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Costa Rica has long provided a bolthole for Americans wanting to escape from it all. Little wonder. The compact country – a narrow strip of land between Panama and Nicaragua, flanked by coastline on either side – just about has it all, from uninterrupted beaches and endless surf, to rainforests teeming with wildlife and plenty of mountains to climb (and more than a few celebrity-filled hotels). For a side of the beautiful nation less travelled, though, head towards the western edge of the Nicoya peninsula for true Edenic bliss.
There, arrived at via a series of winding dirt-beaten tracks, you will find the charming string of beachside dwellings collectively known as Santa Teresa. All too often referred to as ‘the new Tulum’ – the once-remote Mexican enclave which now is firmly on the country’s tourist map – the tiny beachside community offers something altogether more untamed. But not entirely so: among Santa Teresa’s palm forests, clusters of beautiful hotels and lodges nestle along the coastline, which is one of the world’s most impressive – wide stretches of palm-tree edged sandy beaches, where serene coastal pools meet a thunderous (and world-renowned) surf.
Make base one of these numerous hotels, most of which make use of the unique location by mingling indoors with outdoors (you might find yourself sharing a hotel’s outdoor spaces with monkeys, iguanas and the like). Once a fishing village, Santa Teresa now radiates a healthful glow – numerous dwellings have the words ‘yoga’ or ‘retreat’ over their doors – and visitors to match. Which is not by accident: the Nicoya peninsula, where Santa Teresa is found, is one of the so-called ‘Blue Zones’, where you will find the highest concentrations of centenarians (people over 100 years old) in the world. This is supposedly because of their diet of black beans, bananas, plantains and papayas – all of which, quite literally, hang from trees – and year-round sunshine.
In these precious natural surroundings, ecologically sound tourism is essential (take a hike in the nearby Cabo Blanco, Costa Rica’s first nature reserve, or towards the Montezuma waterfall to see quite why this is a landscape to be preserved). Luckily, there’s plenty of sustainably minded places to stay – whether the beachfront bungalows of Hotel Tropico Latino, with numerous schemes to ensure the survival of local flora and fauna, and the native community of people who have inhabited it, to the popular Florblanca, a calming collection of villas and lodges with similarly sustainable credentials.
As for what to do, Santa Teresa is made for (albeit sometimes slow-paced) activity, from numerous yoga studios, horseback riding, paddle boarding, to opportunities to volunteer at turtle sanctuaries and hatcheries. But perhaps the locale’s biggest draw is the surf – head to nearby Malpaís for some of the best surfing in Costa Rica (which also means some of the best surfing in the world). The pristine, unspoilt beaches and diversity of waves – which span from easier breaks for newbies, who can learn from the many surf schools and teachers in the area, to more challenging barrels – make for an experience like no other.
A short bus ride away is the bucolic Cabo Blanco nature reserve: spot monkeys, terrapins, iguanas and plenty of birds and butterflies.
Santa Teresa’s sunsets are like few others. Head to Rocamar where each Sunday locals celebrate with a bonfire and music
Don’t try and find OSA Santa Teresa online – all you’ll find is a sorry-looking Facebook page. But rest assured, the low-key outdoor restaurant with pretty tiled tables, is one of the best in the area.