Brian and I just returned from a week long vacation to Santa Teresa, Costa Rica to celebrate milestone birthdays. It was our first time visiting this Central American country and we were stunned by its beauty! The warmth and sun was very much welcomed, and my skin loved the humidity.
This popular beach town is located on the Nicoya Peninsula in Puntarenas Province, Costa Rica. It has gained recognition as a surfers’ paradise and a laid-back destination with a bohemian atmosphere.
There were a lot of things I now know about vacationing in Santa Teresa, and Costa Rica in general, that I wish I’d known before going. So I’m sharing those with you today so you can plan your own trip with insider knowledge.
Costa Rica goes through two seasons: wet (May to December) and dry (January to April). The best time to vacation there is during dry season; when you can expect hot temperatures, humidity, and sunny skies. Wet season peaks in September and October with lots of rainfall, so avoid those months.
There will be more and more people visiting the closer you get to March and April, when most travel happens because of spring break. We went in January, and it seemed to be perfect timing with incredible weather (90 degrees F every day), and less people than the spring break months.
I wish I would have known that Costa Rica is the most expensive Central America country – no travel blogs talk about this! You will pay the same or often more than you do here in the United States (at least where we live) for everything. Yes, everything. An example, we ran out of sunscreen and went to 6 different local supermarkets. The cheapest we could find was a bottle for $22. And it wasn’t even good sunscreen. :/A box of cereal at all grocery stores was $8 to $12. So just an fyi! But the beauty and experience is SO worth it. I’d go again tomorrow.
Here are concrete examples of cost so you can plan accordingly, and decide if it fits in your budget.
Santa Teresa is quite a jaunt from the closest major airport, Liberia, and is located on the the southern part of the country’s northern peninsula, the Nicoya. We flew direct from Minneapolis to Liberia on Sun Country Airlines and from there had a private driver who drove us the 4 hours to Santa Teresa and back the following week. The driver cost was $640 with tip, round trip. I really enjoyed being able to see a lot more of the country this way. The roads are very windy and narrow though, so if you get car sick easily, this may not be a good option.
There is also the option of taking Sansa Airlines to fly from Liberia to Cobano, which puts you within a 40 minute drive from Santa Teresa. You’d then take a taxi to get there. However, we found Sansa Airlines to be very unpredictable; they changed our return flight from Cobano to Liberia two times just 48 hours from departing. And the changes meant we would miss our connecting flight in Liberia to get back to MSP. We then had to scramble to find a driver to get us to the Liberia airport, and the airline refused to refund our money even though they were the ones who made the changes.
I wish I’d know that in general, staying on the north side of Santa Teresa is preferred rather than the middle and south side, which are very busy and can be loud at night.
The first 4 nights we stayed at Mint Boutique Hotel (adults only), which was lovely and has the most incredible view, set high up in the hillside overlooking the town and Pacific Ocean. It has just 5 individual rooms that have their own private rooftop terrace. The rooms have huge windows for the ocean view, a king size bed, beautiful shower, and air conditioning. Each morning you are served a homemade breakfast with fresh local fruit, pastries, vegetables, granola, and coffee.
The common area is stunning, and features an infinity pool, sitting area, bar, and lounge space. It was designed by Costa Rican architects at Studio Saxe and filled with hand picked locally sourced furniture and design details. I’d highly recommend a stay at Mint. (We stayed at an AirBnB the other 3 nights and it was fine, but not great so I will leave those details out.)
Santa Teresa is made up of one long, mostly dirt road. The road is shared by ATV’s, dirt bikes, and some cars. We found it essential to have an ATV so that we could easily get around, as there are NO SIDEWALKS, uneven roads and paths, and a lot of traffic. So although many young folks walk, it isn’t super safe.
I wish I’d have known to bring a bandana to cover my mouth while riding the ATV, as it is extremely dusty and dirty during dry season. Sunglasses protected my eyes, but goggles would have been nice, too.
An ATV also allowed us to go up and down the coast with ease, visiting many of the beautiful beaches and tide pools. We took the road from Mal Pais to Montezuma for the epic waterfall, which was worth it in itself. ATV rental was $80 a day, and they did charge us for gas used when we returned it, which they did not tell us at the beginning of the rental. Gas was $30.
If you’d take a taxi instead, it would get very expensive. We needed to do that on the first day and it was $10 for a one way ride less than a mile.
The food here is incredible. Wow. It is not like some warm weather destinations where the food is very -meh- because they have to import everything. In Santa Teresa, you will find so much freshness and attention to flavor (I found it very similar in quality to the restaurants we visited in Oahu). Overall, portions are very generous; Brian and I split almost every meal.
It’s also very easy to eat gluten-free in Costa Rica because they use plantains, corn, and rice in many ways, and few things are processed. I was also stunned to find a true sourdough bakery, a true sourdough pizza spot, and excellent housemade gluten-free bread.
One thing I wish I would have known: many restaurants in Santa Teresa give something free (like a shot or appetizer) to those who show proof of leaving a google or yelp review, so the ratings are often skewed higher than they should be. We were burned on this once, and had the worst meal of our trip.
That being said, I wouldn’t really trust google map reviews for restaurants there, instead check out blogs or instagram to see for yourself.
This is a Spanish speaking country, but in the tourist populated areas, most people speak and understand English. Menus will provided in English, too.
If you have some Spanish language knowledge, it can be helpful, but not a must. If you don’t know any Spanish, even learning simple phrases before going like “Buenos Dias (good morning) and Buenos Noches (good night), is a nice gesture.
The local currency is Colones. Right now (Jan 2024), the exchange rate is about 500 colones to $1 USD. Most restaurants accept US dollars and almost all accept credit cards. If you pay in cash with USD, you will receive colones in change, just as an FYI.
When renting things like an ATV, they will only take cash as well as tours and airport transportation, so you will need to be prepared for that. There are several ATM’s in Santa Teresa that dispense both colones and USD, but I wish I would have known that you can only take out $200 USD(or the colones equivalent) per transaction, and each transaction had a $7 bank fee.
We never once felt unsafe during our time here. There is a lot of activity going on in the city and only one main road, so you won’t find yourself going down dark and scary alleys. You will also see police around the very busy areas to control things if needed. The most common thing is petty theft, so don’t leave anything valuable in your ATV or on the beach unattended.
Spending the day exploring up and down the coastline was so much fun, and what we did the most of. We enjoyed visiting the different beaches, reading underneath palm trees, and swimming in the tide pools. The water is so warm, comparable to bath water, which I was not expecting!
Beaches I’d recommend:
I’d highly recommend a horseback riding excursion with Horizonte Horse Experience. This 3-hour long excursion takes you along the sandy white beaches and into the jungle a bit, with a rest stop at a local watering hole for a drink. You then proceed back to hit the beach run as the sun is setting. It was absolutely magical; something I will never forget. Our guide was wonderful, and the horses so gentle and calm. As someone who had never ridden a horse, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it was very intuitive. My butt was sore though, lol.
We also loved a day trip to the Montezuma Waterfall. You hike up to the waterfall, which isn’t a long ways; just a little tricky (but doable). It’s an absolutely stunning scene, with room to swim beneath the crashing water. I jumped right in and it felt amazing. The sound of the waterfall is so calming, too. Afterwards we went to Butterfly Brewing Company, which is very close-by, tucked into the jungle. The beer was excellent, as were the drinks. They make all of their food in house; our meal was great.
I also enjoyed shopping in Santa Teresa and found some really cute, well-made clothes at a few of the boutiques. Much of the clothing is handmade from linen, which I really love, and affordable for the quality.