As with buying a house, one of the first things you should consider for a wonderful holiday is, of course, location, location, location. A beautiful hotel in the wrong part of town can not only be a bore, but downright dangerous. And when opting for a beach hotel, you really do need to be careful – a lot of those idyllic images some properties post on their websites tend to crop out neighbouring sky rises, wifi towers and even oil rigs.
Luckily, the new Nantipa hotel really is set in a paradisiac part of Santa Teresa, Costa Rica, But be warned: it’s not easy to get to! Although that may be a very good thing.
Nantipa: pristine…for now
After arriving in the Costa Rican capital of San Jose, we were told the trip to Santa Teresa would take us around four and half hours. Our very amicable driver, Ignacio, picked us up in an SUV and drove us to the ferry for our hour and a half crossing to the Puntarenas province. Once we disembarked, he then took us through the kind of landscapes you see in commercials for Range Rover – low rivers, unpaved, muddy roads and small towns full of waving children – before we finally arrived at our destination.
It has been dubbed ‘the new Tulum’ and I could see why: Santa Teresa is long strip of pristine beach separated from its town by a thin strip of woodland. The pueblo is full of beach bum hangouts like hostels, yoga retreats and surf shacks with names like ‘The Love Zone’. It’s still got an authentic bohemian vibe that died in places like Bali and Tulum after the New York investment bankers and British trustafarians took those places over. But let’s see how long that lasts: Mel Gibson has a place here, as does supermodel Gisele Bundchen and her husband Tom Brady. David Cameron spent Christmas here a few years ago, and Canadian PM Justin Trudeau has just visited. I suppose it’s the fact that it takes half a day to get here from the airport that maintains the charm of Santa Teresa, but there are already plans to upgrade the roads and build more hotels.
In fact, even our lodging, the wonderful Nantipa, already has plans to expand, though it’s only been open for over a year. This resort has 15 bungalows spread over 2.3 hectares in one of the best locations in Santa Teresa. Nearly every suite has full or partial ocean views along with pool and garden views. The Spanish manager of the hotel informed me that it’s set a full 50 metres from the beach to keep in line with the region’s building code, which states that all Ticans (as Costa Ricans are called) have access to the shoreline- no private beaches are allowed. But what this means in practical terms is that Nantipa is able to use the seaside as a tree-canopied dining room.
Highly modern, very friendly
The bungalows are all highly modern – perhaps a tad more so than necessary. They have flat-screen cable TVs (which we didn’t watch), small dining tables and work desks (which we didn’t use). There is, of course, wifi and air conditioning, as well as several trendy seating options, including an outdoor cocoon/swing thing that’s lots of fun. Though their modern design is delightful and mainly based on local materials and artwork, I had to wonder if using slow growing (though local) teak wood was the most sustainable option.
At least the amenities were fully eco-friendly: each day I delighted in the full-sized bottles of all-natural shampoo, conditioner, creams, and even insect repellent by Raw Botanics, the clean beauty brand that was stocked in each room. Pity they weren’t for sale! I also loved the provision of fresh coffee every day, which you can easily make in your room in the local manner (by pouring boiling water over the grains in a cloth filter).
The staff here are warm, open and friendly, as are most people in Santa Teresa. They were not only extremely helpful in recommending where to find vegan food in town, but also knew the best drivers, tours and surf rental shops. The restaurant team, however, could use a bit more polish. Waiters frequently forget salt, napkins and even cutlery. And though I informed the hotel of my vegan diet before arrival, there were still few options, especially at dinner (I ended up eating the same pasta with tomato sauce for the first two nights). But the homemade blue tortilla chips and pico de gallo that were brought before our meals made it all matter much less.
My quest for tasty vegan fare brought us into town, a pleasant 15 minute walk down the beach. Here, we quickly discovered our favourite spot: the Earth Cafe, a veritable magnet for expats, tourists and locals to gather over an excellent Costa Rican latte and slice of raw vegan cake. It’s young, trendy, and offers loads of healthy eating options – what these guys do to avo on toast is totally next level (the secret? Lashings of rocket pesto!).
Another favourite was the Bakery. As its simple name suggests, the place was well stocked with freshly made pastries, cakes and breads, but it was the generous salads and fresh squeezed juices that kept us coming back.
We only spent three blissful days at Nantipa, which was absurdly short. This is the kind of place where you ditch your phone and hang out on the beach. Its practically Jurassic setting makes you feel a million miles away from city life. Nothing else matters here but catching the psychedelic sunsets, when the salty ocean spray catches the fading light, and the tousselled surfers catch the last waves. You stop thinking that anything in politics is important. You don’t worry about work or bills. Even the ride back home, which most would find daunting, seems like a doddle.
That is the power of location.