We have dug deep to bring you some lesser known information about this area. Not only are these fun facts about Santa Teresa, but we hope that they will help to paint a more full picture of this place that you may eventually call home. Moreover, we recognize that what meets the eye from a tourist perspective here is not the same picture that shapes your vision of living here. Preceding surf tourism, it is truly the culture, history and natural environment that are the roots of this magical place. Read on to learn more.
The History Of Santa Teresa
1. It All Started With One Man
Originally, the entire town of Santa Teresa was one single farm that was owned by one single man. Since he did not have any family, the government divided up his land after his death with the goal of encouraging land ownership by the local population. As a result, the land was largely given to people who had worked on the farm. Some of the most established families in Santa Teresa, at this time, are descendants of these original farmers. Many of these locals gifted their children and grandchildren with plots of land to provide for their future, while others made the difficult but fruitful decision to sell.
2. A Different Kind Of Hot Spot
Although it may be hard to imagine, the original hub of this area was actually Mal Pais. Many years before any kind of surf culture had brought attention to Santa Teresa, Mal Pais was already well established as a fishing village. In fact, it was established in Pre-Columbian times and some of the local families have lived there for many generations. It may seem like a sleepy spot these days, but the fishing village is still well and thriving with fishing tours running year round. Additionally, it is the main location for SUP, kayak, diving and whale watching tours.
3. Dark Days
Shockingly, the town of Santa Teresa did not have electricity until 1996! Many of us can recall the normalization of computers and cell phones in and around this same time. It is difficult to imagine this place being completely off-grid only 25 years ago, but many locals recall those days with fondness for a time of simplicity. Although electricity is readily available in the region today, it is still a complex and time-consuming process to connect electricity on an undeveloped plot of land.
Furthermore, water access in Santa Teresa has also come a long way. With no infrastructure established, historically, each homeowner would have to dig their own well. Although Costa Rica’s AyA has introduced water infrastructure to the local community, for those living up the mountain (over 50 meters above sea level) the only option is to follow the local way of well-digging. It is also noteworthy that, legally, this must be done before any building can begin.
4. Farming Roots
Costa Rica is now known as a prime tourist destination, but for many years the local economy was based primarily on farming. While some land has indeed been redirected for development, there is a beautiful, authentic, family-owned ranch just on the outskirts of Santa Teresa in Manzanillo.
At Haciendo Arío horse enthusiasts can experience first hand the magic and beauty of the “old Costa Rica” through a working coastal ranch, accompanied by an authentic sabanero (traditional cowboy), a bilingual guide and a happy horse. According to their manifesto, “Hacienda Arío is founded on a commitment to sustainable land stewardship and conservation for future generations where rural, healthy, outdoor living, close to nature and horses are an integral part of life.” These are values that we also strive to uphold, and are deeply grateful for this place of local inspiration.
The Natural Environment of Santa Teresa
5. Blue Zone And Crystal Lands
Costa Rica is not just your typical tropical destination. Although it accounts for only 0.03% of the earth’s surface, it is home to approximately 6% of the world’s biodiversity. Furthermore, in general, the people of Costa Rica live a very healthy lifestyle – lots of fresh air, a nourishing diet, and active habits. In fact, the Nicoya Peninsula of Costa Rica is one of only five designated Blue Zones in the entire world. These areas are defined as geographic locations in which people have comparably low rates of chronic disease and live longer than anywhere else. Add to this the fact that Santa Teresa is sitting on a bed of quartz – a crystal that is said to amplify energy by absorbing, storing, releasing, and regulating it – and it is no surprise that this area is like a magnet for those seeking health, healing and wellness.
6. The Country’s First Protected Area
Cabo Blanco is located just south of Mal Pais and is the country’s very first protected nature reserve. It encompasses 1,270 hectares of mixed forest and is an important seabird sanctuary. Back in the 1950s the Costa Rican government had incentivized the development of land in the isolated southern part of the peninsula by announcing that whoever cleared the land, would own it. As a result, just a few years later, much of the dense woodland of the peninsula had been “cultivated”.
In the 60s, a European couple, Nicolas Wessberg and Karen Mogensen, came to Costa Rica and purchased a farm in the region. They would visit the Cabo Blanco land to collect seeds and observe the diverse wildlife. In comparison to the “cultivated” land, they could tell that this place was special and so they worked tirelessly with foreign conservation organizations not only to buy the land, but also to designate the status of an Absolute Nature Reserve – which was finally given to Cabo Blanco in 1963. The Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve was the very first step in the development of Costa Rica’s extensive national park system, which undoubtedly led to the country’s booming eco-tourism.
7. Water Is Life
There is no doubt that our modern society is struggling with water management. Around the world this natural and essential resource is being sullied and depleted. While Costa Rica is known for its environmentalism, the rapid development of tourist locations, within a system of limited infrastructure, has created problems. Thankfully, we have the Nicoya Peninsula Waterkeepers, which is a member of the global network of over 300 waterkeeper organizations. They are dedicated to cleaning up rivers, lakes and coasts through grassroots action. They work intimately with the local and expat community to provide and develop education, innovation and sustainability. Furthermore, they have spearheaded the only functional recycling program in the area. Their work is absolutely inspiring!
8. Animals Are Friends And Family
Santa Teresa is a wild place that is full of animal lovers! Wild Sun Rescue Center is a local organization helping to support and sustain the ecology and biodiversity of the Peninsula. They are well-known for their rehabilitation of injured animals, and have recently helped to re-populate the peninsula by releasing a flock of over 20 scarlet macaws into the area. In addition, they have created “monkey bridges” to help reduce electrocution on the power lines that are proving to be incredibly effective. They are a non-profit organization that runs primarily on a volunteer basis.
On a more domestic level, there is another local organization called Pet Rescue Santa Teresa and they do amazing work with castration clinics, emergency vet visits and adoption campaigns. Although it is common to see dogs and cats wandering through town and the beach unattended, most actually do have a home and plenty of love in their lives.
The Culture Of Santa Teresa – Past And Present
9. Sunset Service
Here in Santa Teresa sunset is a ritual. The proximity to the equator means that sunset time only varies by about 30 minutes throughout the year. So, around 5pm every single day the main street of town becomes desolate and the beach becomes a stadium. Everyone flocks to the ocean to take in the spectacle, and it truly feels like a celebration of gratitude for the day. Cameras and cell phones appear to capture the magic but, as you know, you really have to be there to take it all in.
10. Off-Roading Is The Way To Go
Usually when travelling abroad, renting a car is the best option for comfort, freedom and flexibility. However, the town of Santa Teresa is a different story. While having a car to get to the town itself can be helpful, you may find having a car here to be more frustrating than anything. Quality maintenance work is difficult to find, and the extreme weather takes its toll. Add to that the busy and narrow road, being in a car can make things about ten times slower.
It is no surprise that you can find an ATV rental shop at almost every corner. ATVs, which are locally known as quads, are an excellent option for navigating the dirt roads, mountain hills, and river crossings as you explore the local areas. Motos, or motorcycles, are extremely popular with both locals and expats as they are fast, cheap and easy to maintain. It may come as a shock that most people are helmet-less on these off-roading vehicles – and it’s not uncommon to see a family of 4 squeezed onto a single bike. Of course, we recommend safety first!
11. Good-bye Dust And Potholes – Well, Sort Of
Although there is a long term plan to have more infrastructure introduced to the town, most of the roads here are still unpaved – except for a small stretch through the center of the main road which was only paved earlier this year. Furthermore, sidewalks have not yet been added, so the stretch of road that is paved is extremely narrow and a bit chaotic with pedestrians and parked vehicles.
The local opinion about this situation has been bittersweet. While the pavement does help to reduce the dust in dry season and the potholes in green season, the reality of managing the current dynamic feels both cumbersome and risky. We would encourage visitors to keep in mind that the road through town is in fact a real road with real traffic. Keep your eyes open and be mindful of those around you.
12. Fuel From Far
There is another reason that having a car in Santa Teresa can be a bit complicated – there is no gas station in town. On the main road into Santa Teresa from Cobano you will notice the remnants of a gas station on one side. However, apparently the owner ran into some legal issues and skipped town a few years ago. This means that the closest official gas station is in Cobano, which is about a 20 minute drive. You may find someone selling gas from their garage or home, but be forewarned that it is not technically legal. That being said, some of the ATV shops will have gas available, as they do use them for their rentals, and that can be a great option for filling up your quad or moto.
13. Flying for Easier Access
You may already be familiar with the nearby domestic airport, Tambor. It is served primarily by Green Airways and Sansa Airlines. What you may not know, is that there is actually a second domestic airport that is located in Manzanillo. At this point in time, it is only for private charter flights. However, public flights are due to begin servicing the airport in 2022. This means that there will soon be local air access to Santa Teresa approximately 20 minutes away in both North and South directions.
14. Surfs Up To Change The Scene
The first records of surfing in Costa Rica date back to the late 60s in Boca de Barranca, and at that time there were absolutely no surf shops or instructors. It was a thrilling and risky situation of DIY equipment and trial-and-error skills. Records are not very clear, but it seems the first surf camps to be established in the Santa Teresa area were Zeneidas Surf Garden Hostel and Mal Pais Surf Camp in the 1990s. In the beginning, these so-called “camps” were really just a place for surfers to literally camp. The evolution of the “surf school” would only come in later years, as the area became more well-known around the world. This is when surf culture took Santa Teresa by storm and, with at least five different surf breaks in the region, it is not a surprise to see the surf scene that is here today.
15. Money In But Not Easily Out
Undoubtedly money has been pouring into the Santa Teresa area for many years now. In contrast, it can be surprisingly challenging to take money out in Santa Teresa. Although the town did have two banks, the second bank closed its Santa Teresa location just last year. This means that around the end of the month, when rent and bills are due, the bank will likely have a lineup out the door and down the street. There are two ATMs, however, it is not uncommon for them to run out of US dollars. All that to say, we highly recommend arriving in town with some cash in your pocket. It is definitely possible to get cash here, but the timeline cannot be guaranteed. Pura Vida!