Last updated on February 14th, 2024 at 12:03 pm
Montezuma and Santa Teresa are two of the most beautiful towns on the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica. We visited both on our Ultimate 3 Week Costa Rica Itinerary for Families and wished we could have stayed longer. Here’s everything you need to know about travelling from Montezuma to Santa Teresa, what to do in each town, and which one to pick (if you have to)!
Santa Teresa is bigger and busier than Montezuma but still retains a laid-back feel. It’s popular with surfers and you’ll find lots of yoga retreats on offer!
We found it a little pricier than some locations in Costa Rica. That’s likely to be down to its popularity (it’s become THE place to head to for that authentically Costa Rican bohemian vibe).
It’s also become popular with families (there are lots of family-friendly surfing classes on offer) and digital nomads searching for that blend of beach and a good remote working setup.
Montezuma has even more of a hippie vibe to it. It’s a small town with a focus on art and culture. You’ll find craft markets and handmade jewellery on offer here.
There’s an eclectic mix of restaurants, bars and evening entertainment in Montezuma.
It also has a focus on nature and the environment, from Montezuma waterfalls to the turtle rehabilitation on Montezuma’s beaches.
And the best bit? It’ll only take you half an hour to travel from Montezuma to Santa Teresa!
How To Get To Montezuma Costa Rica
The main international airports in Costa Rica are Juan Santamaría International Airport (SJO) in San José and Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport (LIR) in Liberia. Liberia is the closest of the two international airports, but you’ll need to pick the one that’s more convenient for you!
The closest domestic airport to Santa Teresa is Tambor. You can fly there from both San Jose and Liberia.
Montezuma is located on the southern tip of the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica. To get to Montezuma, your best bet is to catch the Puntarenas ferry.
For a full guide on getting the ferry from Puntarenas to Paquera (the gateway to the Nicoya Peninsula) take a look at my post The Costa Rica Ferry: From Paquera to Puntarenas. The Puntarenas ferry is a car ferry, takes a total of 70 minutes and is a really lovely scenic journey.
From Paquera, the drive from the ferry terminal to Montezuma will usually take you a little under an hour. There are taxis and shuttle buses at the Paquera ferry terminal which you can take to Montezuma, or, if you rent a car like we did, you can drive off the ferry and straight there.
If you have time, stay for a night in Paquera to witness the brilliant bioluminescence in this area at night. Check out my article on our Bioluminescence Costa Rica Kayaking Tour post for a rundown of our experience.
Weather in Montezuma Costa Rica
Montezuma, like much of Costa Rica, has a tropical climate with distinct wet and dry seasons. The weather in Montezuma is generally warm throughout the year.
The dry season in Costa Rica lasts from December to April. Dry season is also considered the high season in Costa Rica. There’ll be less rainfall and it’s usually sunny and warm. Daytime temperatures can range from the high 70s to mid-90s Fahrenheit (25 to 35 degrees Celsius).
Wet Season is from May to November. It’s more humid and you can expect more rain (especially in September, October and November). The upside of this is that everything is green and lush – so the views and surroundings are extra gorgeous! There’s not much change in the temperature; it remains warm.
We visited in December (just after the rainy season had ‘officially’ finished). We found the coastal towns of Montezuma and Santa Teresa warmer and drier than the inland towns of La Fortuna and Monteverde where it was windier and cooler.
TIP: Even in dry season, you will almost definitely experience a bit of rain at some point. Pack your raincoat just in case you get caught in a tropical downfall!
Things to Do in Montezuma Costa Rica
You’ll definitely want to visit Montezuma’s beaches during your stay in Montezuma. We actually preferred Montezuma’s beaches to Santa Teresa’s.
We found it easier to swim in the water here as it tends to be calmer. Montezuma beaches make a wonderful place to take an early morning or evening stroll too.
This is the main beach in Montezuma. With its white sand and palm trees, it’s often used as a central gathering spot.
Montezuma Beach backs right onto the town so most of Montezuma’s restaurants and bars will be overlooking this beach. This beach is also where most of the boat trips from Montezuma head out from.
Just south of Montezuma Beach, Playa Grande is another lovely stretch of sand. It’s often quieter than the main beach, making it a good spot for those after a bit more peace and privacy.
The waves here are generally calm, so it’s suitable for swimming and is a good choice for families.
Playa Grande is a short walk from Montezuma’s town, and there are accessible tracks which will take you there. This is where you’ll be able to catch baby turtles being rehabilitated to the sea.
Playa Los Cedros
A bit further south, Playa Los Cedros offers an even more secluded and pristine environment. The beach is surrounded by jungle, which makes it a really lovely place to spend time.
It’s a great spot for nature lovers and those looking for a quieter beach experience.
North of Montezuma, Piedra Colorada is known for its red-coloured sand and unique rock formations. It’s a smaller and less crowded beach. The colour of the sand and rocks gives the beach its name, which translates to “Coloured Rock.”
Playa Las Manchas
This beach is located north of Montezuma and is known for its tidal pools. During low tide, you can explore the pools, potentially observing fish and other marine life – making it a fun place to visit if you’re in Montezuma with kids.
Montezuma Waterfalls Costa Rica
It’s free to visit Montezuma waterfalls and the main entrance is in the middle of town – you can’t miss it. Wear some good walking shoes though, as it isn’t an easy hike (particularly with kids).
If you want to reach the top level, which is quieter, follow the path next to the Sunshine Sanctuary Boutique Jungle Lodge, where we stayed. It’s free for guests of the lodge, but there’s a small fee payable to Sun Trails (a local ziplining and tour company) otherwise.
The path is manned around halfway down to the waterfall although there was no one there the second time we went, earlier in the morning.
You can jump off a ledge into a large pool here at the top tier, and although I did see someone do it, I wouldn’t necessarily advise it. It definitely wouldn’t be something I’d do if visiting Montezuma Falls with kids. You can also swim in the pool at the lower tier.
If you want to book a guided tour to the waterfall, that’s possible too. You’ll be able to find tours which combine other activities like this one and tours which solely focus on Montezuma waterfalls too.
Turtle Rehabilitation Montezuma
If you’re lucky, you might be able to catch volunteers releasing baby turtles to the sea from the ASVO centre. We checked at the centre whether they’d be releasing any during our stay.
Sometimes they release turtles every day, sometimes not (it depends on how many baby turtles have hatched). On the first day, we were told “manana”, and happily we did get to witness the wonderful sight of the baby turtles making that arduous journey to the water’s edge the following day.
If you fancy taking part yourself, they do offer volunteer experiences if you can commit to at least 5 days. Find out more information here.
To get to the site where they release the turtles, go past the ASVO centre and carry on walking for around 10 minutes along Playa Grande. There you’ll find a volunteer lodge from which they’ll bring the baby turtles down to the beach (usually between 4 pm and 4.30 pm).
The volunteers will ask observers to stand back and allow the baby turtles to make their way down to the water. We ended up watching one little guy take around half an hour to make it – he needed a bit of assistance in the end.
It’s a really special thing to observe and while it’s not actively publicised, if you ask then they’re happy to let you know when it’s happening.
Best Restaurant Montezuma
We ate at a couple of good sodas (traditional, cheaper Costa Rican restaurants) in Montezuma, including Soda Naranja (the kids loved the pasta and garlic bread) and Soda Tipica Las Palmeras (slightly outside of town).
For something more special and a lunchtime treat with a view, head to Playa De Los Artistas (it’s only open at lunchtime four days a week, so check before you go). The menu is a bit tricky to read, but it’s a stunning spot with some great seafood.
How To Get To Santa Teresa Costa Rica
If arriving at San Jose airport, your next step will be to travel to Puntarenas (a coastal town on the Pacific side of Costa Rica) to catch the Puntarenas ferry, as is the case with Montezuma.
Santa Teresa is approximately a one-and-a-half-hour journey from Paquera by car, shuttle or bus. The roads can be a little rough with many potholes, so be prepared for that!
If you’re travelling from Montezuma to Santa Teresa, It’s important to note that while the towns are close geographically, the road conditions (especially in certain areas) can be challenging, and the journey time may vary.
It should usually only take you around half an hour between the two towns as they’re on the same stretch of coastline. However, we did experience some traffic (around Santa Teresa especially) which made our journey a bit longer.
Santa Teresa Costa Rica Weather
Santa Teresa, like Montezuma, has a tropical climate with distinct wet and dry seasons. The weather in Santa Teresa is generally very warm year-round.
It does get very hot on the beaches and we found there was little shade on Santa Teresa’s beaches.
There were a few little camps which had been built with palm fronds to shelter people from the sun. If you find an empty one of these, grab it! You’ll see all the surfers wearing full sunblock on their faces and it’s needed – the sun felt really strong.
Things To Do in Santa Teresa
ATV Rental Santa Teresa Costa Rica
If you haven’t hired a car, and you’re brave enough, hiring an ATV is a popular thing to do in Santa Teresa and the surrounding towns.
Renting an ATV allows you to travel between beaches and towns with lots of flexibility. There’s normally plenty of space to park.
You need to be 18 years old to rent an ATV in Costa Rica, but kids can ride on them as passengers.
Surf Lessons Santa Teresa Costa Rica
Santa Teresa is a great place for kids to try beginner surfer lessons or stand-up paddle boarding.
Nearby Playa Hermosa is a particularly popular place for surfing in Santa Teresa as the waves aren’t quite so big there.
There are lots of instructors in this area ready and willing to help you. Costa Rica Surf and SUP offers kids lessons as well as group and private lessons for beginners. Boards and rash vests are provided; remember to pack your sunblock!
Surf Camp Santa Teresa Costa Rica
Another option, if you’re really keen to give surfing your all, is to attend or stay at a Surf Camp. Lapoint Surf Camp Costa Rica is a Santa Teresa surfers paradise with consistently good reviews.
Take a Trip to Tortuga Island
We booked a one-day snorkelling trip to Tortuga Island with Zuma Tours. Their head office is in Montezuma, but they’ll pick you up from surrounding towns such as Santa Teresa too.
The trip includes two snorkelling stops, all snorkelling equipment, drinks on the boat and lunch and drinks on the island.
You’ll have a couple of hours to relax on the island before returning. You can rent a sunlounger or kayak if you want, and you can also pay extra to do a nature tour if you wish. Beware the wild pigs on the island – someone from our group received a nasty bite from one of them.
We really enjoyed this trip although the water wasn’t as clear as we’d hoped for the snorkelling. We were told that, because it had been windy a few days earlier, the water was cloudier than usual. Make sure you try a coco loco on the island too!
Best Restaurant Santa Teresa
There are some upmarket restaurants here with lots of amazingly fresh seafood and pina coladas on tap. The Bakery is pricey but the savoury pastries and cookies are to die for. We loved Brekkie for brunch – beautifully presented dishes and (mostly) healthy too.
But Uma takes the prize for best restaurant in Santa Teresa in my book – it’s THE place to head for a drink or dinner at sunset. The only problem is you won’t want to leave.
Which Should I Choose – Montezuma or Santa Teresa?
Well, we chose both! It’s only half an hour from Montezuma to Santa Teresa and so quite feasibly you could do a couple of days in each, and get a taste of what each town has to offer. They both have quite a different feel.
If you are limited on time or only want to base yourself in one of the two towns, then this is what I’d recommend:
- Choose Santa Teresa if you’re interested in water sports or activities such as surfing or ATV rental.
- Santa Teresa should be your pick if you’re mad about sunsets (sunsets are much more beautiful in Santa Teresa; sunrises are better in Montezuma).
- Santa Teresa feels a little more grown up and luxurious, or at least some of the restaurants and bars do. Head there if you’re a fan of that vibe.
- Choose Montezuma if you want to see a bit more of nature – particularly if you love waterfalls, and you’re interested in conservation.
- Montezuma is very artsy, so if this floats your boat, it’s the better pick.
- Both towns are good for families but if pushed, I’d probably say Montezuma was a little more accessible (if you’re based centrally) and laid back, which might suit those with kids more.
And if you stay in Santa Teresa, then make sure you do a day trip to Montezuma and vice versa!