Destination Review: Casa Zen in Santa Teresa, Costa Rica

7 am – beach time. 9 am – batido (or smoothie) time. 9:30 am – yoga en plain air. 11 am onwards – anything you like.

Casa Zen

A day at Casa Zen, in Santa Teresa, Costa Rica, is what you want to make of it. But, the beachside setting, the food, and the remoteness is sure to provide a relaxing and rejuvenating environment after you’ve ditched your surfboard at the end of a long day on the waves. Not a surfer? At Casa Zen you can enjoy an open-air massage, read in a hammock on the upper patio, have a light thai-inspired meal or simply lie on the beach under the shade of swaying palms.

The small, coastal village of Santa Teresa sits in a more remote area of the Nicoya Peninsula on the Pacific Ocean. This village is growing slowly, but a lack of paved roads has deterred tourists despite its incredible potential as an ocean-side oasis. In June of 2009, I had the chance to visit this area of Costa Rica, and did not find the journey to be as arduous as described. But, as there are fewer people who travel to this destination, what results is a quieter community and a beach that is nearly deserted at times.

Casa Zen was recommended by my guidebook, so I chose to spend 4 nights there at the end of my trip. The owner of Casa Zen, Kelly Lange, opened the guesthouse in December of 2004. Originally from Kansas City, Lange used to visit her father, who was living in Costa Rica, and at one time visited – and fell in love with – Santa Teresa. She encouraged him to invest in some property in this small beach-side village, and the rest is history. Casa Zen features seven private rooms or apartments and two dorm rooms, The Rancho, which is an octagonal-shaped communal sitting and eating area, a Thai restaurant serving breakfast lunch and dinner, a small outdoor spa area, and an upper patio where hammocks hang beckoning a nap or reading session and are otherwise removed for morning yoga classes (catered to any level of experience).

Lange’s philosophy for Casa Zen is “fair pricing” in order to encourage wellness and holistic healing for everyone. “Enough is enough,” she said to me, reflecting on how it is only necessary to charge so much to her guests. A wandering backpacker can pay just $12 for a dorm bed, while private rooms start at just $24, for instance. The shared bathrooms are clean and accessible, and an outdoor camper’s kitchen allows travellers on a budget to cook meals for themselves.

Thai-Inspired Decor of Casa Zen

Casa Zen is not just for the backpacker, however. Young couples, families, or any traveller with a smaller budget can enjoy the services at Casa Zen, without needing to skimp out on quality. The environment at Casa Zen is very clean, secure, and at the hands of a team who clearly care about their establishment. Two internet stations allow you to stay connected with family at home, or to make plans for your next destination. The food is exceptional and well-priced, with menu options including fresh fruit smoothies, egg dishes, sandwiches, fresh guacamole and crisps, Vietnamese Bun, green curry, and sweet banana crepes to finish.

At night, when the sun has set, paper lanterns of various colours provide splashes of colour and light throughout Casa Zen, rendering a very funky and inviting atmosphere in which to sit and converse with other travellers.

Playa Santa Teresa

What’s in the future for Casa Zen? Lange has a dream of creating packaged yoga retreats and workshops, which would include healthy meals and a holistic approach to self-discovery and healing. Future plans also include extending the yoga studio to make it larger.

When I asked Lange what the most meaningful feedback on Casa Zen was for her, she mentioned without hesitation her “guestbook,” and the fact that some of her guests returned year after year and have since become friends. Perusing her guestbook before I signed my name, I was inspired by the entries of other travellers, who said that their stay at Casa Zen helped them to find themselves again.

No doubt Casa Zen can help you find yourself again, or give you the space to think and rejuvenate. And the best part is you can pamper yourself at Casa Zen, and treat yourself like royalty without spending the royal fees.

For more information, please see www.zencostarica.com

FAST FACTS

Getting There: From San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica, either rent a car and drive, taking the ferry from Puntarenas to Paquera along the way, or take a private shuttle through Montezuma Expeditions.

mal-pais-santa-teresa-map

Accommodations: Dorm $12, Private Rooms $24+

Massage: ½ Hour $30, 1 Hour $55, 1.5 Hours $80

Yoga: $7 per class, or $25 for 5 classes

Food Items: $1.50 – $10

Langauges Spoken: English and Spanish

Internet: Available (two stations)

All photos by Meghan J. Ward.

Map from: http://www.paradisecellular.com/images/mal-pais-santa-teresa-map.jpg.

© Meghan J. Ward, 2009.

Zipping Through

Since I wrote about Cerro Chirripo, I have been to La Fortuna, Monteverde, and now I am in the beach-side town of Santa Teresa on the Nicoya Peninsula.

La Fortuna was the ‘Banff’ of Costa Rica for me. Nothing against my town, but it was definitely the most developed and commercial place I have been – the ‘go-to’ place for first-time backpackers who are looking for a party and a pool. It was beautiful, nonetheless, and my hostel was positioned perfectly with a great view of Volcan Arenal, one of the most active volcanoes in the world. Spewing smoke at all hours, and apparently an avalanche just after  I left, it is one of those wonders of the world that you just can’t take your eyes off of.

Fast forward to Monteverde, which is quite a neat little town nestled in the cloud forest. Monteverde was established as a Quaker settlement and is now filled with conservationists, hippies, and canopy tour operators. Upon my arrival there, I did the most touristy thing I have done so far on this trip and signed up for a zipline extravaganza through and over the cloud forest. The two highlights for me were definitely the “Tarzan Swing,” which is actually just as it sounds, and the kilometre long zip-line. My other days in Monteverde took me up Cerro Amigos, which had me bushwacking through forest that hadn’t seen the light of day in…ever, and walking through the Children’s Eternal Rainforest, a reserve of protected forest that is great for wild-life watching. I had a particularly hilarious confrontation with a monkey, who clearly knew  I was watching him, so he broke off a branch of the tree he was swinging on and threw it at me! I loved Monteverde and particularly the vibe of the hostel where  I was staying, Pension Santa Elena. It was the most social I have been on the whole trip.

And that brings me to Playa Santa Teresa, where I am staying at Casa Zen, a thai-inspired guesthouse 50 metres from the Pacific Ocean. Yesterday’s morning yoga session brought me to Zen-heaven – I had never done yoga outdoors before, let alone on a roof-top patio where ocean waves crashing on the shore near-by created a natural soundtrack. My trip finishes off soon, with one more day here after today and then a trip back to San Jose.

I’m off to another yoga session in a few minutes. I’ll see you there somewhere between Om and Namaste.

© Meghan J. Ward, 2009.