From the print edition
Before Costa Rica became the shining star of Central American travel hotspots, it was a country of unprotected mountains, beaches and rain forests. Although national parks began popping up in the 1950s, adventurous travelers didn’t begin recognizing Costa Rica as an ecotourism destination until sometime in the mid-‘80s That’s when they started trickling in to explore the country’s seemingly endless supply of volcanoes, coastlines, cloud forests and – above all – stunning wildlife.
After Costa Rica’s eco-debut had come and gone, locals began looking for other ways to draw in foreign vacationers. Medical tourism was born, thanks to outrageously expensive medical treatments in the United States and Canada. The need for affordable health care services began driving North American consumers south, where patients could receive the same quality care they were accustomed to at home at a fraction of the price (and even enjoy a beachside recovery vacation in paradise, to boot).
Perhaps an even more popular new trend to emerge has been labeled “holistic tourism” – a catch-all term that covers natural wellness practices running the gamut from yoga retreats and massage therapy to nutritional counseling, fasting and colon cleansing. And it looks like this type of tourism is here to stay. Many health-minded vacationers are increasingly moving away from Costa Rica’s trademark action-packed trips, and are instead opting for relaxing, preplanned retreats with healing, holistic themes.
While more and more of these specialized sanctuaries are popping up every week, here are some of the best in the country:
Anamaya translates to “good health” in Sanskrit, and don’t expect to find anything less here. One of the best-known yoga retreats in the country, Anamaya, is situated high on a hilltop overlooking the colorful hippie town of the Nicoya Peninsula’s Playa Montezuma.
It features a spacious yoga deck, three unbelievably delicious organic meals per day, and an infinity pool with sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean.
While the resort primarily focuses on yoga retreats, Anamaya also caters to creative circus arts like hula hooping, poi and fire dancing. They are also equipped for aerial silk enthusiasts – a unique performance art involving artfully sliding up and down two sheets of cloth that hang from the ceiling (think Cirque du Soleil).
Yoga teacher training, raw food seminars and surfing are just a few of the other activities you can enjoy here. (Contact info: www.anamayaresort.com; 2642-1289.)
The Harmony Hotel in Nosara, a health-focused beach town in the northwestern province of Guanacaste, is known throughout town for its extraordinary spa and wellness center. Unique treatments like “Papaya Delight” and “Chocolate Seduction” exfoliate and replenish skin cells, while the “Sun-Kissed Special” is perfect for recovering skin after a long day in the sun. The spa also offers ear candling, an ancient Egyptian method for removing earwax.
Someone had a good sense of humor when naming Harmony’s treatments – check out the “Get Stoned” therapy (a hot stone massage), “Man-scaping” (waxing services for men) and the “Quickie Service” (a manicure/pedicure treatment for those that wish to “skip the foreplay and cut straight to the service”). There is also a large space for yoga and meditation classes. (Contact info: www.harmonynosara.com; 2682-4114.)
Hacienda del Sol
This wellness center, ensconced in San Juanillo in the northwestern province of Guanacaste, indeed esteems yoga as one of its top priorities. But it is best known for its unique and invigorating week-long juice fasts and raw-food cleanses.The programs combine stretching and meditation with colon cleanses, skin brushing, digestive system massages and clay baths.
Bring your best friend rather than your lover – not surprisingly, flushing out your entire digestive system can get a bit… intense. (Contact info: www.haciendadelsolcr.com; 8828-4080.)
Nestled high in the cool mountains just an hour west of San José, here you can rest and rejuvenate with treatments ranging from lying on a bed of amethyst crystals to three-, five- and seven-day yoga retreats. The resort also offers other activities from energy balancing therapies to bird watching. (Contact info: www.amatierra.com; 2419-0110.)
Downtown Yoga Costa Rica
While San José’s Downtown Yoga Costa Rica may not be focused on retreats, the studio’s daily classes will certainly provide your “yoga fix” before or after a trip. It’s worth a visit, even if you’re just passing through the capital. (Contact info: www.downtowncostarica.com; 8926-9867.)
This Caribbean getaway, situated just four miles north from Puerto Viejo, is dedicated to sustainability – in both the social and environmental realms. All year round they offer all-inclusive specials catering to both yoga students and to yoga teachers in training.
Enjoy massages while learning about the indigenous cultures of the area. The lofted onsite restaurant, Dragon House, is well known for its gorgeous views and delectable vegetarian fares. (Contact info: www.samasati.com; 2224-1870.)