Beaches (From north to south):
This white-sand beach just before El Chorro Waterfall is a national treasure. Dramatic rocks separate two swimming areas, where the ocean displays the entire spectrum of blue and green. A freshwater lagoon underneath the palm trees invites tired travelers for a dip. The spectacular view from the rocks surrounding the waterfalls is an enticing reward for the tedious journey to Cocolito. The hike takes between three and four hours by foot. Because it is such a long trek, most people opt to arrive on horseback – a one-hour journey. Wildlife is especially abundant early in the morning, so plan ahead and leave by sunrise to make the most of the day.
Playa Grande, with its calm turquoise waters and two miles of coastline, is perfect for swimming. Because many people aren’t willing to make the 30-minute trek from Montezuma, Playa Grande is nearly always deserted. Even on busy days, Grande’s enormity helps create space between beachgoers. Horses trot by at low tide, carrying travelers to El Chorro Waterfall. Be sure to pack a lunch, as there are no restaurants or vendors nearby.
There is always something fun happening at Montezuma Beach. Lively beachside restaurants and shops separate two sections of shoreline. 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. Playa Montezuma 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 disappears behind the horizon.
Playas Las Palmeras and Las Manchas
These two rocky sister beaches, each under a half-mile long, are located just outside of Montezuma on the way to Cobano. They are extremely close and similar in appearance. The pair tends to attract more locals than Montezuma Beach, making it a good choice for those looking to practice their Spanish. There is nothing but a small hotel in the vicinity, so visitors will want to bring a cooler with drinks and snacks. Take care when swimming at Las Manchas, which boasts the area’s best snorkeling. While the waves are normally quite tame, strong rip tides are not uncommon.
Playa Los Cedros
A ten-minute drive south of Montezuma lies Playa Los Cedros, a rocky stretch of the Pacific boasting some of the most dazzling sunsets in the Nicoya Peninsula. Schools of fish make Los Cedros a favorite hunting spot for seabirds, especially enormous pelicans and frigate birds. When low tide coincides with the sunset, pink and blue reflective pools emerge among the rocks. With a decent south swell, Playa Los Cedros offers surfers an impressive right point break. While not as consistent as nearby Santa Teresa, surfers can catch this break on either side of high tide, but should look out for the area’s many jagged rocks.
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 and Montezuma were 15 years ago: pristine, quiet, and not yet buzzing with people. Calm seas and few rocks make it a wonderful swimming beach. During low tide, a walk out to Cemetery Island 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.
Wildlife Refuges and Butterfly Gardens:
Cabo Blanco Absolute Reserve
A wildlife lover’s paradise, Cabo Blanco Absolute Reserve is located seven miles from Montezuma. It is packed with verdant trails, and is home to white-faced and howler monkeys, agoutis, coatimundis, anteaters, white-lipped peccaries, raccoons, and various birds, including the bare-throated tiger heron. Over 39 species of bats also inhabit the reserve. A short trail and one incredibly long path to the beach will be sure to challenge even experienced hikers.
Curu Wildlife Refuge
Just 45 minutes east of Montezuma sits Curu, one of Costa Rica’s most amazing wildlife refuges. The private refuge 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. The refuge is incredibly diverse, and is home to 78 species of mammals, including spider monkeys, coatimundis, whitetail deer, armadillos, collared peccaries, pumas, and kinkajous. It is also home to 87 species of reptiles, 232 species of birds, and over 500 species of plants.
Mariposario Butterfly Garden
Located in downtown Montezuma, The Mariposario Butterfly Garden has 15 different species of butterfly, and specializes in the metallic blue, elegant morpho. The conservatory accepts interns and college students who wish to work with the project in exchange for room and board at the bed and breakfast. (8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Mon-Sun. $8 adults, $6 students, $4 children. 2642-1317)
Towering some 80 feet high, the Montezuma Waterfalls are one of the area’s main attractions. The hike there and back can be done in under an hour, although visitors should take their time, as the trail can be slippery. There are three places to pick up the path. The first is near La Cascada Restaurant, over the bridge. Following the road uphill toward Cabuya leads to the second entrance. The third starting point is the shortest, even farther along the paved road at the Mariposario Butterfly Gardens. From here the hike only lasts about 15 minutes.
Cocolito “El Chorro” Waterfall
For those looking for a long and rewarding hike, El Chorro is a wonderful option. The trek lasts about two hours on horseback, or three to four hours on foot, and passes by a number of pristine beaches and a natural swimming hole. The falls are 50 feet tall, and are one of the few freshwater falls in the world that empty directly into the ocean.
Las Lajas Waterfall
Depart south of Montezuma at the Cabuya Bridge to begin the uphill journey to this striking waterfall. Few visitors make the trip because the journey is so draining, making it a rewarding and unique experience. It is at least a two-hour hike each way, so be sure to bring plenty of water.
La Florida Waterfalls
This set of three gentle falls is one of the most picturesque and little-known attractions in the area. Still relatively undiscovered, the tide pools and rope swing are often completely deserted and private. ATVs and horses are the most comfortable methods of arrival, as the uphill trail makes for an exhausting hike. A trip to La Florida waterfalls requires traversing a bit of private property and following some confusing directions. Hiring a guide to lead the way is highly recommended.
Cabo Blanco Island
Along Cabuya’s main road sits a little red house that has the freshest raw fish and seafood in town. The family who runs the operation is incredibly friendly, offering boat and fishing tours to the nearby bird island of Cabo Blanco. They also take visitors past a bubbling underwater whirlpool, and all around the reserve. Fruit, water, snacks and fishing supplies are included in the affordable rate.
Turtle Island (Isla Tortuga)
Isla Tortuga offers some of the most phenomenal snorkeling and scuba diving in Costa Rica, and this day trip should not be missed. A 45-minute boat ride departs from the main beach at Montezuma, and passes El Chorro waterfall, allowing glimpses of dolphins along the way. At the island, underwater adventurers find crystal clear waters, colorful fish and other interesting sea life. Above ground, parrots, peccaries and monkeys inhabit the island’s palm-fringed beaches. A gourmet barbeque with beer and soft drinks is served before another round of snorkeling and the scenic boat ride back to the mainland.
Karen Mogensen Nature Reserve
This private nature reserve, located 46 miles north of Montezuma, encompasses 2,500 acres of primary forest and reclaimed farmland that the reserve has reforested. The refuge is home to hundreds of animal species including white-faced monkeys, deer, ocelots, otters, howler monkeys and pumas. The Karen Mogensen Nature Reserve also has excellent birdwatching, and more than 240 species – three-wattled bellbirds, spectacled owls, and motmots among them – have been spotted here.