10 Things to do in Santa Teresa
1. Horseback Riding
Experience the feeling of ultimate freedom when you are riding barefoot down a completely deserted beach near Santa Teresa town as you conquer high rivers and pass through grassland home to curious cows.
We did a three-hour horseback riding trip with Horizonte Horse Experience. The tour took place at Playa Manzanillo, a beach about 20-30 minutes drive from Santa Teresa. Unlike most horseriding tours, you will be alone on this beach, with no tourists that might be in the way when galloping. You can Whatsapp Michelle here.
The company is led by Michelle (contact her here via Whatsapp), a girl who shifted from doing horse riding competitions in Europe to living in harmony with horses in Santa Teresa. She made sure we both had horses that matched our height and were strong enough to carry us. She has a true passion and love for the horses – it’s really something else! You don’t need any horse-riding experience to do this tour.
Rent a bike at one of the many rental shops and conquer the dusty unpaved roads. You will quickly notice the buzz around this place with many motorbikes and ATVs passing by with colorful surfboards attached to their vehicles.
We don’t recommend renting a vehicle for your entire stay because of the excessive-high pricing of the ATVs, and the closest gas station is 30 minutes away from Santa Teresa. These days, more shops are starting to rent electric and regular bikes, which are perfect! We rented ours at High Tide Rental (not the best to be honest), but if you ask around, there are many more.
As for wildlife in Santa Teresa, due to its focus being a beach destination, it seems the wildlife is forgotten here. You can spot many monkeys and iguanas just off the many roads, but there are fewer animals in this area than there used to be, which is a shame.
3. Surfing in Santa Teresa
If there’s one thing to do in Santa Teresa, it’s surfing because the town is all about exactly that! Whether you’re a beginner or advanced, surfing in Santa Teresa is for everyone with many surf spots around. This region is known for different breaks and constant swell all year round.
At Playa Hermosa, you can find the best beginner waves, and this is where you’ll also find that most of the lessons will take place. It’s all soft sand without any rocks.
In between Mal Pais and Santa Teresa is Playa Carmen which has more advanced waves with stronger currents. Playa Santa Teresa also offers surf opportunities for surfers of all skill levels.
Ready to take some lessons or refresh your skills? Book your lessons online or with an instructor in town! Expect to pay around 50-80 USD per lesson.
4. A Day Trip to Montezuma
Plan a day trip to Montezuma, a small bohemian coastal town about 30 minutes from Santa Teresa. Hike to the three-tiered Montezuma waterfall, visit its beautiful and tranquil beach, and have lunch in town. Due to the unpaved hilly road, you will need an ATV or non-4×4 car with some clearance from the ground to get to Montezuma.
5. Discover the Beaches of Santa Teresa
Beaches are something Santa Teresa has plenty of, with each being a little different. The ocean temperature is absolutely perfect but swimming in the water is difficult due to the rougher waves that make surfing so great. There are always friendly people selling drinks, coconuts, or homemade snacks around sunset time. Below are the differences per beach:
Playa Santa Teresa
The most popular beach in town is Playa Santa Teresa. It’s best for sunbathing due to its beautiful stretch of white sand at low tide. It’s a long and wide beach with the jungle as a backdrop. There are many coconut sellers here, so be sure to take your stainless steel straws for drinking and scraping the coconut flesh from the inside.
Playa Carmen is the first beach of Santa Teresa that connects to Mal Pais. It’s one of the more scenic beaches and less busy than Playa Santa Teresa. The currents here are powerful, and there are large rocks in the water, so be careful when going for a dip.
This is just outside of Santa Teresa but still very much worth visiting. The route along the coast towards the beach is scenic, and it’s far less crowded. This beach is about 8 kilometers north of Santa Teresa, and you need transport to get here.
6. Sunset at an Infinity Pool
For an epic sunset at an infinity pool, go to Vista de Olas, located in the hills of Mal Pais. The pool overlooks the valley, the town of Santa Teresa, Playa Carmen, and everything after that. It’s a fantastic thing to do in Santa Teresa, and we recommend visiting quite a bit before sunset! Vista de Olas is a hotel, but you’re welcome to spend an evening here for a minimum spend (of about two drinks). Expect to make new friends because more travelers will enjoy their time here.
7. Beach Parties
Do not expect nightclubs or raves in Santa Teresa. Instead of this, you will find quite a few good beach parties and campfires on the beach, either after sunset or a little later in the evening. There are events happening weekly at La Lora Amarilla, Banana Beach, and Rancho Itauna.
8. Take a Yoga Class
Overlook the ocean or jungle during a yoga class: Santa Teresa has several fantastic yoga studios that offer lessons and retreats for you to join. You can get lessons at Selina South, Horizon, and Believe.
9. Mal Pais Tide Pools
Visit the impressive naturally carved pools in Mal Pais. At low tide, pools of all sizes with warm and cold water appear in the rocks, spread out over a large surface close to the shore. Relax at one of the many natural pools with views over the bay of Santa Teresa. It’s good to know that sea life will be brought inside the rock pools by the waves at high tide, so there will be many fish, crabs, and sea urchins inside (watch out for them!).
Getting to the Tide Pools
The tide pools are located about 15 minutes by bicycle between Santa Teresa and Mal Pais at Playa Mar Azul. When standing on the beach facing the water, follow the rocks on the left, and you’ll find the pools spread over the area. Just be sure to check that the tide is low; you can check that here.
10. Tortuga Island
If Santa Teresa isn’t tropical enough for you, then go on a day trip to Tortuga Island for white-sand beaches and crystal clear waters. If you don’t like to sit around, you will be pleased with the many trails and wild pigs the island has to offer. It’s a popular thing to do in Santa Teresa and, therefore, you will find boat tours to the island advertised everywhere in town.
Best Restaurants in Santa Teresa
Food lovers will be delighted to hear that Santa Teresa is foodie heaven. It has numerous fantastic breakfast spots with healthy bowls, incredible coffee, and pastries. And for dinner, you can pick anything from excellent Italian food to delicious Asian fish dishes or typical Costa Rican dishes. Our favorite restaurants in Santa Teresa are:
- The Bakery (Best breakfasts)
- The Roastery (Best coffee)
- Ani’s Bowls and Salads
- Pronto Italian Street food
- Amici (Best pizzas )
- Drift (All vegetarian)
- Katana (Asian)
Where to Stay in Santa Teresa
There are many things to see and do in Santa Teresa and, therefore, we recommend spending at least 3 nights here. Please note that it’s a popular town and recommend booking far in advance. There are two main areas to stay (spread out over 5 kilometers), namely Playa Carmen and Playa Santa Teresa.
Playa Santa Teresa
At Playa Santa Teresa, you’ll find most restaurants and accommodations. It’s more of a surfing area and in the middle of all the things to do in Santa Teresa. For that reason, it’s also the most crowded area to stay in. (See all hotels here)
Playa Carmen is an area with a handful of great restaurants and a scenic beach that’s mainly for relaxing because surfing is difficult here. Compared to Playa Santa Teresa, it’s less busy, but there’s also less happening. (See all hotels here)
Tip: We recommend finding a hotel that’s just off the road to have less noise from traffic. However, don’t go too far off because it will go uphill quickly.
Planning on camping in Costa Rica? There are some good campsites around in the area like:
- Mar Azul
- Sunset Camping
How to Visit Santa Teresa
Santa Teresa is definitely not the most accessible place to get to in Costa Rica. From San Jose, drive to Puntarenas in 2 hours or 3 hours from Manuel Antonio and take the 1-hour car ferry to Paquera. It’s another 1.5-hour drive to Santa Teresa from the ferry. Even though some parts are unpaved, you don’t need a 4×4 car to visit Santa Teresa. However, it’s recommended to rent a car with a bit more clearance from the ground.
By Public Bus or Shuttle
The public bus runs from San Jose to the Puntarenas ferry a couple of times a day. Get off the bus and hop on the ferry. After the ferry, you can take the bus to Cobano and change the bus there to Mal Pais. This will take you about 6-7 hours and is definitely the cheapest way to get there.
Shuttles like Interbus are available throughout the day but pre-booking them is recommended. Costs for a trip, including the ferry, should be between 60 – 85 USD.
The easiest way to get to Santa Teresa is by taking a domestic flight from San Jose. There’s a new airport at Cobano about 20 min from Santa Teresa. Alternatively fly to Tambor and take a taxi of about 45 minutes. We still recommend taking the car because it’s much greener to do it this way + the ferry is a beautiful ride.
Because the town is just partly paved, it is dusty all day long. For that reason, we recommend wearing sunglasses when driving an ATV or bike. Bikes are the best option to get around town because they are still somewhat affordable at 50 USD a week. Renting an ATV starts at 400 USD per week, and with that comes the problem that there’s no gas station in town. The nearest is 30 minutes away in Cabano.
Alternatively, the buses are pretty convenient and cheap for covering further distances. We’ve taken the bus a few times, but their time schedule is unclear to us. You can see the bus schedule here. You can stop these local buses from any point on the side of the road by waving.
As a final option, hitchhiking to your destination is common as well.
Your Budget for Santa Teresa
Budget-wise, this is most likely the most expensive town in Costa Rica. We’re not saying a trip here isn’t worth it, but it’s definitely something to take into account. Accommodation and restaurants can easily be 30% more expensive. Expect to pay about 20 USD per meal without drinks and about 5 USD for a coffee.
Best Time to Visit Santa Teresa
The Nicoya Peninsula has a rainy and dry season. December until April is the dry season which is the best time to visit Santa Teresa for sunny days at the beach. The end of April to the end of November is the rainy season, with October being the wettest month. It’s also when everything is at its greenest. Luckily there is year-round surf in Santa Teresa.