Not long ago, Costa Rica was known for its bumpy dirt roads that led only the most determined explorers to pristine beaches and virgin jungle. While many destinations have been built up significantly since those days, Montezuma has maintained its off-the-beaten-path feel. We first visited this laid back beach town several years ago and recently made another trip. In this post, we’ll give you all the details you need to plan your visit, including recommendations for the best hotels, activities, and restaurants.
Montezuma is located on the very southern coast of the Nicoya Peninsula. This area of the country is more remote, making Montezuma a little difficult to get to and, therefore, not overly crowded. The people who make the trek are typically a mixture of backpackers, young families, and couples looking for a romantic getaway. The draws of Montezuma are its many quiet beaches, thick forest, and wildlife like monkeys, butterflies, and birds. One of the things that makes it unique is its almost bohemian feel. Though small, Montezuma is a vibrant community, made up of like-minded expats and locals. Adding to this, Montezuma has an impressive selection of restaurants serving food from all around the world (see our picks below).
Visitors have several options for getting to Montezuma. If you’re on a budget, the public bus is the best choice. When we first visited as tourists, we took the direct bus from San Jose and really enjoyed it. Although it is a long trip (around 6 hours), it includes a scenic ride on a ferry. Those wanting to save time should drive themselves or take a shared shuttle. Small planes also fly from San Jose to the nearby Tambor airstrip.
Tips for Driving to Montezuma: If you’re renting a car, the roads are well paved until you reach the Southern Nicoya Peninsula. This area of the country is infamously known for its rough roads, though they are slowly improving. If you’re coming from Liberia International Airport or another destination in Guanacaste, you will encounter a mixture of paved and gravel roads on the drive south along the eastern coast of the peninsula. If you’re traveling from San Jose International Airport or the Central Pacific Coast, you can speed up the trip by taking a ferry from Puntarenas across the gulf and then continuing by car from Paquera. For more information about the ferry, read our post Taking the Puntarenas-Paquera Ferry.
The roads around Montezuma are best traveled with a 4×4 vehicle. Although this is an extra expense, getting stuck on a steep incline because of loose gravel or mud is no fun. To help with the cost, check out our rental car discount.
Montezuma’s jungle-backed coastline has a lot to offer for activities. While you could spend days staring out at the crashing waves or looking overhead for monkeys, there’s also plenty to do if you want to be active.
Just north of town is Montezuma’s most popular beach, Playa Montezuma. Here, you will see people sunbathing on the sand, camping under the palms, or taking a swim in the choppy water. If you are up for a little adventure, continue walking north to explore more beaches and secluded coves. About 15-20 minutes away is a spot marked with dozens of makeshift rock sculptures called cairns and also a small waterfall. If you keep going (bring some water and snacks), you’ll follow a trail on and off the beach to Playa Grande, about 45 minutes away. Playa Grande is a long, beautiful beach and one of the best in the area for surfing. The walk out to Playa Grande is backed by really nice jungle, so keep an eye out for animals and birds.
Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve
For more serious hiking, head to Reserva Natural Absoluta Cabo Blanco. This was Costa Rica’s first national reserve and its creation helped to shape the country’s conservation efforts. Besides being an important part of history, there is abundant wildlife to see, including monkeys and birds. At the end of the trail, you’ll also find a remote beach where you can take a dip to cool off after the long hike. See our post Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve for more info.
Probably the most popular activity in Montezuma are the waterfalls just south of town. The Montezuma Waterfalls are a set of three cascades that have something for everyone. While some just relax or picnic at the largest waterfall (almost 80 feet tall), more adventurous types jump and swim at the other two. The falls can be visited in two different ways. One includes a cool hanging bridge and the other goes up the riverbed. We did both on our latest visit and wrote about it in our post Montezuma Waterfalls: Best Ways to Access.
Snorkeling at Tortuga Island
A popular tour from Montezuma is a visit to nearby Isla Tortuga (Tortuga Island). This small island is about one hour away by boat and has volcanic rock structures that create favorable snorkeling conditions. There’s also a white sand beach that most operators take you to for a BBQ lunch. The ride out to the island is a tour in itself as you take in the beautiful coastline. Sometimes dolphins, turtles, or other marine life are spotted from the boat too.
Isla de Cabuya
This tiny island sits right offshore in the small fishing village of Cabuya, just south of Montezuma. It’s so close to land that you can even walk to it at low tide! Isla de Cabuya is best known for having a cemetery, and a walk through the gravesites is a unique and spiritual experience. The entrance is marked by a whitewashed archway and throughout the island you will see rows of agave plants and seashells adorning the graves. Be sure to check the tide chart before heading out and don’t get stuck when the water level rises as the island is rumored to be haunted.
If you’re interested in taking Spanish classes, becoming TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language) certified, or even learning to surf, check out Proyecto Montezuma. We met with one of the founders of this great non-profit on our recent visit and learned so much about the organization’s efforts. Their main goal is to teach English to locals in the area, especially elementary school children so that they are able to get good jobs in the future. By taking one of their language or surfing classes on your visit to Montezuma, you’re helping to support their community efforts. Visit their website for more details.
If six different in house craft brews doesn’t lure you up the steep hill to Clandestina, maybe the Latin-flare tapas menu will. This newer restaurant at the Mariposario Montezuma Gardens has an intimate feel that is great for dinner. Not only that, but the small plates are innovative and were some of the most flavorful in recent memory. A few of our favorites were the mango snapper ceviche, street tacos, and pork carnitas with plantain tostones. They also have a lot of vegetarian, gluten free, and dairy free options. Open for lunch and dinner, Tues. – Sat. You can also just stop in at the bar for a beer. Cash only.
B. Bar Craft Burgers and Beer
This new riverside restaurant located at Hostel Cascada is the perfect place to grab a sandwich or burger after hiking to the waterfalls. You can also quench your thirst with their six types of La Selva beer, another local brewery down the road in Cabuya. B. Bar’s food offerings include beef, fish, veggie or other specialty burgers, as well as chicken or tenderloin sandwiches. These are all served up with fresh-cut regular or yucca fries or onion rings, and a selection of special sauces. There is also pizza and a kids’ menu. Open for lunch and dinner.
The diverse menu at Puggo’s has something for everyone, from barbequed meats, to sushi, soups, and many Middle Eastern favorites like moussaka, falafel, and tandoori chicken. The BBQ ribs and sushi were very good, but our favorite was the hummus and crispy fried olives appetizer. The atmosphere at Puggo’s is also really nice, with an open air dining area right off the main street in town. Open for dinner. Cash only.
This was one of our favorite restaurants on our first visit to Montezuma and the fact that it is still around is a reflection of the innovative and delicious dishes that they serve. Exotic curries, soups, seafood, kabobs, and high-quality steaks are among the variety of cuisine you’ll find at Cocolores. The atmosphere is great for couples with candlelit tables at the ocean’s edge, but fine for families too. Open for dinner. Closed Mondays.
We couldn’t dig up any online reviews of this restaurant right on the corner in town, but decided to give it a try anyway. We’re so glad we did. Formerly L’Angolo Allegro Pizzeria, this place’s Italian cuisine seemed really authentic. They have a large pizza and bruschetta menu as well as salads. We tried the bruschetta with locally smoked fish and would go back just for that. The pizza was also very good. Open for lunch and dinner. Closed Thursdays.
Head to this coffee shop in the center of downtown for a quick pick-me-up or meal. Their expressos, lattes, cappuccinos, and iced coffees will give you a nice jolt. They also have casual food like baked goods, croissants, breakfast sandwiches, salads, and veggie rollups as well as omelets and gelato. With a good Wi-Fi signal and A/C, you could easily spend a couple of hours sipping some java or having a long lunch.
Montezuma Pacific Hotel
On a visit to Montezuma a few years ago, we arrived in town without a hotel reserved. We were lucky to find a room at Montezuma Pacific Hotel. This is a simple, no frills hotel but the rooms have everything you need, and the owner, Carlos, is very friendly. The hotel is located on a quiet side road but is only a minute walk to restaurants and shops. Double rooms, including A/C and hot water, around $50. Check Rates and Availability Here.
El Mariposario Montezuma Gardens
El Mariposario Montezuma Gardens has a lot to offer other than just the hotel. It houses the butterfly garden, which you can access for free as a hotel guest, and also Clandestina restaurant, which brews its own craft beer. Finding out that we could grab a delicious craft brew at any time of day was all we needed to know when picking our lodging for Montezuma. Rooms are simple but we found ours on the second floor to be quite comfortable. $50-70, includes a good breakfast. Check Rates and Availability Here.
Luz de Mono Hotel
Luz de Mono is a good value for the area. The hotel is located right by the beach and close to town, yet is nestled in the rainforest so nice and quiet. Wildlife like monkeys and iguanas often visit the grounds. The property has 12 rooms and casitas. All have fans only so consider another option if you would like A/C. $50-100. Check Rates and Availability Here.
Amor del Mar
Amor del Mar is a nine room hotel just outside town and directly across from the river that leads to the Montezuma Waterfalls. The property faces the ocean and has several comfortable areas for lounging and taking in the view. Rooms are rustic but nice and most have private verandas. $90-150, includes A/C. Check Rates and Availability Here.
Casitas Sollevante and Casa Frangipani
These are separate properties located on the same road, up a hill outside town. They both offer amazing ocean views and are good options if you’re looking for some privacy. Casa Frangipani ($130-160 double occupancy) has four contemporary villas set in the jungle. Casitas Sollevante is a slightly cheaper option ($80-150), and has a mix of standard rooms, villas, and houses. Both are best accessed with a rental car. Check Rates and Availability for Casa Frangipani and Casitas Sollevante.
Ylang Ylang is the most luxurious option in Montezuma. Located on an isolated part of the beach north of town, this resort offers private bungalows for a romantic couple’s getaway as well as family suites and tent cabins. As we toured the beautifully landscaped grounds, we saw wildlife like monkeys, birds, and agouti. To make it even more appealing, the property overlooks a secluded beach. There is also an onsite pool and a restaurant that focuses on organic, healthy cuisine. $160-420 double occupancy, includes breakfast and dinner. Check Rates and Availability Here.
If you’re looking for a beautiful place to relax and unwind, the beaches and jungle of Montezuma may be the perfect fit. Although it may seem out of the way, it is actually a great place to start your trip in Costa Rica. From Montezuma, you can easily head north to more laid back beach destinations like Samara or Nosara, or grab the ferry to busier beach towns like Jaco or Manuel Antonio.
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Check out the links below for more practical info for planning your trip to Costa Rica:
- Costa Rica and Mosquitoes: Tips to Prevent Zika, Dengue, and More – Current info on the Zika virus, links to find more specific data, and recommendations for the best repellents to use on your trip.
- Simple Spanish for Visiting Costa Rica – Key words and phrases for those times when someone only speaks Spanish. Scenarios include greetings, ordering at restaurants, taking the bus or a cab, and more.
- Best Hotels Near SJO – We’ve spent a lot of time staying at and touring different hotels near San Jose international airport. Read our recommendations for the best hotels here.