The Santa Teresa/Malpais area of Costa Rica has a larger variety of fun activities than any other, and the prices are a little more reasonable than a place such as Monteverde. Many of the activities shown here are free. You can spend a month here and do an amazing new activity every day. If your trip to Costa Rica is a week or less, then I recommend you spend a good part of it here rather than driving all over the country on potholed roads and ending up spending most of your vacation in the car.
This guide details not only the ordinary tourist activities of the area where you will find many tourists, but also many free activities that you won’t find listed at the tourist agencies or guidebooks.
Of course, the primary reason that many people come to Santa Teresa is for surfing. The waves are legendary, and although the most popular breaks can be crowded (primarily the ones right in town), there are others that have few, or no people riding them. If you haven’t surfed before, there are many people in Santa Teresa who are ready to give you a surf lesson or two.
The primary reason people visit this area is for the legendary surfing. It’s a very rare day without great waves in this part of Costa Rica. In addition to surfing, there are so many other beach activities that people do in Costa Rica, such as snorkeling, fishing, hiking, and horseback riding.
|Boogie Boarding – Also known as “body boarding”, you can rent one at any of the area’s surf shops. This is super fun for adults and kids alike, and highly recommended.|
|Canopy Tours – The “canopy tours” as they’re known, are more about zooming through the treetops than learning about jungle live at the top of the world. There are two “zip lines” here. One in Mal Pais and on in Montezuma.|
|Kite Surfing – Adrenaline junkies must try kite surfing! There are two places to learn in the area… one in Santa Teresa and one in Malpais. Contact Franz for details +506-2640-0400.|
|Montezuma Falls – A visit to Montezuma Falls is one of the most popular things to do in the area, even for people staying on the Santa Teresa side. There are three large pool, great for cliff jumping and swimming.|
|Rock Climbing – Climb up a sheer cliff in either Malpais or Montezuma, led by experienced guides that now live and work in the area.|
|Scuba Diving – Scuba diving is a popular sport in the area, since the waters here have so much sea life. Rays, white tip sharks, eels, dolphins, etc can be seen. Contact the scuba outfitters in Montezuma “Tortuga Dive Club” to book a trip. There are a few wreck dives as well.|
|Sea Kayaks – There’s nothing like sea kayaking, and there are several places to do it. The best spot is at Bahia Rica, with up to 3-day sea kayaking adventures. You can also rent them in Montezuma and Cabuya.|
|SUP – Stand Up Paddleboarding – Stand Up Paddleboarding is the latest board sport to come to the area, and has become popular quickly. Many of the surf camps offer it.|
|Surfing – Surfing is the most popular sport in this part of Costa Rica and probably the entire country. With amazing waves on both coasts and warm water, over half a million come here and surf every year.|
|The Haunted Beach – If none of these other adventurous activities are scary enough for you, head to Playa Grande in Montezuma late at night when there’s no moon. There’s supposedly an ancient burial ground around here and many people have been scared senseless by night spirits here. No camping!|
Get High on Nature
Exploring nature and getting healthy are part of Costa Rica’s appeal, so if you’re into yoga and healthy activities we have a lot of them here.
|Hike to a Waterfall
The east side of the peninsula has many secret waterfalls in addition to famous Montezuma Falls. One of the best adventures (and free too) is to hike up the rivers to explore. Most rivers and streams have a waterfall up there somewhere.
Cabo Blanco and Curu parks have great trails for hiking, or you can explore any of the streams. Walking along the beach early in the morning is one of the best ways to see animals, especially heading south from Montezuma.
|Horseback Riding Tours
Only 25-30 years ago, cars were practically unknown in this part of Costa Rica, and the people traveled by horse to the store or visit friends! Horseback tours are now a very popular activity, especially along the beach.
Orchid lovers rejoice! Costa Rica has hundreds of species, and spotting these rare flowers is a great type of “hunting” enjoyed by many. Look for them in the tops of trees when hiking up streams and rivers.
Launching from Montezuma, Tambor, or Curu Park, a trip to Tortuga Island will take you not only to this beautiful white sand beach, but to great snorkeling, and a spectacular view of the undeveloped coastline.
Yoga is very good for your body and very popular as well among tourists and foreigners living in this part of Costa Rica. Dozens of great yoga teachers practice here, and there are near to a dozen yoga studio or retreat centers.
Everyone wants to see a monkey when visiting Costa Rica, and there are so many around here that you’d need to be blind or not paying attention to miss them if you’re here for a week. Other animals, except for perhaps squirrels, are more rare, and harder to see. The best time is a twilight, when they’re just waking up from hiding and sleeping during the day, and coming out in the dark to forage. Some of them prefer the daytime, but almost all are very skittish when it comes to interacting with humans, except for perhaps coatis/pizotes, which are one of the cutest critters we have and can be friendly. Some hotels or eco lodges have at least one pizote that comes for handouts. The best way to see animals is really with a guided tour by an expert who knows how to find them, but another great way is to just do lots of quiet hiking, especially very early in the morning, up streams or on the beach in undeveloped areas, such as the hike to Playa Grande in Montezuma, or going north from Playa Hermosa. More about the area’s animals here: Costa Rica Animals Page
Yes, we have bats! And lots of them! No, they won’t get stuck in your hair or bite you. And if you want to see a cave full of them, just go to Punta Murcielago (bat point) which is south of Malpais at the very end of the road. There’s a big cave on the beach full of them, but it’s a difficult, rugged hike to get there.
If you love butterflies, then try Montezuma Gardens, the area’s only “Mariposario”. You can see the famous “blue morfo” butterfly and many others. Click: Montezuma Gardens
Costa Rica, for its size, has one of the largest and most diverse populations in the world. Great places to look for birds at beach rivermouths, and the best time is around 6-8am, when they’re very active.
|Cabo Blanco National Park
Cabo Blanco is at the tip of the peninsula, and has a small ranger station in Cabuya, which is the only park entrance. Try the two-hour hike to its very remote beach early in the morning.
Costa Rica’s crocodiles used to be much larger, but the biggest ones were killed off decades ago to make boots. But, you can still find them in many or most large estuaries, and surfers in these river-mouths see them quite frequently. To see them here, visit Pochote (Tambor) or the Rio Bongo, north of Manzanillo.
|Curu Wildlife Reserve
Curu is the best park in the area. It has a beautiful beach, and you’re certain to see many wild animals and others in their reintroduction center such as Spider Monkeys and Scarlet Macaws.
If you love coatis (pizotes in Spanish) then you can find one living on the beach as a pet, about an hour’s walk north of Montezuma. Coatis are closely related to raccoons, but are active during the daytime.
|Pet a Peccary
Got to amazing Tortuga Island and if you look around the various picnic tables long enough, you’ll find this friendly wild pig/peccary named “Wilamena”. He enjoys being pet like a dog and has posed for thousands of photos over the years.
|Rainsong Wildlife Sanctuary
Head over to Cabuya and see some baby animals. Usually there’s a baby monkey or two. Call 2642-1265 for details and directions. $5 minimum donation. Please give more!
There’s no better or easier way to see tons of life than strapping on a snorkel and going into the water here (ideally a beach with more calm waves or no waves at all.)
Plenty of boats are ready in Malpais to take you out to catch tuna, snapper, mahi mahi, and more.
Humpback whales are common here and it seems that almost on any boat trip to Tortuga Island, you’re likely to see some up close. Orcas, pilot whales, and other species can also be found.
Most people come to this part of Costa Rica to relax on remote beaches, surf, do yoga in paradise, or stare at monkeys. But for some, that’s not enough, so there are a few other activities listed here for those of you who aren’t so into the nature-oriented travel experience.
“Quads” as they’re known in Costa Rica, are incredibly fun to zoom around the jungles on. Everyone hates them because they are so noisy and disrupt the peace, but who cares if you’re the one riding? Now’s your chance to live out your fantasy of being a Hells Angel, and become the loudest creature in the jungle. Be warned, monkeys may throw poo at you!
Don’t feel like you’re spending your money fast enough here in Costa Rica? Cash in your social security check and head over to Tambor, where there’s actually a casino. Why go home with cash in your pocket, or leave an inheritance to your children, when you could give it to the one-armed-bandit? Nothing beats the “cha-ching” sound of a casino’s profit margin, right?
Santa Teresa has several spas that you can visit for massage, facial treatments, acupuncture, and to relax.
In most other countries, playing golf is considered a gentleman’s sport, but in Costa Rica, it’s one of the most dangerous. Lightning, venemous snakes, crocodiles, and drunk golf cart madmen have pushed golf in Costa Rica into the top echelon of dangerous adrenaline-packed sports. There are two 9-hole courses in Tambor.