“The sea is emotion incarnate. It loves, hates, and weeps. It defies all attempts to capture it with words and rejects all shackles. No matter what you say about it, there is always that which you can’t.”
― Christopher Paolini, Eragon
There’s something about the ocean that has the power to lift the soul. When we feel lost or confused or overwhelmed, simply being near the sea restores and replenishes us, inspires and heals us. I think it’s this need to be near the water that has us on an unconscious journey to discover the best beaches around the world. You can imagine that being in a place like Costa Rica was in many senses a dream come true.
It’s not that we necessarily seek out the most beautiful beaches, but rather that we look for small, community-driven beach towns—the ones that are yet to be overdeveloped, that still have cozy, family-run hotels and creative, local cuisine. Places where there might be plenty of foreigners or tourists, but the expat population has yet to overtake that of the locals. A town where people rely on their bikes as their primary mode of transportation. For us, these sorts of towns are havens, and places we catalogue in the back of our mind to possibly ‘settle down’ in one day.
When we arrived at the small neighborhood of Cocles Beach, we knew we had found such a gem. Just a ten-minute bike ride outside the town of Puerto Viejo and the first in a strip of four beautiful beaches lining the coast, Cocles Beach encompasses a bit of everything we love. In addition to its ideal location, the waves are perfect for surfing, especially when the legendary Salsa Brava sweeps through, beckoning surfers from every corner of the globe. Cocles is a quiet neighborhood, but its proximity to Puerto Viejo puts bars, restaurants, and shops right at your fingertips—without being in the center of the noise or seediness the town has a reputation for. But the best part about Cocles is easily the community feel that reverberates through it.
At the heart of the community is Om, a yoga studio and hostel. If it wasn’t for our stay at Om, we’re not sure we would have left Puerto Viejo with such strong feelings of attachment. The hostel is small, with three private rooms and one dormitory, and a fully equipped kitchen. Most of the people who stay at Om are there for the close proximity to the yoga classes offered twice daily on a gorgeous terrace overlooking the jungle and ocean. On the first floor of Om is a separate but closely related establishment, Caribeans. If you’re not interested in yoga, this is reason enough to stay at Om. Caribeans has some of the best chocolate we’ve ever tasted, sourced from local raw cacao. Not only do all your orders come with a sliver of dark chocolate, you can also sample all their chocolate bar varieties in the free tasting room. What better way to end a class of yoga than that? In addition to the yoga classes, Om offers a variety of guided adventure activities, such as surfing and hiking.
We’ll be honest. We didn’t get to know a whole lot of the other travelers staying at the hostel. However, we did quickly become friends with Kristin, the owner of Om, as well as the work-exchange volunteers; they would be the ones to immediately accept us into the community and introduce us to its members. Kristin is an incredible woman, and her story is an inspiring one: In her mid-twenties, Kristin felt compelled to move to Puerto Viejo and build Om from the ground up. It became the first fully functioning yoga and health center in Puerto Viejo at a time when the town was still largely considered the Wild West of Costa Rica.
Kristin will be the first to tell you that the journey hasn’t always been easy, but there’s no doubt that she is following her dharma. Joy radiates from Kirstin, and to see someone so fully pursuing her dreams is inspiring. What’s even better, Kristin has been influential in giving back to the local community. She has helped to organize a weekly organic produce pick-up from local farmers. She is in the process of creating a discounted yoga teacher-training program that local members of the community can actually afford. She hosts a weekly CommUNITY Karma Yoga Class, a donation-based class that goes entirely to a local, community-based project. Kristin is the perfect example of what a difference a responsible business can make for the community when they take tangible steps to do so.
Traveling as a couple, sometimes we can find it a bit difficult to make friends. We typically don’t stay at hostels, and we certainly don’t go to bars looking to meet people. Sure, there’s Couchsurfing, and we have been fortunate that our blog has introduced us to many fellow travelers when our paths cross. Still, on a daily basis, we don’t interact with many other travelers or expats. Sometimes we are grateful for this as it allows us to interact more with the local culture. Other times we crave the friendships, relationships, and bonds that traveling forges. In Puerto Viejo, we didn’t have a choice in the matter; the expat community immediately embraced us. Whether it was being invited to play trivia, being included in a birthday surprise party for Kristin, or simply people taking initiative to approach us and ask about our story, we were consistently taken aback by the genuine interest shown to us.
If you’re interesting in experiencing Om for yourself, Kristin offers a work exchange program. In exchange for part time work, volunteers are given accommodation, a fully equipped kitchen, and free access to yoga classes. With an ‘office’ that looks out to the ocean, it doesn’t get much better than that!
If you’re headed to Puerto Viejo, we highly recommend staying at Cocles Beach. You’ll be closer to some of the more beautiful beaches down the main road, without giving up the amenities in the town of Puerto Viejo itself. The accommodation at Om is basic, but the location and price make it a superb choice.
Private room: $24
Drop-in yoga classes (offered twice daily): $10
There are also a variety of massage therapies available, including Reiki and Cranio-Sacral Opening.
For more on what to do in Puerto Viejo, we recommend this Ultimate Guide to Puerto Viejo, written by This American Girl. It has just about everything you could possibly want to know about the area!
Are you a beach or a mountain person? Have you stumbled across any small businesses giving back to the local community in a large way? Where in the world have you felt immediately accepted?