After a full day of being the move I was finally at my first destination in Costa Rica – the dusty surf town of Santa Teresa. I have been coming here since 2006 and it is a place close to my heart. It’s not an easy place to get to but well worth it if you want a cool vibe and one of the most consistent beach breaks anywhere in the world.
Where to stay…
Arriving in Santa Teresa late at night and in high season I decided to play it safe and get a room at the Beach Break Hotel located in the centre of town and a short walk from the beach. These rooms are 25 000Col/$50 and have two beds, AC, hot water and a balcony. Having been there before I knew that any chance of getting a budget accommodation was going to be difficult and after such a long day of being in transit it’s always nice to treat yourself to a nice room to recharge.
After getting some much needed sleep I woke up early and checked in at my home for the next little while at Zeneidas Camping and Cabinas. This is the original place to stay and in years gone by was the only option in Santa Teresa. They offer beach camping for 3500Col/$7 a night and my private room was 10 000Col/$20 and I shared a bathroom with one other person staying in the room beside me. This was a simple room but you can’t beat the location and since I’ve been coming to this same place for so many years it’s always great to see how grown up the land has become and this means more wildlife passing through.
My room at Zeneidas just a short walk to the beach.
The beach front camping area at Zeneidas.
Other options for budget places to stay are Tranquilo Backpackers, Don Jon’s Lodge and Restaurant and the most popular is Brunela Hostel, which is the party hostel of the bunch. These places all have shared dorm rooms starting at 600Col/$12 and ranging up to 10 000Col/$20 per night and private rooms with or without a private bathroom depending on the hostel and the price.
Brunela Hostel as seen from Soda Bosque across the road
Santa Teresa is known for having one of the most consistent waves in all of Costa Rica and this is a true statement. I have been coming here for ages and I’ve only ever seen a dry spell last a few days and there is always something to surf. It is also a really good beginner beach but a hard place to make the progression onto bigger waves because it tends to come in fast at most tides and can be a bit hard to transition to especially if riding a longboard.
There are 3 main peaks of this beach break. Suck Rock lies off of the left and its worth while checking out this part of the beach at low tide as there are submerged rocks most of the time at mid to high tide. Beginners in this area are especially prone to come into contact with some fair sized rocks that originate a fair distance before reaching the point.
The break directly in front of Zeneidas where I stay is La Lora named after the original bar in the area ‘La Lora Amarillo’ that is located next door and further to the right is Palm Beach which as the name suggest is the section of the beach lined with palm trees. There are both right and left peaks all the way up and down the beach so even though this tends to be a crowded surf spot you can often find some secondary peaks that offer good rides and less people. Usually between 11:30am and 3:00pm is the best time to beat the crowd and if you are a beginner you can practice on the white water at any time which makes it a perfect spot to learn the basics. The busiest time is in the mid to early morning but dawn is the best time to surf and like most spots down here sunset will have the water full of surfers in both high season and low season because of the amount of people that have moved here and set up shop to be near some of the best waves in Central America.
The famous beach in Santa Teresa!
The beach further South is called Playa Carmen and is a calmer beach break that is a better choice for longboarding and beginners wanting to make the transition out of the white water. There are also hotels and businesses here and the only banks for a 45 minute radius or until Cobano or Montezuma. Recently a lot of businesses are accepting Visa but you always need cash in this country whether it is colones or american dollars which are interchangeable in Costa Rica. A taxi from Santa Teresa to Playa Carmen will cost you atleast 2000Col/$4 each way but it is within walking distance and anyone with a bike can get from place to place in no time. There are also quite a few options for staying in Playa Carmen and every weekend they have an organic market which draws visitors from all over the area as well as local and travelling vendors selling a wide selection of items. The fish market is in the Playa Carmen plaza and there is also the STCR t-shirt shop that I always like to grab a few shirts from whenever I’m in town.
Both towns have numerous board shops that sell whatever you need but in Santa Teresa I like 360 Surf Shop and School on the corner near the Brunela hostel and plaza. In Playa Carmen I like Nalu Surf Shop and School. Both owners have treated me really good over the years and anyone who needs equipment or even good group or private lessons should consider either of these shops.
Recently a lot of the old bars and beach clubs have closed down in Santa Teresa so what was known as a crazy party town a few years ago has no real places to go stay out and most of the nights I was there it was relatively quiet throughout the town and which gave it a different vibe here compared to my last time there in 2009. La Lora Amarillo in the North end of town is still open a few nights a week and is known to have over 150 people out when it’s open.
All of the popular beach bars have been shut down including the infamous D&N Beach Club which was usually packed and had a dj most of the time, an upstairs vip section to chill in and the best beach front dance floor around. No more Taboo nights and other than hanging out with friends for some drinks there wasn’t much in the way of any nightlife.
I knew Santa Teresa had built up quite a bit between my first time there in 2006 but it was definitely a place that stayed a well kept secret for quite a while in a lot of peoples opinion. I wasn’t expecting it to be built up so much in a 4 year span. I have to question whether it’s still worth the mission to get there if you don’t fly which means in most cases it will take a half a day to a full day depending on where you are coming from and if you time it right with the ferry. The time of year and possible road closures due to rivers being too high to cross is also a factor when travelling in the coastal zone.
The layout of Santa Teresa is one main road coming in from Playa Hermosa to the North and Playa Carmen and Mal Pais to the South There is only road that goes through the town so this puts any activity in one area which makes the area seem a lot busier than other towns that are more spread out. This is because to one side you have mountains and to the other side you have the beach. So any development has been occupying vacant land, removing old buildings and replacing them with plazas and a few medium sized hotels slightly back from the road in what little space lies at the base of the mountain.
There has been a recent explosion of interest in the area largely due to NFL star Tom Brady and supermodel wife Gisele Bundchen as well as Mel Gibson all having properties in the area and attracting a much different crowd than even 4 years ago. This has also widened the age gap bringing a lot more family travellers to the area. Even four years ago the tourist population was mostly people 30 and under and other than a few old school surfers that have been there for the long haul it was uncommon to see a middle aged or older couple just walking around checking things out.
The main strip in Santa Teresa. Those who haven’t been there in a few years will definitely see a few new plazas and development.
Like any beach town in Costa Rica during dry season it will be dusty on or near any road. The only thing that hasn’t changed about Santa Teresa is the dust and anyone who has been there knows what I mean. It has gotten better because of a road upgrade for a short stretch of the road which isn’t going to change the already crazy traffic but at least mean less dust inhaled along the way.
Recently a lot of the old bars and beach clubs have closed down in Santa Teresa so what was known as a crazy party town a few years ago has no real outlet which gave it a different vibe here compared to my last time there in 2009. It had built up quite a bit between my first time there in 06 but it was definitely a place that stayed a well kept secret for quite a while in a lot of peoples opinion. Having last been there in 2009 but I wasn’t expecting it to be built up so much in a 4 year span.
I like to eat bread with cream cheese, guava jelly and a little tabasco in the morning. Its always helpful to have a small fridge in the room you are staying in to even have simple things like milk for cereal, yogurt, juice, sandwich and salad ingredients, a few ice cream treats and of course beer!
Here in Costa Rica is is common to find food items that are sold in bags. Some you tear into and others have a spout. This takes some getting used to at first but I wish we had this same system back in Canada because they are really handy and sold in a wider variety of package sizes. When I’m here I usually buy bagged jams and jellies, mayonnaise and refried beans. If something is sold in a can down here you rarely need a can opener as most items have pop tabs on them.
I could write a whole blog on food products in this country since I’ve been here so many times that on longer vacations of up to 3 months I was buying 40 lbs of tuna at a time and 10 lbs of shrimp. On longer trips I would usually bring a blender, single hot plate and a box of other random things that cost a fortune down here like soya sauce and international condiments and sauces. Cheese has surprisingly come down in price here. This is because there aren’t many dairy farms here and it is costly for the milk and dairy to be brought to market.
While I was staying in Santa Teresa I liked to start my day off over at Ginger Cafe. This was my first choice for my daily morning smoothie and coffee because of how close it was to where I was staying but you won’t find better drinks anywhere.
They specialize in drinks infused with their home made brew of concentrated ginger that gives a healthy kick to a wide selection of drinks. If ginger isn’t your thing don’t worry they are crafty enough with the drinks that anything is possible hot or cold. The cappuccinos were amazing and the fruit smoothies were blended perfectly. I liked the papaya banana with water and a small amount of sugar and lime. I also tried the fresh fruit and ginger infused iced teas and lemonades. The food served here looked really good too but I didn’t try it as Im not much for breakfast. Most restaurants here have the 13% sales tax included and charge 10% service charges. I always leave a tip in addition to this because for me it feels weird to walk away without leaving anything extra on the table.
In Costa rica the local restaurants serving typical food “comida tipico” are called sodas. Here the most common dish is called a ‘casado’ which literally translates to “married man” and will include any main meat or fish served with rice, beans, salad, fries and sometimes fried plantain or a fried traditional cheese.
I like to eat fish often down here and my favourite is the casado con pescado, and trust me when I first came here in 2005 that was one of the only things I knew how to say in Spanish. Casados usually start around 2500C/$5 these days and the cheapest option is usually with chicken. This will be a filleted whole chicken breast and will most likely be fried. The most expensive is often fish but depending where you are and what is around you could pay more here or there.
The most popular soda in Santa Teresa is Soda Bosque. They have the best classic casados in town and I ate there often. They are located across from Brunela Hostel and it is common for people staying at the hostel to get take out orders and walk across the road with their plate of food to enjoy in their own surroundings.
Another really good restaurant in Santa Teresa that is relatively new is the Soda Tisquite which is located in North Santa Teresa near Super La Hacienda. I ate here more than anywhere else and usually ordered the fish casado and here it was breaded. Some places fry the fish either breaded or unbreaded depending on the fish and where you are eating.
The shrimp pasta was also very good here but like most pasta dishes down here you have to toss the noodles in with the sauce a bit more! This was a generous portion of pasta tossed in white sauce, loaded with shrimp and served with garlic toast. It’s common to see the pasta and sauce not tossed as much as you would expect too see at a restaurant elsewhere.
For great pizza one of my favourite places has always been Pizza Tomate and at some point on any trip to Santa Teresa you will find yourself eating here sooner or later. I chose sooner and it was a common routine to order a large pizza which start at 4000Col/$8 for cheese and sauce and upwards from there depending on what toppings you prefer. I would usually and eat a few pieces, drink a few beers and take the rest to go so I’d have a little leftover to munch on back at my room.
My favourite place to sit at Pizza Tomate!
Can’t go wrong with a Hawaiian pizza especially with fresh pineapple!
Sometimes vendors came by where I was staying offering food. One guy made yellowfin tuna rolls with mango or avocado for 2500Col/$5 each.
Another guy was selling chinese style shrimp fried rice for 2500Col/$5 for a large container or 1800Col/$3.50 for a half container.
Having travelled to Santa Teresa for almost 10 years it’s inevitable that there are going to be changes. What hasn’t changed is the great beach, amazing waves and cool locals. This place will always remain high on my list and I will keep coming back.
Gone on a whim…