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Nosara vs Santa Teresa, Costa Rica

santa teresa beach at sunset. nosara vs santa teresa

If you are anything like me trying to plan a vacation to the Nicoya Peninsula of Costa Rica and unsure of where to choose: Nosara vs Santa Teresa this post is 100% for you!

I did countless research and just couldn’t find enough information comparing the two surf destinations so in the end Brent and I decided to spend a week in both Nosara and Santa Teresa. This post will go into a bit of detail about each destination and how they differ. Topics include: first impressions, beaches, surf, food, cost, accommodation, crowds, things to do & nearby.

I hope you find this comparison of Nosara vs Santa Teresa helpful and by the end of this post you’ll be able to make a decision on which destination would be best for you! Or if you are like Brent and I you absolutely can go to both and make a decision for yourself!

If you’re thinking about a trip to Costa Rica – I think you might also be interested in Mexico’s Puerto Escondido on the Pacific coast of Oaxaca. Read about it here.

Nosara vs Santa Teresa

First Impressions

Santa Teresa:

The first thing I noticed was how busy the main street of Santa Teresa was! I thought because Santa Teresa was on the southern edge of the Nicoya peninsula (and therefore more of a hike to get to) it was going to be a “small town” feel but that wasn’t the case at all. The main road was bustling with tourists from all over the world but most notably from South America and Northern Europe. It was also extremely dusty from the dirt roads and the fact that it was dry season.

The overall vibe of Santa Teresa was very young and backpacker friendly although Playa Hermosa to the north or Mal Pais to the south was much quieter and more family friendly.

Nosara:

We stayed in Playa Guiones in Nosara and right off the bat Nosara seemed way less busy than Santa Teresa. Playa Guiones was also set up into small communities rather than one main strip. Another thing we noticed right away that differed from Santa Teresa was that it was more expensive to eat out and tourists were mainly from the US and had a bit of money to spend.

Note: we traveled to Costa Rica during the month of March, 2022.

Beaches

Santa Teresa:

Again, it was dry season so not all trees had leaves on them but the beach was dotted with lush palm trees. There also wasn’t a lot of buildings directly on the beach which was such a lovely change from other tropical places we’ve traveled to. The tides here are extreme! The beach in Santa Teresa is very big at low tide and small at high tide. (this goes for Nosara too!). What I did love was that it seemed like the whole town came down to the beach to watch sunset.

The two beaches on the main strip are Playa Santa Teresa and Playa Carmen. On Playa Carmen there are a few beach clubs to get food, drinks and some shade. We visited Banana Beach one day for afternoon cocktails. Ten minutes to the north of Playa Santa Teresa is Playa Hermosa which was absolutely beautiful and had a fraction of the people on the beach. In between Playa Hermosa and Playa Santa Teresa near El Peñón there are beautiful tide pools when the tide is low.

santa teresa beach at sunset. nosara vs santa teresa
Playa Santa Teresa

Nosara:

The main beach is Playa Guiones which is a huge bay miles long. There is a nature reserve buffer in front of the beach so there is minimal building right on the beach, again, how amazing is that? Compared to Santa Teresa there is less vegetation and alas less shade as well. On the other side of the point is Playa Pelada – a smaller version of Playa Guiones with more rocks and coral formations.

Note: I should also mention that it is extremely hot in Nosara and Santa Teresa during the day and there is little shade on the beach. We typically spent the hours of 10am-3pm getting food and hanging out inside or under shade.

Surf

The Nicoya Peninsula in general picks up consistent swell year round. The months of December-March tend to be the smallest and April-November is when the bigger SW swells fill in.

Santa Teresa:

A super fun beach break – but if the swell direction isn’t right expect a lot of close outs. Santa Teresa is pretty crowded on the main drag but if you drive just out of Santa Teresa it is way less crowded because not everyone has a reliable means of transportation.

Nosara:

Playa Guiones is the main surf attraction in Nosara. The beach is long and crescent shaped with multiple peaks. It can get very crowded here but theres always a peak you can paddle to. Best bet to beat the crowds is to paddle out at first light or drive to the less crowded breaks to the north and south of Nosara.

Like Santa Teresa, Nosara is a super fun beach break and is even really fun when it is small. Waves can be 2-3 ft but still rip-able on the sandbar. There is a possibility for a good sunset session if the winds die down!

Note: when we were in Costa Rica in March some of the bigger South Swells started to show up. I like to longboard small waves and had trouble finding something between a dumping beach break and gentle white water where all the kiddos were surfing.

I’ve had friends visit both Nosara and Santa Teresa in January/February who said the waves were perfect for beginners! If you are super new to surfing (or have small kids learning to surf) and only intending to ride the white water – this is a perfect place to learn with no shortage of white waves. There are also tons of board rental spots and lessons available to you in both Nosara and Santa Teresa!

Food

Santa Teresa:

The food was excellent in Santa Teresa! Some of our favorites were:

  • Ani’s – we ate here most mornings. Great atmosphere and even better food!
  • Eat Street – we also ate at this restaurant marketplace many times. Comprised of a breakfast spot (Sunrise Cafe), a Burgers and Burritos spot (Nomad), a bowls spot (Happy Bowls) and a bar (Boule Bar). This spot was super casual an an easy lunch or dinner place.
  • El Facon – wow. Amazing Argentinian fare with live music. Make a reservation here!
  • Roca mar – this was one of my favorite spots. Right on the beach with great food for lunch or dinner. Great sunset spot!
  • The Bakery – a must try in Santa Teresa! The bakery has amazing pastries as well as breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Eat Street Santa Teresa

Nosara:

The food was amazing in Nosara as well! Maybe a few less options but we enjoyed that because we felt like we got to try most places. Top picks:

  • Rosi’s Soda Tica – try local cuisine for breakfast or lunch. There are a few locations.
  • La Luna – a must for a sunset dinner. The cocktails here we unreal. But also NYC prices.
  • Harmony Hotel – you can have a casual breakfast or lunch at the juice bar or come back for a Sushi dinner at the main restaurant.
  • Bodhi Tree – dare I say the best acai bowl I have ever had? Get a healthy breakfast after morning yoga!
  • Coyol – if you are in Nosara for a week head up the mountain 20 minutes to Coyol. Breathtaking views and great food.
  • Il Pepperone – near playa pelada Il Pepperone serves up pizza and pasta!
  • Seekret Spot – a great place to get gelato on a hot day. (good thing it’s hot every day)
  • Howlers – we loved coming to this spot in the middle of the day when it was too hot to do anything else. The cocktails were amazing as was the tuna carpaccio. A must in Nosara!!!
  • Fish & Chips – you would never think to find classic Irish fish & chips in Costa Rica but here it is! These seriously rival the fish and chips we had in Ireland earlier in the year. The fish burrito was awesome too!
  • Olo Alaia – come for a latte in the morning, a craft beer in the afternoon and admire all the surf boards in the shop all day long. Olo Alaia is a hybrid surf shop, coffee shop, beer tap room all in one and is not to be missed! We spent loads of time here.
La Luna Nosara

Cost

The official currency in Costa Rica is the Costa Rican Colon. Costa Rica is the richest country in Central America and therefore the most expensive for tourists to visit. To be quite honest – it was more expensive than I thought it was going to be!

I always like to arrive with some of the local currency in my wallet but if you don’t – I always advise to use a trusted ATM. Usually ATM’s inside of a bank are safe! You won’t get as good of an exchange rate from the counters inside the airport.

Santa Teresa:

The cost of eating out was relatively low compared to eating out in the US (especially if you are from NY!).

  • Coffee $1.50-$3
  • Smoothie $4
  • Full Breakfast $9-$12
  • Lunch with drinks $15-$20
  • Beer $2.75-$3.75
  • Cocktail $7-$12
  • Mid Range Dinner with drinks $20-$30

Nosara:

When we starting eating out in Nosara we definitely noticed a price difference from Santa Teresa. There are great cheaper meals to be had but the area is definitely catered to the American tourist and with that some really American prices. Most places even accept the United States Dollar as payment and have USD prices listed.

  • Coffee $1.50-$6
  • Full Breakfast $12-$15
  • Lunch $12-$20
  • Beer – $6
  • Cocktail $12-$15
  • Mid Range Dinner with drinks $35-$60

Tip: Brent and I use the Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card which comes with a boat load of amazing travel perks. One of them being no foreign transaction fees. We use this card internationally all the time which saves us on fees and having to carry a lot of cash around with us.

Accommodation

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Santa Teresa:

Brent and I typically use airbnb to find accommodation, however there weren’t that many great options when we were looking (note: we booked everything one month before we left so that could be why). There were however, really amazing hotels in the area. Below are a few I would recommend you check out!

Nosara:

Brent and I found the most amazing airbnb here in Nosara. I am going to link the listing here because it was that great. However, airbnbs were a lot more expensive here in Costa Rica than I was expecting. Expect to pay upwards of $130/night.

There were also a handful of stunning boutique hotels in the area that I would highly recommend to anyone! Below are my picks for hotels in Nosara:

  • Nosara Beach Hotel | $$ – situated up on the hill between Playa Guiones and Playa Pelada.
  • Harmony Hotel | $$$ – lovely hotel in the heart of Guiones and short walk to beach
  • Guilded Iguana | $$$$ – most luxe hotel in the area. Located in north Guiones with beach club.
  • Moana Surf Hotel | $$$ – boutique hotel on the beach in north Guiones
  • Lagarta Lodge | $$$ – out of town but amazing views!

Crowds

Both Nosara and Santa Teresa – once little known surf towns are now on the map and becoming increasingly popular every year. Both have crowds to varying degrees.

Santa Teresa:

Very busy. The main street is very crowded with cars and people walking on the side of the road. Santa Teresa was full of young adults from all over the world and some families.

Nosara:

Super busy but more spread out into different areas and neighborhoods. Compared to Santa Teresa, Nosara felt more family friendly.

Getting There

How to Get to Santa Teresa:

OK so Santa Teresa isn’t the easiest place to get to – but that is half the charm I think. You can fly into either Liberia or San Jose International airports and then reserve a private charter to bring you to Tambor airport on the Nicoya Peninsula. From Tambor the drive is about an hour. You can also drive from either Liberia or San Jose. We drove down from Liberia which took us about 4 hours. It was an easy drive until the very end where there are lots of dirt roads you’ll encounter.

How to Get to Nosara:

Flying to Liberia International Airport would be the closest option. The drive down to Nosara from the airport is about 2.5 hours. Your last hour is on a seriously bumpy dirt road. Again, you could also hire a private charter and fly into the airport in Nosara.

Tip: both Santa Teresa and Nosara offer ATV rentals – which loads of people opt to drive around for their trip. We always rent a car so we can explore to surrounding areas and drive to different waves. During the wet season a 4×4 is must and in the dry season an SUV is recommended for clearance on the dirt roads. We rented our car from My Tan Feet on getting a rental from Adobe and they were amazing to work with!

Things to do & Nearby

The main attractions for both Nosara and Santa Teresa is surfing and yoga. There are tons of lessons, board rentals, yoga classes and yoga retreats for any skill level.

Santa Teresa:

There was lots to see near Santa Teresa! We took multiple day trips to other places. Playa Hermosa (just north of Santa Teresa) had a stunning beach and there were cute little cafes and a pizza place to eat at. South of Santa Teresa was Mal Pais and even more south was the town of Montezuma! We walked around the quirky little town of Montezuma and got lunch at Soda Típica las Palmeras (just outside of the town) after zip lining to the Montezuma waterfall with Sun Trails.

Nosara:

We actually didn’t do all that much exploring outside of Playa Guiones while in Nosara. We went to a beautiful beach cove called Playa Barrigona an hour south one day (there was barely anyone there!) and Brent surfed Ostinal a few mornings.

We adventured up the mountain to Coyol one night for dinner which was a fun and delicious experience! We also took a Nature Reserve tour one morning at Lagarta Lodge which we both found super interesting. We got to see a crocodile, a few different types of birds and howler monkeys.

Tip: if you enjoy yoga I highly recommend taking a class at the Bodhi Tree Yoga Resort! See their class schedule here.

Traveling from Nosara to Santa Teresa?

Although the two destinations don’t look too far apart the drive from Nosara to Santa Teresa or vice versa is about 4 hours give or take. I do not recommend going the coastal route as it is mostly bumpy dirt roads with river crossings. You will have to drive to the east side of the Nicoya Peninsula and use Route 21 to go north or south between Nosara and Santa Teresa.

Conclusion: Nosara vs Santa Teresa

While we enjoyed a week in both Nosara and Santa Teresa both Brent and I preferred the overall vibe and smaller town feel of Nosara. (which I have to say we weren’t expecting!). We also loved our location/airbnb in Nosara – which I think can make a big difference on your experience.

What I preferred about Santa Teresa was that there was a lot to do in the area, things cost less than Nosara and the beaches were more picturesque.

palm trees on the beach with turquoise water in background

Interested in taking a surf trip? Read some of my other guides to top surfing destinations!

Byron Bay, Australia
San Sebastian, Spain
Biarritz, France
North Shore, Hawaii
Hanalei, Kauai
Rincon, Puerto Rico
Puerto Escondido, Mexico

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