There is something refreshing and altogether familiar about visiting a tiny town such as Montezuma. It is such a stark contrast from an urban or main city vacation. You know, those holidays that you end up needing a holiday from when you return home? (for me that may well be my travels through Egypt, but let’s save that for another time, shall we?!)
Montezuma is one such tiny town for me.
It is located in the Puntarenas Province, on the Southern Nicoya Peninsula of Costa Rica. And being in Central America, you find there picture-perfect white-sand beaches, waterfalls. Tropical lush jungle surrounds and therefore, plentiful wildlife and flora and fauna as such.
My husband and I have been fortunate enough to return to Montezuma after first visiting way back in 2012. We had a third visit booked for late July 2020 and we all know why that didn’t happen…I think writing this has been cathartic to re-live Montezuma in some small way. But I know we’ll make it back again when we can.
So in honor of my love for Montezuma, I thought I’d share with you some of it’s highlights. And tell you why it’s a top pick for a humble, tiny town getaway.
Visitors will likely make a day out of getting there. Which I suspect is even more of the appeal as it is quite of the beaten track.
At the time of my visits, travelers were able to fly from San Jose International airport across the Nicoya Gulf to Tambor which most certainly would shorten the transfer time to Montezuma. And then take advantage of the ample taxi services through to Montezuma. You could also self-drive a rental from San Jose airport all the way to Montezuma in about 5-6 hours if that takes your fancy.
We chose to take more the scenic route.
This allowed us to relax a little and leave the stress of driving to someone else. We were picked up at the airport by our driver, having booked a private van for ourselves. He then drove us to the coastal departure point for our ferry in Puntarenas. This drive took somewhere around 1 1/2 hrs.
We walked onto the ferry terminal at the ferry terminal in Puntarenas and left the driver and our van as he drove it on board. He took care of the rest, and after a relaxing hour or so long ferry ride across the Gulf of Nicoya, we dock in the town of Paquera.
Our enjoyable ferry ride is over all too quickly, and once it docks, we locate our van on dry land and jump back in for the final push. Approximately another hour of driving to get to Montezuma, but it feels much longer for some reason.
Upon arrival into town (the one short street, that is), our dedicated driver drops us off at the end of the road (literally!), and it’s a short 5-10 minute walk along the dirt road to our accommodation. Yes, there is no road out in front of our accommodation! Just a humble dirt path. Love it!
At this time, I should mention that it’s wise to think carefully about the luggage you choose. Roller suitcases may seem like a great choice most of the time, even if they are your carry on luggage.
But once you hit that dirt road, maybe not so good! I always like to travel light at the best of times, and Costa Rica is no exception. But the wheelie suitcase gets kind of bothersome after a few minutes in the 100% humidity and dragging it through the dust and uneven terrain.
We have chosen to stay at the same place each time for our accommodations. The quaint and delightful Montezuma Beach Houses. They are a short walk out of town and located right on the beach. The jungle ocean sounds give us a warm welcome!
Once we arrive at the Beach House, the long day of travel is immediately forgotten as we excitedly dump our gear and head straight for the pool!
The pool is by no means brand new. However, it is spotless and obviously very well cared for. And of course, it features very heavily in our daily routines. Also feels like heaven after a massive day of traveling.
We stay in the Beach House within the Montezuma Beach Houses property. There are three separate dwellings that make up the place. But there is ample distance between them to allow all holidaymakers on site their privacy.
The beach-house features an air-conditioned bedroom and quaint character-filled kitchen with all the amenities you might require for your stay. I will say the air-conditioning does provide relief from the heat when you need a break. But honestly, my sinuses and skin thank me for the humidity!
Montezuma’s geography is such that the coastal town backs right up to a massive forest mountain range. And so it feels very secluded. One night we witnessed a massive thunderstorm right overhead, as expected for the time of year we visited. We sat upstairs in our beach house and literally felt the air pressure of the storm rush in through the screened windows. The lightning and thunder in this little town was like no other storm I have witnessed since.
As a visitor, I can only describe the center of town in Montezuma as if you are walking on to the set of the Leonard Di Caprio movie The Beach. Minus the end of film drama (that I can remember, it’s been a while!). It just has authenticity and an almost old-fashioned small-town feel that is hard to put my finger on.
Montezuma has a certain rustic, bohemian charm to it that I hope stays for a long time to come. Destinations with such natural beauty and authenticity tend to be swallowed up by the exploitation of tourism and the almighty dollar. Only time will tell.
For such a small town and with relaxation in mind, there is still plenty of opportunity for activities to fill your days. And great restaurants to fill your nights.
I dream of returning to Montezuma.
And one of my first stops will, without doubt, be Playa de Los Aristas. This restaurant is set on the beach and is about a pleasant, 10-minute walk south out of town. This place may quite possibly be the most beautiful setting I have ever witnessed for an outdoor dining experience.
Try to arrive before the sun has gone down to score one of the beachfront tree tables for the best seat in the house.
The first time my husband and I dined here, we witnessed a massive electrical storm way across the bay which provided quite the backdrop to our meal.
With a Mediterranean menu that changes daily, depending on the produce, the food has always been delicious when we have eaten here.
Once the sun goes down, you begin to see the tiny crabs surface underfoot. They will go about their evenings, totally unaffected by the giants dining above them. Even in the bathrooms!! I couldn’t help but photograph the charming bathroom (not weird at all!)
Another culinary highlight was El Sano Banano which is on the main drag in town. It’s a very casual affair and the food was great. Another great night had here, as they screen movies each evening (I think it’s free if you spend over a certain amount).
So if you’re looking for a little change of pace, or it’s a rainy night (which it certainly can be at times of the year), this is a great way to spend a quiet evening.
Restaurante Montezuma has one of the prime locations right in the center of town. Try to grab one of the tables or the bar overlooking the water. We sat down for an afternoon bite and refreshment and were fortunate enough to witness whales breaching and surfacing right before our eyes. Not a bad view for an afternoon aperitif!
Possibly the stand out activity for us in Montezuma was the fishing boat tour with Zuma Tours. The tour took us down the coastline to the southernmost point of Costa Rica on the Pacific side.
Due to the time we visited, we witnessed many humpback whales and their calves frolicking right next to us. Their size all but swallowed us and our boat up!! It is impossible not to take for granted their majesty in the water.
Can I stay here, please???
My husband fishes far more than me – he had success on this trip. The best fish being the one that gave him an awfully challenging tussle for the victory. And only when reeling it in, we discovered the reason why. The back end of the fish was bitten through, still with the serrated teeth marks that could only come from a shark. I think you would call it a draw!
I marveled at spotting a flying fish flit along the water’s surface and soon lose count of the dolphins, whales, even marlin that dance above water. Turtles, massive sea birds, and more whales. This was indeed a phenomenal day of nature spotting, disguised thinly as a fishing trip for me!
The following evening we had an awesome barbecue at the house and cooked the fish that we had caught. Cooking at home was such a lovely part of the trip.
Our house had a little protected patio (overlooking the beach, of course!) and pretty much provided the ideal setting for every evening and dinner time meal we had at home.
We had such a great time on our first Montezuma visit that we promised ourselves we would return again the following year.
And we did!
And I brought a better camera the second time round to capture it!
We also took advantage of the great service of Zuma Tours and made their day trip up to Tortuga Island. Yet again, a lovely excuse for a nice little boat trip and wander around on the island. We did swim in the very calm and protected beach as well, which was very pleasant. The macaw residents were also on hand for any photo opp. Lovely day. And perfect for a family day trip experience, in my opinion!
One evening we walked away from town, to explore the Ylang Ylang Beach Resort of Montezuma. It is set in such beautiful surroundings.
Not being a fan of large hotel type accommodation experiences, I would definitely consider staying here if we couldn’t get into our Beach House. We stayed for a drink this evening and had a lovely time.
We rented RTVs and took ourselves on quite an adventure out of town on another day. This is a super fun way to explore the area. Sadly one of ours cut out and we had a hard time getting it re-started.
With no phone signal and a very vague and cartoon-like map at our disposal, it took our finest problem-solving skills not only to attempt to get the bike started again calmly but work out where on earth we were.
And how we would get back into town!
The imagination wanders and before you know it, you’re thinking “this is the perfect horror movie setup!”
Fortunately for us, we soon flagged down a kind young local who despite not speaking a word of English, was able to get the quad bike up and running. And we could carry on. We even stopped by a little watering hole on the way back (I have no idea where !) and eventually made it back into town in one piece.
The Sea Turtle Sanctuary across the dirt footpath from us on the beach was a nice surprise we happened across upon one morning walk. It has been running since 1989 and is volunteer-run. They passionately protect, nurture the eggs, and release the hatchlings with great care and concern.
Montezuma is quite a rare little gem to visit.
I think we heard about through word of mouth from a co-worker years ago. It really does feel like you step back in time somewhat. And it is this small-town atmosphere that gives it it’s charm.
So with that said, and on the cusp of returning for the third time, Montezuma is a great place for a week (or longer) getaway. And being such a small town there is truly plenty of accommodation option and yet the place never feels busy. At least it didn’t the times I have visited, which admittedly were not peak season. Maybe that’s just luck of timing.
There is still so much more I am yet to see of the diverse country of Costa Rica. But something keeps us returning to Montezuma time and again. It must be special!
Where is that unique holiday destination that you keep returning to again and again? Can you travel there now? Summer road trip?
Featured image by Mike Swigunski