Getting here isn’t easy. We found ourselves bumping along dusty dirt roads on the six-hour drive from Coco Beach. With each passing mile we were transported back to another time. A slower time. Malpais is lost in time. It’s time to slow down in Malpais Costa Rica.
Long just a fishing and cattle-farming village, Malpais (often spelled Mal Pais) has become popular among surfers and adventure travelers around the world. Recently, Forbes Magazine voted the beaches of Malpais and neighboring Santa Teresa as “One of the ten most beautiful in the world.”
I don’t know if I would put the beaches on my top ten beach list, but I would definitely rank it at the top for sunsets. Our fabulous little hidden Airbnb offers a spectacular west-facing view of the Pacific and the nightly sunset show is sublime.
Malpais means “bad land” or “bad country”, with the name originating from the dry dusty waterless conditions during the summer. The town of Malpais is teeny, stretching only about 6km from the village of Santa Teresa to the Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve. Santa Teresa is about 2km from our Airbnb. Because Malpais is so small (just a tiny convenience store, a church, a school and one restaurant), we walk to Santa Teresa for our groceries and restaurant needs.
This part of Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula is often referred to as Malpais – inclusive of Playa Carmen, Santa Teresa and Malpais.
Surfing is now king in the area, taking over from to the old days of farming. Fishing still also reigns and fresh fish is available most days at the pier. Don’t ask what time though – when the fisherman come. That’s what time.
In Santa Teresa shops and restaurants, hostels and a few hotels cater to the twenty-something surfing crowd. Young kids outnumber us fabulous fifties 100 to one. I can’t help wonder where are these kids all from and how do they sustain this lifestyle?
There is a long sandy beach at Santa Teresa (where most the surfing takes place) but in Malpais the beach is mostly of unique rock formations pocked with deep holes where both fish and humans soak the day away in the bathtub-like water. Well, until the tide comes in and covers these pools until the next day.
No watch needed, your day consists of morning yoga, noon tide pools, dinner following the sunset. Does anybody really know what time it is? Does anybody really care?
What do you do if you aren’t a surfer in Malpais? Relax. Read. Soak in the pools. Yoga at sunrise and drink gin and tonic at sunset.
Monkey watching is another favorite pastime. Howler Monkeys are abundant (and loud) and a family of ten visit our Airbnb often. White faced monkeys (smaller and squeaky) also make their home in the trees around the area. There are butterflies and birds galore. There are iguanas and many other lizards. A fascinating collection of nature, including wild horses, pass through our little paradise.
You can hike about 3 miles from Malpais to the Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve and beach. Or rent an ATV and go to Moctezuma on the other side of the Nicoya Peninsula and make a visit to the Moctezuma waterfall (a past Sport Illustrated Swimsuit Edition shoot location). Its’ a lot of fun to rent stand up paddle boards and have a fun day out on the water. Maybe consider a guided beach horse back ride, ziplining or go charter fishing.
Or you can do nothing at all. Just slow down in Malpais Costa Rica. And that’s alright with me.