If you’re visiting the towns of Santa Teresa and Mal Pais on the Nicoya Peninsula, there is one spot you will not want to miss. The Mal Pais tide pools, also know as the Mar Azul tide pools, are an impressive natural phenomenon. These small, sometimes deep, pools are naturally carved out of the surrounding rock. Some are the size of a large barrel, while others feel more like a giant hot tub.
In this post, we will give you all the information you need to plan your visit. Whether you want to splash around with the kids or enjoy an awesome sunset soak, we have you covered.
The Mal Pais tide pools are located on the very southern part of Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula. They are best accessed from the towns of Mal Pais or Santa Teresa. Those looking for a day trip from nearby Montezuma would also enjoy them.
This part of Costa Rica is a little harder to get to since it is far from both international airports. San Jose Airport (SJO) is about 5 hours away, including a ferry ride. Liberia Airport (LIR) is about 4.5-5 hours.
Because attractions in this area, including these tide pools, are more spread out, we highly recommend renting a car or ATV to get around. Check out our Rental Car Discount page before your trip or contact a local ATV company once you arrive.
Finding the Mal Pais Tide Pools
The Mal Pais (Mar Azul) tide pools are a bit hidden but that’s all part of the experience.
From Santa Teresa, drive south along the main road towards Mal Pais. At the Indigo Yoga Resort, take a right onto the unmarked side road (dirt). On Google Maps, this road is called Calle Mar Azul. Click for a map with the approximate location.
After a couple of minutes, you will come to some houses on the right. Keep left, following the narrow road. Soon you will go up over a big bump (best in a vehicle with higher clearance), and the road will loop around into a flat, grassy field. Here, you’ll find lofty palm trees along the sea’s edge and a few shady spots.
From the grassy area, you will not be able to see the tide pools. But if you look out at the rocky shoreline, you’ll begin to see some tall rock formations. One is to the right and another is somewhat straight off the point. The tide pools are located around those taller rocks. They are best accessed at low tide.
Once you reach the Mal Pais tide pools, you can pull your car right under the shade of the palm trees. Be careful not to be under coconuts.
We also recommend parking so that you can see your car while out on the rocks. Although we didn’t have any problems, it is a remote area so you have to be careful leaving your car unattended. Also, be sure not to leave anything inside the car, just in case.
What You’ll See
As you walk out to the tide pools, you’ll get to appreciate their grandeur. Stretching far in both directions are huge slabs of volcanic rock. Much of this is flat, but the rocks are irregular, with some deep grooves.
Tip: If you have water shoes, we highly recommend bringing them. They will help you grip and be very useful if you plan to swim in the pools.
You’ll also get to enjoy some spectacular views. To the south is Bahia Barigona (Barigona Bay) and its remote beach. South of that is Punta Murcielago (Bat Point). This is a towering rock, adjacent to “Secret Beach.” Looking the opposite way to the north, you can see Playa Carmen and Santa Teresa along the palm-tree-lined coast.
As you discover the different tide pools, you’ll notice that each one is different. Some are just a couple of feet wide but four or five feet deep. Others are wider, shallow, and more accessible. Some seem like they were perfectly built for a single person or couple to relax in.
The ocean covers these tide pools at high tide so there are always many sea creatures hiding inside. We saw lots of little tropical fish, crabs, sea slugs, and even some spiky sea urchins. Watch out for these as they have sharp spines. Our oldest son (age 5) even got out his snorkel gear to explore one of the bigger pools.
When we visited, the tide was very low. However, we have heard that as it comes up, some of the pools get splashed by the waves. As they fill up, it can get rough, so use caution.
Depending on the timing of low tide, you can also catch an amazing sunset from out in these pools. Since you are surrounded by ocean to the north and south, it makes for a unique experience.
Planning Your Visit
For the best experience, visit the Mal Pais tide pools at low tide. Use this tide chart to plan. You can spend a few hours exploring and dipping in the pools, but you probably won’t need much more time than that.
It can be very hot and sunny out on the rocks so you may need to take a break under the shade of a tree. Sometimes families set up and picnic on the northern side where there is a bit more shade. This area also has a lot of shells that make up the sand, which can be fun to check out.
What to Bring
The Mal Pais tide pools are remote so there isn’t much around. Make sure to bring whatever food and drink you will need.
We also recommend water shoes, a water shirt, sun hat, and plenty of sunscreen. Because you are getting up close with sea life, it’s a good idea to use a reef-safe sunblock if you can.
If you are visiting the southern part of the Nicoya Peninsula, make sure to leave time for the Mal Pais tide pools. They were one of the highlights of our most recent visit to Santa Teresa. We are already looking forward to going back.
Have a question about visiting the Mal Pais tide pools? Ask us below.
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Looking for more information to help you plan your trip? Check out these posts:
Taking the Puntarenas-Paquera Ferry – Many people visiting the area use a large ferry to cross the Gulf of Nicoya. It really helps to break up the drive and has beautiful views. See our post for all the info.
Montezuma: A Bohemian Beach Town – Check out our guide to Montezuma, a laid-back beach town about 45 minutes from these tide pools.
Rental Car Discount – Exploring remote spots in Costa Rica is best done with a rental car. Use our discount with one of the best companies, plus get extras like a free second driver, free drop off at hotels, and a free surf rack.
Great article! We stayed four nights in Mal Pais and didn’t even realize these were there! Next trip… 😃
Thanks Jennifer! Yes, they are definitely worth a visit next time you’re there.
Mal Pais was our favorite place in Costa Rica and if you are looking for a place to stay while there you would do well to check out Vista de Olas (https://vistadeolas.com/)! It really is as good as it’s reviews!!!! I have no affiliation and I’m not getting paid for this – it was just hands down my favorite place in CR. 🙂
Hi Bob, Vista de Olas looks great! Thanks for the tip. Glad you enjoyed your time in Mal Pais.