Ahh, January... That special time of year when fantasies turn to extricating the body of holiday indulgences while getting tan in the process. Now, imagine running towards a beach, surf board clutched tightly under your arm, after a sunrise yoga session. Does it get better than this?
Most already know that Costa Rica is home to some of the best surfing and yoga retreats in the world. Towns like Jaco (near San José) and Tamarindo (near Liberia) are easy to get to, but they also mean more tourists and ho-hum chain names. For those who want to dig deeper, no other part of Costa Rica combines the two activities quite as well as the southwest hub of Nicoya Peninsula, specifically Santa Teresa.
It’s a pain in the rear to get to (a common conversation piece) and that's exactly why non-conformists (many of whom conveniently happen to be quite attractive) from around the globe (like Argentina, California, and Sweden) flock to this spot. It doesn’t hurt, too, that in-the-know celebs are frequent visitors; you might even see Rafael Nadal, Demi Moore, or Gisele and Tom on your trip. The town's pot-holed dusty roads have an endless parade of eye candy in the form of bicycles, ATVs, and vintage SUVs, and after the sun goes down, killer restaurants like Koji's serve up quality sushi and mojitos.
Overall, the vibe is cool, laid-back, worldly, and healthy; it’s enough to make you want to quit your desk job, move here, and open a yoga and surf hotel, which is exactly how most of these expat-owned properties came to be! Here are nine hipster-cool, surf and yoga junkie retreats that will probable make you a better person -- or at least up your cool factor.
1. Pranamar Villas and Yoga Retreat
It's no wonder that this Balinese-inspired beachfront resort specializes in yoga and surfing -- it has, arguably, the best yoga studio in town, and is within walking distance of some of the area's best waves at Playa Hermosa. Yoga is included in the rate (a rarity in Santa Teresa), and most guests participate in daily classes. Drop-in options are also popular with locals, especially on Mondays what the resort jokes that everyone comes in for "Detox Mondays." After class is over, many exchange their mats for surf boards and hit the beach. Guests can dine on healthy fare at Buddha Eyes (à la carte breakfasts are included), which turns romantic at night, before heading back to authentic one- and two-bedroom villas made mostly of local wood.
2. Florblanca Resort
The most luxurious, and therefore expensive, option in town is right on the beach with 11 standalone villas including a three-bedroom Surf House. Health nuts can start the day with a yoga class in the wooden dojo (a certain Brazilian supermodel comes here when in town), followed by a smoothie before hitting the beach. Surf sessions turn to sunset cocktails, and sunset cocktails turn into gourmet dinners with wine. The vibe is classy and yet never strays far from the rugged environment, which is why celebs like Donna Karan come here with her entire family in tow.
3. Horizon Ocean View Hotel and Yoga Center
Asia meets Costa Rica at this small hotel and tea house owned by an Israeli couple, Gali and Yoav. The walk-up setting (good for the glutes!) offers stunning Pacific Ocean views from the steep wooden yoga deck -- above reception -- for daily Sivananda and/or Vinyasa. Classes are open to all levels, though intermediates should plan on being challenged by the quality instructors; the center's owners even lead some classes. On Sundays, there is a sunset yoga class that is very popular. Eight units are made mostly of pine and include balconies, kitchenettes, and three pools. Surfing waves, restaurants, and groceries are a walk away, and massages can be arranged on-site.
4. Casa Marbella
An avid surfer and his wife (both American) opened this mid-range boutique property in 2007 to capitalize on stunning views of the Pacific Ocean. Six Standard Rooms and Suites wrap around an infinity pool, while two enormous three-bedroom Condos are great for families or groups. Units have kitchens, kitchenettes, or mini-fridges, and guests are a short, but steep, walk to the grocery store, dining options, and the beach. The hotel's laid-back guests can rent from a large collection of surfboards, and use the gorgeous open-air yoga deck for self-practice -- you rarely have to worry about it already being occupied. For daily classes, Horizon's yoga studio is just a walk away.
5. Villas Hermosas
Canadian owners, Brad and Tara, are behind this mid-range home-away-from-home which offers just four standalone villas on the edge of Santa Teresa. Comfortable and clean units have air-conditioning, kitchens, and outdoor space, but the gem here is the jaw-dropping ocean view with rugged with rock formations and zero crowds. Surfing is big here. If Brad is out and about, he will likely see a buddy or two and exchange a "Pura Vida." There are steady waves along this part of the coast for all levels, and guests can walk in either direction to find serious local surfers, or instructors with a small group of beginners. For yogis -- just saunter down the beach to arrive at Pranamar's studio for daily classes.
6. Casas de Soleil
These hand-crafted, contemporary two- to four-bedroom villas provide a stylish alternative for laid-back groups and families a short walk from the hub of Santa Teresa. Charismatic owners Soraya and Trent go out of their way to provide personable service and will gladly arrange transportation and activities. Not to be missed: Trent's guaranteed-to-get-up surf lesson. Trent is passionate about surfing and encourages all guests to go out for a lesson. He has several surfboards in his collection, and he teaches newbies using his own signature technique. Sometimes Soleil, the owners' daughter, joins the lessons to help with younger kids, or take photos. Meanwhile, yoga classes at Horizon's studio are within walking distance.
7. Hotel Buenes Aires
For budget-minded travelers, this eight-room hotel high in the hills overlooking the Pacific Ocean is a solid option. It was opened in 2001 by an Argentinian couple who keeps the place clean and simple (they also live on-site). The picturesque lawn -- great for sunsets -- is the spot for happy hour where surfers sip beer and trade stories after hoofing it back and forth to Playa Carmen's beach and steady waves. Low-priced rooms (either with fans or air-conditioning) do not have much outdoor privacy, but each is equipped with a private bathroom and mini-fridge. Javier, the owner, can often be coerced to surf with guests (for fun) and provides a ride on his ATV at no charge. Yoga classes at Horizon are within walking distance.
8. Hotel Vista de Olas
A few minutes outside of town is this small, mid-range hotel, with five villas on a hillside, where the highlight is an infinity pool (said to be the first in Nicoya Peninsula) from which guests can watch surfers in the distance. Owned and operated by a lovable, eccentric family of four, the hotel is clean and simple with mini-fridges and outdoor bathrooms. Two sons (both easy on the eyes) offer surf lessons, and no one will want to pass that up as they are both on their way to becoming professionals. Yoga classes will require a walk or drive into town, or you can stick out your thumb and hitchhike like the locals.
9. Ylang Ylang Beach Resort
A bumpy 45-minute drive from Santa Teresa gets you to this off-the-beaten-track hotel situated at the end of a scenic beach, within walking distance of hippie town Montezuma -- an area popular with surfers and dreadlocked expats. Open since 1999, Ylang Ylang is now run by a second generation: the original owner’s son and his yoga-instructor wife. The property stretches across a lush rainforest nature preserve, where monkeys and exotic birds are common (carry a camera at all times). Add in healthy breakfasts and dinners (both included in the rate), and there isn't another place in Nicoya Peninsula like it. One of the highlights is the yoga deck above the restaurant where there are daily classes with incredible ocean views. Some areas on the beach are great for surfing (rentals available) but be careful of those rocks; in fact, it's best to follow the locals.