Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Santa Teresa, With Love

Playa Santa Teresa

We first fell in love with Santa Teresa and the surrounding towns back in 2013. It would be Tom and my first vacation together. We wanted something off the beaten path with pristine beaches. Once we zeroed in on Costa Rica, our travel savvy friends were adamant that above all else, we needed to go to Santa Teresa. Always one to take personal recommendations to heart, the decision was made. And it did not disappoint. 

I’m a pretty seasoned traveler myself; having been all through Europe, the Caribbean and Mexico but this locale was different. It was rugged yet beautiful, untouched yet swarming with an international crowd, dirt road accessible yet wifi equipped. It felt like a hidden oasis. I was hooked. 

Super Bowl Sunday, Nativo Sports Bar, Mal Pais

With that trip, the seed had been planted. A little less than three years later, we piled our belongings into storage, left our jobs and headed to paradise at the southwest tip of the Nicoya Peninsula. 

We spent most of our time zipping through the palm tree lined roads on our quad amongst the four local towns: Mal Pais, Playa Carmen, Santa Teresa, and Playa Hermosa. All of which sit along one dirt road that takes about 45 minutes to get from the southernmost town, Mal Pais, to the northern edge of Hermosa.

Cabo Blanco Reserve
The area has so much to offer. To start, the ocean is ALWAYS above 80 degrees. There is none of this ‘dipping your toes in’ business and ‘getting used to it’ like we have to do in Jersey water. No, you can just march right out, dive under and stay in forever. For a surfer, it is heaven. The waves are consistently good year-round and there are so many different breaks to choose from. Whether you are a pro, a beginner or somewhere in between there is something out there tailor-made for you. Having a boyfriend who surfs has been both good and bad for me; good because he can give me lessons fo’ free, bad because in said lessons, I feel totally fine about throwing a tantrum over a ripping current and retreating to land before even riding one wave. For the record, I went back out but needless to say, my skills and attitude need some improvement.

Next, there’s the food. The food, the food, the food. It is Ah-mazing. If you are a foodie looking for a vacation, Santa Teresa is the place. What makes this area so unique is that the lifestyle and location have attracted expats from all over the world, making the community extremely international. Along with the typical Tico food there is exceptional Israeli, Argentinean, Asian, Italian and Mexican food everywhere you turn. The ingredients are incredibly fresh, locally grown or caught, and devoid of the processed mumbo jumbo plaguing the food in the US. The coconut water actually comes from REAL coconuts, not a carton that’ll cost you three or four bucks, if not more. The fish you eat at dinner was caught that morning in the same waters you swim in (but don’t let that creep you out). Never much of a fish lover at home I was hooked after my first ‘casado con pescado' (look guys, I speak Spanish!). Avocados are super cheap and always ripe, which has driven my obsession into uncontrollable territory. Daily smoothies are a must. Mango, pineapple, passion fruit, watermelon, papaya - you name it, we’ll blend it.

Along with the surfing and the food, the area is known for yoga. Almost every hotel has it’s own studio offering open classes with ocean views. You can’t help but get swept up in the lifestyle. To be honest, I always had an issue back home finding a yoga class to fit my style. Either it wasn’t the right mix of sweat and spirituality or I didn’t vibe with the teacher for whatever reason. But in Santa Teresa, I quickly melted into the flow of self-practice and no judgment. Sunset sessions were taught by the best OCNJ expat, Jessica Gesler Mausteller, at Horizon Yoga Hotel. She became my little yoga cheerleader and ended up taking me to an epic class at Pranamar on my last day in town that I will never forget. There were musical instruments, singing, pop electro music and a lot of sweating. I can confidently say that I’m now at the start of a lifelong practice.

Sunset Yoga, Horizon Hotel, Santa Teresa

Costa Rica as a whole has blown up as far as American tourism is concerned. Americans (and Canadians) are everywhere. For good reason, too. The beaches of Santa Teresa have been voted some of the best in the country. Condé Nast put it on their Top 15 Places to Go in 2015. Having traveled around a bit myself, I whole-heartedly agree. Bountiful, easily accessible, white sand beaches stretch out for as far as the eye can see. They are never crowded and always offer some much needed shade. All you have to do is walk across the street and a perfect beach awaits.

Lastly there’s Pura Vida. I’ve mentioned it before in a previous post but it needs repeating. Translating to 'pure life' in English, it is used as a greeting, a thank you and as an overwhelming message that life is good. As a national saying, it really embodies the spirit of the country. Costa Rica is still a developing nation and many of the Ticos live off far less than our consumer-based lifestyle in the US provides. There is still much poverty and the average hourly wage, at least in Santa Teresa, is around $3 US. It’s not easy to live off of that, as I’m sure you can imagine, but they make it work. When you see whole families living in shacks or piling onto one motorbike, mom, dad, baby and toddler, it really puts life into perspective. They are happy though. They appreciate the environmental paradise they live in. 

Taking in the Pacific Ocean in Playa Coyote

Family matters. The environment matters. Realizing how lucky we are and then living in that gratitude, now that’s a life well lived. 

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