With only one day to spend in Santa Teresa and miles of beaches to explore, my Tico travel buddy Diego and I knew we needed a way to cover a lot of ground fast. With a set of wheels in the form of an ATV rental in Santa Teresa we had exactly what we needed to make the most of our precious time in one of Costa Rica’s most beautiful destinations.
Santa Teresa is a small town on the Nicoya Peninsula which is situated on Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast. It’s known for beautiful beaches and good waves, making it a popular destination for (mostly gringo) surfers, yogis and honeymooners alike. To that affect, English is widely spoken and the prices in this jungley town are considerably higher than other parts of Costa Rica (think $15 for breakfast and coffee when the same at a typical Tico soda costs $5)
Travel Between Montezuma and Santa Teresa
Diego and I were based in Montezuma during our visit to the Nicoya Peninsula, so we took a 7 a.m. shuttle to Santa Teresa on our last day in the area. This gave us just enough time to arrive and grab some breakfast before picking up our ATV rental when the Pacific Dirt Road shop opened at 8 a.m.
A few words on traveling between Santa Teresa and Montezuma without a car – there are three options – you can go by taxi ($40 rip off), group shuttle ($10 per person) or public bus ($3). Going by bus requires you to first go to the town of Cobano and then take a bus to Santa Teresa/Montezuma. This is the cheapest option but buses don’t run very frequently and the journey takes 90 minutes versus 30 each way.
Pacific Dirt Road ATV Rentals in Santa Teresa
Pacific Dirt Road offers ATV tours as well as rentals throughout Montezuma, Santa Teresa and MalPais, the third of the most visited villages in Southern Nicoya. Guided tours take visitors to the hotspots and half day, daily or weekly rentals provide you with a set of sturdy wheels to explore solo.
Diego and I elected to rent an ATV for the day and see what we could discover on our own. Pacific Dirt Road is located in Playa Carmen, which is sandwiched in between Santa Teresa and Malpais. From Playa Carmen we made our way north along the main road that parallels Santa Teresa Beach, a two-mile stretch of glistening sand and crystal blue waters. This road is paved and leads past many hotels, restaurants and yoga centers.
Past Playa Santa Teresa, the road dropped down and we paralleled Playa Cocal, a stretch of beach marked by long stretches of rocky landscapes. During high tide the water covers the rocks. During low tide, the rocks create magnificent tidal pools for exploring.
Our paved road made way for a dirt one and we drove along to Playa Hermosa. The name of this beach can literally be translated to beautiful beach, and with white sand and deep blue waters its no surprise where the name comes from. The beach was by no means crowded, but we did see the highest number of people on a beach in the region here, mostly gringos and many yogis.
We then made our way further along a jungle road to Playa Manzanillo. While still dotted by a handful of people, this is a much more local beach and many of the people here were Tico families or fishermen.
We followed the wide stretch of Playa Manzanillo until we reached Rio Bongo, a river that separates two beaches. As it is dry season in Costa Rica right now the river was more like a light trickle and we easily crossed it. During the rainy season months (May through November) this river may be impossible to cross.
As we reached Playa Bongo we discovered we had the expanse of beach entirely to ourselves. I’m not sure I’ve ever had a beach entirely to myself before, and we took advantage of the solitude by driving the ATV in fast circles.
San Francisco de Cayote
After enjoying the beauty of Playa Bongo we cut inland to trek to Playa San Miguel, a beach Diego claimed was famous among Ticos and would be worth the journey.
Our sand highway was replaced with bumpy dirt roads that brought my country music fantasies to life. Diego clutched onto the back of the ATV tight as I maneuvered bumpy hilly roads while Brad Paisley played on repeat in my head;
There’s a place I know about where the dirt road runs out
And we can try out the four-wheel drive
Come on now what do you say
Girl, I can hardly wait to get a little mud on the tires.
Our journey inland required us to forge two rivers that were a thrill to drive through from the tall seat of our ATV.
After more than an hour of bouncing in the dust we reached the small town of San Francisco de Coyote to break for lunch before heading back down the hills to Playa Cayote and then, finally Playa San Miguel.
Playa San Miguel
I’m notorious in my office for being a snob about Costa Rican beaches. My travels have taken me to many glorious beaches – from the varied coast of my home state of California to the wild shores of Australia to crystal waters of the Bahamas and Hawaii to the rugged sea cliffs of Southern Portugal. I’ve been lucky to see so many breathtaking beaches in my lifetime and so my standards are quite high. While I enjoy the beaches I’ve visited here in Costa Rica I hadn’t seen one that lived up to those in any of the aforementioned locales.
Standing in the soft green grass and leaned up against a palm tree, starring out at the yellow brick road of sand that led to the sparkling sea, I finally did. Diego was right – Playa San Miguel was worth the journey. It’s the most beautiful beach I’ve seen in Costa Rica.
After splashing in the ocean the waning light told us it was time to begin the 20-mile journey back to Santa Teresa so we could take a bus to catch the 5 p.m. ferry to get back to Puntarenas to take a bus back to San Jose before Monday morning came rushing in with all its worries.
Our trip to Playa San Miguel took longer than expected and we missed the bus to the ferry, which resulted in us missing the ferry and having to wait three hours for the next one. By the time we reached Puntarenas the last of the buses to San Jose had departed for the evening and we ended up having to hitchhike with some Mexican tourists who were also on the ferry back to San Jose.
But that is a different story. This is the story of how beautiful it was to visit eight beaches mounted on the back of an ATV, dust in our hair, sun on our backs, going ahead full throttle on a journey off the beaten path and getting a little mud on the tires.
Note: I was provided with a complimentary ATV rental. However, all thoughts and opinions are my own.