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Costa Rica’s pacific coast is an absolute paradise. Endless white sand beaches, surf towns at every turn, picture perfect sunsets, and some of the countries most spectacular national parks.
The Nicoya Peninsula in a peninsula on Costa Rica’s pacific coast that comprises some of the most popular beach towns in the country due to its ideal surfing conditions, perfect sunsets, and laid back towns.
Tamarindo is the most developed town on the peninsula where you can expect big name hotels and brands. This is a great place to start your journey onto the Nicoya Peninsula as it is near top and just a couple hours drive from the cloud forest of Monteverde, another must-see attraction in Costa Rica. Tamarindo gets mixed reviews from backpackers; some people love it while others give it a pass because it is touristy/americanized. I enjoyed my time there but it depends on what you’re looking for. Tamarindo is a busy town and great if you’re looking for nightlife, but for those seeking a more laid-back atmosphere heading further south may be your best bet.
Well visiting Tamarindo I stayed at La Ojeva Negro which is a hostel/surf camp. Overall the place is nice and the location is great but I found the staff apathetic, they just didn’t appear to want to help. I met a fellow Canadian there that I spent most of my time bumming around the beach with, so after the first night we left and went two minutes down the road to Coral Reef Surf School which has a nicer vibe for the same price ($16/night).
Main activity: Surf
During my time in Tamarindo I took my first surfing lesson which was both cool and scary! I am not one for sports or adrenaline so surfing is way out of my comfort zone; but I’m trying to push myself this year to do activities that I never thought I could. Tamarindo is a great place for beginner surfers to learn because the waves aren’t that big. I booked a lesson through Oveja Negro hostel and my instructor Carlos was awesome and patient! I wiped out a million times at first but after a while started to catch some waves (once I stopped putting my front foot forward first). Other then surfing, the beach is beautiful to just relax on and enjoy the gorgeous sunset.
Eating out in Tamarindo can be pricey for a backpacker budget (Costa Rica is generally a more expensive country then the rest of Central America). If you eat at a restaurant on the main street you can expect to pay 10-20 USD for a meal but I found a Soda (which just means local restaurant) next to Sunset Hostel where you can buy a typical plate for $5. Always eat local if you want to save money, or just buy groceries and cook for yourself which can save you a huge amount of money in Costa Rica!
Tamarindo is a party place and it can be loud on the main street. During my trip I went to Monkeys bar (located in the Best Western) which was the only place in Central America that I paid cover, but it was only $4. Monkey bar is great because they have two different sections, one with a live Latin band and another with a DJ playing American music. I went with a group of 5 other Latin Americans which was wonderful because we went to the live Latin music section and I admired their amazing dancing skills while they attempted to improve my white girl dance moves. I love Latin music and the dancing culture, i just wish my feet could move as fast and coordinated as they can!
Santa Teresa is more laid back then Tamarindo but has a great bohemian vibe and is perfect for surf, yoga, and watching sunsets on the beach. I wanted to travel there by local bus there to save money but it is complicated as I was told I would have to go back to Liberia and that it would be a full day journey of switching busses, so I splurged on a $50 shuttle (bad backpacker)! The journey to Santa Teresa is about 4 hours from Tamarindo by bus. Playa (beach) Santa Theresa is gorgeous, it’s miles and miles of endless perfect beach. I spent almost all my time there; whether it was horse back riding, surfing, swimming, tanning, or just admiring the breathtaking sunsets. Here is drone footage of Santa Teresa beach:
Main Activity: Surf
The waves in Santa Teresa are much bigger then Tamarindo so I was nervous to go surfing again but it actually went much better then my first time and I was able to catch a few waves. Their are multiple surf schools in Santa Teresa which offer packages of surf camps or you can just stay at the schools (most of them are hostels) and book the lessons yourself. From talking to other people who bought packages in advance it appears that it is is more cost effective to book the accommodation and lessons yourself on arrival.
In Santa Teresa You will find daily sunrise and sunset yoga classes at every turn. I was lucky enough to meet a yoga instructor who gave me a session on the beach. It felt zen to do yoga next and hear the sounds of the ocean. Aside from yoga and surf there are other activities available. You can visit nearby Montezuma which has a beautiful waterfall, take a snorkelling or diving trip to Tortuga island, or go horseback riding through the beach. I loved the horseback ride at sunset, it was a beautiful experience.
Most people spend all day surfing in Santa Teresa which leaves little energy left for the evening so the nightlife is not as rampant here as Tamarindo. That being said there are still lots of bars and you can definitely find a party if you’re looking for it. Thursday and Saturday are the biggest nights to go out here. I met a few locals while I was there and spent my evenings hanging at their place drinking beers and cooking pizzas over a fire, which was a lovely change from the bar scene.
I stayed at Selina’s hostel for my first few nights which is a chain of hostels throughout central America. It has a nice layout and pool but I don’t like this hostel; it feels like a business to me and their are so many strict policies in place it just doesn’t fit the backpacker culture. There are a number of different accommodation options available as the town stretches the length of the beach which is over 2KM. However there is only one ATM in town so stock up on cash when you’re there.
I remember during my first trip to Costa Rica thinking that the food was bad, but this time around its been much more enjoyable. You will see several “Sodas” around town which serve what is known as the “typico” or typical Costa Rican cuisine. Besides cooking at home this is your best option for eating cheap and the food is pretty good, but in my experience the service was pretty slow. As for western restaurants, Pizza Tomate has tasty Italian food and Funky Monkeys has a delicious Taco Tuesday special!
The locqls in Costa Rica are so kind and friendly, I love the vibe and attitude of everyone here. “Pura Vida” is the local catch phrase which translates to pure life. Ticos (locals) will use this phrase for everything from hello to goodbye, but it represents the way people live here. Ticos have a great way of looking at life; no worries, no stress, no dwelling on the negative. It is a wonderful attitude and I hope to carry some of the Pura Vida attitude with me going forward.
I visited Jacó on my first trip to Costa Rica in 2014 but skipped it without hesitation this time around as it was my least favourite place I visited during my first trip to Costa Rica. Jacó is a busy surf town known for it’s lively nightlife. If you can’t make it to the Nicoya Peninsula and want a taste of surf/beach life on your Costa Rica trip then Jaco may be worth a night or two, but if you have the time I’d go to the Nicoya peninsula which has nicer beaches, surfing, and entertainment.
Manuel Antonio National Park
Manuel Antonio National Park is in my top places in Costa Rica because this place is FULL with wildlife. There so much to see here including sloths, monkeys, lizards, deer, and hundreds of bird species. Manuel Antonio also has some beautiful tropical beaches to relax on. I would definitely recommend this place if you are a wildlife and nature lover. You can see more photos on the wildlife in Manuel Antonio park on my post here!
The first time I visited I stayed at Hostel Vista Serena which is an awesome hostel with incredible views of Manuel Antonio from the outside deck. This time around we hadn’t booked in advance and the swedes wanted something closer to the beach and we ended up stumbling upon Hostel Manuel Antonio which is next to the parks entrance and minutes away from the beach. This hostel is super clean and the staff are super nice, they even took us on a free night walking tour to find sloths!
Getting from Santa Teresa to Manuel Antonio
If you’re travelling from Santa Teresa to Manuel Antonio you can get there by an expensive shuttle ($70), or take public transport which cost me about $12 in total. It was a pain as you have to transfer several times but worth the difference in costs. From Santa Teresa you have to catch the 6am bus to Cobano, transfer there on another bus which goes to the ferry terminal, then take the ferry across to Puerto Viejo (this part is so pretty). From Puerto Viejo, you have to take a taxi to the bus station as it’s too far to walk, and then get on a bus going to Quepos (the schedule showed busses that run every 1-2 hours). Quepos is close to Manuel Antonio, you can either get a taxi or a local bus from there.
Those are the places I’ve been lucky enough to explore on Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast so far, and I’m sure there’s many more beautiful beach towns out there to explore. Tell me, what are your favourite spots on Costa Rica’s pacific coast?