My family has never excelled at sun bathing and beach sitting. I love the idea of stretching out in the sand and reading for hours, waves crashing right in front of us, but we have yet to actualize that dream. We have lots of excuses: active little boys, their even more active parents, and our pale skin that offers just two shades: white or bright-red burned.

Some beach towns in Costa Rica feel overdeveloped and limited in their options for free, outdoor exploration, but Montezuma, a Bohemian, out-of-the-way town on the southern end of the Nicoya Peninsula, is a great choice for visitors looking to do more than just sit in the sand.

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On one of our hikes, we followed horse riders north from Montezuma to Playa Grande.

We visited Montezuma last December. Part of our joy came in the travel; as the sun rose,  we took a morning bus down the mountains from Monteverde. From Puntarenas, we took a large ferry over to the Peninsula (we played card games on a side deck while more enthusiastic travelers danced the merengue), and then we took one last bus south through post-hurricane-green jungle to Montezuma.

Hemmed in by cliffs, the town is modestly sized with a few streets of restaurants and shops, hippies with their tables of hemp and beaded jewelry, an attractive ocean-side public school, and a ficus-tree-shaded central park, host to a Saturday farmers’ market. The beach-bordering town includes an area with rocky tide pools and white sands on the north end, home to some very formidable waves.

Much as we loved the wave play, the real appeal of Montezuma for us was the options for free outings. During our first full day in Montezuma, we wandered south to the waterfall trail and then spent the next hour hopping up the stream bed from boulder to bank and back again. This three-dimensional scrambling was fun for all ages, and our prize was the impressive Montezuma Waterfall and its accompanying swimming hole. Because of recent rains, the falls was roaring, and we soon made a game of swimming against the current in the pool, trying, though never succeeding, to touch the cascade.

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Our kids loved hiking to, and playing at, Montezuma Waterfall.

The next day we spent our morning beach hiking. We followed some horse riders north along Montezuma’s lovely beach, backed by cliffs, palm trees and the occasional camper. The trail meanders into a capuchin monkey and bird-filled jungle and out to several coves. Over the course of the next hour, we stopped at a beach spotted with rock-sculpture cairns, passed a stream bed we would return to the following day for bouldering, and followed along the Sendero el Sueño Verde, the Trail of the Green Dream,  crossing the old farm of the Scandinavian founders of the first protected land in Costa Rica.

One of the coves the trail lead us to was a beautiful, jungle-backed beach that, in addition to collecting sun-bleached drift wood, was littered with plastics washed up from San Jose. An organization had left bags and information encouraging visitors to collect the trash. We filled a burlap sack with old toothbrushes, Crocs shoes, a broken toy truck, flip flops, take-out containers and other plastics. The collecting inevitably turned into found-object art, but was also a good exercise in examining the many plastics we readily consume, which then stick around long after we’ve disposed of them. Toothbrushes, for example. Why aren’t they all biodegradable?

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Reid investigates an old toy car, one of the many bits of plastic litter we collected on the Sendero el Sueño Verde.

Our trail ended at Playa Grande, a gorgeous and rather empty stretch of beach that is home to a turtle conservation project and the Romelia Wildlife Refuge. We picnicked there in the shade and played for hours on the expansive, gradually sloping beach before wandering back to our hotel.

Food in Montezuma isn’t cheap, so we came looking for a place to stay with kitchen access; we settled on a nice Italian-Costa Rican family’s hotel. Hotel El Tajalin, named after the indigenous word for a local crab, is located on the edge of the central park. They have a nice balcony lounge and kitchen where we cooked all our meals–pineapple, mango and passion fruit smoothies, and bean and egg burritos were our favorites.  We saved our spending money for daily gelato treats.

For readers looking for a modestly developed beach town with free, outdoor adventure beyond the waves, we strongly recommend Montezuma.