Imagine a place where horses run down an endless beach at sunset and dawn; muscled surfers and wavy haired hippy girls take to the water with their boards searching for the ultimate wave; howler monkeys whoop soulfully at one another across the treetops; well-fed beach dogs play happily in the shallow surf next to long-lashed sunkissed toddlers; the supple-limbed practice yoga as the sun sinks into a golden ball and birds wheel and dive across a pink-hued sky; people gather with their cameras for sunset beers at Banana Beach at the end of another post-card perfect day, just before the sky lights up with a million stars and you can walk back along the beach by the light of the moon.
It’s hard to describe paradise, but one stroll down to the beach in Santa Teresa and you have found it. Stunning uncrowded beaches, small and big waves, with a laid-back vibe, no rubbish and lots of beautiful people, this place is firmly on the surf trail and well worth a visit. A long, palm-lined beach stretches from Malpais in the South to Playa Hermosa in the North, easily walkable if you want to avoid the cost of a quad bike (and the dusty dusty road) and can take the heat. The place itself can’t be called a town – there are plenty of shops and restaurants scattered along the length but renting a quad (or ATV as they are locally known), pushbike or car is probably advisable if you want to really explore the place thoroughly. If not, like me you can restrict yourself to certain sections and commute by beach, and after a couple of days it’s easy to navigate to where you need to exit the beach for your intended destination.
San Jose is not that far away by air – the bus/ferry route still takes a few hours – but Costa Rica now has flights direct from Canada and the UK meaning more tourists are discovering this little gem of a place. Once a surfer haven, tourists are drawn by the relatively cheap hotel costs with a good selection of self-catering, stunning beaches, safety – there’s little crime here although leaving valuables alone on the beach or in a car isn’t a good idea – watersport activities, year round sunshine and unparalleled natural beauty. It’s the perfect winter getaway for north americans who only have a couple of weeks and don’t want to spend hours on a plane. Lots are up for sale and I imagine that in 10 years there will be bigger resorts, and the beaches will heaving, but for now the place has a distinctive surf/hippy vibe, similar to that of Byron Bay.
Downsides – well there has to be one or two! Hotels tend to accept cash only – you save a bit if you pay in the local currency of colones, but bring tons of cash either way. If you pay by card you get clobbered with additional fees varying from 5% to 15%. The ATMS do work but in high season they run out of money and queues can be horrendous. You can pitch up and find places to stay that aren’t bookable online, I imagine this is easier out of high season, but self-catering or a place that has a kitchen is recommended, otherwise any meal you get in a restaurant will set you back USD$5-10 at a minimum.
The other downside is the dust. This is thick, grey and gets into everything. It will be in your clothes, hair, suitcase, shoes, electronics, eyes and ears… if you are on an ATV bring a bandana to put around your mouth and nose and wear sunglasses. Basically you can’t escape it, so you learn to live with it!
If you ever hankered for some surf lessons then Del SoulSurf School, which is run by a former Israeli surf champion, is the place to try it! A surf lesson will set you back USD45 for a local, and anywhere from USD50 to USD60 for non-locals or surf schools with a good reputation. There are tons of them so do some research – but all I can say is Amit got me up and catching waves which is something I thought I would never do (albeit on the surfboard the size of a planet). I’m still, admittedly, a lot more comfortable under the ocean, but I also rented a body board (about USD10/day) and the surf here is less powerful than Aus or SA, although people who aren’t strong swimmers should still be careful. At low tide there are lots of rockpools – going a few mins walk north past Banana Beach there is one which is absolutely stunning for an early morning swim, and the resident lurcher will happily let you throw a coconut for him and give you a waggy-tailed, wet-nosed welcome.
Santa Teresa looks West, and the sunsets are literally the most popular time to be on the beach. It’s a celebration of beauty: surfers rush into a beautiful molten gold/pink ocean to catch the final waves of the day, birds swoop down and form V’s as they glide off to their evening roots; howlers can be spotted – and if not spotted, heard – in the jungle lining the beach and above in the hills. Friendly beach dogs will gaze adoringly at tourists who will throw
sticks/coconuts or give them food, or a scratch whilst having a sunset beer and often steal your beach towel. The sun launches itself through the sky in a golden ball towards the horizon – by 5.30pm in Winter it is all over and the bonfires start up and down the beach. Keen surfers will stay in until it’s almost too dark to see. Hermit crabs of all shapes and sizes start to come out in the thousands – quite a sight. It was full moon whilst I was there, and the beach was eerily beautiful in the light of the moon and billions of stars.
I stayed in some cabins up the hill (yes, more hills!) and I’m not going to put the name of the place down as my review won’t be entirely positive, but the owner is very sweet – sort of like a sad-faced Ben Kingsley. I nicknamed it Fawlty Towers because like the show there seemed to be an endless stream of incidents, and every time the owner approached me with his habitual hang-dog expression – hands clasped together to beg for a favour – my thought was always ‘what now, Basil?!’ The first thing was that my cabin was quite rustic – wooden, parts of it definitely open to the elements – but had a mirrored door. Yes, a mirrored door in the tropics – the kind of thing you might see in a police cell. This is great during a sunny day but when it’s night and the light is on inside you can see right through it! After complaining I came home to find a stained tablecloth hammered in to act as a curtain. During the course of the stay:
- someone got electrocuted in the shower (mild shock – anyone who has travelled knows the danger of running wires by a shower head!)
- the water tank sprung a leak
- some sort of bug was eating the cabins - leading to very early morning sprays by the owner using his Ghostbuster-looking proton pack which made a god-awful teeth-on-edge racket
- he overbooked so had to evacuate his own room and sleep in a tent in the car park
- he left the door to my room wide open after going in to fix something – at night – all the lights on – I was not happy about that at all!
The plus sides were the kitchen – meaning I could eat healthily and make my own breakfast and lunch – cutting down on costs. He also gave me my ‘tax’ back when I left.
I met the most amazing people! We even had an Xmas Day Secret Santa at a beach bar. All up it was a wonderful experience and I hope that one day in the not-too-distant future I will again get to run with dogs and swim in the surf on Santa Teresa’s endless beach.