Santa Teresa + Malpais #TravelTuesday
Santa Teresa and Malpais, located in the Nicoya Peninsula, started as farming communities, mostly cattle and small-scale fishing, that were introduced to tourism in the 1970’s through the adventurous spirit of surfers looking for big waves. Tourism has brought more amenities and accessibility, but the area still remains fairly undeveloped. Now an epicenter for surfers and eco-minded travelers searching for yoga classes and organic cuisine, but the roads between the two towns remain unpaved. An pioneering spirit is still required from visitors to the area who crave long stretches of white sand beaches lined with jungle for an eco-friendly vacation experience.
The main center of commercial activity in Santa Teresa is a large stretch of unpaved road parallel to the beach. “El Cruce” or “the crossroads” is the border between the towns of Malpais to the south and Santa Teresa to the north where the majority of local businesses are based. The bank, pharmacy, restaurants and souvenir shops are found in the more developed Santa Teresa.
What To Do:
Undisputedly, the most popular activity here is surfing, due to the area’s year-round consistent waves. To practice their skills and build confidence, beginners should head to the milder breaks at either Playa del Carmen (literally sandwiched between the two towns) or Playa Hermosa (located north of Santa Teresa). Be aware that there are several Playa Hermosas in the country, so be sure to say Saint Teresa, or one may end up either in Guanacaste or Jaco, near Manuel Antonio National Park. Playa del Carmen is rockier, but (this particular) Playa Hermosa is way less populated.
Advanced surfers can try out Playa Teresa where the waves are higher and at low tide, faster. There are a plethora of surf shops and schools along the beach giving lessons and most hotels will also offer to hook you up with an instructor. One of the more notable being Mal Pais Surf Camp. At sunset, join the locals on Playa Teresa to watch surfers carve against the backdrop of brilliant orange, red and pink.
For a more gentle swim, head to Playa Hermosa, where a wide, sandy beach lined with almond trees and palms makes for a pleasant alternative to the busier beaches. To get there, head north along the beach for about 2kms, past “El Peñon” — the local directional rock at sea — passing through Playa Cocal. Of course, one can take the road for faster travel.
Running a close second to surfing is yoga and this area has developed quite a reputation for quality teachers who’ll help deepen one’s mind-body connection. Many studios are open air/beachfront and offer daily classes. Practice Vinyasa Flow with well-trained yoga instructors while enjoying ocean breezes in a magical setting. Many resorts specialize in yoga-surf package tours for the ultimate eco-traveler experience.
Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve, created in 1963 was the first “absolute natural reserve” in Costa Rica. The efforts were initiated by a Swedish resident, Nicolas Wessberg and his wife Karen, who purchased 1,250 hectares of land and convinced the government to grant it protected status. Today the reserve is characterized as a mixed tropical forest with Spiny Cedar, Hog Plum, Gumbo Limbo, Lancewood, Silk Cottonwood and Wild Cashew trees. A walk through its trails might offer the chance to see howler and white-faced monkeys, raccoons, coatis, white tailed deer, pacas and armadillos. The park is also a refuge for more elusive animals such as jaguarundis, ocelots and margay cats. The reserve is also known among birdwatchers for the possibility to spot 240 species of birds; ospreys, brown pelicans, frigate birds, laughing gulls, common terns, brown boobies, crested caracaras, trogons, and magpie jays to name a few.
Rock Climbing / Fishing / Ziplining
Mal Pais offers some exciting activities for the athletically adventurous traveler. Try rock climbing in Las Cuevas National Wildlife Refuge at Bat Point which is a strenuous climb over vegetation. Ascend the cliff while overlooking Playa Los Suecos — if you dare! Tours with an experienced guide last four hours. Drive south at the end of the main Mal Pais beach for a popular spot for fisherman. The zipline canopy tour (Canopy Mal Pais del Pacifico) is also located here. Known to be fast and thrilling, there’s nothing like soaring over the jungle’s canopy, waterfalls and valleys with views of the Pacific Ocean in the distance.
A great advantage of dining in this area is that many restaurants insist on using locally sourced organic produce, freshly caught seafood with a wide variety of cuisine. Top on the list is Alma, an Asian-fusion menu with tasty dishes, like Thai curry coconut Ahi Tuna or Peruvian-style ceviche made with sweet potato, shrimp served in a cane sugar, ginger white wine sauce, as well as a selection of sushi. The restaurant is located just past the crossroad of Playa Carmen, 200 meters north of Hostel Brunelas. The Papaya Lounge located in Hotel Moana Lodge in Malpais is perched high on a hill with stunning ocean views. It’s a steep climb of sixty steps or so up the hill to reach the restaurant, but the view is worth it. Try beef braised in coffee or sample the tapas menu. For dancing, head to La Lora Amarilla, a local landmark, with a live band playing cumbia, salsa or reggae. The beach in front was even named for the bar.
Where to stay:
Makanas Beachfront Bungalows in Santa Teresa has several room options from honeymoon suites, a family villa, or a surf cabina. All the lodgings are designed with a mix of European elegance and the vibrant colors and feel of the jungle. Expect amenities such as A/C, Wi-Fi, large outdoor seating area, daily maid service and breakfast included — all set in an environment designed for relaxation and the enjoyment of nature’s sights and sounds surrounding you.
As the onsite restaurant and bar, Sloopy’s serves breakfast and dinner daily and continues the European jungle decor with retro style lounge chairs in the bar area. Each dining table and chairs has a different design to add to the unique dining experience. The bar is a cool place to hang out and sample from an extensive list of Belgian beers and interesting cocktails. Try a creative house cocktail like a strawberry Mojito or the “Dark & Stormy” as you relax after a day of activities. The food is fresh and locally sourced with an Asian/Indian influence. For starters, try the Ahi poke appetizer, Thai peanut chicken fingers with chutney dipping sauce, or the croquette combo plate of chicken, fish and shrimp with dipping sauce. They have lots of freshly caught fish options on the menu as well.
From Poas San Jose Airport Office to Santa Teresa: The 182 kilometer drive is about 5 to 6 hours. Take route 27 to Calle 35 in Puntarenas and drive along Avenue 3 to the ferry building. After debarking from the ferry, follow signs to Santa Teresa for about 80 minutes.
From Poas Liberia Airport Office to Santa Teresa: Follow Route 21 to Puntarenas ferry. The drive takes between 4 to 5 hours, over 215 kilometers.
Four ferries depart and return daily between Puntarenas and Paquera, and a one-way trip with a vehicle costs USD$25. Tickets cannot be reserved in advance so arrive early. The relaxing journey across the Gulf of Nicoya takes a little over an hour with views of tiny islands, which are home to seabirds, and the possibility of seeing turtles or dolphins swimming past.
Recommended Car Category:
Despite the influx of A-celebs to the area, Mal Pais and Santa Teresa’s roads remain stubbornly difficult to negotiate, especially in Green Season, as they are unpaved and potholed.
While many residents find the inaccessibility preferable to the unique vibe of these beautiful, offbeat beach towns being swamped with mainstream tourism, a full to premium SUV is the best bet for hanging ten at sunset at more remote corners of the beach.