Saturday 18 September 2021

Mal Pais and Santa Teresa are booming beaches in Costa Rica

Paying the bills


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Paying the bills


I went surfing. In my case, that means looking how kids grab their surfboards, run into the ocean and jump on a surfboard to ride the waves for hours. It’s amazing what they do. I just look.

The last time I went to Mal Pais and Santa Teresa was about 22 years ago. I have never been a surfer so the northern part of the Peninsula de Nicoya is not a place have visited very often. Twice in 35 years is really not enough, and I was pleasantly surprised with what I saw. The place is booming.

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I’m not sure how to write Mal Pais as I have seen also as Malpais or MalPais, Google seems to be fine with all versions, in case you want to start looking.

We were invited by our newest affiliate on the American European real estate group, Peninsula Realty to come over for a couple of days to get some first-hand marketing material.

I can’t write about a place where I was 22 years ago, can I? One of the partners, Andrew Rhee, owns the Mountain Star Jungle Lodge, where we stayed for two nights, on his invitation.

Taking the ferry to the Nicoya Peninsula
Taking the ferry to the Nicoya Peninsula

The drive from Escazu

The drive to Puntarenas is an easy one and as long as you are at least 30 minutes ahead of the ferry’s departure time, you’re good to go. The one way cost of the ferry for one vehicle and two people is $24 and the boat ride takes about an hour. Even with a rough sea it’s a pretty easy ride. Bring your pets, it’s not a problem, they have special areas on the ferry where you can stay with your pets. Bring something soft to sit on and coffee or a drink, depending on the hour, if you stay in the pet friendly area. The regular waiting area is quite comfortable and they sell beverages and food.

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From Paquera to the Mountain Star Jungle Lodge
From Paquera to the Mountain Star Jungle Lodge

Once you arrive in Paquera, and you arrive in Cobano, you have two options to drive to Santa Teresa. You can either take the scenic route and a left turn so you can drive through Montezuma and Cabuya or you can drive from Cobano straight to El Carmen and from there to Mal Pais. The scenic route takes like 10 minutes more.

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For two days, Tino Gnauck, the “on the ground agent” and 13-year resident of MalPais and Andrew Rhee, “the virtual agent” showed us the area. Pia, the 3rd partner, had a sprained ankle; unfortunately she had to stay at the lodge.

Andrew and Tino both live right across the street from Mel Gibson, see the house with the green roof that you can see from Tino’s pool in the photos below. If you want to rent Tino’s 2-bedroom vacation home for a couple of nights, so you can tell your grandkids you lived next to Mel Gibson, you can check it here.

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Mel Gibson's house seen from Villa Katino
Mel Gibson’s house seen from Villa Katino


The pool at Villa Katino
The pool at Villa Katino


The road that runs from Mal Pais to Playa Carmen – Santa Teresa – Playa Hermosa (from south to north) totally sucks, pretty customary for most roads in beach areas, but everything else is great and incredibly beautiful.  Locals drive on those dusty roads full of potholes either on a quad or in a beat-up 4-wheel drive until it falls apart on them.

The road in Playa Carmen
The road in Playa Carmen


Quads driving in Santa Teresa
Quads driving in Santa Teresa

The quad or ATV (All Terrain vehicles) is really the most used vehicle as its use will give you access to the most remote areas and you can rent them everywhere. If you don’t want to beat up your own car, rent one. During dry season I recommend you drive a high car and during green season make sure you have a 4-wheel.

The beaches

The beaches are really beautiful on the northern side of the Nicoya Peninsula. Starting at Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve and Mal Pais, the beaches are quite rocky, there as you can see in the photos.

Playa Carmen, Playa Santa Teresa and Playa Hermosa are beautiful and long stretched sandy beaches where the waves are much smaller and it’s good to swim. For those who surf, there are many surf breaks in the area; I’ll do an article on this separately.

Malpais and Santa Teresa 10

Malpais and Santa Teresa 13

Malpais and Santa Teresa 7a

Malpais and Santa Teresa 8


For shopping, there are several grocery stores in the area, there is a small cozy mall in Playa Carmen and better shopping is available in Cóbano. If you wonder where to stay, you’ll have an impressive choice of hotels, ranging from surfer shacks to jungle lodges to fancy hotels at over $500/night.


Pia, our affiliate in Mal Pais has counted 98 restaurants in the area between the Cabo Blanco Reserve and Playa Hermosa. We have tried a few, they were all great.

Time for Rum 'n Coke and a Piña Colada at Caracolas beachfront restaurant
Time for Rum ‘n Coke and a Piña Colada at Caracolas beachfront restaurant

  • Product C in Playa Carmen Mall.  Try their fish sandwich, it’s absolutely delicious. Cosy location too. They also sell craft beer, try it.
  • Las Caracolas in Mal Pais. Great seafood right on the Beach at very acceptable prices. Plastic patio chairs but worth the try.
  • Koji’s in Santa Teresa. If you like sushi, sashimi, wraps and other Japanese food, this is the place to go. Not cheap but very good and great service by waitresses from all over the world.

Beautiful sand beach of Playa Hermosa Nicoya Peninsula

  • The Bakery in Playa Carmen. Belgian owned, which why I wanted to try the pastries. I had two, both a sin. For breakfast, lunch or dinner, great coffee and outrageous desserts, just for those, I’d stay a week in Mal Pais. We bought bread to take home, incredibly good too.
  • Las Piedras Parilla Argentine restaurant. Great beef, ribs & chicken, grilled to taste, good drinks, great service and decent prices.
  • Upe, Café and Bar. Surprised to see my wife’s ex-partner in decoration Arianne and her boyfriend run this coffee-shop /bar / restaurant. Great coffee, we didn’t have a chance to try food but it looks great and smells even better. Of course the decoration in this small restaurant is top of the line!

Honestly, I was surprised at how good the food and the service was in the restaurants we visited, because every place was packed, quite the opposite from many restaurants in Escazu that have way less clientele.

Surfers everywhere

We did not see Gisele Bundchen and Tom Brady, Mel Gibson or anyone famous, not this time. Maybe you’ll have the opportunity when you visit Mal Pais and Santa Teresa, give it a try, you’ll like it.

Aclaration: We have three beaches in Costa Rica with the name Playa Hermosa (which means beautiful beach). One is south of Jaco Beach in the Central Pacific, another is north of Playas del Coco in the North Pacific and the one in this artucle in on the Nicoya Peninsula.


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Paying the bills
Ivo Henfling
Ivo Henfling, a Dutch expat who has lived in Costa Rica since 1980, founded the American-European Real Estate Group back in 1999 which was the first functioning MLS with affiliate agents from coast to coast. Ivo Henfling can be reached at (506) 2289-5125 / 8834-4515 or at

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