Mal Pais, Costa Rica is a tranquil village with charming hotels loosely spread along three kilometers of road.
At the southern end Mal Pais borders the Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve while to the north Mal Pais merges with Santa Teresa where you can find shops, tourist facilities and a vibrant surfer scene.
Although Mal Pais is known as one of the top surf destinations in Costa Rica, the most popular surf spots are actually on the beaches of Santa Teresa.
The coastline of Mal Pais is in many parts rocky and some bizarre volcanic rock formations create fascinating scenery.
While wandering along the uncrowded Costa Rican beaches you will often see flocks of pelicans sailing along the shore or diving for fish.
The adjacent maritime sanctuary of the Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve serves as a nursery for many aquatic species so sport fishing or scuba diving can be a thrilling experience here.
The proximity of Cabo Blanco National Park is the reason for teeming wildlife and verdant forests in Mal Pais. Although there is no entrance to the reserve from Mal Pais, you can enjoy the surroundings of Cabo Blanco on a walk along the beach or up the hill.
You can swoop from treetop to treetop on a canopy tour near the park or make a guided tour on horseback to some hidden highlights of the Mal Pais area: from a hilltop you have panoramic views of the shoreline as far as the distant mountains of Guanacaste.
There is also a large pool for snorkeling at one of the southern beaches of Mal Pais and caves to explore in the jungle.
Surf in Costa Rica
The beaches of Mal Pais and Santa Teresa are some of the best surf spots in Costa Rica, offering a variety of world-class breaks with ideal conditions and water temperatures throughout the year.
The main surf beach, El Carmen, is on the border between Malpais and Santa Teresa. It has a good set of sand bars that offer some nice lefts and slightly longer rights. As with all beach breaks, the sand bars can change overnight, so pick up news of the latest changes at one of the surf shops or surf camp.
The break is popular with long-boarders, but you can always find a few hot short-boarders pulling tail slides, aerials and 360s.
Because this is one of the less powerful beach breaks, without heavy rip tides which often occur in other parts of the Costa Rica Pacific Coast, this spot is also suitable for beginners learning to surf.
The waves tend to get heavier, faster and steeper as you head north, but the beaches become less crowded. Here you must be careful for submerged rocks in the sea.
Overview of Surf Spots in Mal Pais:
El Carmen: A long right and a shorter left, surfing over sand. It is the best wave for beginners to learn on.
Los Suecos: A lefthander with a fast take off followed by a long workable wall. Gets hollow with size and offshore winds. Needs a good swell. Not for beginners.
Punta Barrigona: A long lefthander wraps round the point turning into a great hot dog wave as it moves through the inside. Needs a lot of swell to work properly. Definitely not for beginners.
Santa Teresa and Northern Beaches:
Santa Teresa: Usually bigger and more hollow than Playa Carmen. Surf is better on low tide when waves tend to be faster.
Playa Hermosa: Beach break, lefts and rights. A long sandy beach, mostly deserted.
Manzanillo: The reef is offshore at the north end of the beach. Very fickle wave which needs a lot of swell to work.
In general: surf El Carmen, Santa Teresa, and Playa Hermosa when it's small, Playa de los Suecos, Punta Barrigona and Manzanillo when there is a swell.
The Pacific Coast of Costa Rica offers a special kind of underwater fascination: within a few nautical miles the sea drops to over 1000 meter depth so that pelagic fish are often seen close to the shore.
Only few reefs and corals are present, but maritime life is far more rich than anywhere in the Caribbean. The colder waters on the west coast nurture immense plankton blooms that feed large schools of fish, soft corals and mollusks.
Many rock and reef formations have their own eco-system with an intensive fish life, ranging from the tiny blennies which inhabit small holes and cracks to majestic angelfish and moray eels up to the reef sharks at the end of the food chain.
Tuna, dorado, hammerhead shark and sailfish are part of the everyday marine life.
Seasonally large numbers of dolphins, pilot- and humpback whales, accompanied by all kind of sea turtles migrate along the coast of Costa Rica, passing by Mal Pais bay.
Scuba Diving in Mal Pais, just beside the Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve is an unforgettable experience. The amazing natural life above and underwater is still uncontaminated and provides all kind of surprises for divers.
For those who want to have a look underwater without scuba equipment, there are great snorkeling spots and tide pools within easy reach of Mal Pais and Santa Teresa.
In dry season (Dec to May) the visibility can be 60 - 100 feet. During heavy rains plankton and river sediments pour into the ocean and reduce visibility.