Montezuma – Artisan Paradise or Failed Hippie Rejuvenation Project?

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In my previous post I was continuing our little trip down the Nicoyan Peninsula in Costa Rica. We had already gone over the roughest road known to man and driven through the quiet towns of Santa Lucia and Tambor. Our next stop along the way was going to be Montezuma.

Of all the places on the southern tip of the Nicoyan Peninsula, we had heard the most about Montezuma. Of all the people we had talked to, there was never a negative word said about it. We hadn’t done a lot of homework, but we knew it had a few hotels and restaurants and had decided that if we spent the night, it would probably be in Montezuma. Neither one of us knew what to expect as we drove down the steep road leading into town and to be honest, we still have mixed feelings about the place. It is at once greater and lesser than we expected.

It is greater in that it is quite a cute little offbeat town tucked on the sides of a mountain with gorgeous beaches running along both sides of it. There are a dozen little restaurants and shops hidden along its curving streets and lanes. There is a nice park and play center right smack in the middle of it all. The people in town seem friendly enough and the prices, though not amazing, seem on par for that area of the world. There is a definite “earthy” feel to the town with yoga classes, all natural foods and organic fare available at a bunch of places. It’s a far cry from the adventure travel that Costa Rica’s known for. We even had decent healthy food at The Bakery Cafe while watching a pair of monkeys descend from the treetops to entertain us while we ate a late lunch.

Bakery Cafe - Montezuma, Costa Rica

That all being said, there seems to be an hidden undercurrent to the town. Both ends of the beach have a very large tent population with many tenters there for the long term. The majority of the locals seem be remnants of a 60’s hippie rejuvenation project that fell on hard times. I haven’t checked the stats but I would hazard to guess that the place has a higher amount of assault and petty theft incidences than neighboring towns. I will say that besides for walking on the beach after sunset we never really had a strong feeling of danger in the place though. Of course, with the kids we weren’t out too late and the town looked like it had a few parties that might go all night so who knows how the place changes as the night progresses.

In the daytime, Montezuma is colorful and loaded with craftsman and artisans. Even at night the streets come alive with tables and booths set up along the two main roads with people selling their crafts while cooking their supper on their little portable bbqs. Maybe it’s the hunger of the sellers eyes that gave us mixed feelings about the place. A lot of the artisans are gringos from the tent cities and need the few dollars your willing to spend on their clamshell necklaces, beaded bracelets and coconut pendants to prolong their extended stays in this little corner of paradise.

Even now Micki and I can’t really define what it was about Montezuma that left a bad taste in our mouths. In truth the kids had a great time and we enjoyed our stay.

I ask any of you who read this who have been or are planning to go what your thoughts on Montezuma are. I would love to know if you picked up that subtle thread of uneasiness that we felt or if the town is exactly what it pretends to be, a hippie inspired craftsman’s paradise of colorful people and nice beaches.

To complete this tale, after a day on the beach and after playing in the pool that night the kids were quite tuckered out.  We had supper in a gorgeous little Italian restaurant surrounded by the more affluent in the area. In the morning we got up and had a nice breakfast and let the kids run off whatever steam they had at the playground before deciding to continue our trek south.

In my next post in this series, I’ll tell you all about our crazy 4×4 off road drive over a mountain track to Malpais and our take on the much larger than expected surf town of Santa Teresa.

Safe travels Barefoot Nomads!

Have you been to Montezuma, Costa Rica? Do you agree with our take?  Let us know in the comments below! We’d love to hear from you.


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12 Responses

  1. Dan

    I’ve never been to Montezuma but I’ve been living in a beach community here for four months and one of my primary observations is that there are a lot of “fake” happy people here. People that sold all they had to move here and now they are trapped, struggling to get by while pretending to be happy because, after all, this is paradise. Of course there are many that are genuinely happy. Maybe what you sensed was the undercurrent of desperation?

    • Charles Kosman

      Hi Dan, that’s quite an observation. There was a definite haunted look in many of their eyes and you’re probably not far off from the truth. I’ve seen enough trapped, broke and desperate people not only in my travels abroad but also in many of the more prosperous cities I’ve been to. Losing everything is hard enough but a paradise lost might be the hardest to overcome. I want to go back now simply to talk to a few of them and find out if all this is simply misconstrued on my part or if all is not as perfect as it seems. Thanks for the thought provoking comment. Have a great time in your beach community and try to send a little sunshine our way!

    • Charles Kosman

      Joe, it was a lovely place. Lots of personality and charm. Just a little rough around a few of its edges. I would guess the majority of the people visiting there would take it at face value. Cute little mountainside retreat with colorful residents. I just felt a hidden undercurrent that I couldn’t get a bead on. It could simply have been a few of the people that we met that made us question whether all was as it seemed.

  2. Crystal @ TouringTots

    You know, we have a similar take on Montezuma as well. We liked so many things about our time there but there was a strange energy. We definitely sensed some ‘shady’ things were going on…it’s a shame because it is such a beautiful place.

    • Charles Kosman

      Hi Crystal, it’s nice to hear from someone that’s been there and understands where I’m coming from. The place was really cool and it’s location is beautiful. Ever since I wrote that post I’ve been wondering if we were the only ones who sensed the discordant vibe or if there were others as well. Thanks for the confirmation!

  3. Brad G

    Nice reviews Charles, I have been going to Tambor/Montezuma area for years now and agree with your observations, although it seems the main focus of your review is the invisible feeling of something amiss? You seek the hustle and bustle of a thriving nightlife on the Nicoya peninsula. I don’t know where you live, but to go to one of the most isolated areas in the country, seeking a nightlife which is safe and happy for kids is somewhat of a odd search. Its like going to an island without electricity expecting hi-speed internet. The weird atmosphere you seem to notice is from the bohemian reputation of Montezuma I suppose. A town that is largely publicized as hippie influenced, will contain people that flout a lot of big city laws and do things there own way. They march to a different tune and guess what, they smoke pot! SURPRISE! And most of them don’t have a 9-5 full time job (see hippie again). The discordant vibe you describe may be that you have your family close to a situation they are not used to. I would say if you arrived without kids,suitcases, and shiny rental car, you may get a better feel for things, But if you don’t like hippies, people living cheaply, and the pot scene, don’t go to a rock concert or Montezuma. There are a lot of rougher towns in Costa Rica who’s overall feeling is right in your face and not ‘percieved’.

    • Charles Kosman

      Hey Brad, I suppose when I think of a hippie commune I imagine a place of free love, tons of pot and good vibes. The truth is often different and looking back I suspect it was probably a sense of paranoia on their part that left a bad feeling in my mouth.

      Sometimes visiting as a tourist doesn’t give you the time to get to understand the vibe that runs through a town. If I took Montezuma at face value and didn’t try to look behind the curtain I think I would have had nothing but positive things to say about it. Re-reading my post, it seems I do say a ton of positive things about it.

      As to hippies, the pot scene and living cheaply I’ve lived for half a year in a van, months in a beach hut, weeks in tiny villages and I’ve seen a lot of everything on my travels. I have very good memories of each place and they were some of the best days of my life so I wouldn’t say I walked into Montezuma blinded by my oversized luggage or by my shiny rental car. (In truth we had a single backpack and our 4×4 was filthy from the rough roads we took getting there.)

      As to nightlife, well since we’ve had kids I don’t know much about it anymore. Based on the music blaring and the people laughing it sounded like they were enjoying themselves. 😉

      Thanks for the comment Brad. Regardless of the rest it seems you agree with me on the “perceived” feeling I had for this Bohemian town. Good luck on your travels and I look forward to any other comments you might post.

  4. buddhes

    in visiting other areas of the world, not costa rica, i find a similar feeling of unease when there is much local homelessness and over-dependence on tourists. i think having your homeland occupied by whites, being homeless yourself, then being dependent on white tourists would leave a mix of desperation for income with anger and frustration toward the visitors. another observation I have frequently in travels is how white people, like myself, move about to a different rhythm to local people; we tend to have movements than can be perceived as hostile, entitled or overly friendly, if not fake. for expats, i wonders too if sometimes they are tired of tourists on whom they do not depend and who they perceive to be keeping their new home in movement constantly; could result in some resentment and dissociation toward tourists. just reflections from my own travels; sometimes just nice to enjoy and move forward.

  5. Dean

    My spouse and I have recently returned to Montezuma, CR. We were here last year for three months and fell in love with the area. We love the people, we love the food, the creatures, the jungle, the Pacific ocean and on and on. Would we consider this to be an Artisan Paradise or a failed Hippie Rejuvenation project – no neither. Yes, there are plenty of artisans here, sure.

    An Artisan Paradise, well there are certainly a good number of artisans here however, in the height of high season if you see twenty-five on the two main streets of Montezuma that would be a great number. Do they want to make sales – of course. Is there a sense of desperation here, yes for some I believe that to be true and those are the ones you must distance yourself from quickly. Have we been affected directly by it, yes we have. There will be those here that are very happy to latch onto someone to become their sugar daddy or mommy. So what do you do, recognize it and take steps to end that relationship. Then again there are those that live very simply and happily. There is also a great sense of community here. People do what they can to assist one another. That I find much to my liking.

    As far as a failed Hippie Rejuvenation project, again I hesitate to respond in the affirmative. I would say that Montezuma is much more Bohemian in nature. There is a looseness, a non-conformist, escapist, self-reliance that permeates the land here. There is also a mystical, spiritual presence here that at times can be palpable.

    I have just finished my first month of this stay and four months totally. Each day brings a new adventure whether I am at my casa or somewhere else. This is a totally different lifestyle for us and we embrace it daily. Is it for everyone, not a chance.

    As I listen to the parrots behind me, watch the chickens scurrying around the yard, feel the cool breezes whispering by and see the many mango trees within view I say to myself, Yes I can do this.

    • Charles Kosman

      Thanks for the comment Dean. Without spending a great length of time someplace, sometimes it’s hard to get a grip on a place at times. I can remember when I wrote this piece that I was hesitant to make the place sound overly negative. There is obviously tons of people who love the area and we saw a few cool things ourselves.

      That’s probably why we were a little surprised with Montezuma in general. It had received nothing but glowing praise from people we knew who had been there. We did enjoy our stay but there was a look of desperation and even contempt in more than a few peoples eyes when we walked the streets and it was the only time in our two month stay in Costa Rica that we ever felt uneasy.

      As far as Artisan Paradise or Hippie commune, it’s probably a bit of both mixed in with a ton of other things. I wish I can say I fell in love with the people and place of Montezuma but that just wouldn’t be honest.

      That said, I’m glad you’re enjoying it and maybe one day we’ll get back there and give it another chance. It wouldn’t be the first time we returned somewhere and fell into or out of love with a place!

      Thanks for writing Dean and safe travels!

  6. mk

    Great post. I’m really happy that I came across it, because I was wondering what it was about Montezuma that people raved about. Everything that I had heard about the area was not just good, but it was great. Almost overly enthusiastic. So I stayed for two weeks to find out what it was. The magic hasn’t hit me yet, instead, an underlying feeling of unease. Almost like everyone is watching/judging you. Everyone is nice, and it’s a small town, so maybe it’s partially so, but something about it feels uncomfortable. I haven’t felt this way in all my travels through central/south america that I can remember. I can’t place my finger on it, and it’s interesting to come across your article and find out that I’m not the only one who felt this way. It is a pretty place though, with great wildlife. Anyway, thank you for writing this out online.


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