While researching possible destinations for a New Year’s Eve trip, I discovered that Costa Rica is a “Blue Zone,” making it home to some of the happiest and healthiest people in the world. In the last two years, healthy and happy were two words that rarely made headlines. Despite Omicron’s best efforts to keep me inside my NYC apartment, I decided to flee to Costa Rica in search of what makes their culture unique and hopefully bring that back with me in 2022.
Costa Rica may be small in size, but it is full of varied landscapes. If you have a few days and a desire to explore, you can visit rainforests, volcanos, hot springs, beaches, and waterfalls. At the top of my travel bucket list was staying at Nayara Tented Camp, a rainforest resort voted #2 in Travel + Leisure’s “2021 World’s Best Awards” in Arenal Volcano National Park. With that adventure booked, I was in search of a beach destination to complete our five day trip. Below are some of the areas that I considered.
On the southern coast of Costa Rica, Uvita is home to the famous Whale’s Tail where hundreds of humpback whales congregate each year. Humans also gather annually at Envision Festival. Uvita, as well as nearby Manuel Antonio, is a good option if you’re looking to explore national parks and beaches.
Where to Stay:
If you’re planning a short trip to Costa Rica and prefer larger resorts to boutique hotels, then the northwest province of Guanacaste is for you. Liberia International Airport is less than an hour away, making it easy to access a variety of beach activities and golf at the Arnold Palmer Signature Course.
Where to Stay:
It was hard to decide between Nosara and Santa Teresa, two small towns located on the Nicoya Peninsula. They are both bohemian escapes for surfers and yogis with great restaurants, shops, and bars.
Where to Stay:
If I imagine what Tulum was like before bachelorettes and Bagatelle, I think it would look a lot like Santa Teresa. Only recently did this coastal town pave the road that ties cute cafes, hostels, boutiques, yoga centers, and beach paths together. Even though Tom Brady and Gisele own a home in this remote town, it still feels like a well kept secret.
To get here from San Jose airport, you can either drive then take a ferry or hop on a short flight (we flew on Sansa Airlines). When you get off the propeller plane in Tambor, you have to drive another 45 minutes along dirt paths, dodging ATVs and barefoot surfers. After a long day of traveling, we felt at peace when we finally arrived at our hotel and saw a sunset coated in red.
There are a number of great hotels in Santa Teresa, but we wanted to stay somewhere with beach access and walking distance to everything. Nantipa was recently built and beautifully designed. With only a few rooms, it felt intimate but also provided a beachfront restaurant and spa.
Our bungalow had a private plunge pool with an outdoor hammock, complimentary snacks, and a delicious welcome cocktail. I highly recommend Nantipa for couples.
In Santa Teresa, all of the restaurants are located on the same road that runs parallel to the beach. Every cafe and restaurant was filled with diverse groups of young people who all somehow seemed to know each other. While the food and atmosphere were both great, be warned that when it comes to the service, you should expect that everyone is very much operating on “island time.” Delayed dishes and some light chaos are to be expected. Thankfully, you’ll have a stray dog or cat to keep you company while you’re waiting.
Breakfast & Lunch:
Dinner & Drinks:
Other great spots include Katana, Somos, or Al Chile Viola.
With so many activities in Santa Teresa (yoga class or surf lesson) and nearby areas (Montezuma or Mal Pais), my one regret was spending one of the two days that we had there on a full day tour to Tortuga Island. It may have been bad luck, but the ocean’s low visibility made snorkeling less exciting. I would recommend not making any plans and let the day unfold naturally. The highlight of my trip was waking up to the sounds of howler monkeys, reading a book in our outdoor hammock, and then seeing a baby turtle wobble towards the ocean before I headed to breakfast on the beach.
We left Santa Teresa relaxed with sand still in our pockets and headed to the rainforest to immerse ourselves in nature. The La Fortuna and Arenal area is known for its dormant volcano, hot springs, and range of thrill-seeking activities.
Nayara Tented Camp is an adult’s dream treehouse. The rooms are built into the canopy, equipped with a personal heated pool that overlooks the volcano and an indoor and outdoor shower made for two. On your way to the hotel’s hot springs and restaurants, you cross paths with lizards and exotic birds more than you do people.
The Nayara Resort property consists of three hotels: Nayara Tented Camp, Nayara Springs, and Nayara Gardens. If you don’t want to splurge on a night at Nayara Tented Camp (starts at $1,000), I would recommend staying at either of the two hotels since they are all intertwined and share the same facilities.
The benefit of having an expert guide was that she opened our eyes to all the animals that were hiding among us, like this sloth and her baby pictured below. If you want to skip the tour and save money, you can easily pay admission to the park and navigate everything on your own.
I came to Costa Rica hoping to discover why the natives live longer, happier lives. What I learned is that you can find inner peace in “pura vida” — a simple life. Ditch the plans and your watch, so you can appreciate the beauty around you.