These days, I rarely take a vacation where I make little to no plans. I am usually doing tons of research, plotting out my days, and leaving a bit of downtime in my itinerary. But, on occasion, it is really something special to take a vacation and make NO PLANS. A vacation where you are just going to SIT AND DO NEXT TO NOTHING.
These vacations are especially great if you go to a warm climate in the middle of winter, just saying.
In the past, I had gone to resorts in Mexico for these types of chill trips, but when my friend Angie and I decided we needed a warm weather trip in February, we opted for a country that was new to both of us: Costa Rica. Fortunately, her friends had been there recently and recommended an incredible resort in Santa Teresa called Latitude 10. Within a few minutes of browsing the resort’s website, we were sold. A few days later, sometime in October, we had our trip booked. And until we were about to leave, we didn’t think anymore about what we would be doing in Costa Rica.
So, when we arrived, we had nothing planned. It was perfect. We were both fried from work and looking forward to a week of having no schedule, no agenda, nowhere to be. Besides, the resort was set on a beach in this lush, tropical paradise – why would we want to busy ourselves elsewhere when we could just chill out here? The staff at the resort was incredibly helpful and immediately set to helping us plan a few activities for our week-long stay. We booked a surf lesson for the next morning, a snorkeling excursion, and a TWO HOUR spa service. Plans made, we found our way to the pool where we would spend most of our time. When we got tired of the pool, we wandered over to the hammocks.
And every night, without fail, we watched the sunset on the beach.
The surf lesson was fantastic (my 2nd, Angie’s 1st) so we booked another one for later that week. Each one was basically a private lesson at the nearby Playa Hermosa and we returned to the resort for a delicious breakfast.
The snorkeling excursion included a trip through a wildlife sanctuary and some hang time on a beach (Tortuga Island) where we snacked on fresh watermelon and coconut. Our guide, who picked us up from the resort and drove us all day, was incredibly knowledgeable. Our entire day with him was a lesson – he wanted us to leave Costa Rica with more than a tan. We drove about an hour from Santa Teresa to the wildlife refuge (which had previously been a plantation). We saw all kinds of monkeys and lizards and birds here. Then took a boat ride to Tortuga Island with another group, first hitting a snorkeling spot for about 45 minutes. The island was nearly deserted and so quiet.
And obviously the spa service was a fantastic break in our pool time.
Not planning things left us open to spontaneous excursions too. The resort was very helpful in reserving cars for Angie and I to take around town when we went to dinner or to bars that were further away. While the town itself is safe, the roads are very dark at night and it is not safe to walk around since the cars may not be able to see you. We became quite chummy with the two drivers that took us everywhere and, on one of our first nights, we found ourselves at a local rodeo/carnival in Cobano. This was most definitely not a touristy event. The rodeo was was totally bizarre and not like anything that would happen in the States. Spectators were literally inside the ring, which was encouraged. It was insane, but totally fun too. After the rodeo we watched fireworks, went to the dance tent and watched people dancing (and did some dancing ourselves). Probably one of the best parts of our trip!
We also had one night where we enjoyed cocktails at Banana Beach during sunset and decided to walk back along the beach to our resort. This seemed like a good idea at the time, but we quickly learned that the walk was much further than we thought and it would soon be getting dark. We managed to get back to the hotel just after dark, occasionally using the flashlights on our iPhones to navigate back, and celebrated by jumping into the pool immediately (perhaps disrupting the other guests’ cocktail hour?)
Santa Teresa is known for its yoga, which we didn’t do, and some very delicious food. The resort’s food was really delicious and I found myself eating the same breakfast nearly every single day – gallo pinto with eggs: rice and beans, plantains, scrambled eggs, avocado, tomato, and a fresh corn tortilla (we saw them being made each morning). Some other places to try if you visit:
- Koji’s – Highly recommended, one of the top restaurants in town. It’s Japanese, all very fresh. Cash only. Felt like somewhere in the Hamptons, mostly what looked like American tourists dining there. All of the fish was tuna as that was what was fresh – it was unbelievably good. Very good cocktails too (try the spicy margarita). People watching is top notch.
- Brisas del Mar – Great spot to watch the sunset. It was not crowded when we went there. Plenty of tables, couches, etc but no air flow and very warm there. Good, strong cocktails.
- Al Chile Viola – Italian place close to our hotel. Pretty good food, most of the staff is from Canada or South America. We drank a lot of wine here and they let us buy a bottle to go 🙂
- Kika – Has live music on Thursdays (starts at 10). Get fish and Grandma’s Pork. Many people go to reggae night at the bar next door afterwards
- Tapas – It’s a tapas restaurant obviously. Offers traditional tapas dishes, paellas, and fresh fish. Sangria was a bit sweet. Cash only.
- Zwart Cafe – Little cafe on the main road in Santa Teresa, art gallery/hippie vibe. Lots of salads, bowls, sandwiches, and smoothies. Add fresh fish to your meal!
- Banana Beach – Really cool bar on the beach, very spread out, laid back hippie/surfer vibe. Nice spot to watch the sunset
Fly into San Jose or Liberia. If you are staying further north, Liberia is more convenient. We spent the night at the Hampton Inn at San Jose airport (about 5 minutes drive from airport). Hotel has shuttle to/from SJO and is a decent hotel with free wifi and free breakfast. Then we took a Nature Air flight to Tambor in the morning. These are small planes that jump around Costa Rica, there were about a dozen of us on the plane. It was a little terrifying at first! The Tambor airport is basically a runway and a bus stop. They collect a $2.50 airport fee. Hotel arranged taxi for us, trip took about 45 minutes. The roads are so bumpy, full of potholes and very dusty (not many paved roads). We were there in February which is the dry season so everything was very dry/dusty.
Where to stay:
Latitude10 was recommended and though a bit pricey, it looked much better than most of the options that we saw. The resort is small, there are only 5 guest rooms. All but one of the rooms are in their own casitas. We stayed in the other room which is attached to the main office/building. That room is the only one with A/C. All of the rooms have outdoor showers. The food at the hotel is amazing. Breakfast is included in the room cost, all other meals are extra. There are also fantastic smoothies, juices, and alcoholic drinks available (though the bar closes around 9pm). There’s a pool next to the dining area and hammocks and loungers near the beach. The resort also has a spa, they will book day trips/excursions for you as well. Any time we wanted to go out for meals, they arranged cars to take us to and from dinner. It was one of the best service experiences I have had. No surprise that people often come back to stay within two years of their first visit! Didn’t take long for us to settle in and relax!