The Pros & Cons Of Living In Santa Teresa, Costa Rica

As with any location, living in Santa Teresa, Costa Rica, has its pros and cons. Please read our guide to discover whether the benefits outweigh the negatives for you.

The once sleepy surf town of Santa Teresa has exploded in size. Attracting people across the globe with the allure of wellness, surf, and good vibes.

Nestled on the Pacific Coast at the southern tip of the Nicoya Peninsula, this small town is now a hot spot in Costa Rica. Besides the expected tourist growth, expats are paying particular attention to Santa Teresa.

The Santa Teresa area incorporates a cluster of small villages; all are reachable by foot. ATVs are a prevalent form of transport for moving around the area. The towns of Mal Pais, Playa Santa Teresa, Playa Carmen and Playa Hermosa are also within the Santa Teresa area.

If you are planning to live in Costa Rica, have a look at the pros and cons of living in Santa Teresa. I hope they help you decide whether jungle and surf town vibes could be your perfect home abroad.

The pros of living in Santa Teresa

1. Ocean and jungle, wildlife and waterfalls, an embodiment of a pure life concept

As you drive down the road into the town of Santa Teresa, you may feel like you’ve arrived at a scene from Jurassic Park. A casual remote village where people come for the simplicity of it all. You can feel at the heart of a pure life surrounded by untouched nature.

Surrounded by stunning nature, your lifestyle will reach well beyond the town limits.

You’ll be able to take a short day trip to explore the stunning nature that surrounds Santa Teresa.

A 45-minute drive will get you to the small town of Montezuma. Here you can enjoy a stroll through the village followed by a short drive to Montezuma Waterfall.

The Waterfall comes in three stages, upper, middle and lower, and it is well worth a visit.

Santa Teresa beach and the jungle.
Santa Teresa beach and the jungle.

Another adventure is to get the ferry to Tortuga Island in Montezuma.  You’ll enjoy a fantastic day out with pristine white beaches and incredible snorkelling. All part of living an inspirational lifestyle.

2. Monkeys, monkeys and more monkeys!

It won’t be the sound of roosters waking you up in the early mornings. In Santa Teresa and the surrounding towns, the howler monkeys will serenade you. The deep howls echo throughout the treetops.

If you live in nearby Mal Pais, you may have as many white-faced capuchin monkeys visiting your home as you do raccoons.

Enjoy a walk to the stores watching the howler monkeys cross the power lines to get to the trees on the other side. Watching the monkeys is an event you’ll never tire of, especially the cute faces of the baby monkeys.

3. A surfer’s paradise of powerful waves, stunning beaches and beautiful sunsets

White sand beaches stretch for miles along the coast, lined with tropical palms. You’ll feel in the perfect place for pure relaxation and the pleasure of nature’s beauty. Super stunning, with every photo a postcard in itself.

Santa Teresa's stunning sunsets.
Santa Teresa’s stunning sunsets.

Tidepools are never-ending upon the shores setting up the perfect space for a private pool by the sea. No need to share; there are so many hidden places for everyone.

The sunsets draw everyone to the beach; it’s a community activity of pleasure and happy vibes: drinks, music and a sense of joy. You feel the spirit of Santa Teresa with every gorgeous sunset.

Even the street dogs flock to the beaches, and you’ll soon find yourself with a new best friend to love. Take in the moment as you watch the artwork of the sky light up your soul.

4. A community of dog lovers

If you love animals, Santa Teresa is for you. If you don’t take a dog when you move, you will soon find a new furry friend full of love. The dogs enjoy their status; you will see them riding in the baskets on ATVs or even in front of a motorcycle. 

5. A healthy lifestyle is natural here

Santa Teresa is the epicenter of health and wellness in the area. You can practice every style of yoga with a backdrop of forest or ocean views.

Healthy living and open-minded views of life thrive in small communities. Organic, vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free diets are provided and catered for.

The streets fill is with barefoot and casual goers, with a surfboard in hand, off to catch the next wave. Santa Teresa is loved for its epic surf, which attracts many to this beachside surf town.

6. A good selection of areas to live in to suit different tastes

Santa Teresa can get busy with the hustle and bustle during tourist season. For a more peaceful lifestyle, consider the outskirts of town, along the roads to the jungle.

Expats often choose this area for a remote living vibe—a relaxed lifestyle nestled amongst the pure nature of Costa Rica. Homes are embraced in trees and greenery, bursting with color and vibrant energy.

It’s not a lifestyle for everyone. It is always best to rent first or spend an extended vacation to see if you adapt to a new style of living. 

Santa Teresa and the area’s jungle attract a good share of celebrities. Most rent or own vacation homes relishing rare privacy and peacefulness.

The road out of Santa Teresa takes you right into Playa Hermosa in a few minutes. You’ll drive into a picture-perfect scene; it is the town’s quiet and chilled neighborhood.

Quite a few people choose the Playa Hermosa area to escape the buzz of Santa Teresa. You’ll find the calmness of nature and beach living here. Hidden within the hills are both exclusive mansion-like and eco-style homes. 

The other end of Santa Teresa runs into Mal Pais with a bohemian, earthy vibe.

Santa Teresa and Mal Pais.
Santa Teresa and Mal Pais.

Explore and discover eclectic restaurants and homes in the hills nestling on the cliffs.  Both enjoy incredible panoramic views of the beaches. At night the twinkle of house lights sparkle through the darkness of the trees in the hills.

Tambor is an hour from Santa Teresa and attracts many expats to their gated communities.  There’s a range of condominiums and new developments in Los Delfines Golf & Country Club.  Worth visiting if you’re considering living in a gated community.

With everything available, you never need to leave the community if you don’t want to. There’s a golf course, an on-site grocery store with ATM, a swimming pool, a restaurant, and endless community activities. It is a great choice if you’re looking for good amenities while living the dream of Costa Rica.

7. Amazing restaurants and seafood

Almost every other property along the narrow road through town is a restaurant with many cuisine styles. Santa Teresa has taken food to new elevated levels for such a small community.

Restaurants range from seafood and sushi wood-fired pizzas to Italian, Argentina, and Israeli cuisine. Check out the popular Taco Corner, and the fantastic La Cevicheria, with the best ceviche in town.

Even the local soda shops serve rich, juicy local flavors, and Chicken Joe’s always has the best chicken in town.

Earth Café is serene with Instagram-worthy dishes that taste as good as they look. El Tercer Ojo (The Third Eye) has a unique atmosphere and mouthwatering food.

The Bakery in Santa Teresa is a must-visit restaurant, with freshly baked bread and tempting treats. Enjoy fresh coffee, sandwiches and juices, a perfect stop for lunch.

Eating out is always more than a simple affair in Santa Teresa. You’ll always enjoy a full dining experience, even in the most casual of atmospheres.

One of the great things about Santa Teresa and its restaurants is that many of them are pet friendly as they are open-air and outside dining. You don’t have to worry about leaving your furry babies at home; they are almost always welcome!

8. You don’t need to speak Spanish to get by in Santa Teresa

Santa Teresa and its communities of Mal Pais, Playa Hermosa, Montezuma, and Tambor all have English speakers.

Many long-term visitors and residents speak both languages and often, at times, a third. You don’t need those last-minute phrase book lessons to survive.

Especially in Tambor’s new developments, it is mostly all English-speaking.

That said, the best way to learn about the country and feel part of Costa Rica is to enjoy a chat with the locals.

Spanish can be fun to learn, and the local community is always patient when you try, helping you along the way. Poco a poco (little by little), you will soon learn and have fun with your new language. 

9. All the necessary amenities on your doorstep

Although at some distance from the country’s capital, Santa Teresa has all the essentials you need.

Surfers at sunset in Santa Teresa.
Surfers at sunset in Santa Teresa.

There is a bank in town and a few ATMs so you can take care of your money needs without travelling far.

You also have an urgent care center and doctors available for non-urgent care matters. You’ll find the center in the town’s business area.

There are a few pharmacies, and if your prescription isn’t available, they will bring it from the city for you.

You’ll find several dentists plus private and public healthcare in the neighbouring area.

Outside of town, you’ll find Futuro Verde, an International Baccalaureate World School. With bilingual education and progressive thinking, it’s a popular expat family choice.

Costa Rica has a special police force dedicated to tourists. Santa Teresa has a delegation committed to this due to the population of tourists in the area. You will see officers in white shirts available to help with any issues and problems.

10. All the necessary amenities on your doorstep

Santa Teresa isn’t all about the beaches and the surf. You can go for some great hikes through the rainforest. 

The Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve in the Tempisque Conservation Area, Puntarenas, is great for a hike. Hiking will take you through fantastic views with vast ranges of wildlife to watch, from howler monkeys to white face capuchin monkeys and over 150 species of birds.

11. Learn to surf

If you plan to live in Santa Teresa, you should take advantage of its most significant asset, great waves!

The waves can be dangerous; book a surf lesson with an experienced surf instructor if you’re a newbie. Beginners are well catered for.

The cons of living in Santa Teresa

Yes, Santa Teresa is a paradise, yet it’s not without problems and is worth knowing about before you move. Here are the disadvantages of living in Santa Teresa.

1. A long journey from the San Jose SJO Airport

If you’re travelling by car, you will have two options.

Option one is to drive to Puntarenas and catch the ferry. It’s approximately a two-hour drive with an hour and a half to board the ferry and cross the Gulf of Nicoya to Paquera. From there, about another hour’s drive to Santa Teresa.

Option two, you can drive the entire journey, which will take you over six hours.

2. The unforgiving roads and dust

Whatever you do, do not try driving in a small compact car; you may well smash the bottom of it.  You’ll see rental vehicles that haven’t fared so well on the unforgiving roads.

Santa Teresa has one road that runs through the town; until recently, it wasn’t even paved.

All the more minor roads are dirt roads and gravel roads. The roads leading into town are not paved, and the potholes can sometimes seem like tide pools from the beach.

A 4×4 is the best way to manoeuvre unpredictable roads with less risk of bottoming the vehicle. Most people rent or buy ATVs or a motorcycle.

It is the easiest way to get around, especially in the rainy season and if you live outside of the town.

You will see more ATVs than cars zipping around. It can be fantastic fun riding around, a bandana covering half your face like someone out of the movies.

Driving can sometimes be frustrating, with tourists in vacation mode and fearless drivers taking over without worry or care.

3. Petty crime: if you leave it, you may lose it!

Petty theft has been on the rise in Santa Teresa and is one of the more common crimes in Costa Rica. Remember, it’s a crime of chance; with no chance, there’s no crime. 

Tourists and visitors often leave valuables visible in their cars. When they return from their dinner or swim, it’s gone!

Handbags and beach bags get left on the beach when people go wading into the tidepools or for a swim. Easy pickings for the light-fingered thief and again avoidable with some care.

It’s sad, but less careful tourists have created an easy income for certain characters. Would you leave your handbag on a city park bench in your home country? Unfortunately, the same rules apply in paradise. 

4. You can feel isolated use shopping trips to break the routine

A little over an hour is the Puntarenas Paquera Ferry, which crosses the Gulf of Nicoya to get you to San Jose. The ferry journey takes an hour and a half. It’s not something you want to plan to do in a day unless you have to.

Howler monkeys in Santa Teresa.
Howler monkeys in Santa Teresa.

Venturing out to get clothing and supplies has to be a planned trip. The perfect opportunity to make it into an enjoyable mini-adventure.

The ferry is the best bit, with a fresh breeze and the tiny islands you see as you sail by.

Liberia is almost four hours away, a journey in itself, so prepare first. In Liberia, you’ll find a Walmart and PriceSmart so you can stock up on everything you need.

If you are craving familiar fast foods, you’ll also find Taco Bell, Subway and Mcdonald’s.

5. Public transportation is a bit patchy

There is public transportation in the area, and it is reliable with a dedicated schedule.

Getting a bus from one town to another can be more of a chore.  You’ll need to switch buses as each service usually covers one area in the region.

A bus route to get you to San Jose will cross you over the ferry and onward to the capital. It may be at least half your day, but it will get you there and is super cheap and comfortable!

6. It’s always touristy and becomes a party town at times

Not a negative for all; many visitors love the fact that Santa Teresa is busy and always has something going on.

Playa Carmen and Banana Beach are the most crowded and popular areas in town to hang out.  Avoid those areas if you want a peaceful place to watch the sunset.

Santa Teresa attracts a very young tourist crowd as the town has many hostels. Don’t worry; there’s still plenty of room to find your own quiet space to relax and enjoy the location.

7. Rising cost of living

Over the past year, there has been a dramatic change in the cost of living in Santa Teresa.  The new generation of digital nomads has created a demand for all services.

As one of the top destinations to live the dream of working in paradise, the demand for housing has boomed.

Small 1-bedroom accommodations that were once USD 500 are now rented for at least USD 1000.

The town is small, and housing has become quite limited. You can expect to pay anywhere from $1,500 to USD 5,000 monthly for a home rental.

On a budget? Check out the neighboring villages of Mal Pais and Playa Hermosa.

Groceries and supplies in town cost more than that on the other side of the Gulf.  As most stock arrives via the ferry, there’s a small premium to pay.

Basic essentials like a bottle of shampoo can be $8, and $4 for deodorant.  But that also goes without saying in Costa Rica, where beauty and body care products tend to be pricier.

Dining out for two at the local soda can be affordable at $20 for a meal of casados with beans, rice, salad, and meat. If you are looking to eat at one of the fantastic restaurants in town, expect to double that.

8. Buying a Villa in Santa Teresa is expensive

It will cost a lot of money if you’re dreaming of buying a villa with an ocean view and jungle behind.

For example, we looked at a villa with four bedrooms and a swimming pool. Located in a gated community with stunning ocean views, the price was USD 3.5 million.

Less opulent villas further away from the ocean were still in the USD 500,000 price range.

Final thoughts on living in Santa Teresa

Depending on who you ask, some will tell you Santa Teresa is magical; others will say there are too many tourists. It can be expensive as the town continues booming.

Regardless, at the heart of the town is the feeling that everyone is searching for joy. It is somewhere you need to experience for yourself and to listen to your heart.

Everyone can agree that it is a beautiful location, surrounded by diverse nature.

Sit on the beach watching the sky’s colors at sunset; that’s something you must experience.

It is the perfect place to live out your expat dreams if you want your days filled with beauty: endless lush nature, sunsets, long sandy beaches and the pleasure of life’s simplicity.

Before you decide to live in Santa Teresa, plan an extended vacation. Explore the region with a view to making your home.

You’ll find a range of hotels, studios and apartments available. The best time to visit is during the dry season, which runs from December to April.

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4 Comments

  1. I have to disagree with this article. I just left Santa Teresa after living there for 7 years. It has become crime infested to a degree that you cannot leave your bag on the beach unattended not for a minute that it gets stolen. Cars are broken into daily, and most recently at home kidnapings are on the rise, just in my neighbourhood (hermosa beach) we had two in the past six months. Armed men breaking in and forcing people the make bank transfers at gun point. The men are not reported as they have people inside the police and death threats are made. Honestly I do not recognise what the place has become. The over development and huge surge of illegal parties full of drugs and prostituion have helped turn a jungle paradise into a gangster playground . The toll on nature from rampant over development has meant hundreds of acres of jungle destroyed and cut down to make room for houses and hotels. There are electrocuted monkeys on the daily on the roads, the lines keep frying the poor little guys just trying to cross the roads. A lot of the developments has been dumping waste water in the ocean, increasingly red tide has become a very serious issue and the beaches are not swimmable for months not weeks at the time. Very sad, I suggest you look for somewhere more relaxed to get that Pura Vida everyone keeps talking about. Personally I (and many other real residents) have already sold out and left.

  2. Sara, great article, I visited there years back and they were talking of paving the road which i hear has been completed or started. seems like it got busy there but it is beautiful.

    • Thank you, Levi! You are right, Santa Teresa has definitely become much busier and is evolving quickly. Mal Pais and Playa Hermosa are great to escape to from the bustle and tourism of Santa Teresa now.
      A good portion of the road through town has been paved, and they have started working on the route leading to Santa Teresa now too! If you were to visit again I am sure you would be quite surprised at how it has grown, however, it remains beautiful with some of the most colorful sunsets.

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