- Transit: By car, bus, ferry, plane, or speed boat across the gulf – it’s up to your budget.
- Cost: The beach is free. Lodging in Montezuma ranges from cheap to exorbitant.
- Crowds: Smaller than Manuel Antonio, tiny compared to Cancún, Montezuma is still busy for a small town.
- Attractions: Playa Montezuma is made for swimming, playing, and getting sun. It’s also quite photogenic.
- Accessibility: Like any other beach, you’ll need to be able to travel across uneven sand and swim in sometimes big waves.
- Environmental Impact: Sadly, garbage from all over the Pacific washes up along with the driftwood. There are garbage and recycling bins right at the beach entrance – be a good traveler and help leave the beach cleaner than you found it.
- Click here for map.
Montezuma and the Nicoya Peninsula emerge over the horizon like a blue-green streak rendered pale by the ubiquitous humidity and the light scattered off the gulf of warm, blue Pacific water that separates it from the mainland.
It feels like vacation here: A hot wind blows over bare arms. The boat motors roar. Scintillant sprays of ocean water lend the air a faintly seasalty smell and the sun dazzles and slowly roasts each of us.
Twenty-four hours ago we were in winter, waiting to board our plane. Yesterday the dull greys and relentless cold of the city were traded in for the warm sun and welcoming greens of Costa Rica’s central valley. It’s the height of the dry season, so there’s lots of brown and bare branches, but half way through an urban winter this looks as lush as can be.
The speed boat we’re taking across Golfo Nicoya to Montezuma is the middle-of-the-road option: Taking transit buses to Puntarenas and the ferry from there is cheapest, and would take us all day; taking the boat with a transfer bus from the airport isn’t cheap, but it’s an adventure and we’ll be there in a few hours; the plane is fastest – less than an hour – but it’s handily the most expensive option.
We take the speed boat, enjoying the descent on the bus through the mountains into tropical heat. Eyes starved for the sight of chlorophyll relish the ride, and the unsurprisingly long wait on the shore (everything runs on it’s-too-hot-to-rush time outside of the central valley) gives us a chance to soak our feet and our souls in warm (warm!) waves.
The boat ride may not be the most frugal option, but it’s fun – we treat it like an excursion instead of just transport. The boat stops as a pod of spotted dolphins swims by.
On the other side of the bay, Montezuma comes into view, a string of beaches and clutches of buildings underneath green cliffs that face the sunrise. We pull up to the beach, right in the centre of town, and jump off with our bags, barefoot into the surf. Wading up to the salt-and-pepper shore is like shedding skin. Our other world is left behind and we are, at least for a few borrowed weeks, tropical creatures.
The town consists of just a few intersections and a long stretch of road along the base of the bluffs. It’s busy with small hotels, hostels, shops, tour company storefronts, little restaurants, a few places to buy groceries, and a marvellous gelateria.
After settling into our rooms we check the tides and head on down to the beach.
There are several beaches in and about Montezuma, actually. Playa Montezuma stretches out to the north and south of the centre of town. The south end is where boats come and go, and where many people camp. It’s not a popular spot to swim, but there’s always foot traffic to and fro.
The north end is where most people go to enjoy the water. The road ends where the sand begins, and the beach stretches on and on.
As with any beach, the further you go, the quieter it gets. However, Montezuma seems to attract adventurous types, so the effect isn’t as strong here as it is elsewhere. There’s a path at the end of the beach that leads to several others – Piedra Colorada, Playa Grande, and more – but we decide to check those out another day.
We turn around to explore more.
Toward the north end of Playa Montezuma there’s a sea turtle conservation program ringed with a driftwood fence. Tourists are clustered there today, watching the hatchlings race to the surf (“racing” is, of course, a relative term – we’re talking about turtles, after all). This must have started recently, as there was almost no one there when we passed just a few minutes earlier.
Seeing each little turtle plunge into the ocean is surprisingly life-affirming. People have delighted looks on their faces, and share them with each other.
We find a spot among the trees at the edge of the beach aboutbhalf-eay back to town and then bee-line into the waves. They’re mid-summer warm, and the sun is hot. We spread out into them, careful to keep an eye on the rocks under the surface. There aren’t many, and they add to the unmanicured feel of the place, but we don’t want to end up with scraped-up feet either.
We bob on the big waves that roll into shore, back where people are lounging on sarongs spread out on the sand, and using driftwood to play fetch with dogs. Over the afternoon we people watch in between bouts in the water. Local teenagers surf and body-surf, and tourist kids join in. There are people from Argentina, Italy, France, Russia, the United States, Canada, locals, and folks whose languages we can’t place. Couples, backpackers, families with kids. Local teenagers surf and body-surf, and tourist kids join in. There’s a mom trying to get her toddler cleaned off, but he keeps tearing off naked and flopping, laughing, belly-first into the sand. There are groups of grown-ups, couples making eyes at each other, singles (whenever I see individual women walking carefree I take that as a good sign about where I am), and more than one male couple like us.
Away from the people, pelicans dive and then bob back up to float and eat their catches. We begin diving too, making a game of ducking under the playful waves.
At a great distance, far across the gulf, hugging the very edge of the horizon, I see the watery, hazy ghosts of the mountains on the mainland. I know I’ll have to head back there, and from there home – but not today.
Today, maybe, we’ll get some gelato on our way home. Or perhaps some papaya batidos. Then we’ll have a supper of casados and walk the beach as the sun sets behind the hills.
And then, maybe, before turning in for a warm tropical sleep, we’ll sit at one of the beach fires. Or – even better – lounge on the rocks and listen to the water crash against the shore while we welcome the stars.
Best not to wait too long to get back to bed, though: The howler monkeys get up with the sun.