Close to the tip of the Nicoya Peninsula lies the laid-back, famously bohemian beach getaway of Montezuma. With its beautiful beaches, crashing waterfalls and colorful atmosphere, it’s a favorite spot for travelers trying to escape the high-rise developments starting to encrust more popular towns.
The reason why Montezuma has been overlooked all these years, is because it’s relatively time-consuming to visit; it’s not attached by paved road to the more popular Guanacaste beaches like Tamarindo and Papagayo, so most travelers take a ferry across the Golfo de Nicoya from the mainland. It’s worth the trip, however, for the magical feeling that you’ve escaped back into the Costa Rica of yesteryear.
Plan to stay for at least a few days, exploring the region’s beaches, waterfalls, natural reserves and offshore islands, as well as the funky little beach towns that fringe the peninsula. Snorkeling, surfing, sunbathing, hiking and just relaxing are all available under the tropical sun.
1) What to Do
There’s often something happening in this artsy, laid-back little community, so ask about any live music, local festivals, or other events that might be on while you’re in town. Otherwise, it’s surf, sand and exploring the area. Don’t miss the Saturday farmer’s market, or handicraft stands close to the shore.
The famed Montezuma Waterfalls, located about 20 minutes from town, are the region’s most refreshing attraction; the zip-line canopy tour flying above is great for families. There are several more waterfall hikes in the region, including Cocolito Falls (El Chorro), which gushes right into the Pacific about two hours north of town. Ask about others.
Several operators offer trips to Tortuga Island, a snorkeling and sunbathing paradise that can get pretty packed in high season (December through March). Wonderful diving trips are also on offer, but be aware these aren’t the most spectacular dive sites in Central America. Cabuya Island, attached to the mainland by a stone walkway, has a fascinating old cemetery.
The town of Cabuya, with its wild, rocky beaches, is the gateway to Cabo Blanco Absolute Nature Reserve, Costa Rica’s first conservation area, and makes a great base for exploring the park. Nearby, the privately preserved Rainsong Wildlife Sanctuary and Animal Rescue Center is also worth a trip. Both are a few kilometers south of Montezuma. Just north of town, Curu Wildlife Reserve is another privately owned natural area with trails, beaches, expansive wetlands and great birding and wildlife watching.
For surfing, your best bet is Santa Teresa and Malpais, Siamese-twin beach towns that face the open Pacific, just a few kilometers from Montezuma. With a range of lodging and dining options, it’s a great idea split your time between either of them and Montezuma.
The town of Montezuma has lodging for every price range, with plenty of hostels and surf shacks for budget travelers, and a great selection of mid-range properties, most with rather bohemian flair. While there are a few upscale spots as well, the most luxurious guesthouses and hotels are in nearby Santa Teresa and Malpais, a popular spot for celebrities and jet setters. Tambor is home to an all-inclusive resort.
Montezuma proper has a solid selection of inexpensive eateries, many serving healthy, vegetarian and organic cuisine. Both Costa Rican and US-style food is easy to find. For a special evening out, try Cafe de los Artistas, serving elegant dishes by candlelight, right on the beach.
Getting to Montezuma is challenging, which is part of its charm. Nature Air runs flights daily to nearby Tambor from Tobias Bolaños Airport in San José. Ferries, including car ferries, run throughout the day from Punta Arenas, landing about 40 km (25 miles) from Montezuma; buses meet the ferries. There are also pedestrian-only fast boats, or shuttles, directly from Montezuma to Jacó; ask at your hotel about prices and schedules.
It’s possible to drive from Nicoya, Guanacaste, but roads are rough and unpaved; allow at least three hours for the 90-km (56-mile) trip, more during rainy season. The road running around the southwestern coast of the peninsula is 4WD-only, and generally accessible only in dry season, as there are several potentially dangerous streams.