Santa Teresa, Costa Rica Travel Guide
My husband and I just got back from spending one week in Santa Teresa, Costa Rica. It was one of our best vacations ever.
Santa Teresa is a cool, laid-back surfer town with the most incredible ocean waves and sunsets. It often gets compared to the old Tulum, which we loved, which is why we chose it. The beautiful scenery, the mix of jungle and beach, the Pura Vida way of life… It all left me feeling lighter, inspired, and wanting to go back.
If you are preparing a trip here, want to see if its for you, or just want to soak up the scenery and vibe through pictures, keep on scrolling. It’s a long post, but I wanted to share as much as I could.
Santa Teresa, Costa Rica Travel Guide
The best time to travel to Santa Teresa, Costa Rica
The best time to travel to Santa Teresa is January through April (February being the most popular month). This also means the busiest and priciest months. However with dirt streets and outside ocean living, I wouldn’t want to come during their winter or rainy season. We had a high of 90 and sun every day this February. It was beautiful.
TIP: I will say that although February is an amazing month to go, if you want to save money but still have great weather, go in March or the beginning of April. I realized when I linked our Airbnb’s below that they are both a lot less expensive those two months and they are still considered great months to go. We also traveled during Valentine’s Day week leading into President’s Day weekend, so I’m sure that was a big part of it. Skip that week for sure. We certainly will next time.
How to get to Santa Teresa, Costa Rica
There is no great way to get here in my opinion. It seems like everywhere else in Costa Rica is much quicker to get to which is almost why we didn’t go, but we are oh so happy we did. We also ended up having some extra rough travel days due to flight delays and we still are saying this.
Depending on where you live and the airline you are flying it will be different. You can fly into Liberia or San Jose.
If you fly into Liberia, you will need to rent a car, hop a small jumper plane to Tambor, or use a shuttle service to drive you to Santa Teresa.
Small Jumper Plane To Tambor
Once you fly into Liberia or San Jose, you can take a connecting small hopper plane to Tambor. Tambor is the closest “airport” to Santa Teresa. It’s basically a dirt strip and an overhang to sit and wait for a shuttle. From Tambor, you will take a 45 minute – 1 hour shuttle to Santa Teresa. Tropical Tours shuttles have set pickup and drop off times in place.
We chose to skip this since it was another flight expense and it didn’t save us much timewise. It is an option to avoid renting a car though.
Shuttle Transfer From Liberia
If you are flying into Liberia, there is a shuttle service called Tropical Tours to take you to Santa Teresa. We debated on this as it is only $70 per person at the time I’m writing this, but it takes roughly an hour longer than driving it yourself (estimated 5 hours). We also had to wait for the shuttle to leave once we arrived at the airport which would have added on even more time.
If you fly into San Jose, you will need to rent a car and take a ferry across the bay OR hop the small jumper plane to Tambor.
We chose to fly United from Chicago O’Hare to Liberia Airport. Our one way flight was about 4.5 hours. From Liberia we then rented a car from Budget to drive the 4ish hours to Santa Teresa. It took us 4.5 hours to drive there on a Sunday afternoon and 3.5 hours to get back to the airport leaving at 5:45am on a Saturday morning.
Either way, give yourself plenty of driving time during the daylight if you choose to rent a car. We purposely scheduled flight times around allowing for daylight driving. We cut it close with the first flight delay, but we made it. The roads are windy with steep drop offs the last hour stretch. It’s just not something you want to drive in the dark. To top it off you might get speeding dirt bikes flying at you when you get closer to Santa Teresa (we did).
If you choose to drive it, you’ll want to rent an SUV as the road leading into Santa Teresa is an extra bumpy dirt road. Many roads in Costa Rica are.
TIP: Budget Car Rental has an easy drop off/pick up spot right when you get into Santa Teresa town. Even though it was closed the night we arrived (they close at 4:00pm), we dropped off our car the next morning. It worked out well since we loaded up on fruit to have at our Airbnb before returning the vehicle that morning. We chose to do two 24 hour rentals (there and back to the airport) versus the week. It was extra pricey the week we went and a car is not really needed there the whole time.
How To Get Around In Santa Teresa
Once you are in Santa Teresa. You can easily walk around a good majority of it if you don’t mind walking. It’s about an hour walk on the main strip from one side to the other. Just know its super hot and there is dirt/dust in the air from the dirt road.
I highly recommend renting an ATV/quad. It’s the easiest/fastest way to get around in Santa Teresa. It also gives you a little bit of a nice breeze as you drive. There is parking for vehicles and ATV’s along most of the strip. We rented one from Pacific Dirt Road on the main strip close to the beginning of town. It was $70 cash for a large one for 24 hours and $10 for our gas usage that we paid the next day. They want American dollars over colones here. They also run your credit card for a $500 deposit. We just made sure that we got a CC receipt showing a refund transaction when we dropped it off. Just know that the $500 will pend on your card a few days.
Where To Stay In Santa Teresa, Costa Rica
I’m sure there are a lot of great places to stay and being I have only gone once, I’m not in the know, but Airbnb is the most popular way to book a stay in Santa Teresa. We ended up booking two places since I booked too last minute (less than 2 months prior to the busy week) and there was not a good place open for the entire week.
The first place we stayed at for 4 nights was Coco Bungo Resort and Bungalows. The place was an absolute DREAM and I highly recommend it for a romantic trip for a couple. It is much pricier than many Airbnb’s there and more than we planned to spend, but it was so worth it. It also happened to be my 40th birthday trip, so we didn’t mind spending a little more this time.
After a long travel day, walking into this made us forget all about it…..
Our last two nights we transferred to the Ocean View Jungle House 5 minutes outside the town. It’s not walkable though, you must have a large ATV or SUV to get to town.
It would be hard to top the previous place, but this place was still beautiful with incredible views and talking wildlife galore. If you are coming for an extended period of time, working while traveling, and/or want to cook more meals at home, take a peak at this one. It also has two bedrooms which makes this place a great deal if you travel with another couple. I would just pack a sleep machine if you are a sensitive sleeper as the jungle is loud. It’s easy to forgive the animals though. There is no AC in the central part of the home as the sliding doors are open to the outside, but there are AC units in both of the bedrooms.
We really didn’t spend much time here except for in the morning and late at night for a dip in the pool before bed. I wish we would have had more time to enjoy the place, but the ocean was calling our name.
The Airbnb owners of both places were the absolute nicest people and eager to help with any questions. I highly recommend both of them.
Where To Eat – Best Healthy Restaurants In Santa Teresa, Costa Rica
I actually studied abroad in Costa Rica for a month in college one summer. It was a far cry from this vacation (I didn’t enjoy it overall), but I did enjoy every weekend when we left Heredia (the major city there) to explore the surrounding provinces. I remember the food throughout feeling very similar outside the city – rice, beans, small salad, plantains and a choice of veggies, fish, or meat. In Santa Teresa though, this is not the typical fare unless you go to the Soda’s as they call them. And the Soda’s there looked questionable; I’m pretty sure you are guaranteed extra grease.
You will find a much wider range of food in Santa Teresa. Italian, Sushi, Japanese, American, you name it. It reminds me of Tulum in this way, but I will say Tulum definitely caters to the more health conscious overall. If you are health conscious like me, you just don’t have as many choices. (This is comparing the food to Tulum; compared to many places though, it’s still really good.) They don’t have as many dairy-free alternatives, gluten-free options, and their food is more oily throughout. I’m also saying this when I indulge a lot more while traveling. I don’t worry about being “perfect.” I enjoy the moment and whatever happens to fuel my soul at the time.
I always look at menus prior to going to see which has healthier options, but this trip a late travel day, a closed restaurant, and a #1 reviewed spot all led me to some not so great meals. After a week of fumbling through restaurants though, I can now tell you the better healthier spots to check out and some you may want to avoid.
Somos Cafe was my favorite place and the healthiest place I found overall to eat in Santa Teresa. The cute vibe was the icing on the cake. Even though I like to try different places, next time I would eat several meals here. They have different menus depending on the time of day, so check that out before you go. It’s also just a great place to grab a good smoothie or a cold pressed juice. If you go to Santa Teresa, this one is a must!
Cafe Social is a 2 minute walk from Coco Bungo Resorts (our first place we stayed at). We came here often to grab a smoothie, coconut water, or a juice. The Tutti Frutti Smoothie was my favorite – you can pick 3 fruits that they blend together. I chose papaya, banana, and strawberry. So good. My husband generally grabbed a green juice and the best Americano in Santa Teresa. I will say I had two of their salads and although healthy, they were not the best tasting. I would stick with a smoothie and juice if you are on this end of the strip. The chia pudding here looks delicious, but they don’t have a dairy-free milk option. Kind of crazy to me seeing that there are coconuts all over.
Eat Street – Another one that we would eat at a lot more next time. It’s a few smaller places in one and they have a good amount of healthy options (vegan as well). You just go up to a specific counter, place your order, they’ll give you a number, and bring it out to your table. I got one of their smoothie bowls for breakfast and my husband got their huge avocado toast. The bummer is that they don’t have GF bread, or at least yet anyway. I did have a bite though and it was pretty amazing. Olive tapenade on the bottom, then avocado, onions, tomato, and thinly chopped spinach. I still preferred the avocado toast at Somos, but it’s also because it was sourdough bread.
RocaMar is just a cool local hangout place right on the beach. It seemed to always be busy when we walked passed, but extra so around sunset. Either way, we found a spot the 3 times we we went. It’s right down the street from Coco Bungo (first place we stayed at) so it made it extra convenient to eat here.
They had good drinks and really good fish tacos for my husband and a great salad and coconut water for me. We were both happy campers.
The Bakery is a great place to come for lunch and grab a salad and a juice. The veggie sandwich that my husband got looks good, but the salads we ordered over two different days were much better. I would stick with those. The dressing is tahini.
Katana Asian Cuisine
The 3 sushi restaurants to checkout are Katana, Koji, and Satori. Satori is the least pricey, top rated one on Trip Advisor and it looked the most up our alley ambiance wise. We planned to go there, but they ended up being closed for construction so we went to Katana last minute instead. My husband thought his tuna roll was the best he has ever had. I don’t eat raw fish so I went with their vegan sushi platter. I don’t do great with vinegar and the rolls were highly pickled, so I would get the avocado rolls and/or possibly the green curry next time. If Satori were open though, I would definitely try there.
El Tercer Ojo
El Tercer Ojo is the #1 rated restaurant in Santa Teresa across different forums. I’m guessing it’s due to the fact that it has typical Caribbean food and is inexpensive overall. I loved the name – The Third Eye – thought it looked cute, and saw they had a good looking coconut curry that got well reviewed. While we loved the table décor and the little touches, we would pass on coming here next time. We split a coconut curry and a Caribbean rice & bean veggie bowl. Neither hit the mark for us. It all seemed greasy and not good. Maybe we had an off night? Not sure, but we would skip it ourselves next time.
One more restaurant to mention if you glance at it…. do not eat at Zula. We typically love Middle Eastern food, but it was all cooked in the worst grease. We were on zero sleep when we first arrived to Santa Teresa and needed food stat. This just happened to be what we picked quickly, but never again…
The best thing we did was pick up a ton a fresh fruit right away. Starting each day with lime water and fruit helped us keep a healthy morning routine. Fruit can be found at the many local grocery stores along the strip. We got most of ours from a place called Fruit World since it was somewhat close by our first place.
What To Do In Santa Teresa, Costa Rica
R.E.L.A.X. & Live the Pura Vida Lifestyle
What does a Pura Vida Lifestyle mean?
The Costa Rica lifestyle is super relaxed. They have a simple way of living life, are happy and thankful with what they have, and don’t seem to stress out about anything. They are also said to be one of the happiest people in the world. We can learn a lot from them.
Play In The Ocean
The waves are incredible here and the water just draws you in. Plus it’s the most fun way to cool off.
Walk The Beach
Early morning or later afternoon is the best time to walk it as it’s a tad cooler.
Watch Every Sunset
We made sure we were on the beach around 5:00pm so we could watch the sunset around 6:00pm. By far the best sunsets we’ve ever seen. Peak at this sunset video on my Instagram.
Explore The Boutiques
They have some really cool shops. You can easily hit most of them in a day if you have an ATV to hop along the strip.
Watch The Wildlife
Everywhere you look are butterflies, birds, and talking creatures. Seeing monkeys in a few areas was one of my highlights. We saw some over our first place we stayed at, in the jungle of the second, and on our trip to Playa Hermosa Beach.
SURF….or at least attempt to.
Watching the surfers and the surfer lifestyle all week makes you want to be a surfer. The waves and suction is no joke though, so you do still need to be careful at times. There are even lifeguards spread out over the rustic beach to keep an eye on surfers and vacationers. Look at the nearby flags on the beach. If it’s black, keep moving to a different area. Which leads me to mention that overall, Santa Teresa is not the most kid friendly place.
Playa Hermosa Beach which was about a 10-15 minute drive from Santa Teresa (SUPER small town) has much calmer waves and is a great place to try surfing. It’s where we went to try it out. They have a Surf Shop called Jackalopes where you can rent boards for $15 a day. Next time we would take a lesson, but we still had fun trying on our own.
What To Know
It’s on the expensive side.
- While once a more affordable backpacker town, it has become an extra popular destination with a higher price tag. Supposedly it is the most expensive town in Costa Rica. It was Tom Brady’s and Giselle’s go-to place which didn’t help hiding it’s popularity.
- We don’t prefer traveling with others, but it would be so much more affordable if you do. You can split the cost of an Airbnb and the price of a rental car.
- If you are on a tight budget, but still want to explore, you can make it more budget friendly by staying in a more affordable Airbnb.
- While there are many cheap Soda’s as they call them, most of the restaurant bills are going to be pricier. It really adds up when you are eating out most or all of your meals.
- Getting fresh fruit for breakfast from the grocery store/fruit market or making meals in will obviously save some money, but I bet you’ll find you want to go out a lot more once you are there.
- A lot of the fruit prices were higher than what we pay in Chicago. It’s a popular tourist destination though, so they know they have you. Next time we would stop at one of the few fruit stands along the highway right after leaving Liberia airport to stock up. We had planned to, but my husband was nervous about getting there before dark so we just kept driving. Next time, we will be stopping for sure.
- There is a 10% service tax added on to most restaurant bills that does not include the tip. It’s a separate tax they have.
- In the end, did we spend way more than we planned to? A lot more. It was our most expensive vacation we ever took. Was it worth it? Every. Single. Penny.
The water is safe(ish) to drink. You don’t have to worry about the water like you do in Mexico, but we still bought bottled water, paid for water at restaurants, and used our Berkey. Anytime we bought a questionable water bottle at a local mart, we poured it into our filtering travel Berkey before drinking it. With this said, we still had ice had some places which is always sketchy, but these are the things I just let go. Regardless, don’t forget to drink plenty of water. It’s hot and you’ll feel much better being hydrated.
Most places you can’t flush anything down the toilet, including toilet paper. Unless you are staying somewhere that has a better septic system, you have to place your toilet paper in the waste basket next to you. You get use to it.
The main road is super dusty and dirty when cars/ATV’s are flying past. Along with the heat it makes it a bit hard to breathe sometimes. If you are sensitive to smells and chemicals like I am, there is also a overwhelming smell of gasoline fumes. I usually just cover my face with whatever I have; many times I just pulled up my shirt. It seems to be a bit better in the later afternoon when it’s cooler and there is less traffic.
If you know a little Spanish, it will of course come in handy (more so at the grocery stores), but all of the restaurant/boutique workers spoke English.
Everyone was so friendly here and we felt extra safe.
Money & Currency
Exchange for colones before you come. Most places accept credit cards, but I would take plenty of colones too. Some places takes dollars as well, but you will pay a bad exchange rate this way.
Everyone is going to spend differently, but incase this is helpful for someone: We brought $700 worth of colones that we exchanged at our Chase bank a week beforehand, $400 in cash, and the rest we put on a credit card. This is for two people for one week.
Bring two credit cards just incase one card cuts you off for some reason since you are out of country. Better to be prepared.
WHAT TO PACK
Small Flashlight – It’s super dark at night and you might want this for walking either the beach or the street. Stay mindful when it gets dark out so that you don’t have a super long walk back to your place in the dark. Just like anywhere, be watchful of your surroundings. My husband and I didn’t feel unsafe one bit, but we stayed aware of our surroundings if we hit a dark stretch.
Natural Bug Spray – Santa Teresa is part jungle and it’s buggy.
Filtering Water Bottle – We found this very helpful when getting the cheap, questionable bottled water at the local marts.
Ladies– Swimsuits, beachwear, little makeup, and your Boho jewelry.
Checkout my Packing List For The Wellness Traveler Guide for more ideas.
The trip was relaxing, adventurous, inspiring, and good for our souls.
Until next Santa Teresa …..
Comment below if you have any questions or just want to say hi!
Thanks for joining me here! I hope you stick around! I’m mainly a wellness blog, but I’m known to veer depending on what I’m up to.☺
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