Malpais is the term most often used to describe the beach area comprised by Playa Santa Teresa to the north, Playa Carmen in the middle, and the small pueblo of Malpais to the south. A single dirt road that stretches along the coast connects these spots, which are usually bustling with activity and American style development, primarily geared at the surfer community. Although Malpais is still light years away from turning into Jaco or Tamarindo, some people fear that this might be its fate. For now, it remains a small slice of paradise.
The main road of Malpais is lined with backpacker hostels, bars and delightful restaurants, including the amazing Casa Zen that specializes in Thai cuisine and some excellent eateries serving Israeli fare.
Both Playa Carmen and Playa Santa Teresa can be surfed in all tides, but beware of getting dragged too close to the rocks at Santa Tere, as it’s affectionately known by the locals.
Apart from surf, yoga, and sampling its magnificent cuisine, visitors to Malpais might be tempted to visit Cabo Blanco Absolute Natural Reserve, which is just a short drive away, between the beach town of Montezuma and Malpais. This national park was created in the 1960s and has fantastic jungle trails, a pristine beach, and is home to scarlet macaws and armies of howler monkeys. It’s referred to as an “absolute” natural reserve because when the park was originally created, people were not allowed to enter it, leaving it in an absolutely natural state.
Planning a vacation to Santa Teresa and Malpais
Malpais is a little difficult to access by car, so we recommend a minimum stay of 3 nights, but ideally 4 or 5 nights for those traveling by land. If you are flying in and out, we would recommend 3 – 4 nights. We would not recommend a longer stay as you should experience more of the country if you have more time. Costa Rica is simply too diverse to ignore other areas.
There is a wide range of hotels in Malpais, but you won’t find an all inclusive resorts or even larger resorts. You will however find many nice boutique hotels. A few of the mid-range hotels that we recommend include Beija Flor Resort, Hotel Tropico Latino, and Manala Hotel. If you are looking for higher end luxury hotels, we would recommend Casa Chameleon, Pranamar Villas, Flor Blanca or Moana Lodge.
Aside from surfing and yoga, we highly recommend taking the time to visit the Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve. This will complete your stay, allowing you to see exotic wildlife in an area, where there is not a lot of animals in the wild.
While taxi cabs are readily available, a rental car is more convenient for getting around the Malpais area. However, one has to remember that getting to the area is not an easy drive and in most cases will require a ferry ride.
Reasons to visit
- World class surfing
- Excellent yoga studios
- It is an off the beaten path area that many celebrities visit
- Good selection for nightlife
- Many restaurants to choose from
Reason NOT to visit
- Due to the big waves, it is not safe to swim
- There are no large resorts or all inclusive resorts
- The area has a bohemian feel
- It is difficult to access, meaning long drives or expensive flights
- The main road is not paved and therefore, there is always dust around it
How to get there
From San Jose: The quickest route to Malpais from San Jose is on the Autopista del Sol to Caldera where you drive on to Puntarenas and get on the ferry to the town of Paquera. Drive for about an hour to the town of Cobano and from there, follow the signs to Malpais and Santa Teresa.
Weather and packing list
Malpaís and Santa Teresa’s beating sun and heat are guaranteed to have you bursting with Vitamin D in no time. This part of Costa Rica enjoys the country’s driest weather, with daytimes high ranging between the upper 80s and lower 90s, and dropping to the upper 70s at night. Rainfall levels vary throughout the year in this area, and you can expect radiant blue skies and sunshine in the season that extends from November to August.
Remember to pack all your surf gear and beach clothes, including shorts, swimsuits, rash guards, t-shirts, beach towel or sarong, and don’t forget to bring sunblock and aloe vera gel to soothe your skin, which may fry here if you’re not careful! Visit our Costa Rica packing list for more ideas.
Fun Fact: Cabo Blanco Absolute Natural Reserve is referred to as absolute natural reserve because when the park was originally created, people were not allowed to enter it, leaving it in an absolute natural state.