“There’s something magical about this place, it just sucks you in,” Marlee said as she showed us to our rooms at Proyecto Montezuma, the quaint hostel that we would call home the next few days. With stunning beach views right outside our door, a small town atmosphere, and extremely welcoming people, it was easy to see what she meant. Pat and I aren’t planning on settling down in the near future (or even in the far future), but when we do, we can picture ourselves settling down here.
Montezuma is a small beach town made up of two main streets, but there’s just something about it (or maybe, everything about it) that we just can’t get enough of. By the end of our short three day stay locals were calling out for Pat in the streets to say hello and wave at us. The sunrises and sunsets were stunning, even in the rainy season. From cliff jumping, to swimming in tide pools, to surfing and fishing, and renting ATVs to explore the Nicoya peninsula, Montezuma is a must do on your Costa Rica adventure.
Fun Fact: Tico’s call it “Monte-fuma” (as in the Spanish verb “fumar” meaning “to smoke”) because of the high population of marijuana smokers in this town.
Playa Grande. Ask a local what beach to go to in Montezuma and this will be the one. Reached only by foot through a path in the jungle, Playa Grande is a hidden gem where you’ll find locals riding the waves all day long. Getting there is a little tricky, and from where we stayed took about 35 minutes on foot. From town, keep walking east along the main road past the sea turtle conservation. Walk along the beach until you reach the trail through the jungle. Arrive at piedra colarada (a pebble beach with stone sculptures), and continue walking until you reach another trail through the jungle. Continue along this trail and you’ll reach another rocky beach. You’ll know that you’re at Playa Grande when you reach the large, sandy beach where you’ll find people surfing. Beware of the monkeys, they’ll go through your bags looking for food!
Santa Teresa. Drive a little northwest of Montezuma and you’ll reach Santa Teresa, another small beach town known for their incredible sunsets and great waves. Catch a shuttle for $10 USD, or make a day trip out of it and rent an ATV or dirt bike to stop by for a sunset.
Playa Hermosa. Drive even further north of Santa Teresa and you’ll see the long, remote Playa Hermosa. This beach is a perfect getaway from the heaps of tourists that flock to the country during the high season, and it is known for it’s vibrant sunsets.
Manzanillo. Continue on the road heading north from Playa Hermosa and you’ll reach Manzanillo. You’ll know you’re there when you see a little family-owned restaurant on the corner of a three way intersection across the street from the beach. Otherwise, there is nothing in the area but a long secluded beach on one side and nature on the other. Paradise!
Transportation On The Peninsula.
Montezuma is a fairly small town, and everything is pretty much within walking distance. However, if you decide to venture outside of Montezuma to the neighboring towns or beaches you will need some form of transportation that can handle extremely underdeveloped roads (think rocky, dirt roads with pot holes every 2 feet).
Getting to Santa Teresa, the most popular surfer town on the peninsula, can be done by shuttle for a price of $10 USD. However, unless you are bringing a surf board with you we suggest renting a dirt bike or an ATV.
Cabo Blanco’s is the spot with the friendliest staff, and ATV’s cost $50 for 6 hours, or $65 for the entire day. This is the option we chose to go with as it came highly recommended by the locals and there was no deposit for the rental (they do however write down your credit card number in case it gets damaged). You can ride from Montezuma down to the tip of the peninsula (Cabo Blanco Reserve), to Malpais, and up the west coast to Manzanillo, to Cobano and back in about 6 hours. This is the route we took and, stopping for lunch and Manzanillo, we had plenty of time.
Getting To Montezuma From Jaco.
The Ferry. If you are coming to Montezuma from Puntarenas, by car, you will want to take the Puntarenas-to-Paquera ferry. The distance between Paquera and Montezuma is about an hour by car. At about $1.50 each way for passengers, or $24 for car and driver, this is by far the cheapest option. If you are trying to get to Monteverde, Arenal, or Manuel Antonio, you will want to take the ferry back to Puntarenas, and then drive or take a bus/taxi/shuttle from there. You can find more information about the ferry, as well as the schedule by clicking here.
Zuma Tours. We came in from Manuel Antonio with Zuma Tours. Zuma dominates the transportation sector in Montezuma. If you are booking a speedboat tour or excursion, it is very likely it will be through Zuma Tours. We strive to give our audience honest reviews so I will describe what we went through when booking with Zuma Tours below.
We booked two speed boat transportations (to and from Jaco) and one snorkel tour (Tortuga Island) through Zuma. The first speedboat ride was great. Pretty calm, and it took about an hour from Jaco to cross the gulf. They say that they will stop if they spot any marine life, but we didn’t see anything on our two rides.
For the Tortuga Island tour, we booked online about a month in advance for $60 USD per person. Long story short, they never emailed us a confirmation until 9 hours before, and when we explained the short notice email they were reluctant to even refund us. In summary, if you are planning on booking a tour in Montezuma through Zuma Tours, just do it there! If we didn’t book a month in advance and just went in and talked to them and booked it the day or two before, we would have saved ourselves a lot of trouble.
Where To Stay
Budget Friendly Option: Proyecto Montezuma.
By far our favorite hostel in town, Proyecto Montezuma is tucked away off the main dirt road right on the beach. With its laid back atmosphere and breathtaking beach views, step out of your room and into paradise at this simple beach lodge. The shared rooms are small, so you don’t have to worry about sharing them with too many other travelers, but if dorms aren’t your thing they offer private rooms as well.
Proyecto Montezuma’s friendly staff offers TEFL certification, surf lessons, Spanish classes, and will help book tours for you and recommend things to do. We have never stayed in a more hospitable hostel, and will definitely be going back to visit our friends who work there.
Keep in mind that, like most hostels in Costa Rica, Proyecto Montezuma adopts the pura vida lifestyle. There’s no A/C and there might be some ants in the open air kitchen, DON’T LET THIS DETER YOU FROM STAYING HERE!! We felt perfectly comfortable at Proyecto and loved the atmosphere and the staff that worked there! The wifi worked well and it was nice to have a kitchen to use, since the last few hostels in Costa Rica we stayed at didn’t have kitchens.
Fun Fact: During low tide there’s a natural tide pool you can swim in that overlooks the ocean. Talk about paradise!
Luxury Option: Amor de Mar Hotel
With moderately-priced basic rooms to luxury villas, this centrally located hotel features options for budget-travelers and honeymooners alike. Their basic rooms start at $70/night, and luxury villas start between $150-$175/night. The hotel provides a spa, free WiFi, A/C, and is right on the beach and across the street from the three waterfalls hike. It’s easy to feel lost in paradise while staying at this luxury hotel! You can find prices and reserve your room now by clicking here!
Hiking The Three Waterfalls Of Montezuma
The ‘free waterfalls’ (as the sign reads) are a mere two minute walk down the road from Proyecto Montezuma and can be accessed by either following the steep uphill road right next to the sign and cutting through someones yard (the easier way to reach the last two falls), or by hiking upstream through the river until you reach the first waterfall (pictured), and then free-climbing up a steep mountain, following the series of colored ropes tied to tree roots, to reach the next two falls. This is not for children or those who are scared of heights. If you do not feel comfortable doing it, then don’t do it or go with a guide (who you can hire in town).
This is a dangerous hike, and one should definitely use caution and common sense (i.e. don’t go before it is going to rain, or after it rains as the river will be too high, etc.). We did the climb and made it to the top, but ended up turning back before reaching the last two falls because it started to thunder.
The picture above was taken upon reaching the first waterfall. The hard part of the hike was similar to this, except it went wayyy higher than the height of the first waterfall, and consisted of climbing a mountain of rocks and roots, and rappelling down using ropes like the one pictured above. Pat and I thoroughly enjoyed it, and we highly recommend this hike. But if you don’t feel comfortable doing the climbing to reach the second two falls, then go the easier way via the steep road near the “free waterfalls” sign.
What To Do
Three Waterfalls Hike. This is the most popular hike in Montezuma, as it is free to the public. Read the section above titled Hiking The Three Waterfalls of Montezuma for more information.
Isla Tortuga. One thing we didn’t get around to doing but was on top of our list was Tortuga Island. Named for (you guessed it) the turtles that gather here during mating season, Isla Tortuga features white sand beaches, kayaking, snorkeling, and diving. You can book a scuba diving or snorkel tour through Zuma Tours for $60 per person. We highly recommend booking tours through this company in person a day or two in advance (or calling to confirm if you book online). They require a minimum of 8 people to do this tour, so if not enough people book it for that day you may not end up going out.
Scuba Diving. Again, Montezuma is filled with many great reefs for scuba diving. Although they don’t have the clearest waters, they have abundant marine life and the remote area doesn’t get huge crowds of divers like the more touristy areas of Costa Rica. We recommend booking through the Tortuga Dive Club. They offer certification courses, and dives starting from $120 USD. You must be certified to go scuba diving here.
Zip Lining. Sun Trails offers a 9 cable zip-line and canopy tour that stops by the famous Three Waterfalls as well. The price of the tour is $45 USD per person and includes water and a guide.
Hike in the Cabo Blanco Reserve. This reserve is located on the very tip of the Nicoya peninsula. We were told the entire park could be done in two hours, so for our sake we naturally add another hour to that estimate since we stop to take pictures every five feet.
Sports Fishing. Montezuma’s abundant marine life makes it a great destination to go fishing. With tours starting from around $450, this definitely isn’t something to do if you’re on a tight budget. Sun Trails offers 3, 5, and 8 hour tours.
So there you have it, a complete guide to Montezuma, Costa Rica! Have you guys ever been? What were your favorite things about this beach town? Please let us know in the comments section below
– Sara + Pat
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Hi Sara and Pat! I’m loving all of your Costa Rica posts! My husband and I want to travel there in February but we only have about 4-5 days so we don’t want to run around the whole country. What city would you suggest staying in if we want to relax on beaches and do a day trip to see some waterfalls?
Hmm, well I’d definitely recommend Montezuma and the Nicoya Peninsula. It is far less touristy than the more popular cities, and it’s small enough to explore in your 4-5 days and feel fully immersed in friendly Tico culture. It has waterfalls, beaches, jungle, you name it! If you have time, maybe check out Manuel Antonio, however this is a very touristy area so heads up! (: Happy travels!