The Ultimate Guide to Surfing Santa Teresa

by Chris Smith

Surfing Santa Teresa is about scoring some of the lesser-known waves on the Nicoya Peninsula. Our opinion? It’s one of Costa Rica’s intermediate playgrounds. Rip it up folks…

surfing Santa Teresa

Surfing Santa Teresa at a glance

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The good

  • Fantastic for mixed-ability groups
  • Very high-quality beach breaks that get hollow
  • Not many crowds…yet!
  • Unbelievable year-round consistency

The bad

  • Development is coming – head in now!
  • Quad bikers are so annoying
  • A little tricky to get to, but fortune favors the brave…

This guide is just one part of our complete guide to surfing in Costa Rica

What’s in this guide to surfing Santa Teresa?

An introduction surfing Santa Teresa

We actually thought it was just a matter of time until Santa Teresa got noticed. Up until now it’s remained pretty hidden. We’re both a little sad that it’s now doing the rounds, but also glad that the waves are being enjoyed by more and more people. They’re simply to higher quality to stay hidden. What’s more, the remoteness of the town and the beaches here means we don’t think it’ll ever become too busy; not like Tamarindo or Popoyo further north, anyhow.

Santa Teresa is just 6.5 miles from the very end of the Nicoya Peninsula. It’s spread along a pristine beach that looks like something out of Robinson Crusoe. That’s split up into several surf spots, running from Manzanillo in the north to Mal Pais in the south. There are different breaks for different levels between the two ends, but the surfing Santa Teresa has to offer is generally multi-level beach breaks with stonkingly good consistency pretty much all year round. Tempting, right?

Overall, we’d say it’s one of the premier beginner spots in Central America. Unlike Mexico and Ecuador, it manages to spread the lineup and give some challenging waves on relatively easy paddle outs. It’s super clear, clean water, and there’s always a chance you’ll be in with something hollow to get pitted when the tide is low. We also LOVE the vibes. Chilled bars, sunset cafes, vegan eateries – it’s pure Costa Rica at its best.

Where is Santa Teresa?

Santa Teresa, Costa Rica, is located at the far tip of the wild Nicoya Peninsula. It faces perfectly southwest out to the heart of the Pacific Ocean, with hills covered in lush rainforests dominating to the back. It’s about a five-hour drive from the capital of the land of Pura Vida at San Jose. The trip is fastest via the ferry crossing into Punta Arenas and is run once daily on the Transportes Cóbano bus service (tickets cost $12 each). There’s also a short-haul flight, but why risk the boards again, eh?

Where to go surfing in Santa Teresa?

Santa Teresa surf

There are plenty of reasons why surfing Santa Teresa is on the rise in Costa Rica. The mix of breaks is undeniably attractive. What’s so rare is that these spots can cater to all sorts of levels. And you don’t even have to split up if you have mixed-ability groups, because there are secondary swells or spots that can entertain both improving intermediates and total beginners all at the same time. Let’s check em out…

Playa Hermosa

Playa Hermosa is north of Santa Teresa. There’s no real rule about where one begins and the other ends, but that’s okay – no one seems to mind. You can often judge by the wave quality. It’s not quite as sculpted and glassy on this length of beachfront. However, the lineup is always smaller because it’s further from the heart of Santa Teresa town. Being flat and wide, the beach tempers the oncoming W swells to offer a pretty mushy and closey primary break that can turn into some really neat ankle burners for learners on the secondary swell.

There’s also a challenging right-hadn point (the Playa Hermosa Point) that comes of a cluster of rocks at the northern extremity of the bay. It’s a funny one that we haven’t actually surfed but have heard lots about. Timing is key because you’re waiting for the larger waves that have enough rebound power to wall up off the stones and go right. Sadly, it can only be surfed at high tide, when the rocks can be a little hidden and you’ll need to keep an eye out.

Playa Santa Teresa 

This is the main stretch of beachfront that runs the length of the coast road. Santa Teresa town is spread out just behind, hidden by a row of palm trees. That’s good news, because you’ll find that many of the surf camps and hotels are just a short walk through the coconut husks to the breaks.

Talking of the breaks, there are oodles of em’. We’re on about peaky beach breaks that draw some lovely power from dominant W and SW Pacific swells. They work best on anything from 5-8 foot, which is when a low tide surfing Santa Teresa can bring hollow tubes that are fast and SO MUCH FUN.

Beginners don’t have to panic at all that. Smaller days of 3 foot can give crumbly whitewash to practice on, and there’s always a shorter secondary swell to escape to when it’s larger out back. No wonder there are so many surf schools in the vicinity.

Mal Pais/Playa Carmen

Mal Pais is the name for the small fishing village that creeps yet closer to the end of the Nicoya. It still has that all-important SW orientation for uber-reliable surf. Playa Carmen is just one of the breaks it has up its sleeve, and one of the first spots that gets properly gnarly in the area of Santa Teresa.

Bigger swells are handled well by the rock and reef that fringe the headland in front of Mal Pais town. They give Playa Carmen more moxie than the surfing Santa Teresa has to the north. Overheads and double overheads aren’t uncommon and still don’t close out. They usually run right but can also go left, and love to get hollow. It’s an unforgiving take off but a great ride if you can collect the rail and dip in in time.

Mal Pais/Punta Barigona

Punta Barigona won’t get going until there’s something strong cooking in the Pacific. It needs a big 6-foot plus or more to really shine. Then, it’s a long and hollow wave with a fast section that takes you over the outside reefs. It’s reserved for experienced intermediates and up. Hazards are rocks and rips, mainly because you need stronger swells to even consider coming out.

What we’d take surfing in Santa Teresa

Xcel Comp X 2mm Long Sleeve | The perfect thing for surfing in December and January when those chilly Santa Teresa upswell winds kick in. Brr!

XCEL Premium Stretch Short Sleeve Performance Fit Rashguard | Always travel to the tropics with a rash vest. We love the Xcel Stretch range, because, well…it’s stretchy. And it cuts out 98% of damaging UVA/UVB light.

Lib Tech Nude Bowl Surfboard | The Nude Bowl is a fatter shape than usual, which should give aggressive surfers the edge on wilder days in Mal Pais. It’s perfect for advanced riders in Santa Teresa.

Where to stay when surfing in Santa Teresa

Santa Teresa has loads of places to stay these days. We’ve pinpointed just three of the ones we love below, but there are many more. You’re basically looking for anywhere that’s on the main north-south road right by the beach – be there for walking distance to the waves.

Hotels near the santa teresa surf

Surf & Yoga Lodge Santa Teresa

Surf-hotel-top-pick

Surf & Yoga Lodge Santa Teresa is done out in beautiful modern styles with a bit of that Central American hacienda charm. It’s got a pool, a lush garden, an on-site cafe, and easy access to the breaks. It’s one of our all-round favs in Santa Teresa for sure!

Santa Teresa Surf Vista Villas ($$)

Best for: Views

Santa Teresa Surf Vista Villas sits in the jungles and the hills just behind the main surf beach. It’s surrounded by nature and you might just get woken up by the cries of howler monkeys – you need to rise early to catch that dawnie, anyhow! There’s a stunning pool and big deck where folk gather for yoga in the morning too.

Mal Pais Surf Camp ($-$$)

Best for: Simple stay close to the waves

Mal Pais Surf Camp takes care of the basics and won’t break the bank. It’s a great option if you want to be nearer to the more challenging waves of Mal Pais. It’s not without its frills, either – there’s a lovely outdoor pool to kick back at after a long day.

When to surf in Santa Teresa

There are only two seasons in Costa Rica: The dry season and the Green Season, which is also known as the wet season. The Green Season is the top time for surfing on the Pacific coast and in Santa Teresa, bringing very reliable SW and NW swells that keep it surfable virtually every day. The low season still ain’t bad, though. It’s just a little less powerful and consistent, though the weather is warmer!

Dry season (October to April)

It gets calmer and warmer on the Pacific coast around Santa Teresa from October onwards. That’s great for sunbathers, but not the best for surfers. Still, the ridiculous consistency of the Santa Teresa and Mal Pais surf breaks means there’s something rideable a whopping 70% of the time (yep – that’s the down season for surfing Santa Teresa!). Beginners often love this time of year because there’s a little less punch in the oncoming breaks.

Wear: Rash vest and shorties, you know the score

Green Season (May to August)

They call it the Green Season in Costa Rica because it’s when the rains help the forests bloom. Down on the coast, the storms are also helping the Pacific cook up its trademark swells, which always run in the SW and NW channels. That’s PERFECT for surfing Santa Teresa, which will be working almost 90% of the days! Yep, we said consistency is key. The middle of the wet season/Green Season will see bigger waves, and it’s the best time to come if you want to catch the gnarliest and hollowest breaks.

Wear: Rash and shorts – it’s always warm as a bath!

Surfing in Santa Teresa this year? Check out our guide to the five best surf sunscreens on the market right now. It’s a crucial piece of kit if you’re heading to the balmy reaches of Costa Rica. We have options that are good for the ocean and contain that all-importnat zinc component.

Surf shops in Santa Teresa

Santa Teresa has an ever-growing mix of decent surf shops. Most of them double as rental spots and sit on the main (the only!) road running through the town.

Denga Surf Shop

Denga Surf Shop might be small, but it packs in plenty of surf wear. You can grab board shorts, rash vest wax, leashes, and even a second hand board. They also do rentals of Torq boards for the beginners.

Kina Surf Shop

Kina Surf Shop is the authorized JS boards dealer in Santa Teresa, so it’s a good option for killer shortboard to rip up the playa breaks. There’s also stock of Dakine tail pads and board shorts/swimwear.


We might use affiliate links in this post. Basically, you click em’ and we get a little something from your booking or purchase. They help us keep offering more and more in-depth surf guides to awesome places all around the globe. So, thanks for that!

This article is just one part of our complete guide to surfing in ___

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