As Tulum has become overrun with Los Angelenos and New Yorkers trying to recreate the cultures of their own hometowns in a more idyllic setting, Santa Teresa, a string of beach-backed hamlets on the southern tip of Costa Rica’s westernmost peninsula, has an edge-of-the-world vibe that still feels remote and inspires dreams of relocation. Driving down the dusty dirt road that connects the locale’s four beach areas — Playa Carmen (notable mainly for having the only ATMs in this no-credit-card zone), Playa Hermosa, Santa Teresa proper and Mal Pais — you look at the tanned, yoga-toned people carrying their surfboards back from the beach and wonder what your life would be like in a town that experiences almost year-round sunshine (punctuated by the occasional biblical rainstorm, sure) and consistent 80-degree temperatures.
Once a sleepy fishing village, Santa Teresa is now an increasingly luxurious surfer’s paradise filled with people who have made this particular fantasy their reality — and the occasional detox-seeking celebrity who likes living it for a week at a time. In addition to native Costa Ricans, or “Ticos,” there are American chefs (if you rent a villa, request James Kelly, who serves delicate, artful compositions of unusual local ingredients), Australian surf instructors, French cafe owners and Argentine hoteliers.
An outer ripple of Costa Rica’s countrywide eco-tourism boom, Santa Teresa’s international community blossomed in the 2000s as foreign adventure-seekers discovered its confluence of natural attractions: white-sand beaches, reliable, long-breaking waves and innumerable species of wildlife. And while New Age hippies still populate the town’s scores of yoga studios, Santa Teresa is now evolving to cater to the growing number of comfort-loving creative-industry types who’ve discovered its charms, including its proximity to the pristine 3,000-acre Cabo Blanco nature reserve, five miles to the south, and an increasing array of excellent small hotels, villas and restaurants. (The only thing missing so far: a good boutique or two.)
But reaching paradise still requires work (rightfully, it feels): Visitors take a short flight from Costa Rica’s capital, San José, to an airstrip in the town of Tambor, followed by a scenic 45-minute drive across the hilly farmland of the Nicoya Peninsula. Then there’s the daily endurance test of your car’s suspension as you travel anywhere along Santa Teresa’s only road, so dusty and pockmarked it gives the town an almost lunar landscape. This road is what both mars and maintains Santa Teresa’s perfection. One day it may be paved, but until then, it allows you to feel like one of the very few lucky souls able to visit this beautiful, unspoiled place.