Mal Pais, Costa Rica is often skipped over in favor of better known beach towns. Requiring a domestic flight and a long car ride (or a shuttle and bus and another shuttle), most travelers will opt for an easier-to-reach destination.
Mal Pais does attract one demographic almost without fail, though: surfers.
The consistent waves and fairly empty beaches make the remote town a major destination for surf lovers from around the world, many of whom stay for a week or longer to take advantage of the multiple prime breaks.
While Mal Pais is an undeniably awesome surf location, the tiny town should be on many more radars. Much more than a funky and fun surf village, Mal Pais has so much to offer (and for more than just surfers).
Who should visit Mal Pais?
Offering multiple options of white sand backed by lush tropical jungle, Mal Pais is a tropical beach paradise.
Many stretches of sand are completely empty, offering seclusion and privacy in addition to unobstructed views of the beach, ocean, and surrounding trees.
Unlike other beaches in Costa Rica (especially some in popular Jaco), the beaches of Mal Pais are mostly smooth and sandy, and great for walking barefoot. You can spend days walking the long lengths of the beach, maybe stopping to pick up shells or to catch some sun.
The smaller number of tourists and vast swathes of undisturbed forest (in addition to the nearby natural protected area) guarantee greater concentrations of wild animals.
Iguanas, monkeys, and birds are common sights and frequent visitors not just in the forest but in the Mal Pais hotels themselves. Don’t be surprised if you breakfast next to exotic birds, or are woken up not by an alarm but by a band of howler monkeys outside your hotel room.
In the water, just as many native creatures await – perfect for snorkelers hankering for seeing hordes of fish.
For a small town, Mal Pais has a surprising number of quality restaurant options. From little cafes and simple sandwich shops in town, to fancier options further afield, even the pickiest diner will be pleased.
One of the best Italian restaurants in Costa Rica is situated in Mal Pais. Located at Hotel Ritmo Tropical, the fabulous spot for dinner is just a short walk from the beach and main Mal Pais town.
Hotel Moana, a bit further out but still a quick car ride or taxi hail away, offers small plate options and creative cocktail options.
Even vegetarians (like myself!) will be spoiled for choices, even in the notoriously and typically difficult-to-eat-veggie Central America. Almost every restaurant offers at least one delicious vegetarian main dish.
Costa Rica has some amazing sunsets, but Mal Pais definitely takes the cake for the best. The bright oranges, pinks, and reds light up the whole sky with their brilliance, and won’t soon be forgotten.
The serious variety of sunset-watching options means that you won’t ever bore of the beautiful skyline, and all are interesting and gorgeous. Whether you choose to watch the sun sink away from the deck of a raised restaurant with a drink in hand (the aforementioned Papaya is an awesome option), or opt for a more simpler solution seated on a beach blanket, you’re sure to be stunned.
Whether an amateur or professional photographer, no one will find themselves short of footage. The gorgeous natural settings of Mal Pais provide a beautiful backdrop for all kinds of shots.
Photogs searching for action shots will be thrilled by the adventurous surfers that can be found hitting the breaks (especially in the morning), in addition to pop up games of football along the beach.
Nature shots are everywhere you look especially the forest that fills the edges of the town, behind the beach and surrounding most hotels. Macro shots of beautiful flowers abound.
Underwater cameras will come in handy in Mal Pais, whether for snapping shots of swimmers or the many fish that frequent the area. Nearby nature reserves guarantee the presence of plentiful wildlife.
Photographers that enjoy architecture will love the vast variety of buildings, from beachside shacks to modern hotels.
While Mal Pais is usually thought of as a scruffy surfer’s domain, it is also a unique and totally romantic honeymoon spot.
Newlyweds will love the empty beaches and stunning sunsets, in addition to the wide range of romantic activities like horseback riding and boat adventures. While beaches in traditional honeymoon locations like Hawaii or the Maldives (or even other locales in Costa Rica) can be packed with vacationers, Mal Pais almost guarantees a secluded stretch of sand.
Hotels like Moana and more offer luxury suites, world class service, and amazing meals to newly married couples. Adventurous couples can opt for individual bungalows (some of them seaside) at smaller resorts as well.