Visiting Malpaís and Santa Teresa, Costa Rica

There is something about the blast of red, orange, pink and yellow over a vast expanse of indomitable surf that can make you permanently nostalgic for a Malpaís sunset.


Malpaís translates into badlands, but you may have trouble finding anything bad about this place, other than having to leave it.

The term loosely refers to a stretch of beaches that includes the booming town of Malpaís in the south, the more laid-back Santa Teresa to the north, and Playa Carmen, the jaw-dropping beach in the middle and immediately in front of you when you hit “El Cruce,” the intersection at the end of the road from the town of Cóbano. The beaches are all connected by a bumpy dirt road that looks like it belongs in a classic surf film.

This surf and yoga paradise located in the province of Puntarenas, on the Nicoya Peninsula’s south-eastern tip, has developed exponentially in the last decade, with shopping centers, restaurants, boutique hotels, and private villas springing up every which way and transforming the face of the once quiet fishing village into a bustling, multicultural beach destination.

A Star-studded Surf and Wellness Enclave


Malpaís and Santa Tere, as it is affectionately known by the locals, do not only attract surfers, backpackers, hippie nomads, nature lovers and families, the area has long been a favorite among celebrities the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Gisele Bundchen, Tom Brady, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Mel Gibson, some of whom own luxury vacation homes in the area.

As we all know, the stars like to keep to themselves, but on occasion, they can be spotted riding the waves, running errands around town or eating out like mere mortals.

So, when in Malpaís, never leave home without a camera.

What the Weather is Like in Malpaís and Santa Tere

When packing for your trip to Malpaís and Santa Tere, prepare for heat and dust if you plan to visit in the dry season (December to April), or mud, if you’re visiting during the rains (May to November).


Without a doubt, these are considered the best months to visit, when there may be occasional rain showers, but you’re almost guaranteed a daily dose of sweet sunshine, clear skies and the lowest possible humidity you can expect in a tropical country.

Much like the rest of Costa Rica’s northern Pacific coast, the hottest months in the Malpaís area are March and April, when you can brace yourself for scorching temperatures well over 30 degrees (Celsius) or 90 (Fahrenheit).

May to November: The wet season sees a dramatic drop in visitors to the area, particularly around September and October, which are typically the rainiest months in Costa Rica. The good news is, temperatures cool down in the rainy season when you’ll usually get a good dose of sunshine and blue skies before the stormy weather rolls in. Also, most hotels in the area offer green season discounts this time of year.

Surf, Stretch, Play: Activities & Things to Do in Malpaís and Santa Teresa

The year-round swells in the Malpaís area have long attracted surfers of all levels of expertise. In recent years, Malpaís also gained popularity as a wellness destination, with open-air yoga studios, spas and health food restaurants emerging all over town, giving it a similar vibe to its Guanacaste sister beach town Nosara. Malpaís, however, has a livelier party scene, and when the sun goes down, the bars and restaurants along the dirt road spring to life.

Beach Time

Whether you’re a seasoned surfer looking to ride Playa Carmen’s electric swell, or a newbie looking for instruction, you’ll find what you’re looking for in Malpaís. The area is packed with surf instructors, a wide selection of surf gear for rent or sale and you can get great deals on new or used boards if you step into any of the surf shops down the road.

Sunbathing to soak up some Vitamin D, the amazing view and the sound of the rolling waves is definitely the next most popular activity in this area. Don’t be surprised if you wind up chewing on a delicious cheese empanada, a decadent cookie filled with dulce de leche, or some other surprising treat as you lie in the sun – local bakers of all nationalities tend to carry baskets full of goods down the beach to sell to sunbathers.

The amazing tide pools at Playa Hermosa, the beach north of Santa Teresa, are not to be missed. They are literally pool size and a wonderful place to unwind with an Imperial beer or to teach your kids how to swim or snorkel.

Stretch and Relax

Take a stroll down the main road in Malpaís and you will find a selection of yoga studios, retreats and massage places where you can get the stretch you need to finally feel the true meaning of pura vida.


From rock climbing up sea cliffs to sea kayaking adventures that can extend several days, kite surfing, SUP tours, scuba diving, waterfall hiking and everything in between, adrenaline junkies and extreme sports lovers will not get bored here. Kids and adults both love the exhilarating 11-platform local canopy tour with ocean views!

Malpaís for Nature Lovers

Just a stone’s throw from the magical Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve declared Costa Rica’s first protected area in 1963, Malpaís has been attracting nature lovers for decades. This reserve is a must see for the entire family, with its hiking trails through the lush jungle and pristine beaches.

Trips to the nearby Curú Wildlife Reserve can be arranged from Malpaís, as well as horseback riding tours, and bird watching and orchid “watching” are popular in the area.


The result of so many nationalities calling this little paradise home is truly delicious. A night out in Malpaís should begin with an amazing dinner, and there are so many choices, Japanese, Middle-Eastern, Brazilian, Italian, Spanish, French, veg or non-veg! Afterwards, you can enjoy drinks at a bar or head to Santa Tere for a night of dancing at the famous Lora Amarilla or Coco Loco, located on the beach.

Suggested Itineraries

Surfing tends to be the focal point for a visit to this area. Costa Rica Escapes can assist you in planning a custom trip to this area.If you are looking for surf, this destination is a must! Having flexibility, mainly the ability to move around the country based on what swells are doing is key to any surf-vacation. We understand this nuance in planning a surf-trip, so we’ll make sure that you’re fully prepared should your journey include a visit to the southernmost tip of the Nicoya Peninsula.

Plan a Trip to Malpaís and Santa Teresa

Contact us to plan a Costa Rica vacation itinerary that includes some time in Malpaís and Santa Teresa, Costa Rica.

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