Mal Pais Attractions
Beaches (From south to north):
Playa Mal Pais
Mal Pais, or “Bad Country,” is an enormous beach that stretches for five miles, paralleling the bumpy road toward Cabo Blanco Absolute Reserve. While one might think the name might be derogatory, for hardcore surfers it is anything but. Sea rocks make these waters an intimidating learning place for the novice, but Mal Pais’ consistent waves create a handful of great spots for experienced surfers. Hotels are far apart with a private and remote feel, attracting wildlife and creating a wonderful hideaway for solitary sunbathers.
Playa El Carmen
El Carmen is a welcoming stretch of unspoiled shore with lots of beach combing potential. The sand seems to be extra-white here, so pack lots of sun block. Sand bars create long right breaks and somewhat shorter lefts, attracting beginner surfers and long boarders who dot the horizon, dancing along the surface of the sea. El Carmen is by far the most popular beach in the area, perfect for those wishing to socialize or to browse jewelry from local vendors.
Playa Santa Teresa
Santa Teresa is another celebrated surf beach, famous for its year-round breaks. About a mile long, the beach has a few rocky patches that may intimidate new surfers. Because of consistent swells, Santa Teresa is a great location to surf no matter what the tide.
Novices should steer clear of Roca Mar, or Suck Rock, the large rock point at the north end of the beach. Because of Roca Mar’s strong waves and dangerous rocks, locals are known to wear helmets while surfing there. At the south end of Playa Santa Teresa, a small pool filled with fish is formed at low tide. This is a wonderful area for young children to play, or for especially timid swimmers.
About three miles south of Manzanillo sits Playa Hermosa, or Beautiful Beach. The shore is roughly two miles long, and deserted in comparison to the ever-popular El Carmen Beach. Just a 20-minute drive from the center of town, Hermosa’s palm-fringed shore stretches for two miles. Here, the water is clearer and the sands less crowded, allowing visitors to luxuriate in the beauty and privacy of Hermosa. Strong left and right breaks and fewer people competing for waves make Hermosa a favorable surfing spot. Winds reign supreme here, making it a fantastic kite surfing point.
The nine-mile jaunt from Mal Pais/Santa Teresa to Playa Manzanillo takes a half hour by car. Rich hues of green and blue water sweep this remote cove, giving the area an almost surreal vibe. Along the way, visitors will pass through multiple hills offering picturesque vistas of the “M” shaped shoreline.
From this vantage point, the waves seem to crash onto the coast in slow motion. Few beach-lovers make this journey, and those that do are thoroughly rewarded with Manzanillo’s exceptional beauty and tranquility. Surfing is possible, but only when swells are particularly strong.
With golden sands stretching for three miles, Cabuya Beach is the epitome of laid back. Not yet popular among tourists, it is what Mal Pais was 15 years ago: pristine, quiet, and not yet buzzing with people. Calm seas and few rocks make it a wonderful swimming beach.
If you time the tides correctly, a walk out to Cemetery Island in Cabuya is unforgettable. Dating back to pre-Columbian times, the island is the burial site for native Indians. A half-mile long sandbar leads out to this tranquil hideaway, which is nearly always deserted. Visiting such a novelty as a Central American island graveyard is undoubtedly worth the trip, and the excursion only takes about 30 minutes there and back.
There is always something fun happening at Montezuma Beach. Two sections of shoreline totaling a mile in length are separated by lively beachside restaurants and shops. Swimmers delight in the warm, tranquil waters lapping in the bay. Montezuma’s sand is pleasantly grainy and thick, and visitors will find a variety of colors and textures walking up and down the beach. The beach is a great place to mingle with the town’s local hippie crowd as well as travelers from the world over. Come at sunset to enjoy a cocktail as the vibrant sun sets before your eyes.
Nature Reserves and Wildlife Refuges:
Cabo Blanco Absolute Reserve
A wildlife lover’s paradise, the back entrance to Cabo Blanco Absolute Reserve is located just five miles from the Mal Pais/Santa Teresa intersection. The reserve is packed with verdant trails, and home to white-faced and howler monkeys, agouti, coatimundis, anteaters, white-lipped peccaries, Baird’s tapir, raccoons, and various birds, including the bare-throated tiger heron. Over 39 species of bats also inhabit the reserve. One short trail and one incredibly long path to the beach will be sure to challenge even experienced hikers.
Curu Wildlife Refuge
Curu, one of Costa Rica’s most amazing wildlife refuges, is situated just 15 minutes west of the Paquera ferry and about one hour and 15 minutes east of the Mal Pais/Santa Teresa intersection. The park features 17 peaceful trails crossing a variety of ecosystems, including mangrove swamps and tropical wet and dry forest. Horseback riding, snorkeling, river and ATV tours are among the many exciting activities offered.