Surf Spot Costa Rica: Mal Pais.  Mal Pais, a name which translates to “bad country,” is anything but that. This gorgeous stretch of Pacific coastline is just south of the popular, and far more populous beach town of Santa Teresa. A mix of sand and rocky shore makes Mal Pais a beautifully dramatic slice of coastline. Beach trees, tide pools, surfers and fishermen make up the rest of the landscape here.

While now on the tourist and surfer radar, Mal Pais has managed to hold onto its tranquil and unspoiled paradise vibe. Mal Pais is not a great beginner surfer’s destination, but more experienced surfers will likely find the surf they have long been dreaming about.

Mal Pais has managed to hold onto its tranquil and unspoiled paradise vibe.

How to Get There

Mal Pais is remotely situated near the bottom tip of the Nicoya Peninsula. This expanse of beach can be accessed by multiple modes and combinations of transportation, including plane, ferry, car and bus.

The easiest way to get to Mal Pais is to take a Sansa flight from San José or Liberia to Tambor. Then take a taxi or shuttle the remaining 45 minutes.

The next fastest way from San José is to drive to Puntarenas and take a ferry across the Gulf of Nicoya to Paquera. From Paquera, it is about a 90-minute drive.

A once-daily public bus from San José to Mal Pais is an alternative to driving or flying. It departs from the Coca-Cola bus station at 6 a.m. and arrives at 2 p.m.

Where to Surf

The surf in Mal Pais can be a bit more hazardous than conditions further north in Santa Teresa. This is due to the rocks and reefs that line the ocean floor here. Also, because of position, the breaks of Mal Pais are very susceptible to strong currents.

When there is a sizeable swell, the two main spots in Mal Pais are definitely not suitable for inexperienced surfers. 

Sunset Reef and Mar Azul are the two most sought-after surf spots by experienced surfers. They are left breaking and can be quite spectacular with the right swell, tide and wind direction. Sunset Reef is an initially fast and barreling wave that can open up into a long wall to play on. Mar Azul breaks over a reef and has multiple peaks. Both spots offer challenges and great rewards. There are a few other breaks in between, as Mal Pais is a rather long and exposed beach.

Local Companies

If you are looking for a surf school in Mal Pais, look no further than Blue Surf Sanctuary or Mal Pais Surf Camp and Resort. Both are highly revered by surfers of all experience levels who have visited and stayed in Mal Pais.

Don’t miss out on Mary’s Restaurant and Farm while you are in Mal Pais. It’s an institution! Mary’s menu features whatever the local fishermen bring in that day, as well as what is growing on her organic farm. This quaint spot is also very well-known for fabulous fish tacos, the perfect post-surf food.

photographer Carlos PalaciosPhotographer: Carlos Palacios

Company: Carlos Palacios Photography

About: Professional water and land photographer who loves nature and surfing, and loves telling stories with his photos while having fun doing it. Pura vida!

Santa Teresa


Carlos Palacios Photography


Enjoy the audiovisual presentation. Unmute and view in full screen: