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The Best of Montezuma, Costa Rica in One Day

Piedra Colorada sandy beach with large rocks and jungle surrounding

Montezuma, Costa Rica, is a funky beach town on the southern part of the Nicoya peninsula. Known for its waterfalls and beautiful beaches, it makes a perfect day trip from Santa Teresa/Mal Pais.  We visited while in Costa Rica for a week away without the kids.  While they were living it up back home with the grandparents, we spent the week enjoying the rainforest and checking out secluded beaches. 

I would not label myself a hippie. I’ve only been to one music festival- Pilgrimage Music Festival. Honestly, I’m not sure it even counts when you get to sleep in your own bed afterwards, instead of a tent. Plus, it’s much more of a suburban music and food scene than somewhere like Bonaroo or the ultimate music festival of all time, Woodstock. I can’t even pull off the latest styles that are a nod to the fashions of the 70s. Yet, for some reason, I seem to be drawn to bohemian beach towns.

There’s something to love about the laidback lifestyle created when backpackers, rustafarians, and Latin Americans converge in a tiny seaside village. Montezuma is one of these little beauties.  Just a quick 35 minutes drive from Santa Teresa, it is a great place to spend a day.  

Getting to Montezuma from Santa Teresa / Mal Pais

We left out from our hotel in Mal Pais on our ATV with a packed cooler, beach chairs, and no timeline. After about a 35 minute drive we arrived at the Montezuma Waterfalls for some hiking and swimming.  Getting there is actually pretty simple; there are only two roads leading to Montezuma from Santa Teresa.  

Luckily for us, the quicker and more scenic road led directly beside our hotel.  The road takes you over the ridge, where you can get coastal views all the way out to the beautiful blue ocean in the distance.  The main road into town leads you directly to the falls.  Once arriving, there is a nominal fee (about $2) to park, unless you find a spot along the road.  

The Montezuma Falls

Immediately after entering we noticed we had a local lurking behind us. He clearly was trying to make us think he was just going to give us a little advice about making the first creek crossing, but it was obvious that he was trying to make a buck. A few minutes later he was still with us. After leading us to the somewhat unmarked trail, we finally gave in and started a conversation with him (knowing we’d be tipping him at the end).  

While we could’ve done the entire hike without him, it was nice to have someone to help us maneuver the tricky spots on the trail.  He knew exactly which tree roots to grab for extra support and where to put a foot for balance.  

local man leading us through the tropical forest to the Montezuma Falls
our “guide” leading us to the Montezuma Falls

The Montezuma Falls is actually a series of three different waterfalls. You reach the first after about 15 minutes. The cold water feels great after hiking on a warm day. There are a few places where you can jump from the rocks (not at the top), but be careful because it can be slippery.  From here you can continue up the hill to the second and third falls.

It is a somewhat technical climb with ropes at certain places to give you more stability.  It isn’t super difficult, but it would’ve been challenging for very young children or adults with mobility issues.  Make sure to wear shoes with a decent tread, as there are several slippery spots.  If you’re lucky, you may even see a few monkeys on your trek.  

large waterfall in the jungle with swimming hole
The lower Montezuma Falls

While many of the locals will make the jump from high above into the middle pool, we stayed on the side. The 35 foot jump has taken the lives of several people over the years. One slip of the foot could be fatal.

The third pool does offer an area for swimming that you can safely jump into if you need an adrenaline rush, or walk into if your fear of heights is on par with mine.  The jump here is a mere eight to fifteen feet.

After spending an hour or so swimming in the pools, you can hike back down or pay a few dollars for access to walk across private land out onto the main road.

Tip: pay the money for the private land access, as it is the much quicker and easier way out.  We spent about two hours here, half of which was swimming in the pools.  You could probably make the hike, straight through without stopping, in about 45 minutes.  

large swimming hole in the jungle at Montezuma Falls
swimming at the upper Montezuma Falls

Stop for Lunch

After spending the morning hiking and swimming, you’ll be ready for some lunch. Soda Tipicas Las Palmeras is where we landed, and I’m so glad we did. All of the locals we asked pointed us in this direction. It’s nothing fancy, with white plastic chairs in the open air dining space, but the food is delicious.  

We are always up for trying out where the locals eat.  It is always a good indicator of the tastiest food, and usually ends up being much better than the super touristy places. We decided to split the fried snapper casado. A casado is a typical Costa Rican lunch with beans, rice, salad and choice of protein. The lightly battered fresh snapper was cooked flaky and delicious. Everything was perfectly seasoned. The pickled vegetables they brought to the table, with just enough acidic bite, were the perfect compliment to the fried fish.  If only I could figure out  how to make beans and rice taste that good at home. 

whole fried fish with vegetables and rice
Fish Casado at Soda Typicas Las Palmeras

Montezuma Beaches

Playa Montezuma

A drive through town gives you a glimpse of its bohemian flair.  It almost feels like you are on a Caribbean island, with the brightly-colored, open air stores and art vendors set up throughout. Once you reach the other side of town you will come to the school where a small parking area is located.  Playa Montezuma is the huge beach in front of you.  There is plenty of space for sunbathing and swimming.

One thing you may notice when walking along the beach, is a small ramshackle building with fencing made from bamboo and driftwood.  It’s home to the Romelia Sea Turle Conservation Program, a program run almost entirely by eco-enthusiasts and locals who volunteer their time.  The goals of the program are to protect sea turtles from interruption while laying their eggs and to educate beachgoers on the harm done by disturbing them.  

hiking through the jungle near the ocean
hiking through the Nicolas Wessberg Nature Reserve

Piedra Colorada

If you venture a little further, you will not be disappointed.  The Nicholas Wessberg National Reserve, found at the far end of the beach, is an absolute reserve, meaning only rangers are allowed to venture inside.  Named for Nicholas Wessberg, a Swede who moved to Montezuma in the 1950s, the 155 acre reserve is home to a variety of animals.  

Upon moving to Costa Rica, Wessberg was completely dismayed to find that huge parts of the forests near his new home were being cut down.  He then began working hard to protect natural areas in Costa Rica, eventually starting the national park service.  There is a trail that walks along the edge of the heavily forested reserve taking you to more beaches.  

After following the trail for about 15 minutes, you will come to Piedra Colorada.  This scenic beach area offers more shade.  Recessed into the tree line, a small freshwater pool fed by a tiny waterfall makes for a gorgeous backdrop against the rocky shoreline.  For about 30 minutes we were the only ones here, save for a few surfers walking further on to Playa Grande.  This was our favorite beach in Montezuma.  It would be a great beach for kids, too.  

couple sitting on large boulder in the jungle
at Piedra Colorada

Playa Grande

Playa Grande is another 1.5 mile walk along the shoreline.  It isn’t as picturesque as Piedra Colorada, but if offers an expansive flat, sandy beach, especially at low tide.  This is a popular spot for surfers.  There are actually a few places in town that bring you to this beach for surf lessons, if you are so inclined.  

Honestly, I wasn’t very impressed with Playa Grande.  I’m not quite sure it was worth the walk, especially after seeing Piedra Colorada, which we ended going back to after spending about 30 minutes at Playa Grande.  It is a great beach for surfing, but if you’re just going for the beach, then I wouldn’t walk the extra distance. In total, we spent a few hours lounging on the beaches before a storm started coming toward shore and forced us to make our way back.  

Brewery Visit

On our way back to Mal Pais, we stopped at Butterfly Brewing Company.  The setup here is a little unique, as you aren’t just visiting a normal brewery setup.  The Mariposa Gardens Bed and Breakfast is a four room inn with a large butterfly garden housing many local species.

Inside the B&B is Clandestina Restaurant, which features beers from Butterfly Brewing Company.  Clandestina serves a variety of Mexican fusion dishes.  We didn’t eat here, but the food looked and smelled amazing.  Instead, we were here to try the local brews.  The owner and brewmaster , originally from Oregon, moved to Costa Rica several years ago and brought his love for the Portland beer scene with him.

amber beer sitting on table in jungle restaurant
Butterfly Brewing Company

I really wanted to try the Lemongrass Pale Ale, but, sadly, they had run out that day.  I ended up with the Sunset Amber and loved it.  We chatted for a few minutes with the owner of Butterfly Brewing, who was extremely friendly and filled us in on his brewery and how he got started.  

I would highly recommend going and trying the beer as well as the food.  It is very family friendly if your children are tagging along.  When we arrived there was a small family treating their kids to sweets while they enjoyed their beers.  

couple sitting at table in jungle restaurant
enjoying our beers at Clandestina

Additional Info

To reach Soda Tipicas Las Palmeras: From the parking lot for the waterfalls turn left and go toward town. Turn right at the fork and go about 0.5 mile.  It will be on the hillside to your right.   Opening hours: daily from 8am-8pm (closed on Wednesdays)

Mariposa Gardens is about 0.3 miles up the hill from the Canopy tours location. This is up the hill from the waterfall parking lot–the same place you came out if you chose the easy way out of the waterfalls. Opening hours: Tuesday- Saturday noon-9pm

Interested in another of our favorite beach towns? Check out our guide to Tulum, Mexico. Have you been to Montezuma?  What was your favorite part? Follow us on instagram for more photos of our adventures!

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