An Incredible Yoga retreat in Santa Teresa (Costa Rica). And why we’re not big fans of Costa Rica…

An Incredible Yoga retreat in Santa Teresa Costa RicaAn Incredible Yoga retreat in Santa Teresa Costa Rica

Anyone who’s followed my blog knows that we haven’t been great fans of Costa Rica. Santa Teresa ended up being the one place in Costa Rica that we loved. And that’s because of an incredible yoga retreat.

First of all, Santa Teresa itself isn’t much of anything. It’s a dirty little town built up along a horrible dirt road. Because of the dryness of this area, a wave of dust bellows up whenever a car goes by, covering the plants and stores on both sides of the road with a layer of dust. Motorcyclists (a lot of people on motorcycles or ATVs here) wear bandanas to cover their faces. It amazed us that they couldn’t tar a road cutting right through town, yet, a couple of kilometers away in the middle of nowhere, the road is tarred all the way through to the airport (about 45 min away). Typical Costa Rica. Walking in Santa Teresa, you have to contend with both the dust plus the lack of sidewalks. There are no lights on the main road and nothing to stop you from falling into the deep gutters on both sides of the road. Access to the beach is along little dirt paths from the main road. I can’t understand how poor countries like Cuba or the Dominican Republic have better infrastructure than Costa Rica, you can’t walk anywhere here. Santa Teresa is in fact just another dirty Costa Rican beach town. [I’ll summarize our feelings on CR at the bottom of this post].

 

Related: Feeling Ripped off in La Fortuna, Costa Rica

 

An Incredible Yoga retreat in Santa Teresa Costa Rica

Still we loved Santa Teresa. For one, the nature is beautiful. We flew in from La Fortuna (via San Jose) and saw the rolling hills and rocky shoreline and thought that this area had the most spectacular geography that we had seen to date in Costa Rica. Sunsets were spectacular and different in some way every night. The weather was hot and dry, unlike the wet and humid that we had encountered in La Fortuna. But the main reason we loved Santa Teresa was because of the hotel/yoga center we stayed at.

Below: view from the Horizon Ocean View Hotel and Yoga Center

Horizon Ocean View Hotel and Yoga Center, Santa Teresa

Iguana on roof, Costa Rica

Above: The iguana that hung out on our roof.

Horizon Ocean View Hotel and Yoga Center, Santa Teresa

Above: Where we did yoga.                                         Below: sunset views

sunsets in Santa Teresa, Costa Rica

 

We stayed at the Horizon Ocean View Hotel and Yoga Center located on a small hill looking down over Santa Teresa and the beach.

It was absolutely fantastic and this is the first place I’ve ever given a perfect score. Fantastic rooms, incredible food, lots of very nice people, an international crowd. The atmosphere of the place seems to bring out the best in everyone. I was afraid of the yoga (I had never taken a class) but it was great. The 9 am classes (which last 1 1/2 hours) gave structure to our day. After that we were free to do all types of activities including tours which the hotel arranged at very affordable prices. After being royally screwed with prices everywhere else in Costa Rica, it was nice to see prices that made sense. At the end of the day we would sit on our private balcony enjoying the sunset. It really was paradise and we loved the place*. It’s an incredible yoga retreat.

* Note: I get suspicious when I see other bloggers saying they love a hotel – note that I didn’t get compensation of any kind for the above comments. Our reviews are 100% from the heart and reflect our experiences.

surfing in Santa Teresa

An Incredible Yoga retreat in Santa Teresa Costa Rica

dog in santa teresa, costa rica

Above: This dog came out of nowhere to say hi. He took a liking to Lissette and just sat there on her feet for 10 minutes. Little things like that sometimes really make your day.

An Incredible Yoga retreat in Santa Teresa Costa Rica

Above: That’s me on our balcony.

sunset in santa teresa, costa rica

natureair to santa teresa, costa rica

Above: flying back to San Jose for our flight home. Santa Teresa was our last stop on this trip and we actually left Costa Rica on a sad note.

 

Final thoughts on Costa Rica: We wouldn’t ever come back. Why?

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1) Overtouristed (most tourists are American and Canadian) & prices totally out of whack with the local economy. As I mentioned in a previous posting (which ended up as more of a rant), I resent being charged Switzerland-type pricing in a developing country.

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2) We both felt that this country was run by foreigners and not by Costa Ricans. Hotels and restaurants were almost all foreign owned (save for a few local mom-and-pop restaurants) and I found it amazing how much of the staff were also foreigners. I travel because I like the interaction with locals – I don’t want or need to be served at the neighborhood cafe by a Canadian or American. It left me wondering about Costa Rican employment laws.

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3) We’ve been to quite a lot of Latin American countries in the last few years where we’ve met a lot of very friendly people. Costa Ricans left us indifferent. Maybe because there are too many tourists? Or is it because their economy is run by foreigners? For those who’ll accuse us of bashing the Ticos – I’m not. Unlike in Brazil (where we had a lot of very unfriendly encounters) Ticos were never unfriendly. They were just reserved and formal. We just missed the connection to locals that we’ve felt in other places.

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4) Logistics – as I’ve detailed in the last few posts, transportation was always complicated and expensive. I don’t say this for many places, but you have to rent a car in Costa Rica. Not only that, do it early because (as I’ve mentioned in other posts) they go fast. The best website for car rentals is  rentalcars.com

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Honestly? I would suggest neighboring Nicaragua for a more unique and affordable tourist experience. And where they don’t say “Pura Vida” ten times a day.

 

Related: What to Do and Where to Stay in Isla Ometepe, Nicaragua

 

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An Incredible Yoga retreat in Santa Teresa Costa Rica
An Incredible Yoga retreat in Santa Teresa Costa Rica
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34 Comments

  1. I agree 100%. I’ve been in CR nearly a year and I am sooooooo ready to get out. Pesticides (7 times more used than in the US), few and far between real organic markets, burning of plastic and garbage EVERYWHERE, regular use of cynoff for creepy crawlies that kills honey bees, and then all the PR and marketing that tries to cover that up are things I would add. Lots of counties in the world are like what I described but the expats of CR, and whoever is in charge of media campaigns, consciously try to cover it up, which seems like the opposite of ‘pura vida’ to me. …. also I appreciate the term pura vida has meaning to the locals but I found more gingos use it to cover up being A-holes. The cost of beach areas, and 99% of signage being in English only felt super gross too.

  2. Interesting to see how the trend we noticed 15 years ago has increased. Still, in our our half year in Costa Rica we did manage to stay away from high-priced and foreign-dominated areas, though it took some doing. It also took us learning enough Spanish to travel in the areas where English was less common. We found a small B&B called Posada Andrea Cristina in Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí in the Caribbean lowlands, and the owner Alex Martinez found us many small local-run spots to visit around the country, including some that were associated with agricultural cooperatives. We’ve stayed in touch with Alex who still runs the operation, now with his son Kevin. You can read some of our account of meeting Alex on the post I included with this post. (And Alex does speak pretty good English.)

    1. I imagine the Caribbean side is completely different and has relatively few tourists.
      Thanks for taking time to comment Paul.

  3. Thanks for the honesty here! Anne and I are planning to dodge Minnesota winters by heading to Central America around February 2015. Originally thinking Costa Rica for yoga/beach/surf but we don’t like overpriced areas with too much tourism. Where in Nicaragua would you recommend?

    1. I loved Isla Ometepe: very peaceful, lots of nature, and some nice little homestays around the lake. I don’t know if there are any places with yoga but I think you would like it.
      Otherwise have heard good things about San Juan del Sur on the coast. Thing is that they are not too far from each other and you can probably get from one to the other within 3 hours.
      Minnesota winters? Yikes, that’s rough!

  4. Very helpfulf post. I haven’t been to Costa Rica yet, and it gets such mixed reviews. Nice to hear that the yoga center was good. I always fear that those places will be full of obnoxious “woo woo” tourists.

    1. Thanks, Jenny – yoga center was great! Still one of the best experiences we’ve ever had.
      What’s a ‘woo woo’ tourist?

  5. Interesting thoughts about Costa Rica. I agree that one of the best parts of traveling is getting to meet new people from different cultures! Beautiful photos- thanks for sharing!

  6. I did a study abroad program with my high school in 1997 and Costa Rica definitely was not touristy then. I loved it! Now with all I read about it, I wonder if I should go back. I think I may be disappointed now and am best to leave my wonderful memories as just that.

  7. Lovely photos! I am also happy to see the downsides of a place – not happy that they exist though. I know, there is no perfect place, and we all have our preferences, but… 🙂

    1. Appreciate it Lori – I get flak from a lot of people who don’t like that I say anything negative. I think travel is like anything else: you’re not going to like everyone you meet or everything you ever eat. It’s a personal thing. I just try to be honest about our own experiences and if some people want to discredit that then fine…it might still be useful to others and they might actually have a better trip because they’ve learned something from our negative experience.

  8. The whole CR is run by foreigners thing is what has always turned my off from Costa Rica. Even though I have a friend who lives there (u.s. expat, go figure) & loves it, he’s even bitched about how expensive it is. You’ll definitely find the same thing in the Riviera Maya & Yucatan though, a lot of properties are owned by expats who want to charge 1st world prices. Though maybe not to the extent where you can’t escape the tourists/expats.

    1. Hi Val. I know you’ve been based in Mexico where the food is frigin awesome. I actually like rice and beans, no problem there, but it is definitely not Mexico. On the other hand you’re safe with the water in CR – I spent half my time last year on the Mexican shit diet…

    1. Sorry you feel that way Sybille. The purpose of a blog is to tell our experience and help others learn from it. If you want a fluff piece there are many blogs on the internet that will gloss things over for you. In the meantime I’ll try to be honest in my critique of our experiences.

  9. I agree with points 1, 3, and 4. I felt WAY too touristy! I would definitely suggest Panama. I loved Panama! Even Guatemala was amazing! Roatan, Honduras was wonderful and very relaxing. Nicaragua, I would like to go there someday. I felt it wasn’t very friendly there (Costa Rica) and everything was overpriced. One of the taxis overcharged us and would not give us the fair price. Actually this happened multiple times. Even had a hard time finding real authentic Costa Rican food. Some parts of Costa Rica were beautiful though.

    1. Thanks for the comments Reima! Nice to know your thoughts on Roatan, I know it’s one of Air Transat’s new destinations and now easily accessible from Montreal. Yeah, you’ve basically backed up our thoughts on Costa Rica.

  10. Nice to see someone else with a similar opinion. While there are many beautiful spots in Costa Rica, our experience was much the same. We were arriving from a long, extended trip. Our most recent visits had been in Venezuela and Peru. When we got to San Jose and saw the Denny’s attached to the Holiday Inn, it was like we were already back in the US. Transportation, food and lodging was overpriced, and things just seemed over-saturated by tourism, especially American and Canadian tourists and expats. While we enjoyed the Caribbean side, and were impressed by the diverse natural environments (and how much is being protected) we didn’t make the same connections with people and places we did in other spots. Maybe with more time we could get off the beaten path and do some better exploring, but there are many other places we’d like to see before we return…

  11. I’m Costa Rican, and I agree, Manuel Antonio and La Fortuna are very expensive tourist areas, and in general Costa Rica is expensive. I feel however that you also had too much bad luck, in terms of people you’ve met and the prices you were charged. My advice will be that if you ever decide to come back to Costa Rica, to go to the Caribbean area, completely different vibe in comparison to the Pacific, and I would also suggest you to do a little bit of the capital on a Saturday, if you go to the main parks, Morazan for instance, there you’ll get to meet some great people; all Saturdays, there are free activities to do, classes, and concerts. But from what you wrote, I do can see how you got this bad opinion towards Costa Rica.

    1. Thanks Robert. Oh well, we can’t all like the same places – which is a good thing because otherwise some of my favorite places (like Colombia, Cuba, or Mexico) would be overcrowded with tourists. Let them all go to Costa Rica 🙂

  12. Really interesting thoughts about Costa Rica, I’ve been debating whether to go as some of our friends have just moved there for work. To be honest it’s not a place at the top of my list and this post has definitely made me think I should go somewhere else 😉 Love your photos on Santa Teresa though, I’m glad you eventually found a place you enjoyed!

    1. Thanks for the comment Becky! Costa Rica definitely not our favorite place despite our good experience in Santa Teresa. I think Nicaragua a more interesting destination for anyone not afraid of being a bit more adventurous!

  13. Hi, I starting reading your blog from a google search on Lake Toba in Indonesia.. And then i kept clicking on and on and on… Very interesting insight on what Phi Phi has become and also above on Cosa Rica… thanks for penning your thoughts and experiences down on the internet =)

    1. Hi Julie,

      Thanks for reading my blog and writing a comment! Hope I wasn’t too negative in some of my remarks about the various places :).

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