If you’ve got pointers on where to surf, eat and sleep in this spectacular part of the planet, share them in the comments below. And as a disclaimer; I’m not a professional - consult one before going to Costa Rica. And research more than what you see in this blog post.
- Most of the major airlines you’ve heard of fly into San Jose International airport. Since driving from San Jose to Santa Teresa takes anywhere from 4 hours to who knows how many hours depending on road quality on the Nicoya Peninsula, it’s smart to either land in the morning and make the drive, or land at night and stay in San Jose for the evening. There is a Hampton Inn next to the airport with a decent free breakfast in the morning, as well as a Holiday Inn express (not as good of a breakfast). They’re both in the same parking lot as Denny’s (so you’ve got a lot of breakfast options!!)
- If you’re renting a car you’ll approach the rental car desks after exiting bag claim and speak to the rep of the company who has your reservation. They’ll call a shuttle that will pick you up and drive you to the rental lot. This is one reason I like Budget. They’re right next to the airport. Dollar can be a long drive if traffic is bad (it often is in San Jose).
- According to Costa Rican law you have to buy minimal car insurance from your rental agency to cover the possibility that you crash into someone and have to pay their medical bills. I choose to buy Maximum coverage because some Costa Rican roads are made of dirt (at best) and the terrain sometimes seems hellbent on destroying your car. I’ve wrecked a car here before and had to pay nothing because I bought full coverage insurance (huge win). I know people who buy the cheap insurance though and have no problems. Your call.
- There is a Wal-Mart minutes from the San Jose airport in the city of Alajuela. Worth going here to stock up on tons of water and food items. Cheaper than grocery stores at the beach. No one speaks english and they only take credit or Costa Rican Colones.
- On the drive to Puntarenas you will see stunning views and striking Costa Rican countryside. No wonder so many people who live here are happy. It is the polar opposite of Los Angeles.
- My goal is arriving at the Puntarenas ferry dock 20 minutes before the ferry leaves. This ensures a spot on the ferry (though I’ve never seen the ferry full) and it keeps you from spending excessive time waiting for the ferry to leave. When you get to the dock park in line with the other cars. Look for the uniformed attendant passing out slips of acceptance for the ferry. Once you’re given one, walk it to the ticket counter across the road from the Ferry entrance to buy tickets. For a car and two people the price was $24 American dollars each way on my recent trip.
- Sometimes sketchy types hang around the Puntarenas ticket office and can feel a bit strange. Once a guy who could easily be cast as ‘Crackhead #1’ in a Hollywood film followed me around for a few minutes which was odd but not scary.
- Keep in mind you want the Puntarenas to Paquera ferry. Not the Puntarenas to Naranjo ferry.
- If you find yourself at the Paquera ferry station after exiting, or before boarding the ferry on your way back, you should know that they charge you a few hundred colones for toilet paper when using the restroom. Have cash.
- Don’t want to take the ferry? You can fly from San Jose airport to Tambor (around 30 minutes outside Santa Teresa) for between $150 and $250 each way. I don’t know how much they charge for boards. There is a Budget rental car near the Tambor airport. You can also get taxis or shuttles to Santa Teresa from there. The airport you land at in Tambor is nothing but a strip of asphalt on the beach. It’s real dreamy.
- Bring a few bucks when you go on the waterfall hike. Parking at the trailhead costs 2 American dollars per car (bring 5 just in case they up prices).
- Once you get to the first waterfall you’ve got two options: 1) looking at the waterfall you can turn around to your right and see a rope enabling you to take a trail up the cliff towards the other set of falls.Your other option is an easier path to your left and on the other side of the river with a long series of steps leading to the same second set of falls. When you get to the top a guy in a green wooden shack will flirt briefly with your girlfriend in spanish and then charge you two dollars passage to the falls.
- If you want to take the backroad to Montezuma (where the waterfalls are) ask your host or a local for directions and they’ll help you. The road is called ‘Mal Pais to Cabuya Road’ and its on Google maps, but Google maps prefers to give you directions using the same road you drove into Santa Teresa on from Paquera. This road works, but the back road is more scenic. Always ask a local about current road conditions before driving the backroad. Heck, ask about road conditions before driving anywhere. You’ll follow the backroad until you get to the sign that tells you to turn left for Montezuma. You’ll find beaches along that road after turning left on your way to the falls.
Product C lunch for two: Ceviche, chicken taco, surfer bowl (brown rice, spices, snapper, veggies, etc) - 28 American dollars.
Habanero dinner for two: Three chicken bbq tacos, chicken quesadilla, chips + guacamole, bottle of water, split ginger margarita - 44 American dollars.
Chicken Joes dinner for two: Half a grilled chicken, beans, rice and bottle of water - 17 American dollars.
- Wet vs. Dry: November through April is roughly the dry season in Costa Rica, while roughly May through October is the rainy season (or the ‘green’ season). The rainy season can mean one of two things depending on what weather systems are in the area: 1) Sunshine every morning with a few hours of rain every afternoon or 2) An actual flood falling from the sky for a week straight. Because of this be conscious of road quality during the rainy season (the roads on the Nicoya Peninsula are some of the worst quality in all of Costa Rica) and call or email ahead to wherever you’re staying and ask if they have updates on road conditions. This is most important when considering a drive from Santa Teresa to Montezuma (the other side of the Nicoya peninsula). Ask your host if they’ve got any pointers on road quality.
- More waves: The beach break in Santa Teresa is not the only wave worth surfing. Be friendly with locals and they’ll likely share some other spots with you.
- Temperature: The ocean is hot and the air is hot and I’ve never felt anything different in this part of the world. I’ve never taken a rain jacket with me because I don’t mind being wet in the tropics. Maybe you feel different. Bring base coat and wax for water above 80 degrees.
- Money: Around Santa Teresa most places accept American dollars, but you’ll save yourself some exchange rate calculating (and headaches) if you bring Colones.
- Phones: Travel with someone who has T-Mobile. Internet is free according to normal rates on your data plan and so is texting. Phone calls will run you about 20 cents a minute. Don’t expect internet to give you directions at all times when driving, but since your GPS positioning runs off of satellites, expect to see your location on the map at mostly all times. Bring your cell phone under a service provider that’s not T-Mobile and pay the price in cash (and tears).
- Departure tax: Costa Rica charges travelers a departure tax of about 29 USD before you check in for your flight back home. You pay this at the airport before approaching the ticket counter of your airline.
The locals here are remarkably kind in the water and we can help keep it that way. Be nice to everyone, smile, and always follow common rules of respect when surfing. Bring a leash or a soccer ball or a t-shirt to share with the kids.
Daily videos of Santa Teresa surf from Mal Pais Surf Cam: Click Here
Otro Lado Lodge and Restaruant: Click Here
Hotel Ra Ra Tonga: Click Here
Gorgeous photos around Santa Teresa by Carlos Palacios: Click Here
Boards for rent from Lost In Santa: Click Here
A beautiful beach photo by the New York Times: Click Here
Budget Rental Car San Jose: Click Here
Hampton Inn San Jose: Click Here
Puntarenas Ferry info: Click Here
Flights from San Jose to Tambor: Click Here
Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve: Click Here
Google Map from San Jose to Santa Teresa: Click Here
Couple of gorgeous pictures of Montezuma beaches: Click Here