Mal Pais, Costa Rica: A Peaceful Fishing Village

Mal Pais Costa Rica is a remote bohemian beach destination that is perfect for surfing or fishing

mal pais

The Mal Pais Costa Rica Vibes

Mal Pais is one of our favorite spots in the country.

Here you can experience raw natural beauty, relaxing vibes, and an easy drive to some really amazing activities.

We love it because it is such a relaxed place to be. Despite the calm vibes, it is an easy drive to Santa Teresa or Montezuma.

Background Info About Mal Pais Costa Rica

Nearest International Airport

San Jose International Airport

Popular Things to Do

surfing, rent an ATV, fishing

Best Way to Get Around

Rental car, ATV

Best Time of Year to Visit

Dry season is from late December until mid-April

costa rica vibes about

Thomas (the German) and Sarah (the US-er).

We met in Virginia, moved to Germany, and have called sunny Costa Rica home since 2016.

We are on a mission to help you plan the perfect Costa Rican vacation.

Want the whole crazy story?

mal pais costa rica view
mal pais surf
Mal Pais, Costa Rica: A Peaceful Fishing Village
mal pais costa rica map

Map Of Mal Pais

Mal Pais Costa Rica is located on the Nicoya Peninsula between Montezuma and Santa Teresa.

Flights to Costa Rica

Montezuma is great because it is easily accessible from the Liberia airport and the San Jose airport. 

More and more airlines are starting service to Liberia so check out the rates. It may be worth it for you.

If you haven’t booked your flight yet, we suggest using Skyscanner. We consistently find the best rates through their website.

Driving to Mal Pais Costa Rica

Directions for Driving to Mal Pais from San Jose

Our recommendation is to rent a car and make the journey to Mal Pais independently. There are two options for reaching your destination:

  1. Drive the entire way. This will take about six hours.
  2. Take the ferry from Puntarenas. This will take about five hours (but 80 minutes of that are no driving because you’ll be on the ferry)

Driving the Entire Way

To begin, take Route 27, a toll road, from the city towards the coast. It is possible to pay the tolls in either US dollars or colones.

As you approach the city of Puntarenas, exit onto Route 1 heading north. Keep in mind that this road has been undergoing construction, so you may encounter some delays.

In the town of La Palma, you’ll encounter a roundabout. Take the left turn onto Route 18. If you need a pit stop, there’s a small plaza before the roundabout with a KFC and Subway.

Beyond that, quick food stops are somewhat  limited. Although, I’ve got to say, that Subway has an unexpectedly good in Costa Rica.

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Mal Pais, Costa Rica: A Peaceful Fishing Village

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Immediately after the roundabout, you’ll find a gas station on the left corner, which is convenient for refueling or using the restroom.

Continue along Route 18 until you reach Nicoya. Just use caution as there are often police patrols monitoring speed limits along this road.

In Nicoya, make a left turn to head south and proceed beyond the Nicoya hook. The roads have been recently renovated in many sections, although there may be unmarked speed bumps, so keep an eye out.

Drive along the coast until you reach the town of Paquera, which is the town where the ferry disembarks from.

Upon arrival in Paquera, continue driving on Route 160, following the signs for Cobano/Santa Teresa.

Keep following Route 160 until you reach Cobano, which is approximately a 30 to 40-minute drive from Paquera.

In Cobano, follow the signs indicating Santa Teresa, and make a left turn to connect to Route 618.

Continue on Route 618 until you arrive in Santa Teresa. The drive from Cobano to the town of Santa Teresa typically takes around 20 to 30 minutes.

Once you hit Santa Teresa you will come to a T intersection. Take a left and head into Mal Pais. 

Note: We suggest using the Waze app, a widely used and helpful navigation tool in Costa Rica. It provides real-time updates, including the presence of police and road conditions.

Taking the Ferry to Mal Pais Costa Rica

If you prefer a ferry journey, the most convenient option from San Jose is to take the Puntarenas ferry to Paquera. 

This takes approximately five to six hours in total, but keep in mind that around two hours will be spent on the ferry or waiting for it.

Set your GPS destination to “Naviera Tambor ferry” to reach the ferry terminal in Puntarenas. 

To get there, follow Route 27 until you reach the city of Puntarenas. Route 27 is a toll road, requiring approximately $8 USD in toll fees, which can be paid in US dollars or Costa Rican colones.

Check out our guide to the Puntarenas ferry for all the details

In Puntarenas, navigate through the downtown area, and continue until you reach the furthest point of the city. This is a city so expect traffic lights and pedestrians.

At the ferry terminal, drive your vehicle onto the ferry, park, and enjoy the scenic ride from the upper deck.

We recommend pre-booking your ferry ticket to secure your spot. Make sure you select the direction towards “Paquera.”

The ride takes about 80 minutes. 

Once you disembark, follow the directions in the section above starting with “Upon arriving in Paquera”

Our Opinion

We often end up driving the whole way rather than taking the ferry. The reason for that is, it is only possible to pre-book the ferry up to about 24 hours ahead of time. 

Often we don’t know exactly when we will depart from San Jose to Mal Pais until somewhat last minute.

We always worry that we will drive all the way through Puntarenas to catch the ferry and it will be full. 

In that case, you will be left waiting for two hours until the next ferry, or you will have to spend another 15 to 20 minutes driving out of downtown Puntarenas to continue driving all the way around.

Thomas enjoys driving and I’m happy to navigate, so we usually just go for the drive. 

Directions for Driving to Mal Pais from Liberia

Upon leaving the airport, head south on Route 21 in the direction of Nicoya.

Continue following Route 21 until you arrive in Nicoya. If you need a quick food stop, Nicoya offers several food establishments and gas stations.

If you’re up for an extraordinary dining experience, I highly recommend checking out Bernina Artisan Food. It’s about a 10-minute detour, but trust me, it’s absolutely worth it. Keep in mind that it falls on the higher end in terms of price, and you’ll likely spend at least an hour there.

Once in Nicoya, remain on Route 21 all the way to Paquera.

In Paquera, make a left turn onto Route 160.

Stay on Route 160 until you reach Cobano, which is approximately a 30 to 40-minute drive from Paquera.

Upon reaching Cobano, follow the signs indicating Santa Teresa. You’ll need to make a left turn to connect to Route 618.

Continue driving on Route 618 until you reach you reach the T crossing and the end of the road. The drive from Cobano to Santa Teresa typically takes around 20 to 30 minutes.

You will then turn left and head into Mal Pais. 

Please note: Google Maps might attempt to guide you along the west coast of the Nicoya Peninsula.

Do not take this route! It involves river crossings and is nearly impassable.

Stick to the east coast of the Nicoya Peninsula for a smoother journey.

Rental Car to Mal Pais

We suggest renting your car with our favorite Costa Rica rental car company, Adobe. They have an office at the Liberia Airport and at the San Jose Airport (plus many other locations throughout the country). 

We suggest Adobe because they are upfront with their prices, have excellent customer service, and are just overall a great local company.

They have kindly given us a 10% discount plus other great perks to pass on to you. 

⤷ Book Your Rental Car with Adobe

In the past, you needed a 4×4 to get to Mal Pais. That is no longer the case. The roads are mostly well-maintained.

However, a lot of accommodation options are located in the hills above the towns on unpaved steep roads.

I suggest checking exactly where your hotel is located to help you decide the right car for you.

We suggest at least renting an SUV for decent clearance. 


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Private Shuttle to Mal Pais

Taking a private shuttle from almost anywhere in the country to Mal Pais is possible.

We suggest Adobe Transfers for all your private shuttle needs in Cosra Rica.

They have experienced drivers, comfortable air-conditioned vans, and will be happy to make short stops along the way if you need. 

⤷ Get Your Private Shuttle Quote Here

Public Bus to Mal Pais Costa Rica

The cheapest way to get to Mal Pais is by public bus (if coming from San Jose).

However, this will take 7 to 8 hours and involves switching buses 3 or 4 times and going on the ferry. 

⤷ Check out the bus schedule

It is possible to do this from the San Jose airport or from downtown San Jose.

The downfall of this is that if you miss one bus connection you are kind of out of luck and may need to wait several hours until the next bus arrives.

The bus goes onto the ferry (which I think is kind of cool). You will need to buy a ferry ticket at the terminal while you are there.

Domestic Flights to Mal Pais

There isn’t an airport directly in Mal Pais, but the Tambor domestic airport is only about 45 minutes away by car or taxi. 

Sansa is the main domestic airline in Costa Rica and they offer flights from San Jose Airport to Tambor. 


mal pais sunset
mal pais toucans
mal pais sunset

Transportation In Mal Pais

Once you arrive in Mal Pais you will need transportation to get around town and to fun activities. 

We always suggest renting a car because it gives you the most flexibility to do off-the-beaten-path activities and allows you to stay at a hotel that is not right downtown. 

With Mal Pais, it is possible to walk along the main road in town to go to restaurants and the Mal Pais beaches. However, because a lot of hotels and houses are located in the hills above the beach area, you almost need a car to get up and down. 

Also, you will need a car if you would like to get into Santa Teresa for more action. 

As we mentioned above, you don’t need a 4×4 vehicle unless you are staying in the hills above Mal Pais.

Also, if you plan to drive to Montezuma, it is best to go around rather than through the road at Mal Pais. If you go by Mal Pais you will need to do river crossings, which are mostly impossible during the rainy season.

ATV Rentals in Mal Pais Costa Rica

Once you arrive in Mal Pais you may want to rent an ATV. I suggest asking at your hotel or VRBO. They can usually suggest a good ATV option for you.

We don’t have a favorite place to suggest to you. But we suggest reading reviews before you book anything.

Also, ask if you need to return the ATV with a full tank and ask where you can get gas.

mal pais view

Mal Pais Costa Rica Weather

Like most of the country, the dry season here runs from mid-December until April or May.

From May until August you can expect some afternoon rainstorms. They tend to roll in like clockwork around 2pm.

From mid-August until December a lot of things close down because the weather can be really rainy and there just isn’t enough tourism in this area at that time. 

Even during the green season, this area tends to be super hot and sunny during the day. 

Learn more about Costa Rica weather here.

Things to Do in Mal Pais Costa Rica

Go Fishing

Mal Pais is a popular fishing spot.

Go on an in-shore or offshore fishing trip here and you are sure to catch some tuna, snapper, mahi-mahi, and more!

We suggest going out with Captain Jason for a fun in-shore trip.

Enjoy a Canopy Tour

Want to go zip-lining over lush jungles? This is the perfect Costa Rica activity that everyone will enjoy. 

We suggest a full-day guided tour that includes riding on quad bikes, zip lining, and visiting the Montezuma waterfall.

Arrange Your Full Day Tour

Go Surfing

Head to Playa Santa Teresa and you will find plenty of places to take surf lessons or rent a board.

There are many spots in this area for more advanced surfers looking for consistent waves, but beginners will find some nice spots as well. Just ask at any surf shop and they will help you out.

Hike at Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve

Head towards Montezuma and visit Cabo Blanco National Park. This protected area looks close to Mal Pais, but often you will need to drive all the way around through Montezuma to access it. 

The road between Mal Pais Costa Rica and Cabo Blanco is unpaved and involves river crossings.  

This is not an overly hilly hike, but with the heat and humidity, it can be intense. However, you will be rewarded with a stunning secret beach at the end of your hike.

Check out our full Cabo Blanco guide for all the info.

Visit the Montezuma Waterfall

The Montezuma waterfall is actually a series of falls. You can swim under a few of them. Our favorite way to visit is by hiking in from the Butterfly Brewing Company.

You can check out our complete Montezuma waterfall guide for more info.

Go Beach Hopping

The white sand beaches of Mal Pais are all spots of raw beauty. All the beaches here are small and somewhat rocky in places. 

For a nice walking (or surfing) beach, head towards Santa Teresa and check out Playa Carmen.

Take a Day Trip to Isla Tortuga

Isla Tortuga is an uninhabited island with white sand and crystal clear waters. It is possible to take a day trip out here on a catamaran with snorkeling and lunch.  Check out our Isla Tortuga guide for more info.

Mal Pais, Costa Rica: A Peaceful Fishing Village
mal pais sunset
mal pais coast
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Mal Pais Restaurants

There are not a whole lot of bars and restaurants in Mal Pais, but we have a few places that we like a lot. For a larger selection, head to Santa Teresa

Brasas Del Mar – If you would like a very fancy date meal, this is the place to go.

Located at Casas Chameleon hotel, dinner here costs $150 for two people and includes two starters, two entrees, two desserts, and a bottle of wine or four cocktails.

Everything is delicious here, but I highly suggest going for the fish or seafood. 

Doña Teresa – This is our go-to restaurant in the area. In fact, almost all of our meals are eaten here.

All pastas are homemade and the pizzas are great as well.

If you are a fan of cocktails, every drink we have had here has been excellent. 

Las Caracolas – The place to go if you would like to enjoy a typical Costa Rican meal on the beach.

We suggest getting here just before sunset for dinner with a sundown show. 

Mal Pais, Costa Rica: A Peaceful Fishing Village
mal pais hotel
Mal Pais, Costa Rica: A Peaceful Fishing Village

Mal Pais Costa Rica Hotels

There are not many hotels in Mal Pais. We have stayed at a few, but often we have had better luck renting small houses or apartments here.

However, here are the few places we can highly suggest. 

Casa ChameleonOur top choice for a romantic getaway. This is an adult-only hotel that offers two-person villas with private splash pools. 

Hotel Vista de OlasA nice rustic hotel with great ocean views. A good mid-range option. 

Blue Jay Lodge – The most budget-friendly option on this list, Blue Jay Lodge has a pool for guests to use and a free breakfast. The rooms are simple but sufficient. Plus, it is located directly across the street from the beach. 

mal pais view

Airbnb and VRBO in Mal Pais

We always love renting a home or villa for our vacation in Costa Rica. This gives you more privacy and allows you the flexibility to cook your own meals.

Note: We try to only ever suggest places with good cancellation policies, but always double-check before booking.

Casa de Noni – A four bedroom home with a nice private pool in the hills above Mal Pais. This house can sleep up to ten people. 

Casita Silencio – This is the perfect place for a couple looking for a relacxed and romantic getaway. 

Villa Havana – If you are traveling with a group of friends, this is our top choice for you. It sleeps up to 18 people in six bedrooms/ five bathrooms.

There are two pools connected to each other, a pool table, a BBQ area, and more!

Mal Pais, Costa Rica: A Peaceful Fishing Village

Mal Pais Travel Tips

– Fun Fact: Did you know that the Nicoya Peninsula (where Mal Pais is located) is one of the few Blue Zones in the world?

This means that people here tend to have an unusually long lifespan. Definitely try to soak up this relaxed vibe while here.

– If you visit Mal Pais we suggest spending at least four nights here.

It is kind of a pain to get to and there are plenty of things to do nearby to fill up your days.

Packing for Mal Pais Costa Rica

Since Mal Pais is a small fishing village, there is no need to pack nice clothes unless you are staying at a resort. You will most likely spend most of your time on the water. We opt for lightweight breathable fabrics that dry quickly. 

Keep in mind that the roads here aren’t paved and things can get very dusty during the dry season. Also, it is sometimes best to pack your stuff in a large backpack instead of a suitcase for here because often places are located on hills and you may have to go up steps to get to your accommodation.

Check out our Mal Pais Packing List on Amazon for all the essentials. 

Mal Pais Costa Rica FAQ

Why is it called Mal Pais Costa Rica?

“Mal Pais” means bad lands. The name comes from the rivers and streams drying up during the dry season. This makes it hard to live in this area. In actuality, this area is beautiful.

What is the closest airport to Mal Pais Costa Rica?

The Tambor Airport is the closest domestic airport. Liberia International Airport is the closest international airport.

How big is Mal Pais Costa Rica?

The village is small with an estimated population of about 1,000 inhabitants. However, the amount of people in this area is always much higher due to the many tourists.

Articles About Mal Pais Costa Rica

You Might Also Like Visiting

Montezuma: A small beach town with tons of fun things to do

Santa Teresa: A popular surfing and yoga village with a backpacker vibe

Paquera: A small but bustling Nicoya beach town where the ferry lands

….if none of those appeal to you, check out our Guide to the Nicoya Peninsula for more ideas of places to visit in this area.