Stoked - In Search of Surf in Costa Rica

Montreal Travel Blog

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I love surfing.

Having learned to surf the summer before in California, my newfound love has since oftentimes driven me mad as I regularly find myself dreaming of ocean and brainstorming extravagant plans for the next big surf adventure. Riding the waves for the first time left me stoked and hungry for more but for someone without a driver's license nor a car and, being somewhat landlocked in Montreal, I am unable to easily satiate my lust for ocean time and all brilliant master plans for the next surf extravanganza are eventually, wistfully discarded as time passes and finances are mashed up now and again by life.

The Gods of Sea and Surf must have felt sorry for me for the wind carried whispers of a Surfer's Paradise to my ears and talk of Mal País, Costa Rica curiously cropped up in my life over and over. It was almost like the Universe was dropping 'cosmic breadcrumbs' and leading me back to the water. Perhaps the ocean longed for me as much as I longed for it.

Well, when the Universe starts dropping hints, it's usually in your best interest to pay attention. So I bought a Lonely Planet guide, browsed to trusty Google and soon enough, came to realize that trekking to Costa Rica to surf was entirely do-able on a budget. This adventure-loving, backpacking, surf-stoked Canadian chiquita could actually make an awesome trip if she was willing to be just a little patient and work hard to play hard later.

This past spring, I went on my amazing, adventure-filled solo trip to Mal País, Costa Rica, following whispers of a Surfer's Paradise off the beaten track. It was everything I had hoped for and more and I definitely fell in love with the country with plans to work my butt off even more to head back soon.

For those of you who've caught wind of this beautiful, fairly quiet surf spot and are willing to make the trek off the main road to get there but don't know how, here are my tips for traveling to Mal País based on my own experience. I will be adding plenty of photos later on as I post bits of my travel journal for this trip.



Getting from San Jose to Mal Pais:

From San Jose, you can contact Montezuma Expeditions ( to arrange for a shuttle to Mal País. You can either arrange for transportation only (approx $45USD) or if going directly to Mal País after arriving in San Jose, you can get a shuttle pack that includes one night accommodation in a hotel in Alajuela. The shuttle picks up at 6AM. Hotel reimburses the taxi fare from airport to hotel ($5 USD). The shuttle pack costs $70USD and you will pay the driver once you reach the ferry at Puntarenas. Drive is approximately 6 hours from San Jose to Mal Pais with a 1 hour ferry ride from Puntarenas to Paquera. At Paquera, a driver with the Montezuma sign picks up and drives to Mal País, usually stopping through Montezuma.


Once in Mal Pais/Playa Carmen:

In Mal Pais, left of the intersection is Mal Pais, right of the intersection is Playa Carmen and further down, Santa Teresa. Most shops, restaurants, cafes, banks are at that Playa Carmen intersection so any accommodation around there is your best bet.

There are two banks, restaurants, internet cafes, boutiques. surf shops, convenience stores, supermarket and much more.



I stayed at the Mal Pais Surf Camp -  (left of intersection), only about a 5 minute walk from central Playa Carmen (down from intersection is beach access).

The surf camp offers different levels of accommodations from communal ranchos ($15 USD a night) to luxurious villas ($95 a night). There is a restaurant and bar on site (food is good but US prices compared to cheaper food in local restaurants in Playa Carmen). The staff is very friendly and can help organize day trips and other activities. There are surf lessons available and board rentals. The atmosphere is quiet, laid back and the frequent traffic of travelers ensures you'll meet interesting, fun people of like-mind.


Other accommodation choices in the area include:

The Place -

Ritmo Tropical -

Playa Carmen Hotel -

Frank's Place -

Tranquilo Backpackers Hostel -

Activities in and Around Mal Pais:

Mal Pais Canopy Tour -

Isla Tortuga Snorkling Tour -

Montezuma Canopy & Waterfall Tour -

Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve -

Horseback Riding -

Sport Fishing -

Surfing (Playa Carmen for beginner/intermediate surfers; many other beaches up the coast for more advanced surfers)


Restaurants & Night Life:

If you are going to spend a few days in Mal Pais, you definitely have to check out the Vista de Olas resort's infinity pool during a sunset. The view is spectacular and the whole atmosphere is relaxed and fun.

Left of the intersection, continue down the road about 5-8 minute drive. You can hire a taxi for 500 colones or you can even walk (15-20 minutes). If you arrive at around 4pm, you can relax in the beautiful infinity pool, grab a drink at the pool bar while you swim and wade, enjoy the view and wait for the beautiful sunset. You need to spend a minimum of 5500 colones (approx $10 USD) but drinks are cheap and the dinner is well worth it (choice of different meats you can cook yourself over the BBQ and unlimited salad bar).


In Playa Carmen, good restaurants and bars include:

- D&N Beach Club - amazing outdoor bar terrace right by the beach. On a clear night, a spectacular view of the star-filled sky serves as a perfect backdrop for dancing and socializing. When I visited, Monday nights were reggae night with live performances.

- The Howler Monkey is a popular bar.

- Tranquilo Backpackers Hostel is very much a party hostel for those looking for a good time. If you choose to stay here, know that you won't necessarily get a good night's sleep!

- Las Piedras - Great food roasted on an open BBQ

- Cafe Artemis - Free WIFI, cafe/bar and terrace.


Getting Around:

Getting around, many people rent ATVs or bikes but it is advised to have a mask or bandana to cover face because the roads get VERY dusty during dry season. There are buses to nearby Montezuma through Cóbano (approx 30 mins to Cóbano for approx 600 colones), and then 20 mins from Cóbano to Montezuma (300 colones). You can arrange for a taxi to take you directly from Mal Pais to Montezuma for approx. $30 USD each way. The drive is about 30 minutes.



Montezuma is a cute town with many a backpacker hostel and hotel. Many tour operators operate out of Montezuma with day trips to Isla Tortuga for snorkling, Montezuma zipline Canopy Tours, sports fishing, 1 hour boat ride to Jáco, trips to Cabo Blanco Reserve and more. The pristine beaches stretch for miles and the whole vibe of the town is laid back. During the spring, there are local artisans setting up tables along the main road selling artsy jewellery and other things.

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photo by: cvanzoen