Santa Teresa, Costa Rica

The search for the perfect mother-daughter trip began when my daughter was about two months shy of graduating from University of Virginia. We had always planned to visit Iceland but now she wanted to drink sangria in the tropics. 

Playa Santa Teresa

I wanted a direct flight, great AirBnb and ocean view. My daughter wanted a place to chill and NOT be writing her thesis. It was love at first sight when I read about Santa Teresa, Costa Rica. After all, who doesn’t want to stay in a place named after her? (Yes my name is Teresa but I am no saint!)

This stretch of Costa Rica’s beaches—located on the Pacific Coast—is ranked among the world’s top beaches. Surfers come down here and never return. The beach towns are filled with American hippies who will never leave. And the sea and sand are divine.

What I didn’t understand was how long it would take me to get from point A to point B on a combination of airplanes, shuttle buses and a ferry. It took about eight hours … and this was after a four-hour direct flight from Baltimore. Oh and there is that little problem with the ruts in the dusty roads leading to Santa Teresa.

But I didn’t know any of this when I booked our gorgeous Sunset Reef Ocean View suite (AorBnb) on the top of a mountain in Santa Teresa. The cost was $828 for 7 nights. Our unit had multiple hammocks to watch the sunrise and sunset over the ocean. It had lush tropical flowers and bushes below our deck. It had glowing reviews.

So I booked it. If you can put up with the fact that it is a long drive across the country to get to Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast or if you are willing to travel in a tiny plane, this is a great deal. (Note I had booked my round trip on Nature Air but the airline was shut down after a crash killing 12 people on December 31, 2017).

The direct bus from the capital in San Jose where the international airport is located leaves at 6 am and 3 pm. It takes 6 hours including the ferry crossing. Suffice it to say it is a pain to get to the Peninsula de Nicoya, Costa Rica but it feels like heaven when you survey Playa Santa Teresa (or nearby Playa Carmen) for the first time. Imagine sea stretching for miles. Feel the sugary soft sand slip through your toes. Marvel at the surfers who seem to glide on top of the huge waves.

There is a reason why Costa Rica’s unofficial slogan is “pura vida,” meaning pure life. I found Santa Teresa to be pure joy. Since the town has not been overly commercialized with highrise hotels and runaway development, it has a small town vibe. Even in high season in January (but after the Christmas-New Year tourism crush), I mostly had the beach to myself to swim, read or take long walks along the coastline. I enjoyed wading in the tidal pools and climbing over the huge rocks. I also loved how the backdrop to the coastline was a thick forest of palm trees where I could take rest when I overheated. 

The list is endless for what to do. Every day I saw tourists riding horseback on the beach. But the highlight for me was meeting two horses who ran (or maybe just cantered away) from their trainer and wandered on the beach.

Sitting drinking a sangria at a beachside bar, I bolted out of my hammock to greet them. They nodded their head when I asked whether I could stroke their long tapered neck. Both horses was chestnut colored. They were in no hurry nor was I. It was bliss petting them.

I also enjoyed eating lunch daily at Soda Tiquicia which is located on the main drag. This is where the native Costa Ricans (known as Ticos) eat in an open air dining cafe at picnic tables or the bar. There are billowing cotton curtains to block the noon sun. (It also does a brisk carry out business.) The kitchen produced the best “tipico” plate of spicy black beans, rice, salad and fried fish (or you could chose meat). And it cost about $6.

Typical Costa Rican meal at a Soda

I made fast friends with the cat who lived on-site with the caretaker at our 5-unit AirBnb. Her name was Teresa. She was a tiny tabby with striped fur and penetrating green eyes. All it took was the purchase of a can of tuna fish from the local grocery store to win her favor. Soon she was spending every night in our suite.

One splurge was contacting a local woman (an ex-pat from Vancouver, BC) for a 50-minute massage on our deck. So while I listened to the waves crash on the beach below (and her iPhone played classical music), she worked out every kink in my neck, back and legs from our long journey. Heaven!

I logged a lot of steps (about 8 miles a day) because I had the long haul down the mountain to get to the beach. Once there, all I wanted to do was walk for miles and lose myself in contemplation. Since my daughter likes to sleep in, I usually would fix my coffee in the drip Costa Rica coffee maker, enjoy a homemade cafe latte on the deck and then take a LONG morning walk while it was still cool. 

I regret to say that I was lazy about leaving Santa Teresa proper. I wanted to try the jet line adventure but I couldn’t get my act together early enough to book the tour and get myself by bus to the location. We also had big plans to attend a concert at a local bar on Sunday night but a torrential downpour soaked us and we chose to return back home and put on dry clothes. Heavy rains are a daily occurrence in July.

I also didn’t get to the 3,000-acre Cabo Blanco nature reserve, which was a six mile walk (to the south) from my AirBnb. And oh there is so much more to do in Santa Teresa if you choose. A lot of sun-tanned yogis stay in dorms on the beach and do Sun Salutations from their porch at sunrise. Another guest at our AirBnb enrolled in a Spanish immersion class and attended school during the day and vacationed at night. She was an elementary school teacher from California and she wanted to be able to talk to her students’ parents (many who spoke only limited English.)

And finally you can book an all-day fishing excursion (or snorkeling adventure) in the neighboring community of Mal Pais and bring home enough fish to organize a dinner party for five. Which is what our cool neighbors on the other side of our villa did—invite us to share their grilled fish and homemade ceviche. Of course we brought a bottle of crisp white wine. It was a great way to end our week in Santa Teresa.

At 330 am, we began the long final haul down the mountain … dragging our rolling suitcases. We had a sad (and yes tearful) goodbye to our suite cat, Teresa. Our pickup van waited on the main road, its headlights guiding us in the dark. Within hours, we were boating the ferry which would take us back toward San Jose.

Sitting on lounge chairs, we watch the black night dissolve into a swirl of pink, rose, gold and orange strokes painted across the morning sky. Peace.

Sunrise on the ferry headed back to San Jose

If you like my travel blog, please subscribe at the link below. I will post a new travel story each week.

I love to hear your comments!