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Surfing Costa Rica: A Nicoya Peninsula Road Trip


Modified: December 27, 2023

by Marjy Simmonds



Welcome to the beautiful Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica, a tropical paradise renowned for its stunning beaches, vibrant surf culture, and breathtaking natural beauty. If you’re an adventure enthusiast seeking an unforgettable road trip experience, look no further than this scenic region. With its laid-back atmosphere and world-class surf breaks, the Nicoya Peninsula offers the perfect blend of relaxation and excitement.


Whether you’re a seasoned surfer or a beginner looking to catch your first wave, the Nicoya Peninsula has something for everyone. From the bustling beach towns of Tamarindo and Santa Teresa to the hidden gems of Playa Avellanas and Mal Pais, each destination offers its own unique charm and surf spots.


Embark on a thrilling road trip along the Nicoya Peninsula, where you’ll navigate winding coastal roads, encounter picturesque landscapes, and immerse yourself in the rich local culture. Discover secluded beaches, hike through lush rainforests, and indulge in delicious local cuisine. This adventure is sure to create memories that will last a lifetime.


In this guide, we’ll take you through a seven-day road trip itinerary that highlights the best of the Nicoya Peninsula. From the moment you arrive in Costa Rica to exploring popular surf spots like Tamarindo and Santa Teresa, we’ll cover it all. So, strap on your seatbelt, grab your surfboard, and get ready for an exhilarating journey through one of the most beautiful regions in Central America.


Planning Your Nicoya Peninsula Road Trip

Before embarking on your Nicoya Peninsula road trip, it’s important to plan and prepare for a smooth and enjoyable journey. Here are some essential tips to help you make the most of your adventure:

  1. Research Your Route: Start by researching the different towns and beaches along the Nicoya Peninsula. Decide which destinations you want to visit and map out your route accordingly. Keep in mind that some roads may be narrow or unpaved, so choose a vehicle that can handle the terrain.
  2. Choose the Right Season: Consider the time of year when planning your road trip. The Nicoya Peninsula experiences a dry season from December to April, which offers ideal weather for surfing and exploring. However, if you prefer a quieter atmosphere, the rainy season from May to November may be a better choice.
  3. Book Accommodations in Advance: Popular surf towns like Tamarindo and Santa Teresa can get busy, especially during peak seasons. To secure the best accommodations, book in advance. Whether you prefer a beachfront hotel, a cozy guesthouse, or a beachside camping spot, there are plenty of options to choose from.
  4. Bring Necessary Gear: If you plan on surfing during your road trip, make sure to bring your own surfboard and other essential gear. However, if you prefer not to carry bulky equipment, you can easily rent surfboards and other water sports gear at beachside shops and surf schools.
  5. Stay Safe: While the Nicoya Peninsula is generally a safe destination, it’s important to take precautions. Always lock your vehicle and never leave valuables unattended. Be aware of your surroundings and avoid traveling alone, especially at night.
  6. Learn Basic Spanish Phrases: While many locals in popular tourist areas speak English, it’s always helpful to know a few basic Spanish phrases. This can enhance your interactions and make your experience more enjoyable.

By planning ahead and taking these tips into consideration, you’ll ensure a memorable and stress-free road trip along the Nicoya Peninsula. Now that you have your preparations sorted, it’s time to hit the road and begin your surfing adventure in Costa Rica!


Day 1: Arriving in Costa Rica

Welcome to Costa Rica! After landing at Juan Santamaria International Airport in San Jose, you’ll begin your Nicoya Peninsula road trip adventure. Start by picking up your rental car and hit the road towards the coast.


If you arrive in the morning or early afternoon, take this opportunity to explore the vibrant capital city of San Jose. Visit historic landmarks such as the National Theatre, the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum, or stroll through the charming streets of the Barrio Amón neighborhood.


Alternatively, if you’re eager to reach the coast, you can head directly to Tamarindo, a popular surfing destination and the perfect place to kickstart your road trip. The drive from San Jose to Tamarindo takes approximately four to five hours, offering picturesque views of the countryside along the way.


Once you arrive in Tamarindo, check into your accommodation and take some time to relax and settle in. Explore the vibrant town center and stroll along the iconic Playa Tamarindo, known for its golden sands and world-class surf breaks. If you’re up for it, catch a stunning sunset over the Pacific Ocean, creating a magical backdrop for your first evening in Costa Rica.


For dinner, indulge in a delicious meal at one of Tamarindo’s many restaurants, serving a variety of cuisines ranging from traditional Costa Rican dishes to international fare. Feast on fresh seafood, tropical fruits, and other local delicacies as you embrace the flavors of Costa Rican cuisine.


After dinner, you can choose to relax and unwind or dive straight into Tamarindo’s vibrant nightlife scene. From beachfront bars to lively clubs, there are plenty of options to suit your preferences. Dance the night away, mingle with other travelers, and immerse yourself in the energy and excitement of Tamarindo’s nightlife.


Finally, return to your accommodation and rest up for the adventure-packed days ahead. Tomorrow, you’ll have the opportunity to hit the waves and experience the renowned surf breaks that Tamarindo has to offer.


Day 2: Exploring Tamarindo

Get ready for a full day of sun, surf, and exploration as you dive into the vibrant beach town of Tamarindo. This popular surf spot offers a plethora of activities, ensuring an action-packed day for adventure seekers.


Start your day with a hearty breakfast at one of the local cafes or beachfront restaurants. Fuel up with traditional gallo pinto (rice and beans), tropical fruits, and a cup of rich Costa Rican coffee. Once you’re energized, it’s time to hit the waves.


Whether you’re an experienced surfer or a beginner looking to catch your first wave, Tamarindo offers surf breaks suitable for all skill levels. Book a surf lesson with one of the local surf schools and let the experienced instructors guide you through the fundamentals. Feel the rush of adrenaline as you ride the waves and enjoy the thrill of surfing in the warm waters of the Pacific Ocean.


If surfing isn’t your cup of tea, don’t worry. Tamarindo offers a range of alternative water activities. You can try stand-up paddleboarding (SUP), kayaking, or even embark on a boat tour to explore the nearby marine life and hidden beaches.


Once you’ve had your fill of water activities, take some time to explore the town itself. Wander through the vibrant streets lined with boutiques, surf shops, and art galleries. Don’t forget to check out the local market, where you can find unique souvenirs, handmade crafts, and locally sourced products.


For lunch, indulge in some fresh and flavorful Costa Rican cuisine. Taste the traditional casado, a plate of rice, beans, salad, plantains, and your choice of protein. Wash it down with a refreshing cold coconut water or a tropical fruit smoothie.


In the afternoon, take a break from the sun and head to Las Baulas National Marine Park. This protected area is home to nesting leatherback turtles, which you might be fortunate enough to witness during their nesting season. Take a guided tour to learn about the conservation efforts and the fascinating life cycle of these incredible creatures.


As the day winds down, find a beachfront spot to unwind and watch the spectacular sunset over the ocean. Tamarindo provides the perfect backdrop for a tranquil evening as the sky transforms into vibrant shades of orange, pink, and purple.


For dinner, indulge in a delectable seafood meal at one of Tamarindo’s waterfront restaurants. Enjoy freshly caught fish, ceviche, or shrimp dishes paired with a tropical cocktail. Share stories of your surfing adventures, soak in the laid-back vibes of the beach town, and savor the flavors of Costa Rica.


End the day by immersing yourself in the lively atmosphere of Tamarindo. Check out the local bars and live music venues where you can enjoy a night of dancing, live performances, and mingling with fellow travelers. Finally, return to your accommodation and rest up, as tomorrow you’ll be venturing to the beautiful Playa Avellanas.


Day 3: Discovering Playa Avellanas

Get ready to experience the natural beauty and serenity of Playa Avellanas, a hidden gem nestled on the Nicoya Peninsula. Known for its pristine beaches, consistent surf breaks, and tranquil atmosphere, this beach paradise is a must-visit for any surfer or nature lover.


Start your day with a refreshing breakfast at your accommodation or one of the local cafes in Tamarindo. Then, hop in your car and make your way to Playa Avellanas, located just a short drive south.


As you arrive at Playa Avellanas, you’ll be greeted by breathtaking scenery and crystal-clear waters. This secluded beach offers a more laid-back and rustic vibe compared to Tamarindo, making it the perfect spot to immerse yourself in nature and unwind.


Head to the main surf break, known as “Little Hawaii,” and watch as local and visiting surfers carve through the waves. If you’re feeling adventurous, rent a surfboard and paddle out to catch some waves yourself. The consistent surf and sandy bottom create ideal conditions for both beginners and experienced surfers.


After working up an appetite, grab a bite to eat at one of the beachfront restaurants. Indulge in mouthwatering seafood dishes, such as grilled fish or ceviche, while enjoying the stunning ocean views.


Once you’ve refueled, take a leisurely stroll along the beach and explore the rocky tide pools at low tide. Keep an eye out for colorful marine life and small creatures that inhabit these natural pools.


For a unique experience, head to Lola’s, a beachfront bar and restaurant famous for its giant pig named Lola. Enjoy a refreshing drink, relax in a hammock, and take in the picturesque views of the beach. If you’re lucky, Lola herself might make an appearance and provide some entertainment.


If you’re in the mood for a bit more adventure, consider taking a horseback ride along the beach. Several local operators offer guided horseback tours, allowing you to explore the surrounding area at a slower pace and enjoy the tranquility of Playa Avellanas.


As the day comes to a close, find a peaceful spot on the beach and witness the stunning sunset over the Pacific Ocean. The golden hues painting the sky create a magical and romantic atmosphere.


For dinner, head back to Tamarindo or explore the local options near Playa Avellanas. Indulge in delicious Costa Rican cuisine and traditional dishes prepared with locally sourced ingredients.


Before retiring for the night, take a moment to marvel at the breathtaking starry sky. With little light pollution in the area, Playa Avellanas offers the perfect opportunity for stargazing and connecting with the beauty of the natural world.


After an unforgettable day in Playa Avellanas, get a good night’s rest, as tomorrow you’ll continue your road trip adventure to the stunning coastal town of Santa Teresa.


Day 4: Venturing to Santa Teresa

Get ready to explore the picturesque coastal town of Santa Teresa as you continue your Nicoya Peninsula road trip adventure. Known for its stunning beaches, world-class surf breaks, and laid-back atmosphere, Santa Teresa is a must-visit destination for any beach lover.


Start your day with a delicious breakfast at one of the local cafes in Playa Avellanas or grab a quick bite to eat on the road. Then, hop in your car and begin the scenic drive towards Santa Teresa.


The journey from Playa Avellanas to Santa Teresa takes approximately two to three hours, depending on traffic and road conditions. As you make your way along the coastal roads, be prepared to be captivated by the breathtaking beauty of the Nicoya Peninsula.


Upon arrival in Santa Teresa, check into your accommodation and take some time to settle in. Santa Teresa offers a range of accommodation options, from eco-friendly bungalows to luxurious beachfront resorts, catering to all budgets and preferences.


Head straight to the beach and soak up the sun on the pristine shores of Santa Teresa. This stunning stretch of coastline boasts some of the best surf breaks in Costa Rica. Whether you’re a seasoned surfer or a beginner, there are waves suited for every skill level. Rent a surfboard, take a lesson, or simply relax on the beach and watch the surfers ride the waves.


After some time in the water, explore the town center and discover the unique shops, local boutiques, and surf shops that line the main street. Santa Teresa is known for its bohemian vibes and artistic community, so take the time to appreciate the local artwork and browse through the handmade crafts.


For lunch, indulge in the eclectic cuisine options that Santa Teresa has to offer. From traditional Costa Rican dishes to international flavors, there’s something for everyone. Enjoy a mouthwatering meal at a beachfront restaurant or grab a quick bite from a local food truck.


In the afternoon, take a break from the beach and explore the nearby attractions. Visit the nearby Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve, where you can hike through lush rainforests and spot diverse wildlife. Or, if you’re feeling adventurous, try your hand at zip-lining through the treetops or take a quad bike tour to explore the rugged landscapes.


As the day comes to an end, find a cozy spot on the beach to watch the spectacular sunset. Santa Teresa’s picturesque vistas create the perfect backdrop for this magical moment. Capture the vibrant colors as the sun dips below the horizon, creating a breathtaking sight.


For dinner, indulge in the vibrant gastronomic scene of Santa Teresa. From seafood feasts to fusion cuisine, the town offers a range of culinary delights. Savor the flavors of fresh local ingredients and enjoy a delicious meal paired with a tropical cocktail.


End the day by immersing yourself in the thriving nightlife of Santa Teresa. Visit the local bars, live music venues, and beachfront clubs, where you can dance the night away and enjoy the vibrant energy of the town.


After an eventful day in Santa Teresa, head back to your accommodation and rest up for another day of adventure as you continue your journey along the Nicoya Peninsula.


Day 5: Exploring Mal Pais

Get ready to immerse yourself in the laid-back vibes of Mal Pais, a charming coastal village located on the southern tip of the Nicoya Peninsula. Known for its pristine beaches, stunning sunsets, and world-class surf breaks, Mal Pais offers a perfect blend of relaxation and adventure.


Start your day in Mal Pais with a leisurely breakfast at a local cafe or at your accommodation. Enjoy a cup of freshly brewed Costa Rican coffee and a delicious meal to fuel up for a day of exploration.


As you step outside, the crashing waves will beckon you towards the beach. Mal Pais boasts some of the most beautiful and secluded beaches in the area. Take a leisurely stroll along the shoreline, feeling the soft sand between your toes and listening to the soothing sound of the waves.


If you’re a fan of surfing, grab your board and paddle out to some of the renowned surf breaks. Mal Pais offers consistent waves that cater to surfers of all levels. Whether you’re a beginner looking to catch your first wave or an experienced surfer seeking a thrilling ride, you’ll find the perfect surf spot to suit your skills.


If surfing isn’t your thing, there are plenty of other activities to enjoy in Mal Pais. Embark on a nature hike through the nearby Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve, where you can explore lush jungles, spot wildlife such as howler monkeys and colorful birds, and discover hidden waterfalls.


For lunch, head to one of the local beachfront restaurants or cafes. Indulge in fresh seafood, tropical fruits, and traditional Costa Rican dishes, all while enjoying stunning ocean views. Take your time to savor the flavors and immerse yourself in the local culinary experience.


In the afternoon, venture further to Santa Teresa, a neighboring town located just a short distance away. Explore the vibrant streets, browse through the boutiques and surf shops, and soak in the lively atmosphere. Santa Teresa is also known for its yoga and wellness scene, so if you’re interested, consider joining a yoga class or indulging in a relaxing spa treatment.


As the day draws to a close, make your way back to Mal Pais and find the perfect spot to witness the breathtaking sunset. Whether you’re relaxing on the beach, perched on a hilltop viewpoint, or enjoying a refreshing drink at a beachside bar, the vibrant colors painting the sky will leave you in awe.


For dinner, venture into Mal Pais town and discover the local dining scene. From beachfront seafood shacks to cozy restaurants, there’s something for every palate. Indulge in a delicious meal while taking in the relaxed ambiance and the gentle sounds of the ocean.


Wrap up your day by cozying up under the starlit sky. Costa Rica’s relatively low light pollution allows for impressive stargazing. Find a quiet spot on the beach or your accommodation, lay back, and marvel at the beauty of the cosmos.


After a day of exploring the natural beauty and surf paradise of Mal Pais, rest up for the exciting adventures that await you on day six of your Nicoya Peninsula road trip.


Day 6: Enjoying Montezuma

Get ready to experience the bohemian charm of Montezuma, a unique and laid-back beach town located along the southern coast of the Nicoya Peninsula. Known for its beautiful beaches, stunning waterfalls, and vibrant arts scene, Montezuma offers a variety of activities for nature enthusiasts and culture lovers alike.


Start your day with a delicious breakfast at one of the local cafes in Montezuma. Fuel up with a hearty meal and a cup of freshly brewed Costa Rican coffee to prepare for a day of exploration.


Begin your adventure by visiting the iconic Montezuma Waterfall. Follow a short trail through lush jungle vegetation, leading you to a series of cascading waterfalls and natural rock pools. Take a refreshing dip in the cool waters and admire the beauty of the surrounding scenery. Climb up the rocks to reach the highest point of the waterfall and capture a memorable photo.


After a dip in the waterfall, head to Playa Montezuma, a gorgeous sandy beach known for its crystal-clear waters and dramatic rock formations. Put on your snorkeling gear and explore the vibrant underwater world, filled with colorful coral reefs and a diversity of marine life.


In the afternoon, take a stroll through the charming streets of Montezuma town. Explore the unique shops, art galleries, and boutiques, where you can find a variety of handcrafted souvenirs, jewelry, and clothing. This bohemian town is known for its vibrant arts scene, so take the time to appreciate the local artwork on display.


For lunch, indulge in the wide array of culinary delights that Montezuma has to offer. From traditional Costa Rican dishes to international cuisine, there are plenty of restaurants and cafes to choose from. Enjoy a delicious meal while taking in the laid-back atmosphere of the town.


In the afternoon, visit the nearby Cabo Blanco Absolute Nature Reserve. Take a guided hike through the pristine rainforest, encountering various wildlife species and breathtaking vistas along the way. Learn about the rich biodiversity of the region and the importance of conservation efforts in preserving this natural paradise.


As the day winds down, head back to Playa Montezuma to witness a mesmerizing sunset over the Pacific Ocean. Find a spot on the beach, sit back, and marvel at the golden hues painting the sky as the sun dips below the horizon.


For dinner, explore the local dining options in Montezuma. From beachfront seafood restaurants to cozy eateries offering international cuisine, there’s something to suit every taste. Indulge in a delicious meal, paired with a refreshing drink, and savor the flavors of the region.


Finally, end your day by enjoying the vibrant nightlife of Montezuma. This bohemian town comes alive at night, offering live music performances, beachfront bars, and outdoor parties. Join the festivities, dance to the rhythmic beats, and make unforgettable memories.


After a day of exploring the natural beauty and embracing the artistic spirit of Montezuma, rest up for the final leg of your Nicoya Peninsula road trip, as you head back to San Jose on day seven.


Day 7: Returning to San Jose

It’s time to bid farewell to the beautiful Nicoya Peninsula as you embark on your journey back to San Jose, the bustling capital city of Costa Rica. Reflect on the incredible experiences and memories you’ve made during your road trip adventure as you make your way back to civilization.


After enjoying breakfast in Montezuma and taking in the last glimpses of the stunning coastal scenery, start your drive back to San Jose. The drive from Montezuma to San Jose takes approximately 4-5 hours, so be sure to plan your departure time accordingly.


As you travel through the diverse landscapes of Costa Rica, take time to appreciate the natural beauty along the way. Marvel at the rolling hills, lush forests, and vibrant flora that make this country so enchanting.


If you’re in the mood for a pit stop, consider visiting one of the charming towns along the route. Places like Puntarenas or Jaco offer opportunities to stretch your legs, grab a snack, and soak in the local atmosphere before continuing your journey.


Upon arrival in San Jose, take the evening to unwind and reflect on your incredible road trip adventure. Check into your accommodation and relax before venturing out to explore the city one last time.


For dinner, treat yourself to a delicious meal at one of San Jose’s many culinary hotspots. From traditional Costa Rican fare to international cuisine, the city offers a diverse range of dining options to suit every palate.


After dinner, consider taking a stroll through San Jose’s vibrant streets. Explore the local markets, art galleries, and museums that showcase the rich culture and history of Costa Rica. Alternatively, enjoy a night out by visiting one of the lively bars or clubs, where you can dance to the rhythms of Latin music and mingle with locals and fellow travelers.


As the night comes to an end, return to your accommodation and prepare for your departure from Costa Rica. Take some time to pack your bags and reminisce about the unforgettable experiences you’ve had during your Nicoya Peninsula road trip.


The next morning, bid farewell to Costa Rica and head to the airport for your onward journey. As you board your flight, take a moment to appreciate the natural beauty, warm hospitality, and adventurous spirit that make Costa Rica an incredible destination.


Although your road trip has come to an end, the memories and experiences from your Nicoya Peninsula adventure will stay with you forever. Until your next visit to this tropical paradise, remember the Pura Vida spirit that embodies the essence of Costa Rica.



Congratulations! You’ve reached the end of your Nicoya Peninsula road trip adventure, where you’ve experienced the beauty, thrill, and relaxation that this tropical paradise has to offer. From the bustling surf towns to the serene beaches, you’ve immersed yourself in the vibrant culture, breathtaking landscapes, and exhilarating surf breaks of Costa Rica.


Throughout your journey, you’ve discovered the famous surf spots of Tamarindo, Playa Avellanas, Santa Teresa, and Mal Pais, riding the waves and experiencing the thrill of catching a perfect wave. You’ve explored hidden gems such as Montezuma, immersing yourself in the bohemian atmosphere and discovering stunning waterfalls and pristine beaches.


Not only did you embrace the beauty of nature, but you also indulged in the local cuisine, savoring the flavors of Costa Rican dishes and seafood feasts. You’ve explored the local markets, experienced the vibrant nightlife, and connected with the friendly locals who embody the Pura Vida spirit.


As you return to San Jose, take a moment to reflect on the incredible memories, the breathtaking sunsets, and the adrenaline-pumping surf sessions. The Nicoya Peninsula has captured your heart and left an indelible mark on your soul.


Remember, this road trip itinerary was just a taste of the wonders that await on the Nicoya Peninsula. There are still countless more beaches to discover, lush rainforests to explore, and towns to immerse yourself in. Whether you choose to return to your favorite spots or explore new destinations, the adventure of the Nicoya Peninsula will beckon you to return.


As you depart from Costa Rica, carry the spirit of Pura Vida with you, embracing a mindset of pure life and gratitude. The vibrant surf culture, the untouched natural beauty, and the warmth of the people will remain in your heart, calling you back to this tropical paradise.


So, until your next Nicoya Peninsula road trip, keep the memories close and cherish the incredible experiences you’ve had. The natural beauty, vibrant surf culture, and the sense of adventure await your return. Pura Vida!