If this photo of the sunset in Santa Teresa, Costa Rica has left you speechless, then you will know how I feel right now trying to find the words to tell you all about my time in this magically majestic place.
I guess I will start at the beginning, and this may be a long read, so put on the kettle and make your favourite snack before you get comfortable, I’m going to try my best to relay to you the incredible time I had the pleasure of experiencing over 3 weeks in Santa Teresa, Costa Rica.
For the longest time I have always had a top of 5 list of places I want to travel to before I die. Australia, Japan, Hawaii, Costa Rica and California. Back in January 2016 I was reading the incredible National Geographic Travel magazine and came across an advert from British Airways about their new direct flights to Costa Rica from London beginning in April. I had just got a fresh new credit card so I jumped at the chance to book my flight which was around £500 return to San Jose. I decided to book it for much later in the year which would give me time to save up for the trip and I decided to go for 3 weeks.
I picked November and I am so glad that I did because I actually didn’t check first to see the best time to travel there. Costa Rica has two seasons, the rainy season and the dry season. The rainy season ends around Oct/Nov and the time between that season and the dry season, which is the high season in the tourism industry, is known as the green season, which, I think, is the perfect time to visit. Perfect because it’s not yet crowded with holiday makers and the prices are lower than high season and, it’s not as hot as it can get, plus you get the occasional rain to cool everything down.
Initially I wanted to do a tour of Costa Rica, visiting many different places but soon realised that would cost a lot of money and take up a lot of my time there with traveling between places – the fact I hate long haul bus travel sealed the deal for me too.
A close friend of mine had spent some time in Santa Teresa and I had already planned on visiting the less tourist beach towns of the pacific side of the country, so eventually I decided to simply spend three weeks in Santa Teresa.
I had a plan, I wanted to surf, snorkel, stand up paddle board, swim in waterfalls and hike in the jungle to spot the wildlife. In the end, I only managed to surf a few times, the rest of my list will have to happen the next time I visit. Yes, I would absolutely visit Santa Teresa, Costa Rica again, and again.
I come from a small, simple seaside tourist town and I live in a small, simple seaside tourist town now too. It’s the kind of lifestyle that suits me best, being close to the sea, everyone there for the same reason, the town swelling with tourists and then fading away as the season ends, mirroring the waves sliding up and down the beaches they visit. So Santa Teresa was the perfect place to spend three weeks.
I flew into San Jose and stayed a couple nights there before taking an internal flight across to the Nicoya Peninsula where Santa Teresa is located. Landing on a tiny strip of tar to a few taxis parked along the fence and nothing else but a road and a lot of jungle was my first sign I was in for an experience I had not had anywhere else.
I was immediately poached into an air-conditioned taxi and off we went for the 40min drive to the coast, whizzing past farmer’s fields and bumping through a small town called Cobano before whizzing through the jungle once more. Eventually the tar turned into a dirt road riddled with pot-holes and lined with surf shops and hostels on one side and jungle framing the beach on the other.
Suddenly the taxi came to a halt and I realise we had arrived. The door slid open and I was immediately met with a suffocating hug of humidity, a hug that would cling to me for the next 3 weeks, only leaving me alone when I mercifully sank into a body of water with a big sigh of relief. There were many hours spent up to my neck in water just to stay cool. In fact, I was never properly dry the entire time I was there.
My first night was spent at a hostel in a dorm room because I had got my dates wrong and booked my week long hostel, Hostel La Posada, for the day after. I stayed at Hostel Dos Monos right on the main road, the only road, and 50 meters from the beach! The 3 minute walk down the path through jungle opens up into a breathtaking expanse of ocean and miles upon miles of beach as far as you can see.
At first I was not that impressed, I had arrive in the late afternoon and the air was misty and somber. That is, until the sun began to set and I was introduced to what would become a daily activity, migrating to the beach for the sunset along with most of the town and tourists each evening.
I felt like I was in a movie and King Kong might come loping out from the trees! Thankfully nothing bigger than howler and capuchin monkeys live in these coastal trees!
After a couple days of adjusting to this new life of constantly being covered in sweat, gasping for air conditioning and slathered in factor 50 sunblock, I began to notice how little I thought about stuff. It was like someone had found a Pause button in my brain and flipped it. A couple weeks later when I had made a holiday friend, she too remarked at this phenomenon, how she had noticed how she realised she had simple stopped thinking about stuff. And that, was the beginning of the soul soothing.
I spent my days either swinging in my hammock gleefully watching wildlife through my binoculars, or walking for hours along the beach, finding rock and tidal pools to wade in with not another person in sight.
I learned quickly that if you keep still long enough, life comes alive all around you, birds of all kinds walk by, crabs come out of their holes to eat the algae on the rocks, fish swim around your legs, vultures circle above on the air tides and in the jungle you can hear the howler monkeys growling. Now and then someone else might walk by, but mostly, if I walked far enough, I had miles of beach and ocean to myself.
Being so immersed in nature and with nothing else to do really gave me time to think without any effort. There was no pressure to come to a conclusion of my thoughts, to find solutions to problems. A thought would appear and it would simply float there and I could ponder it for a bit and let it go if I wasn’t in the mood, or more likely I became distracted by the cute little hermit crabs scurrying across the beach inside their shells, or a group of comical sand pipers running with and away from the tide.
I realised I had never truly experienced really being in the moment and just BE-ing. Sitting in a tide pool, watching waves crash and crabs be crabs, I got to experience pure mindfulness, I was utterly blissed out.
It was far too hot to wear my usual make up of BB cream, blush and lipstick so I just wore none. Something I never usually do. Besides, I needed to get wet so often, I would have been reapplying make up every few hours which would have been ridiculous.
Not wearing any make up was a freeing experience in itself. Showing my true face to the world (minus the lash extensions I got before I arrived), was liberating. Only having 3 dresses and a couple tops to choose from each day was also a liberating experience. I didn’t have to think about what to wear, it was just too hot to wear anything but something flowing and quick drying.
I lived in one of my bikinis the entire time, my hair was always wet as it was the only way to walk around town and stay cool. I didn’t speak the language and most of the people there were from Europe so spoke another language. Sitting in a restaurant was a pleasure, I couldn’t listen to other people’s conversations because I didn’t understand them, giving my mind another break.
I also got to do yoga almost every day for a week while I was there. I spent 6 nights at an amazing place called Ohana Villas through the host’s company Believe Surf and Yoga who arranged our surf and yoga lessons. There are a lot of yoga teachers in Santa Teresa so each class was different and we had no idea what to expect which added to the fun.
Most classes ran 2 hours too and all were held on an open air floor so you could listen to the birds and squirrels and other jungle sounds while in savasana and sweat all your stress away in the heat. I got to do kundalini yoga, slow vinyasa and fast vinyasa and open up in all kinds of physical and spiritual ways. My body really needed this and so did my spirit.
We did our yoga classes at Nautilus Boutique Hotel above their incredible Olam Pure Food Cafe. In one class we got to stare into the eyes of a partner for 3 minutes and in another class we were sung to by the teacher while another teacher sprayed us with Florida Water and gave us tibetan bowl sound baths.
I knew while I was there that life back home would feel different for me but I wasn’t sure how. I knew something had changed, shifted within me and I would only know how once I had got home. I felt simultaneously like I never wanted to leave Santa Teresa, but also that I wanted to be home with my cat and my hair dryer and my own bed. And to be dry, well and truly dry!
Now having been home for more than a week, I can see what a profound experience visiting Santa Teresa, Costa Rica was for me. It gave me time to know myself as my true self, no make up, no “role” to play, no reputation, no responsibilities putting pressure on my mind. I was given freedom to just be and I have been loath to let that feeling go since I’ve been back.
My life back home feels like an illusion, this whole western civilisation feels stupid, futile. Life felt so REAL in Santa Teresa. It was simple, so, so simple, nobody had any expectations, I was living IN nature, rather than nature living around me and that in itself was a gift, it put so much into perspective.
There were down sides to Santa Teresa; it was expensive, remote, I don’t speak Spanish, I didn’t have an ATV/Quad Bike to get around, mosquitos were relentless, the heat was stifling and I missed familiar food in the grocery store. But all of this was hugely outweighed by the majesty and magic of the place.
It was truly magical, I was in awe of Nature every single day, not just the sunsets that were like religious experiences, but the wonderful warmth of the locals, the incessant bird song and the jungle growling when the howler monkey families got close to each other, the “boing-boing” frogs that made that exact noise, “boing! boing! boing!” at night outside our favourite restaurant, the very many dogs who were everywhere and sometimes hung out with you at the beach, the wild horses that you’d suddenly happen upon around a bend in the beach, the huge hermit crabs having a rave on the beach under the full moon, galloping along the beach at sunset, the cat at Zwart Art Cafe that would come to me for love, the wild magpie-jays who came and ate out of my hand in my hammock, even the jellyfish that stung me.
I begrudgingly left this magical place totally blissed out and feeling like my Reset button had been pressed. Santa Teresa, I’ll be seeing you again!
Click here to read my guide to the best of Santa Teresa, Costa Rica.