Travel Guide: Santa Teresa, Costa Rica

I am a very efficient and maybe overachieving traveler to the point where sometimes I might need a vacation after my vacation because I don’t leave any free time to rest. I meticulously research food, activities, art museums, and hotels. Then I dump all the information into an excel sheet to organize favorite picks and prioritize by day. That being said, I finally decided to take my first relaxing beach trip over the holidays and not plan a thing – just kidding, I just didn’t OVER plan. I am very active and like movement, so I went to my trust travel resource and googled ” yoga + Costa Rica”  to see if they had any retreat or cool hotel ideas. The first thing that popped up was a small up and coming beach town called Santa Teresa, labeled as “The New Tulum.” BOOM.

I emailed 10 hotels that night which were all booked except the newest (and most gorgeous), Mint Santa Teresa, which just happened to receive a cancelation. Last year, a cute Swedish couple in their 30’s opened the adult-only hotel offering four bungalows each with a private terrace and beach views. The hotel might seem like a trek compared to most others which are all line the 3 mile long town with road. To enter, you drive through an unmarked dirt road and up a vertical hill (or mountain like the locals call it) that will steal your breath. As you enter the open air villa designed by architect, Benjamin Garcia Saxe, an array of tropical plants, custom built wooden furniture, bamboo-like ceilings and an infinity pool catch your eye. The best way to explain the experience at Mint is as if you’re trendy yet laid back friends invited you to come stay at their new tricked out villa that is so simple, perfectly landscaped, and carefully curated, that it’s almost hard to peel yourself away from the communal outdoor living area and their company. They serve homemade breakfast every morning on the bar that include pillowy vegan zucchini rolls with fresh papaya and passion fruit jam, berries, banana, mango, cucumber, hummus, hard boiled eggs, banana bread, and most importantly- fresh coconuts with metal straws that you learn to cut into yourselves.

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The town is only 3,000 people max, and during high season which is during holiday and winter months, restaurants are still only a little over half full. The best way to get around if you don’t want to walk in the heat or dusty roads, are ATV’s, since they are four-wheel drive and can get through the tough roads. Everyone is super friendly and most of the locals I met were from Sweden, Israel, and Argentina making it a great mix! The healthy, light cuisine suits the surfers and yogis such as: smoothies, juices, salads, sushi, fresh fish. The only spot you need a reservation at is the sushi and Japanese restaurant Koji’s. It’s definitely the best dining atmosphere with beautiful string lights, large trees hanging overhead, and an abundance of individual and communal tables creating the liveliest vibe you’ll see anywhere. For $16 you can get a plate of five nigiri pieces, and my favorite was the Tuna Tataki. Don’t miss the Grilled Jumbo Prawns, and the biggest wild card that shook me up– a Okra Sashimi Salad. The creamy yet refreshing basil dressing draped across the hearty vegetable tower of broccoli, cauliflower, beets, green beans, tomatoes, all hide the red snapper and tuna sashimi below. I never thought a salad would be my favorite dish at a sushi restaurant, but if I had access to this salad regularly, then I would for sure eat it everyday! The last thing not to miss is the Seafood Fried rice with lobster, prawns, salmon, and more. Email [email protected] to make a reservation. 

My next favorite healthy spot was Zula Restaurant, an Israeli restaurant owned by two brothers who settled here after they got out of the army. The falafel is some of the best you’ll ever find and the smoothies and shakes are mandatory after a hot day in the sun. Go for the traditional shakshuka or mahi mahi platter that comes with hummus (just like it tastes in the Homeland), coleslaw, cucumber and tomato salad, fries, and of course, pita bread. Believe it or not, we went back a second time because the homemade pesto and schug which is an addicting red hot sauce made with paprika, jalapeños, cilantro, garlic, oil, salt and pepper. The watermelon and guanabana bright pink smoothie with no added sugars needs to be recreated at juice bars here especially on 100 degree summer days. 

Fishbar’s casual vibe and surfer employees might have slower than usual service, but let’s face it, everything is slower on island time! Grab the wasabi tuna tartar, whole red snapper, and yet again a Mediterranean tuna salad with creamy avocado dressing, giant capers that I haven’t seen since Capri, eggplant, sun-dried tomatoes, and red pepper. If you’re looking for a quick spot to pick up a salad and smoothie, swing by Cafe Social which is on your way back from the beach Playa Hermosa.

This is where you’ll ride the waves and surf your heart out. The soft sand, coconut trucks, and all the amped bros and newbies are chillin everywhere. Have the hotel book your lesson with Mauricio of Santa Teresa Surf Lessons. A little stretching, jumping, learning the flamingo get-up position, followed by hitting the water, and you’ll be up on your board immediately. It’s definitely a lot easier than it looks and riding that wave is a high you won’t want to leave! We ended up booking a second lesson on our last day. Feeling that salt water and warm ocean flow through your hair and skin is why they say “Pura Vida” all day everyday. Life is simple in Santa Teresa. It’s active, refreshing, and all about being present and enjoying yourself. Hotel Flor Blanca offers the best yoga! The Italian teacher, Stefano, pulls you out of your head and pushes your breath and mindfulness the way yoga should be practiced. Overlooking the beach and feeling the sound of the waves within truly transports and forces you to focus unlike indoor, stuffy studios in America. Make sure to get to the class at least 20-30 minutes early to grab a space or you’ll surely be out of luck. Anyone can drop in and the schedule is usually Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday at 10 a.m. for ashtanga style flow and Tuesday/ Thursday at 10:30 a.m. for a more advanced class. I also skipped over to Hotel Tropico Latino for a Yin Class with Daniel at 4 p.m. and Flow Class with Christoph at 8 a.m. They are $14 for drop-in’s and also on a wood paneled floor by the water.

To reach final and complete, utter zen, book a Coconut Scrub Massage at Hotel Florblanca’s Spa Bambu that uses 100% natural products made in house.This beautiful sanctuary easily forces you into a trance as you walk through waterfall filled pools and bamboo encircled treatment rooms. Your senses are immediately heightened by the intoxicating and delicious coconut smell that you might consider licking your arm out of curiosity. However, after I showered off the natural moisturizer, my skin was silkier than it has ever been and so smooth I couldn’t stop rubbing my own arms just to keep checking if it was real! The full body relaxing massage rounding out the finally makes this one of the most memorable treatments, and the staff was so kind to let me take a sample jar of the coconut oil mixture back home with me! Other spa options include: an after sun facial, special men’s facial, wraps, massages, aesthetics, manicure, pedicure. If you book your appointment in the evening, make sure to time your massage so that when you exit you catch the sunset on the beach and grab a smoothie or cocktail at the bar. We even saw a horse galloping by which was beautiful with the orange egg-yolk looking sun disappearing in the distance. As I mentioned this is a beach, surf town, so the nightlife is low key. Swing by Tipsy, a wine bar with the best selections in all of Santa Teresa. The table in the center of the room is communal, so we enjoyed bantering with some Mexico City siblings and some Swedish business partners who now live in LA. Thursday night is their big night out, so walk down the street after a glass to Kika for a party crowd with lights, live music, and dancing. For shopping, you’ll find casual beach and surf wear, a few ceramics, and handmade goods. My favorite stores. Check out the mix and match swim suit selections at Santa Swimwear, the handmade jewelry from Austrian designer Maile Jewelry, homemade soy candles at By The Sea, and homegoods and fancier attire at The Collective.The best time to visit is November through August as rainy season is September and October. Mint is $250 per night during high-season and $180 otherwise. When you need a taxi have your hotel call Manuel Duran at 6181-3890.