Santa Teresa, Costa Rica
This sleepy little beach town on the southwestern corner of Península de Nicoya is the perfect place for some R&R. It’s pretty remote and difficult to get to, which means it’s a hidden gem of undiscovered paradise that is void of tourists. In fact, most people around here are local surfers, yogis and hippies who have come to visit and decide to stay indefinitely. I’ve been to Santa Teresa twice for a yoga retreat and each time I leave feeling relaxed and refreshed.
WHAT TO DO
Learn to surf: Santa Teresa is famous for its amazing surf and no matter what your skill level, this is the perfect place to catch a wave. Any hostel or surf shop can arrange lessons with one of their instructors, but my recommendation is Del Soul Surf School. Run by Amit, his wife and an amazing crew, they are very patient, knowledgable and help you get up on your board to ride a wave!
Practice yoga: There are a ton of yoga spots and wellness centers around the town. Whether you’re doing a full retreat or just want an hour of beachside meditation, there is something for everyone to enjoy. Here are a few suggestions: Hotel Tropico Latino — beachfront Vinyasa and sunset yoga on a beautiful wooden deck, $12 per class (donation class on Mondays and free meditation on Wednesdays), Casa Zen — a treetop, open air yoga deck, specializes in Hatha Vinyasa style (also offers mini retreats with accommodation), Pranamar — located at an oceanfront, luxury resort, yoga classes are for all ages, levels and intentions. They also host retreats and workshops throughout the year with international teachers so make sure you check out their website.
Rent an ATV and explore Montezuma: There are a few places in town that have ATVs. Just walk along the main road and you’ll see signs for rentals. Spend an entire day cruising the back roads to Montezuma (this is the next town over from Santa Teresa). Stop along the way and have a picnic lunch on the beach. Once you reach the entrance to the waterfall, park your ATV, hike about 10 minutes and you’ll reach your destination. The waterfall also has a great swimming hole where you can watch the braver locals cliff jump.
Watch the sunset: One of my favorite memories is gathering on the beach every evening to watch the sunset. These are some of the most magical I have ever seen, when the sky is illuminated in bright pinks and oranges and the surfers are catching the last wave of the day. A few times, we made a bonfire on the beach and picked up S’more materials from the supermarket for all of the locals to try. It was fun to watch their reaction, as most people outside of North America have never had a S’more before!
Go horseback riding: If you’ve always wanted to go horseback riding on the beach (and/or through the mountains), this is the place to do it. The horses are well trained, happy and healthy. Seriously, you’ll feel like you belong in a Romance movie, galloping on the beach at sunset. Here are my suggestions for two tour companies: Ollie’s Adventures and Ario Tours.
WHERE TO EAT
Zwart Cafe: Half art studio, half healthy cafe, Zwart serves up delicious dishes that are fulfilling and good for the soul. Also, for all the non-meat eaters, there are lots of vegan and vegetarian options. Try: the breakfast burrito, chocolate chip pancakes or any of the fresh fruit smoothies.
Product C: This market/restaurant is the best place to go for fresh fish and it’s also a local hangout. Tucked away in the shopping square just off the main entrance to town, Product C serves up tasty seafood dishes like fish tacos, sashimi bowls and ceviche.
Olam: Downstairs from the Nautilus wellness center, Olam is a health food lover’s dream. They serve everything from organic eggs and gluten free pancakes to quinoa veggie bowls and fresh pressed juices. The owners even offer a four day cleanse to help detoxify your body.
The Bakery: This place is so good it was worth the 20 minute walk from our hostel to the beginning of town. All of the bread and pastries are freshly baked in-house. They also have an all-you-can-eat pizza night on Mondays ($10 US per person). Try: the baked eggs, waffles and avocado toast.
Burger Rancho: If you need a break from all this healthy food, head to Burger Rancho for premium quality meat. They also have a great Portobello Veggie burger and Hawaiian tuna burger. This place is BYOB, so grab a six-pack of beer from the supermarket and enjoy!
Mary’s Restaurant and Farm: Founded in 1996 in Mal Pais, Mary’s is a self sustaining organic farm that serves fresh greens and chicken right from its backyard. Situated in the jungle among the palm trees, this open-air space is a local favorite and open only for dinner. Try the fish tacos, made with the daily catch or share a brick-oven pizza topped with peppers, pineapple and shrimp.
WHERE TO STAY
Wave Trotter: If you’re on a budget and need something affordable, check out Wave Trotter. This chill, surf hostel was designed, built and owned by a super nice Italian family (who have the two cutest kids). The mixed dorm rooms are the cheapest option, but keep in mind there’s no air conditioning so it gets pretty hot. They also have a few double and triple private rooms with a fan. This place is a great spot to meet other travelers and it’s steps away from the beach.
Pranamar Villas: This beautiful, oceanfront resort is way outside my budget, which is why it’s been my Christmas present (from my mom) for the past two years! The individual villas are equipped with private outdoor showers, hammocks and a little kitchenette where you can shake up some margaritas. They have a yoga studio, surf lessons and the freshest, most delicious food in the whole town. Wake up each morning and grab a fresh coconut from the bar, take a dip in the pool, walk along their private beach and at low tide, go snorkeling in the tide pool.
Getting to Santa Teresa: It’s a bit of a trek to get to Santa Teresa. If you are limited on time and have the money, I suggest taking a plane (Nature Air) directly from the San Jose airport to Tambor. From there, it’s a short 30 - 45 minute car ride to town.
If you’re on a budget, here is the other option: A private transfer with “Van Switch” at the ferry. This means you’re picked up by one driver at the airport or your hotel in San Jose and taken to the ferry dock in Puntarenas. You ride the ferry with your luggage (the van does not go on the ferry with you). Then, once you arrive in Paquera, there is another van and driver waiting for you who will take you the rest of the way to Santa Teresa. This is a cheaper option than flying, but the total travel time could take as long as 6 hours. If you decide to go this route, I suggest using Montezuma Expeditions, they’re super friendly and reliable.