Hometown Advantage: Santa Teresa, Costa Rica

When visiting Santa Teresa, Costa Rica, the beauty and wonders of this thriving surf town are palpable. You can’t miss the three mile stretch of broad white sandy beach or the diverse restaurants and shops that line the battered dirt roads. Adventure is found in the waves’ breaks or hanging from the trees, zip lining through the lush jungles that are filled with audible monkeys and exotic birds. Relaxation is easily attained at the open air yoga studios, where a hint of sea salt awakens your sense of smell, while the sunset views from the bars set up on the sand or perched in the mountains enhance your sense of sight.

You pass the time embracing Costa Rica’s natural environment, exchanging words with locals, giving your Spanish a try, or just breathing in a bit deeper, filling your lungs with intoxicating happiness. While Santa Teresa is a simple, no frills town, there is no shortage of ways to spend your day. After seven days at a Paraiso Adventures yoga retreat, I wasn’t ready to leave. Much more remained to be seen and enjoyed. An executive decision was made. Five more days in paradise for me.

Luckily, owner and founder of Paraiso Adventures, Nina Ornstein, who is both friend and trusted retreat planner in Santa Teresa, offered up some invaluable insight on how to spend my days, which also made her the ideal candidate for Traveling-in-Heel’s next Hometown Advantage. The real lucky one is Nina, who for the last 5 years has spent months at a time in Santa Teresa, which is where she first met her boyfriend and surfer enthusiast, Austin Liggett. When they are not in New York City, they can be found living a bohemian life there. Together they have tried and tested the profusion of restaurants and bars in town, explored the various spots for a romantic or lively sunset, and have decided on their favorite surf spots. So, let’s get to it! Here are Nina and Austin’s tips to making the most of your trip to Santa Teresa – their home away from home, which served me immensely.

Hometown Advantage Tip #1 | Dine on soda

Nina first introduced me to soda, which in Costa Rica is what they call their very affordable local fare. Just past La Lora (see Tip #6) and just before the Super Hacienda grocery store on Playa Santa Teresa, is where her favorite eatery, Soda Tiquicia, is located. She recommends ordering the fish casados, a typical dish that offers a taste of just about everything from grilled fish, rice, black beans, salad and fries. A traditional filling plate, such as fish casados or Austin’s favorite, arroces – a huge plate of rice, mixed with your choice of protein (similar to a paella), would cost you a mere $8 USD. It’s the perfect meal to refuel after a morning surf session.

Hometown Advantage Tip #2 | Stop and watch the sunsets

(Photo credit: Vista de Olas)
(Photo credit: Vista de Olas)
vista de olas sunset mal pais
(Photo credit: Vista de Olas)

Being from the Northeast I take my sunsets pretty seriously. So, when Nina recommended Vista de Olas (View of Waves) in Mal País, my interest was immediately piqued. This bar and restaurant is high up a steep hill, which can make for a challenging climb during the green season, or when a bit borracha, but the view from their infinity pool, as you sip on a chilled tropical drink make the hike or the taxi ride all worth it.

Hometown Advantage Tip #3 | Shop handmade

Cielo Gift Ship Santa Teresa
(Photo credit: Cielo Gift Shop)
Cielo Gift Ship Santa Teresa
(Photo credit: Cielo Gift Shop)
Cielo Gift Ship Santa Teresa
(Photo credit: Cielo Gift Shop)

A look around the bar or down the shore and you realize you’re surrounded by a diverse mix of people. Santa Teresa for years has drawn travelers from all around the world, and with its magical abilities convinced them to stay, making a home for themselves and some opening small businesses. Nina’s favorite shop is Cielo Gift Shop, owned by two Argentinian women who make handmade clothing. Nina swears they use the softest cotton, which I can only imagine feels amazing after an afternoon in the sun. Along with their bohemian fashions, they also sell jewelry, art and handbags that mirror Costa Rica’s natural beauty. Cielo is located closer to Playa Carmen, at the “crossroads”, just north of Green World, and just south of Casa Zen.

Hometown Advantage Tip #4 | Buy fresh and direct

Product C Mal Pais
(Photo credit: Mirella Cheeseman


Living on the beach has many perks, and for the Ticos in Santa Teresa, fresh fish is by far one of their favorite. When driving south on the main road from Santa Teresa towards Mal País, the road will eventually end and leave you at a small fisherman’s village. Around two in the afternoon they return with fresh catch that can be yours at a fair price. If you prefer to catch your own fish, there are a few vessels available to rent for a deep sea fishing excursion. If you’re “hangry” and looking for something a bit more convenient, Nina recommends visiting Product C at the “crossroads” in Mal País, which sells high-quality filets, shell fish and premade delights such as ceviche, lobster cakes and smoked fish.

Hometown Advantage Tip #5 | Make a sunset appearance

Rocamar Santa Teresa
(Photo credit: Rocamar)

The locals of Santa Teresa take their sunsets very seriously. On Sunday, the “day of rest”, they come together at the far north end of Playa Santa Teresa at Rocamar. “It’s a great place to hang out, lounge around, snack, sip and chill.” Nina shared, explaining that Sundays at sunset, was when the real party picked up. “Rocamar has a sunset bonfire, attracting the local (international) beach crowd. They really heat things up on Sunday when fire dancers, aerial silk artist and DJ’s come to entertain the locals and tourist alike!” We of course went, and Nina did not exaggerate. Here you could see how diverse the locals were, but ultimately, that they all share in their love for Santa Teresa. In addition, to great vibrations, Austin points out the great waves just in front of Rocamar, but warns of strong rip tides along the rocks, advising not to swim alone or too far out. Don’t be the one to have to be saved by one of the surfers, even if they are that handsome and easy on the eyes. My mistake!

Hometown Advantage Tip #6 | Wine, dine, then dance

After the sun has set on a Thursday evening, the owners of Rocamar – two Argentinian brothers, bring the party to their second restaurant and bar called Kika. With Nina’s recommendation, I headed there to experience the great food, hospitality and live music she raved about. The evening did not disappoint.  If after a few drinks you’ve mustered up enough courage, Nina recommends joining the locals next door at La Lora Amarilla, the local night club, which she warns can be a tad on the cheesy side, but is equally as entertaining and a great way to dance off your dinner and to mingle with the true Ticos (locals native to Costa Rica).

Hometown Advantage Tip #7 | Catch a wave

Santa Teresa is widely known as a surf destination, thanks to their long stretch of coastline, where one can find world-class waves, as well as, the perfect waves for beginners. There’s a wave for everyone, which proved true when I made it out myself to catch a few with Olingo Surf. If you’re more experienced and ready to head out with your board, than check out Austin’s local surf recommendations. In town you can rent boards for as little at $4 per day.

Along with being super jealous of Nina and Austin’s beach life, I’m also grateful for their warm hospitality and eagerness to show me their life in Santa Teresa. Their tips and guidance made for an exciting and adventurous five extra days in paradise. The thought of staying longer did cross my mind, but so did my bank account. I’m looking forward to my return to Santa Teresa for another sunset with Nina. If you’re ready to put her tips to the test, than join her on her next yoga retreat in Santa Teresa, which is just around the corner on May 3, 2015. Enjoy the Pura Vida!

Alexandra Avila, Traveling in Heels

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