People of all ages come to Pura Vida Adventures in Santa Teresa, Costa Rica to fulfill the bucket list item of learning to surf — by far the top experience to have in this magical little beach town. Santa Teresa lives and breathes surf, and it’s the perfect place to give this life-changing experience a try.
With warm water waves for all levels, tropical surroundings, a friendly atmosphere, and an expert team of instructors to guide you, you’ll be on the fast track to surfing at one of the most beautiful beaches on the planet. But between your surf sessions (and well-deserved siestas), there’s even more to explore in Santa Teresa that is sure to light you up. Here we’ve put together our list of the 5 must-have experiences in Santa Teresa, to accompany those dreamy days in the ocean with your surfboard.
Although you can find several species of monkey in Costa Rica, the mysterious howler monkeys have a way of introducing themselves that is truly unforgettable. If you hear an incredibly loud, barking animal sound coming from somewhere deep in the jungle that’s impossible to identify and impossible to ignore, odds are you’ve got some howler monkeys in the vicinity. You may hear their distinctive, guttural howl at daybreak (no alarm clocks needed if these guys are your neighbors) or as the sun begins to set. No need to worry, they aren’t angry or aggressive — just marking their territory to neighboring packs in between long naps in the treetops.
Many days you can catch them hanging out in the trees at the Pura Vida Adventures beachfront retreat hotel, where there’s even a sign pointing to the best monkey-spotting zone. Howler monkeys definitely travel in packs, so if you see one, the whole gang is probably nearby. Look out for a mama monkey climbing gracefully through the trees with a baby monkey clinging to her back, a common sight that will absolutely melt your heart.
While the main drag of Santa Teresa is lined with interesting restaurants, cute boutiques, surf shops, and bustling cafes, there’s another wild world to explore when you rent an ATV. If you don’t mind getting a little dirty, you can find endless adventure on the dusty back roads of our jungle town. Just drive about 20 minutes in either direction on the main road and soon you’ll find secluded beaches, rugged coastline, and charming local communities that will give you a glimpse of authentic Costa Rica.
One of our favorite drives is to go north toward Hermosa beach and Manzanillo in the late afternoon, savoring the epic views as the unpaved road winds through the jungle and hugs the empty coastline. Slowly make your way to the open-air, local beachfront bar in Manzanillo called Atardacer Dorado and grab a table in time for the golden hour. As you watch the sun sink into the ocean, sip on an ice-cold Pilsen beer and snack on the fresh ceviche served with tasty patacones. There’s a few key rules for driving an ATV in Costa Rica, and if you follow them you’ll gain the warm respect of the locals: Don’t drive faster than 25 km an hour, and never drive on the beach (vehicles can disturb the fragile ecosystems there). Hold on tight, and enjoy the ride!
Perched on a secluded mountainside in Mal Pais, Vista de Olas is a hidden gem that’s likely to treat you to one of the most memorable sunset experiences of your life. Its name translates to “View of the Waves,” and you’ll see more than just that — come here to check out the entire gorgeous coastline, soak in a clear blue pool beneath the colors of the setting sun, and marvel at the lush jungle that surrounds you at every turn. This unreal infinity pool + bar is actually part of a private hotel, but the owners open it up to the public each day around sunset time. There’s a cover charge of about $25 to keep the crowds low, but that goes toward any drinks or snacks you’d like to order from the bar, and hey, this view is worth it anyway. The swim-up bar is fully stocked, and blended tropical cocktails like the pina colada will make you feel like a rockstar.
Getting here takes a bit of planning, so just make sure you have a taxi scheduled or a 4×4 vehicle to make it up the steep mountain road (ATVs are certainly ideal). Time your arrival for around 4:30 p.m. to get settled in at the pool before the sunset begins and snap a few epic photos for your social media. Once the sun goes down, it can get chilly up here quick, so come with a cozy change of clothes and a safe ride home.
It’s hard to imagine an establishment that’s been around longer in Santa Teresa than our beloved local dance hall, La Lora Amarilla. Yes, it’s a bit seedy, but it’s a classic example of a no-frills Latin American “discoteca” that also happens to host some of the most notorious dance parties around. It’s absolutely legendary. Reggae, salsa, techno, cumbia, karaoke… there’s something for every taste here, depending on the night, and we especially love how the dance floor is usually packed with a mix of local Costa Ricans and tourists from all over the world.
Although things have slowed down a bit lately due to COVID restrictions, La Lora’s doors are still open at limited capacity, and the informal street party out front can be just as fun as dancing under the neon lights inside. Neighboring restaurants Kika, Somos, and Satori are ideal spots to kick off the night and watch the scene unfold. Don’t miss Thursday’s legendary Reggae Night party, the biggest draw of the week, and make sure to order a “chili guaro” shot from the bar (a local favorite).
If you’ve managed to accomplish everything else on this list (bravo!), there’s nothing like simply relaxing on a sunny day in the tide pools found directly in front of our beachfront hotel. You’ll want to wander down to the water at around mid-tide and low tide to find these naturally occurring rock pools (just ask a surf instructor if you’re unsure of the best time of day). The clear water pools are deep enough to sink your body into and effortlessly float, while the rocks protect you from the crashing waves further out in the ocean.
While we’re lucky enough to have some beautiful tide pools just a few steps away from our retreat home base, you can also take an enjoyable beach walk in either direction and find even more to check out. The water is always just the right temperature, and you may even find some tiny, colorful fish swimming beside you. Go with surf friends and maybe even a cocktail for a fun social experience, or find a quiet tide pool that’s all your own and let the peaceful surroundings completely envelop you. Different from the exhilaration of surfing, this calming ocean experience requires minimal physical effort, which is why it’s one of our favorite ways to unwind after a big day in the waves. Now that’s a vacation.