Country Guide » Beaches
Snaking up the left hand coast of the Nicoya Peninsula, from the countries very first National Park, Cabo Blanco Reserve, lies one of the most beautiful, remote stretches of coastline in Costa Rica – Mal Pais.
Mal Pais means “bad country” in español, and there are a couple of schools of thought concerning the origin of this name. The first theory comes from the Chorotega Indians who originally inhabited the area. Apparently they had a stone that they could draw with, which they called “Maw Paw”, which, gradually became “Mal Pais” over the centuries. The more likely theory is that the first Spanish settlers found the area in the dry season not at all good for farming, and so “bad country” stuck for the area. Wherever it comes from, Mal Pais is only bad in the way that bad means good in rap music (ask your kids)! In short, Mal Pais is fantastic!!
Getting to this area used to be tough until relatively recently. From the mainland of Costa Rica you would need to get to Puntarenas, wait for the ferry to take you across the Gulf of Nicoya, and then endure a horrible 25 mile journey on the roughest roads in the world. Nowadays things are a lot easier. The road is (mostly) paved, and a far more pleasant experience. You can also take a short 25 minute flight from San Jose to the airstrip in Tambor, where Mal Pais is about 45 minutes away. A great way to do this is to overland it there and fly back – that way you get to experience the ferry crossing, which is great fun and stunningly beautiful, especially at sunset.
Once in Mal Pais, the traveler will find what Trip Advisor’s Traveler’s Choice 2012 has named the #1 Best Beach in Central America. The beach is everything here, and the community stretches along the road with the tropical dry forest on one side and the golden sand on the other. Since the 1970’s surfers have been coming here, and Mal Pais offers some of the best beach breaks in the country. Playa Carmen is good for beginners as well, and surf schools abound. The surf has brought foreign expats, and nowadays in this area you’ll find quirky upscale boutique resorts (no main chains here), restaurants and yoga/wellness centers all contributing to a quite unique vibe. This is the part of Costa Rica where celebrities come. Gisele Bundchen and Tom Brady married and have a home here. Leonardo DiCaprio is a frequent visitor too, as well various Red Hot Chile Peppers and others who come for the sun, surf and privacy.
A visit to Mal Pais and Santa Teresa area is really an off the beaten path experience for those wanting a true taste of barefoot luxury!