Mal Pais is a small fishing village on the southern tip of the Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica. From its southern limit at the Cabo Blanco National Park it extends north for around 4 km, until joining the neighboring village of Santa Teresa. While in recent years Santa Teresa has become a bustling surf town, Mal Pais has retained its laid-back vibe and beckons travelers in search of nature and tranquility.
Various theories exist about the origin of the name Mal Pais. In English it means “Bad Land”. Some people say it refers to a special stone which the Chorotega Indians called “Mah Pah”, or maybe it was called a bad land because of the rocky coast. Whatever the reason, the name isn’t justified. Mal Pais is blessed with a picturesque landscape, brimming with wildlife and stunning views, and the surf of Playa Carmen attracts surfers from all over the world.
Mal Pais feels worlds apart from Santa Teresa
In former times, before the focus of tourist attention turned on Santa Teresa the whole area was rather known as Mal Pais. No map mentioned Santa Teresa when the first resorts, hotels and restaurants sprang up in Mal Pais. Around the turn of the millennium developers started to promote Santa Teresa as a cool surf spot, and with dizzying speed it morphed into a mainstream tourist destination. Mal Pais however was so far spared from over development due to its rocky beach. Most properties in Mal Pais are still on large parcels of land where jungle and nature are preserved and the life is slow paced.
The difference between the two neighborhoods is readily seen on Playa Carmen, where the road from Cobano ends on the beach. To your left lies Mal Pais with its rocky coastline that curls down until Cabo Blanco. Only few beach walkers are seen along the coast, while to your right the sandy beach of Santa Teresa is busy with people and surfers frolicking in the waves. Up from the beach, at the road intersection “El Cruze” is a commercial center and you see tons of vehicles dashing into Santa Teresa, while the road to the south, to Mal Pais is calm and with little traffic.