The shoreline immediately north of Cabo Blanco is a lively surfers’ paradise with some of the best surfing beaches in the country. The past few years have seen phenomenal tourism development, propelling the contiguous communities of Malpaís and Santa Teresa from offbeat obscurity to huge popularity. Dozens of hotels and restaurants have popped up out of nowhere, and land prices have skyrocketed.

A surfer walking on the beach in Malpais. Photo © Keith Levit/123rf.

A surfer walking on the beach in Malpaís. Photo © Keith Levit/123rf.

The past few years have seen phenomenal tourism development, propelling the contiguous communities of Malpaís and Santa Teresa from offbeat obscurity to huge popularity.A paved road that leads west 10 kilometers (6 miles) from Cóbano hits the shore at the hamlet of Carmén, known in the surfing realm as Malpaís. The tiny fishing hamlet of Malpaís is actually three kilometers (2 miles) south of Carmén, but no matter; this road dead-ends at the hamlet and turns inland, ending at the northern entrance gate to the Cabo Blanco reserve (there is no ranger station, hence no entrance fee). A rocky track that begins 800 meters (0.5 miles) north of the dead-end links Malpaís with Cabuya; a 4WD vehicle is essential.

North from Carmén, the road parallels Playa Carmén and Playa Santa Teresa—together comprising several kilometers of coral-colored sand with pumping surf and dramatic rocky islets. Since forested mountains edge up to the coast, the coast road is the only road, with short side spurs to each side. Beyond Santa Teresa, the paving runs out and the narrow dirt road continues to Playa Manzanillo, where the going gets tougher and the road is a potholed bouillabaisse in wet season.

Local transportation is minimal. Most locals get around on ATVs.

Entertainment and Events

Malpaís Surf Camp (tel. 506/2640-0031), 200 meters (660 feet) south of the junction in Carmén, has a lively bar that shows surf videos and has Ping-Pong, table soccer, a pool table, and (occasionally) a mechanical bull.

Kika (tel. 506/2640-0408), an uninspired tiki bar, has open-mike Tuesday (8pm-10pm) and jumps when a live punk house band strikes up on Thursday (9pm-midnight). When Kika closes, graduate next door to Discotec La Lora Amarilla (tel. 506/2640-0134), a no-frills nightclub that’s the hot spot in Santa Teresa. It has a pool table and theme nights, including reggae and hip-hop on Thursday (midnight-3am) and Latin night on Saturday (10pm-3am).

Tabú (tel. 506/2640-0353), on the beach at Carmén, competes with reggae on Monday, Latin music on Wednesday, and electronica on Saturday. It has beach volleyball and is a mellower spot to watch the sunset with a cocktail in hand.

Sports and Recreation

Canopy del Pacífico (tel. 506/2640-0360), with 11 cables and platforms, offers zip-line tours ($45) among the treetops at 9am, 11am, and 3pm daily by reservation.

There are a dozen or more surf shops, several offering tours, including Tuanis Surf Shop (tel. 506/2640-0370) in Santa Teresa, and Malpaís Surf Camp (tel. 506/2640-0031), 200 meters (660 feet) south of the junction in Carmén. Stand-up paddleboarding is now all the rage. Check it out with Freedom Ride SUP (tel. 506/2640-0521).

Almost a dozen places rent ATVs and offer tours. Try Quadtours Costa Rica (tel. 506/2640-0178) and Valerio’s ATV (tel. 506/2640-0736), in Carmén. Sea Kayak Adventures (tel. 506/2640-0853), in Santa Teresa, lives up to its name, and Bad Lands Bluewater Tackle (tel. 506/2640-0449) offers sportfishing.

Fishing at Playa Santa Teresa. Photo © Christopher P. Baker.

Fishing at Playa Santa Teresa. Photo © Christopher P. Baker.

Star Mountain (tel. 506/2640-0101) offers horseback riding in the mountains. Or enjoy a sailing trip with Malpaís Sailing Tours (tel. 506/2640-0454), then relax with a massage at Sonja Spa (tel. 506/2640-1060), at Frank’s Place, at the junction for Cóbano.


Excerpted from the Tenth Edition of Moon Costa Rica.