The Beaches on the Nicoya Peninsula of Costa Rica

Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula – More Than A Little Disappointing

This entry is part 1 of 4 in the series Costa Rica

The old saying, “Expectations are resentments waiting to happen,” is perhaps the best way to describe my recent trip to the Nicoya Peninsula of Costa Rica. For years I’d heard tales of the beautiful beaches around Montezuma and Mal Pais, so when I won a nine-day tour of Costa Rica, I decided to go a week early and soak up some rays in Santa Teresa, a small town on the southern tip of the Nicoya peninsula. The beaches were nothing like what I expected. Rather than pure, powdery white sand I found drab brown granular sand interspersed with outcroppings of sharp volcanic rocks. Surfers will appreciate the clean, reliable waves, but since I stopped surfing long ago, the best part of the beaches for me were the spectacular sunsets.

Can’t view the above slide show of the beaches of Santa Teresa, Costa Rica? Click here.

The sleepy towns that stretch along the single sand road leading to the mainland were equally disappointing. Not only were prices for food and accommodations almost as expensive as the U.S., every restaurant and shop I visited was owned by Argentinians who had immigrated to Costa Rica. Little of local Tico culture is apparent in this part of the country.

Even given the above, I would have enjoyed my stay more if I’d had a pleasant place to stay. At first blush, Funky Monkey Lodge looked like a nice place, but as the week wore on I saw behind the facade and it wasn’t a pretty picture. Rules, rules and more rules were posted everywhere. Just one example, check out the rules posted on a sign at the pool:

Pool rules at Funky Monkey Lodge in Santa Teresa

Pool rules at Funky Monkey Lodge in Santa Teresa

Shower before entering I can understand. Maybe even no food. But no sand? The whole place is sand. And no lotion ? I guess I was just supposed to suffer second degree burns in the intense Costa Rican sun.

The sign at the pool was the least of it. When I checked in, I was taken on a brief orientation tour and advised that they were experiencing a severe water shortage. A sign in the shower instructed us to turn on water for 30 seconds to get wet, soap up, then turn on water for 30 seconds to rinse off. Since the water in the shower was little more than a dribble, what they suggested was quite impossible. Yet the owners freely watered plants around the property with the well water and one day even let water at an outside shower next to the restaurant run continuously as they washed one of their dogs. We were instructed to rinse the sand off at this same outside shower after returning from the beach, but another sign warned not to go up to the rooms wet, so I was forced to sit in the common area until I dried off. If I did dare to go to the room while still damp another sign warned not to hang wet clothes on the hooks on the walls, which were constructed from worn wooden planks that couldn’t possibly have been hurt by a few drips of water.

Speaking of my dorm room, those wide planks used in its construction had gaps between them. Since my bed backed up to the bathroom, not only could people look into my room from the bath, but I could hear and smell everything that went on in that bathroom. Though each of the two dorms were furnished with four bunk beds, there was only one key per room, so I was instructed to leave the key at the front desk whenever I left. As you can imagine, when the room was full, that led to some confusion; we all just ended up leaving the room unlocked. Fortunately, my dorm room had a set of metal storage lockers, so I could lock up valuables, but the other dorm did not.

Bar and restaurant at Funky Monkey Lodge in Santa Teresa

Bar and restaurant at Funky Monkey Lodge in Santa Teresa

I repeatedly saw choices made to accommodate management rather than the guests. Loud Spanish rap music was turned on at the dinner hour; the employees behind the bar may have liked it, but I’m quite sure the baby boomers from Utah, the young couple who were expecting their first child, or the young lovers trying to enjoy a quiet romantic dinner did not appreciate it.

Perhaps most aggravating was the poor wifi connection. Though I had confirmed in writing prior to booking that wifi would be available in my room, the connection was horrible during my entire stay. Management repeatedly blamed the Internet service provider, insisting that it was poor everywhere, but I tried three other restaurants and hotels in town, all of which provided me with a speedy, stable connection. When forced to use the wifi in Funky Monkey, I had to work in the common area, sitting on one of two daybeds covered in green sheets that were never changed during my week-long stay.

Sadly, Funky Monkey Lodge could be a fabulous place, especially since their cook, Juan, is an absolute master. But they are charging $80-120 per night for cabins ($18 per night for a bed in a dorm room) in a poorly maintained facility with so many rules that I felt I was in an occupied country. My overall impression was that the owners are tired of running it. The comfort of guests should be the prime consideration, rather than the inconvenience associated with, for instance, sweeping up a little sand on the floor. Owners who can’t function from that mindset shouldn’t be in the hospitality business.

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29 Comments on “Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula – More Than A Little Disappointing

  1. Barbara – I can understand your bad experience and appreciate your candor, but I’d encourage you not to speak to the whole of the Nicoya Peninsula based on that. We found Santa Teresa and the south to be completely different experiences (crowded! inauthentic! surf-crazed!) from what we experienced just a little farther north on the peninsula where we stayed in two different places and had amazing experiences.

    • Hi Shelly: I have some friends who own a house to the north and they said the same thing. Seems I may have just chosen the wrong part of the Nicoya Peninsula.

  2. Oh Barbara, I live here in Santa Teresa, and I wish we would have run into each other on your ill-fated trip.  Maybe on the beach, or at the organic market, or at one of the many beach front restaurants.  I often play my ukulele on the beach and it’s a great way to meet people I usually wouldn’t.  Too bad, cause we could have had some fun.  I teach surfing and love it.  A lesson is a great way to get to know the ocean and the ‘surf culture’ here.  Paddle boarding up a peaceful river makes for a quiet afternoon.  We always stop to eat patacones y guacamole at the little Costa Rican restaurant afterwards.  Well, good luck on your travels.  May your eyes be open to the beauties of the world, Bennison     

    • Hi CostaRicaSurfAndSUP: Couldn’t agree more – about the surfing, that is. I’m an old surfer – never was any good at it but enjoyed myself. And I have to say the waves there were pretty awesome. Came up the same time each day, glassy and pretty. These days I have a bad hip/knee & can’t surf anymore – switched to Yoga. But paddleboarding on a river sounds pretty awesome. I was startled by the prices in CR, especially when the rest of Central America is so affordable. I’m a budget traveler by necessity, so I searched long and hard for a decent place that wasn’t too pricey. Unfortunately, the place I settled on wasn’t a good choice and I suspect much of the bad taste in my mouth is from my poor accommodations and hosts. Do wish I’d met you – might have changed my experience entirely.

  3. i can relate to this! i dont understand why businesses like this still operate. they make vacations not worth remembering. as to the water supply, i think their management suck. i cant live without water, i would rather stay in a place without electricity.

  4. Well maybe you had an issue with the particular lodge- as would i from the sound of the management being terrible!  But that is just one crazy place to stay and there are plenty of great ones to choose from.  Based on your review about the lodge I certainly won’t choose that one for my stays, but your title for this article is misleading because you mostly had a complaint about the lodging.

  5. I live in Santa Teresa, so my opinion is based on solid facts and not one trip for a few days and a stay at average accommodations for a sole purpose of writing a blog.   First of all , dirt roads, water shortages and slow internet connection are both to be expected in a 3rd world country as every experienced traveler should know. If you had stayed in a property with their own well ( again, all you have to do is some research) you would not have a problem
    If the only beautiful thing you found about our beaches are the sunsets, then I feel sorry for you. What happened to the beautiful, amazing  rawness of these shores, the incredible volcanic rocks forming tidal pools everywhere and the overall breathtaking landscape? 
    ALso to say that every business and restaurant is owned by Argentinians is ridiculous and completely false even though there IS a large Argentinian population here. Also, you mentioned the round trip cost to get from Santa Teresa to Cobano is $60?! This is only true if you choose to take a private, air conditioned taxi  which is a bit conflicting if you’re trying to get inside the TICO culture! there is a local bus you can get on from anywhere in Santa Teresa that will get you there for few dollars. 
    TO EVERYONE WHO IS READING THIS BLOG, I’d be happy to give you truthful, local information about Nicoya before you make assumptions based on someone’s point of you and bad experience.

    • Hi Kamila: I really appreciate your comment and point of view – very helpful as a local. I did love the sunsets and the beach was fairly clean, but you have to keep in mind that most tourists, like me, are only there for a week and we don’t have the advantage of living there long term and finding out the local secrets. I rarely write bad reviews – I don’t like to do it. But in this case I felt obligated to be honest with my readers in the hopes that I can save them a bad experience.

  6. What a complainer!  A couple of sentences of introduction and then almost the entire blog was complaining about your hotel.  Why don’t you pick better hotels?   There are some beautiful ones.  Sorry the sand wasn’t exactly like you expected, go back to Florida if you like powdered sand.  Most people love the beaches there.  This is quartz sand, like California.   Why do you go to a tourist area and then complain of no local culture?

  7. What a complainer!  A couple of sentences of introduction and then almost the entire blog was complaining about your hotel.  Why don’t you pick better hotels?   There are some beautiful ones.  Sorry the sand wasn’t exactly like you expected, go back to Florida if you like powdered sand.  Most people love the beaches there.  This is quartz sand, like California.   Why do you go to a tourist area and then complain of no local culture?

  8. Nice article..
    Have you been to Malaysia or India before?
    I love your blog

  9. Thanks for your honest review.  Sounds like they need to hire you as a consultant.  At first maybe I thought that it was just a hostel geared for the young backpackers – but once you said they had cabins and that there were other boomers there, it sounds like they just made very poor choices.  

  10. What a bummer and thank you for sharing your experience. All of this is good to know about Costa Rica because I’ve only heard positives. If you visit again, a family friend and her husband own a hotel in Santa Teresa called Casa Marbella. It has super reviews!

  11. Interesting! By the looks of it, it seems pretty cool but the rules and actual experience can really taint it!

  12. Sorry that your experience was so poor – I don’t think I’d object to the beaches from what you say but I wonder why you chose that accommodation – did others give it positive reviews?

    • Hi Heather: As always, I was looking for the lowest possible price for the best possible facilities – in other words a good value, since my funds are limited. I did read reviews and they seemed OK, so I don’t know if the downhill slide is just recent or what. But even if that was the case, I was really astounded by the prices in Costa Rica in general.

  13. I went to Costa Rica and traveled from the Nicoya Peninsula (Tamarindo) all the way to the southeastern (Limon Province). While we were in Costa Rica, we were advised to go to Nicoya, but like your experience, I found the beaches to be drab and unimpressive. Let alone Tamarindo was full of Europeans, and overall people were not friendly. Not like the rest of Costa Rica. On a whim, we hopped in our car and drove all the way to Cahuita (Limon Provence), and traveled further south over the course of a week. I don’t know why people advise against the beaches and towns south of Limon, but they were so much better than the Nicoya Peninsula. The southeastern portion of the country is on the Caribbean coast so the beaches were white, or pure black in a few cases, which was cool. And the water was very warm. Snorkeling around the reefs in the area was awesome, and way less tourists. I still don’t know why this area is overlooked, but I will only visit this area when I go back. We loved it

    • Hi Kyerion: That sounds like my kind of place – not inundated with tourists and a chance to connect with Ticos!

  14. I’ve been wanting to go to Costa Rica for years now. Based on your experience I better do a lot of homework and get real reviews from actual guests like yourself before I book my accommodations.

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    • Thanks George – I’ll make a note of that place for next time.

  16. Sounds like it’s time for them to sell that establishment! Thanks for sharing this – I think it’s important to see the other side of travel from time to time, not just the rosy view.

  17. I’m sorry to hear about this disappointing hotel in Costa Rica. I guess they can’t all be winners. My family and I stayed in a really, really grungy “hotel” (series of half-open air cabins) in another small beach town, Matapalo. It would have been shut down by any decent health inspector, but no matter; it was billed as an eco-lodge. That billing apparently means that you can get away with an incredibly unhygienic joint, group bathrooms included… We were there to volunteer a couple of overnight shifts at the sea turtle habitat protection site 1/2 a mile down the beach, though, not tho relax in the lap of luxury. 🙂

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