Santa Teresa is a small beach town situated on the southern tip of Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula.
Due to it’s laidback hippie vibe and incredible surf beaches, it’s been popping onto a lot of people’s radar over the past few years. Without a doubt, Santa Teresa is growing in popularity as time goes on and is becoming one of the top places to visit in Costa Rica.
Although dedicated surfers and backpackers certainly feel it’s worth the journey, Santa Teresa is a little hard to get to. On the plus side, this has somewhat slowed Santa Teresa’s growth in tourism.
Once you get to Santa Teresa, you’ll be greeted by miles of white-sand beaches, turquoise waters and some of the best waves in Costa Rica.
What else is there to do in Santa Teresa?
There’s also plenty of things to do aside from just lounging on the beach or going for a surf. You can take a day trip to one of the nearby nature reserves or hire an ATV and wizz around the jungle.
If Santa Teresa is on your list, we’d recommend going there as soon as possible, before that magic vibe is diluted by too much tourism! To ensure that you have the best time in Santa Teresa, here are the top things to do.
Santa Teresa is a beach destination, so if lounging on the beach all day, every day, is what you want to do, that’s perfectly acceptable!
Especially as Santa Teresa’s beaches are just so beautiful!
There are plenty of beaches to choose from, with each of them offering certain characteristics. Some beaches are perfect for surfing, whilst not a great place to swim.
To help you get to know some of Santa Teresa’s main beaches, here’s a rundown of them:
Playa Carmenis the beach in front of the northern end of town. It’s a wide, golden-sand beach that’s lined with palm trees, offering a bit of shade.
The waves and currents are pretty strong here, so swimming isn’t recommended. However, it’s great for intermediate and experienced surfers.
Playa Santa Teresa
Playa Santa Teresa is just south of Playa Carmen. This beach offers whiter sands and plenty of places to grab a drink or a bite to eat in one of the many restaurants that line the beach.
Tide pool – Hermosa Beach
At low tide you’ll find a tide pool at the northern end of the beach. This forms a swimming pool in the sea. Here it’s deep enough to go snorkelling and swimming, whilst being protected from the currents that can make it dangerous to swim at the other beaches.
Playa Hermosa is a bit further north from the main town of Santa Teresa, but definitely worth the journey. The beach feels unspoilt and tropical with its hundreds of palm trees. If you want to learn to surf, the waves here are great for beginners.
#2 Take on Santa Teresa’s waves and go surfing
The word is spreading about the great waves that frequent Santa Teresa. This is a good and a bad thing. More people get to enjoy the waves, but it also means the small beach town may become touristy and too busy.
So get down to Santa Teresa as soon as you can, no matter what level of surfer you are.
There’s a mixture of wave difficulty in Santa Teresa, catering to all types of ability.
Here’s where to head to depending on your ability:
Montezuma offers in total 3 waterfalls, ranging from 5-25 metres in height. The cascades are stunning, plus a great place to go swimming and take part in some cliff jumping.
The top and bottom waterfalls are the ones that you’re able to swim in. There’s no access to the middle one.
If you want to get the adrenaline pumping, then check out the top waterfall. Here you’ll be able to jump from around 5 metres and enjoy the rope swing. You can easily spend the whole day around these falls.
How to visit
We love to hear it! Although many waterfalls in Costa Rica charge an entrance fee, the entrance to the Montezuma waterfalls is completely free. There’s a trail that begins in Montezuma town and can be followed for around 20 minutes before you’ll reach the bottom waterfall.
From there you can use the steps, albeit pretty steep steps, to reach the top waterfall.
How to get there
As the name suggests, the waterfalls aren’t in Santa Teresa, they’re in Montezuma. If you have your own car, the drive takes only 35 minutes and parking costs just $2.
You can also use the public bus that runs between Santa Teresa and Montezuma multiple times a day that costs $2.50 each way.
It’s a fun and cheap day out!
#4 Explore the wildlife at Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve
Cabo Blanco isn’t just any nature reserve, it was actually the first one in the whole of Costa Rica, established in 1963.
It’s also one of the least visited parks, so the peace won’t be disturbed by hundreds of other tourists. The park encompasses 1,270 hectares of mixed forest, with around 150 species of trees – and that’s only the ones that have been identified.
The forest is also home to a large variety of animals including deer, anteaters, howler and capuchin monkeys, coyotes, racoons, coatis and many more. Plus over 240 species of birds!
How to visit
Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve is situated on the eastern side of the Nicoya Peninsula. It’s a 1-hour drive from Santa Teresa and can only be reached if you have a car.
The nature reserve is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, so make sure to plan accordingly. It’s open from 8am-4pm and costs $12 per person to enter.
For those without a car, your best option is to join a tour. For $75, you can join a 5-hour tour that includes transportation and an English-speaking guide to teach you about the reserve.
New to Santa Teresa? Check out this compact Santa Teresa guide to find the best areas to stay, restaurants you don’t want to miss and many more tips for your visit to Santa Teresa!
#5 Visit Curu wildlife reserve, the first private nature reserve
Another first when it comes to nature reserves on the Nicoya Peninsula. Curu Wildlife Refuge was Costa Rica’s first private national wildlife refuge.
The reserve protects threatened and endangered forested habitats such as mangroves, forests and coral reefs. Alongside this, there are still low levels of cattle grazing and fruit production, proving that agriculture can still work sustainably alongside nature.
Curu is teeming with wildlife. You’ll be able to spot two of the monkey species in Costa Rica – white-faced monkeys and spider monkeys. Plus many other beautiful creatures like macaws, deer, coatis, iguanas and hundreds of species of birds.
There are several trails throughout the park, varying in length and difficulty. And as a bonus, there’s even a protected beach where you can go for a swim, after a hot and sweaty hike.
What else can you do?
If you don’t fancy using your own two legs, you can switch to four legs instead. You can explore the nature reserve by horseback!
A lot of the hotels and resorts in Santa Teresa offer yoga retreats. Casa Zen has a 4 night retreat starting from $120 per person. As well as the yoga practise, a lot of them also include surf lessons, other excursions and delicious food.
It’s the perfect place to escape from the stresses of life and rejuvenate your body.
Tortuga Island is located on the other side of the Nicoya Peninsula from Santa Teresa. If you’ve been looking for a tropical paradise, then Tortuga Island is the place to visit.
Sun-lovers will be happy to see a number of sunbeds to spend the day relaxing on. Whilst water babies will be thrilled at the sight of the hundreds of fish that dash around the boat as you make your way to the island.
What else can you do?
The day on Tortuga Island is likely to fly by with so many things to keep you busy.
Aside from lying on the beach, you can go snorkelling, diving, hiking or eating your body weight in delicious food.
The boat trip from Santa Teresa beach to Tortuga Island takes about 45 minutes and if you are lucky, the ride will be accompanied by dolphins, jumping manta rays or even humpback whales.
The best way to visit Tortuga Island from Santa Teresa is by joining a day tour. This way everything is arranged for you and a boat cruise is necessary to get to the island.
A 9 hour snorkelling tour from Santa Teresa costs $80. This includes transportation, lunch, drinks and snorkelling equipment.
#10 Watch the sunset on the beach
The sunsets on the Pacific side of Costa Rica are just incredible! The sky becomes alive with shades of purple, orange and pink, creating one of the best sunsets you’ve probably ever seen.
Watching the sunset becomes part of most people’s daily routines in Santa Teresa. Everyone grabs a beer at around 5:30pm and heads down to the beach to watch the spectacular show.
It’s a great way to mingle with other travellers and an added bonus – it’s free!
#11 Explore the underground world of Barra Honda caves
There are lots of national parks in Costa Rica, but Barra Honda National Park is slightly different. It’s main selling point is it’s 42 caves, of which only 19 have been explored by humans.
As you climb 35 metres down into the cave, you’ll feel like you’re entering a whole new world. All around you you’ll be surrounded by towering stalagmites and huge stalactites!
You’ll be grateful for your torch once you’re down there, as that will be the only source of light. It’s definitely the place to face your fear of the dark!
How to visit
You can enter the national park for $10 per person, but this won’t give you access to the caves.
The only way to enter the caves is with a guide, which costs $25. The tour lasts for around 3-4 hours and also includes a fair amount of hiking to get to the caves.
You’ll need to make a reservation in advance and the only way to do so is to ring the ranger station +506 2659 1551. Unfortunately, they don’t have a website.
Unfortunately, the caves aren’t that close to Santa Teresa and are nearly a 3-hour drive away. If you’re visiting Tamarindo, this may be a better place to reach the caves from. However, as many travellers prefer to stay in Santa Teresa instead of Tamarindo, we didn’t want to leave out this great activity.
Villa Cacao gets booked up fast, so if you fall in love with this place, make sure to book ASAP. It’s easy to see why it’s so popular - the dreamy outdoor pool, the modern interior and it’s perfect location.
Even though it’s at the centre of Santa Teresa, it feels like your own private oasis. The flourishing gardens and unique chill-out spots also add to this feel. The service matches the quality of the rooms. It’s all top-notch!
Santa Teresa is a place for connections, and La Posada is the place to do that. It’s inevitable that you’ll meet some amazing people here. Whether it’s whilst swimming in the pool, having a game of snooker, or just making the most of the chill out spaces.
If you need some privacy, don’t worry, the hostel also has lovely private rooms.
It’s not easy to find budget-friendly accommodation in Santa Teresa, especially somewhere that’s actually nice to stay in. Salty Enthusiasts won’t break the bank, yet it’s still a beautiful place to stay.
The hotel feels like a large treehouse, meant for relaxing and providing comfort. You can opt for either a dorm bed or a private room. Both are super clean, comfortable and thoughtfully designed.
It’s a great place to meet other people too. They have lots of communal areas to chill out, and a shared kitchen.