the distance and jungle behind them. Rain clouds are overhead.
Santa Teresa beach during rainy season. Photo credit: Adina Keeling

3. Be a beach bum

There’s more than one beach near Santa Teresa, and they’re all worth a visit. The beach that borders the town is called Playa Santa Teresa, or Santa Teresa Beach. This sparkling white sand beach is fringed by jungle and boasts perfect surfable waves.

Playa Carmen is another beautiful beach within walking distance of the town. This beach borders the southern side of Santa Teresa town and is a popular place to walk, surf, picnic, or watch the sunset. It offers a livelier atmosphere with a handful of beach bars and cafes lining its shore.

Just north of Santa Teresa Beach, you’ll find Playa Hermosa. A 10-minute drive from town, this beach is more pristine, with a coastline that seems to stretch on forever.

4. Rent ATVs

Santa Teresa stretches along the coast, which means walking from the south to the north end takes a while. Plus, the town doesn’t have great sidewalks, and with vehicles speeding down the road, walking through town can be a bit unpleasant.

To travel across town more easily, and get a little adrenaline boost, rent an ATV with one of the vehicle rentals in town. You can drive your ATV right up to the beach, so this is also a great way to check out all the nearby beaches. They usually cost about $70 for 24 hours.

Visitors can also opt for an ATV tour in which a guide comes along and points out popular attractions. You can pair an ATV tour with a visit to a waterfall or a ziplining tour.

5. Explore Santa Teresa town

With colorful boutiques, surf shops, and hippie cafes, Santa Teresa town is the perfect place to sip on a coffee while window shopping. You’ll find locally-made bikinis, surf accessories, beaded jewelry, and bohemian clothing. Many of the items are hand-made by local artists, so this is also a great place to find unique gifts. Just put on a good pair of walking shoes.

6. Go horseback riding

Spare yourself some exertion by seeing Santa Teresa’s natural beauty on the back of a horse. These guided tours take riders along picturesque trails that wind through the jungle and along the shoreline. They usually last a bit over two hours and visitors will get to see lots of local wildlife along the way.

7. Take a yoga class

Yoga is everywhere in Santa Teresa. Hostels and hotels offer daily yoga classes, and the beaches are always sprinkled with locals and tourists practicing yoga on the sand. Embrace the yoga-love by booking a class with one of the many local yoga studios.

8. Visit Montezuma

Montezuma is another popular beach town, and while some travelers choose to split up their time between Santa Teresa and Montezuma, it’s also an easy day trip if you’d rather stay put. The town is a 45-minute drive away and is known for its more laid-back vibe and more affordable prices.

With a tiny town and about 10 restaurants, Montezuma is much smaller and quieter than Santa Teresa. From town, you can hike to a beautiful free waterfall. The area is also known for its conservation efforts, and there are daily baby turtle releases.

9. See the Mal Pais tidepools

Mal Pais is on the very southern tip of the Nicoya Peninsula. Here, you’ll find tide pools carved from volcanic rock. With warm water, these pools act like natural hot tubs and are the perfect place for relaxing and watching wildlife. Keep an eye out for sea anemones, sea stars, tropical fish, and sea slugs. You may also want to pack some water shoes to make getting in and out of the pools easier.

10. Visit Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve

Pristine beaches and hiking trails await at Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve. This protected reserve spans 1,270 hectares and sits at the southern tip of the Nicoya Peninsula. Cabo Blanco is open Wednesday through Sunday, and the only public buses travel there from Montezuma and Cabuya, so it’s probably easiest to rent a car to get there from Santa Teresa.

There are two trails that wind through Cabo Blanco: a three-mile hike and a one-mile hike. Along the way, you might see howler monkeys, anteaters, coatis, and many different bird species.

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