Nosara vs Santa Teresa: Where Should I Visit in Costa Rica

Both Nosara and Santa Teresa are chill beach towns in Costa Rica, but Santa Teresa is a bit more developed, offering more surf schools and places to stay compared to Nosara. Go to Nosara if you prefer an extremely relaxed atmosphere and don’t mind deviating from the main path. But if you want a balance of relaxation and options, Santa Teresa is the way to go. Either place you choose, you’re in for a great beach town experience.

It wasn’t an easy pick for Tim and me when planning our travel itinerary to Costa Rica. We wanted to know which was better between Nosara and Santa Teresa (ST) for a short holiday but research on the internet wasn’t helpful enough. 

Eventually, we had to visit both areas to get a feel for them. I chose to put this article together to benefit those torn between the two locations. I’ve compared both towns in terms of beach life, nightlife, food, accommodation, cost of living, transportation, and others. 

This information will help you to make an informed decision as you plan your trip to Costa Rica

Key Takeaways

In case you need to make a quick decision between Nosara and Santa Teresa, here’s a summary of my verdict after visiting both towns: 

  • Beach life: Samara’s beaches (Playa Carrilo, Buenavista, and Samara) seem to be better for leisurely pursuits and family activities. Nosara’s beaches (Playa Guiones, Ostional, and Pelada) are a better choice for surfers and adventure seekers because of the better waves.
  • Food—Ani’s bowls and salads are by far the best morning food spot in Santa Teresa. However, Eat Street and Roca Mar are great options for lunch or dinner. Nosara also has good food, but with fewer options to try.
  • Accommodation—Nosara provides more upscale, wellness-oriented lodging options. We found more luxurious villas, eco-lodges, and yoga retreats there than in Santa Teresa.
  • Fun activities: Both of these places are downright awesome adventure travel and surf travel hotspots.
  • Safety: Both towns are generally considered safe destinations for tourists, but it’s always wise to take standard travel precautions.
  • Moving around: Samara is walkable, with attractions nearby, while Nosara favors bicycles due to its spread-out layout. ATVs and golf carts are common.
  • Distance between Nosara and Santa Teresa: Santa Teresa is at the very bottom of the Nicoya Peninsula, around 134 km away from Nosara. Depending on when you go, the drive there can take three to five hours.

My first impression of Santa Teresa

the beach in santa teresa

The vibe at Santa Teresa is a mix of locals, young backpackers, and wealthy developers. Days start early with surfing, cafes open at 7 a.m., and nights are quiet unless dining out. 

The dry season is busier and pricier, while the rainy season is quieter. Locals are interconnected, and safety is generally felt, but caution is advised at night. You’ll make more friends as a visitor through tours than by chance. 

It’s hard to think of any other areas that Santa Teresa is good for aside from surfing. Not much else. However, I made a list of free and cheap things to do in Santa Teresa.

My First Impression About Nosara 

Nosara Costa Rica

The first noticeable thing that caught our attention about Nosara was that it felt less crowded compared to Santa Teresa. If you stay in Playa Guiones, you’ll notice it is divided into smaller communities, not one central area. 

Another thing that left a lasting impression on us about Nosara was how expensive eating out is. It is little wonder that many tourists from the US visit Nosara with money to spend. 

Accommodation

SANTA TERESA 

In Santa Teresa, there aren’t a lot of options for Airbnb; however, they do have some really great hotels.

I chose to stay in an Airbnb flat because I like having my own space to sleep and work from. I specifically searched for a place with super-fast internet that stays on even during power outages, although I never actually needed it. 

Tim and I enjoyed staying in the apartment complex because we met solo travelers occasionally.

Friendly Advice: 

  • I recommend this listing here. It has a budget ranging from $140 to $350 per night. 

The Hotel Santa Teresa, Sky House, Hotel Nantipa, and Believe Surf & Yoga Lodge are some of the most highly-rated hotels in Santa Teresa. 

NOSARA

You will find more Airbnb options in Nosara. But some of the best hotels to consider for a beautiful accommodation experience include Nosara Beach Hotel, Moana Surf Hotel, and Lagarta Lodge. Each of them has fantastic views. 

Friendly Advice:

  • The dust on Santa Teresa’s main road is a major bummer, so if possible, stay somewhere away from the road or in a less trafficked area than the thickest part of town.

Cost of Living 

You’ll be spending Costa Rican Colon as currency in both towns. And expect to see things get really expensive—especially day-to-day expenses. 

SANTA TERESA

In Santa Teresa, eating out is pretty cheap. On average, Tim and I got coffee, smoothies, full breakfasts, and lunch, with drinks ranging from as low as $2 to $20. 

Beer and cocktails at ST cost anywhere between $3.75 and $12, respectively. But we spent the most when eating out for dinner ($30 or higher).

NOSARA

We noticed that prices were a bit higher in Nosara compared to Santa Teresa. The area is more popular with American tourists, so you’ll find some really good prices there. 

The good thing is that many Nosara restaurants list their prices in USD, so you can quickly do your calculations. 

For example, Tim and I spent as much as $56 for dinner, while cocktails and beer, on average, cost around $15 and $6, respectively. Expect to pay even as much as $7 for coffee in Nosara. 

The cost of living in both towns also includes accommodation and daily transportation, which we will cover in the following sections. 

Surfing Lifestyle

The Nicoya Peninsula always has waves for surfing, with smaller ones from December to March and bigger ones from April to November. 

Santa Teresa is more for surfers who are getting better at surfing, while Nosara is perfect for beginners. 

In Santa Teresa, the waves are open and suitable for practicing different moves. In Nosara, Playa Guiones is the best spot to learn to surf, especially when the tide is high and the waves are more accessible to catch and ride.

Meanwhile, Playa Guiones is the central surf spot in Nosara. It’s a long beach with lots of waves. It can get crowded, but you can usually find a place. To avoid the crowds, try surfing early in the morning or going to quieter spots nearby.

Food

Generally, Costa Rica isn’t considered a culinary destination, as most of the native food is arguably bland and repetitive. So, it’s better to lower your expectations. However, Tim and I had quite an impressive dining experience in Santa Teresa rather than in Nosara. 

Here’s a table I prepared to show you different kinds of dining experiences and examples of restaurants in both towns where we enjoyed them best: 

Dining experience  Santa Teresa Nosara
Morning food with a beach atmosphere Ani’s Olo Alaia
The menu offers a wide variety of affordable street food options. Eat Street Rosi’s Soda Tica
Dinner with a sunset view Roca mar La Luna
Pastries  The Bakery Seekret Spot 
The best sushi dining —- Harmony Hotel

 

I’ve made an extensive review in a separate article on the top eight restaurants in Nosara. You can use it as a guide when looking for places to eat in town. 

You can also look at our unbiased review of the top restaurants in Santa Teresa. 

Fun Activities (Apart From Surfing)


SANTA TERESA

Samara has a lot to offer beyond its beautiful beaches. Here are some things you can do there:

  • Isla Tortuga Tour with Blue Beach Travel, from $60. It’s an 8-hour day starting with a 7 a.m. pickup. The best part was snorkeling, but the rain made the water a bit cloudy. We even saw a whale!
  • ATV private tour with a local guide—$170. This was a blast! I spent half the day with a local guide, exploring viewpoints, Cabuya, Montezuma, and hiking to the falls. Riding through back roads and seeing the countryside was so much fun. We also ate at a local place in Cabuya. It would’ve been cheaper to rent my own ATV and visit these places alone, but I wanted company.
  • Ollie’s horseback riding: $75. I’d never ridden a horse before, but I went on a 3-hour ride from Malpais to Santa Teresa. Unfortunately, it started pouring rain, but it was still an excellent experience.
  • Nature Tours: You can visit the Werner Sauter Biological Reserve, which is the only private reserve in Samara. They have guided tours where you can see animals like howler monkeys, iguanas, and lots of different birds.
  • Other solo activities: I explored tide pools, visited Playa Hermosa, surfed a couple of mornings, and tried out different cafes. I also cooked at home often to save money on eating out.
  • Relaxation and Wellness: Samara offers relaxation options, too. You can take yoga classes with a view of the ocean.

NOSARA

  • Yoga and Wellness: Nosara is famous for yoga, and many studios offer classes and retreats. Whether you’re a beginner or an expert, there’s something for everyone.
  • Eco-Tours and Wildlife Watching: You can join a tour of the National Wildlife Refuge, especially during turtle nesting season. It’s one of the most essential spots for Olive Ridley turtles to lay their eggs. There’s also the Nosara Biological Reserve, which is excellent for bird-watching and nature lovers.
  • Adventure Sports: Besides surfing, you can try stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking on the Nosara River, or mountain biking on jungle trails. These activities let you explore the area’s natural beauty in different ways.

Safety 

Santa Teresa has a lively atmosphere, but it comes with its own safety concerns. 

Although the town is generally safe, it’s best to avoid being alone in isolated areas after dark. If you’re renting ATVs or bikes, make sure you get them from trusted places and always wear protective gear. 

The nightlife in Santa Teresa is famous, but remember to watch your drink and avoid drinking too much. 

Nosara, known for its peaceful atmosphere, is usually seen as a safe spot for tourists. However, when you’re at the beach, make sure your belongings are secure because there might be people who try to take advantage. 

If you’re doing adventurous activities, make sure you choose reputable companies that prioritize safety. 

Even though nighttime walks can be peaceful, be careful, especially in quieter areas. 

Moving Around 

SANTA TERESA

To get to Santa Teresa, we took a shuttle with Tropical Tours from Liberia. It was a 4-5 hour ride and cost around $60.

Tim and I stayed in an area where you can technically walk to places within 5–10 minutes. But honestly, walking in Santa Teresa isn’t easy. 

You’re primarily walking on the same road with motorcycles, ATVs, trucks, cars, and other people, and there are no sidewalks. 

So, we rented an ATV from True Nature Adventures for a week for $50 a day. It let us explore more, and it was enjoyable to ride to faraway beaches in the mornings and grab food from different parts of town.

To leave, we took a taxi to Tambor Airport for $60 and caught a flight with Costa Rica Green Airways for $100.

NOSARA

Renting bikes and ATVs is standard and costs around $15 to $30 per day. Taxis and shuttles are also an option, but they might be pricier compared to Samara, especially for longer trips.

Nightlife 

For a nightlife experience, Nosara has more than Santa Teresa. 

To be honest, neither Nosara nor Santa Teresa are famous for their nightlife. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to do after sunset. You’ll find some fun spots, but they’re not as wild as Tamarindo or San Jose. 

SANTA TERESA

In Santa Teresa, things are pretty laid-back. You’ll mostly find surfers hanging out in beachside restaurants and bars, chatting about their day. 

Santa Teresa stretches along the coast, so there isn’t one main area for nightlife. Some popular places are Nativo Sports Bar, Kika, and the lively La Lora Amarilla

NOSARA

In Nosara, evenings start on the beach, where you can enjoy the sunset and grab a beer from beach shacks like Bar Garza

Final Verdict

Both Santa Teresa and Playa Guiones have sound waves for surfing all year. 

Playa Guiones in Nosara is peaceful, with a focus on surfing and yoga. Santa Teresa is livelier, with young people enjoying the nightlife and diverse food options.

In Santa Teresa, everything is along one road by the beach, making it easy to get to surf spots. In Guiones, people walk or bike to get around. Because Guiones is a part of a nature reserve, jungle surrounds the beach.

Your preference will determine which is better. But I’d recommend you experience both locations. If you absolutely must choose one, I’d say you go with Nosara. But then again, consider your needs and budget before planning the itinerary. 

I hope you found this comparison guide helpful. 

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About 

Born in California, Michelle traveled extensively through the USA and Europe before moving to South Florida during the pandemic. Her career in Marketing has taken her all across the world. Her favorite country is France but she'll never turn down a beach vacation!

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