The ocean is the lifeblood of Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula, a slice of heaven on the country’s southwest coast that is renowned for its consistent surf and famous yoga institutes. The area brims with international transplants entranced by its natural beauty and its self-governing, self-sustaining culture. Surfing is a natural result of the coast’s sandy bottom beaches, warm waters and high, consistent waves ideal for coaching.

“Costa Rica has many beautiful beaches but the country's more remote Nicoya Peninsula has the least crowded,” said Rupert Hill, a UK transplant and owner of Surf Simply, a surf and yoga resort in Nosara, aconm small city about halfway up the west coast of the peninsula. Yoga, on the other hand, grew in local popularity after renowned yogis started settling in the area and yoga centres, like the Nosara Yoga Institute started becoming more popular in the last decade. Today, tourism is the area’s primary source of income and it centres on surfing and yoga. While not every yogi in the region is a surfer, and not every surfer does yoga, yoga complements surfing by building flexibility, balance and lean muscle, while focusing on breath.

“Surfing and yoga are both exploding right now in popularity, and people want to do them at the beach,” said Chris Mo’e, the co-owner of Shaka Beach Retreat, just outside of the small town of Santa Teresa in Playa Hermosa on the southwest of the peninsula. A Hawaiian surfer since childhood, Mo’e moved his family to the area more than seven years ago and has seen the downtown area triple in size since then. Mo’e’s wife, Krista, added, “When people hear that they can go on vacation by the beach and also do yoga to stay in shape while they have more free time, I think that really appeals to a lot of people.”

Aside from surfing and yoga’s physical connections, there is a romanticized spiritual connection as well. Yoga focuses on the mental strength necessary to stay in the moment while surfing forces you to be present due to the sheer nature of the circumstances. This causes a form of "active relaxation" whereby intense focus helps eliminate outside thoughts and offers people a chance to truly getaway.

There is also a deep-seated respect for nature ingrained in both, which is mirrored among residents and in the area. Roads may be unpaved, but public beaches are outfitted with bins for recycling paper and plastic. It is not unusual to see locals picking up trash at dusk on their own time. Surfers talk endlessly about the waves and tides (which can sometimes feel like you are on the set of the movie Point Break) and yoga institutes meticulously landscape oceanfront studios with indigenous flowers and grasses.

This respect for nature extends to a respect for the human body. "Everybody's very fit for a variety of reasons -- and not just surfing and not just yoga -- people eat well,” said Greg Murray, a transplant from Bay Shore, New York, who settled in Santa Teresa because of the good surf.“ All of our vegetables are locally grown, for the most part. If you eat meat, the fish here is locally caught.”

Costa Ricans, also known as Ticos, take food seriously and lean protein is key to their diet. There are many open-air restaurants popping up in towns like Santa Teresa serving fresh catches of the day, lots of greens and higher calibre dishes than one might expect from a rugged little town. Of course, there are pizza and burger joints catering to tourists as well, but unlike most traditional vacation spots, there is always a healthy option on the menu. In fact, most, residents and patrons alike flock here for pura vida, or pure life. 

Pura vida means different things to different people, but it essentially embodies the Tico philosophy of enjoying life slowly with a strong community, an element of simplicity and an appreciation of one’s natural surroundings. Surfing and yoga on the Nicoya Peninsula embody this philosophy, and people travel from around the world for a taste of it. At the core, both activities value physical and mental strength, respect for nature and one’s body, and the community formed by the growing movement. This movement, and the money that follow it, sustains the philosophy and allows Hill, and others like him, to continue living a life of pura vida. “It's really only a few buildings in the middle of the jungle but has all the creature comforts you might want,” said Hill, who plans on living in Nosara for the rest of his life. “I don't miss friends and family from the UK as, when you live somewhere as nice as this, they all tend to come and visit.”

Tambor’s tiny airport is the key access point to the southern region of the Nicoya Peninsula and is a 30-minute flight from Juan Santamaria International Airport in San Jose on Costa Rica’s regional airline, Sansa. The airport is little more than a strip of paved blacktop and a chain-link fence with a couple of flights arriving and departing each day.

There are few paved roads on the southern side of the Nicoya Peninsula, making for a white-knuckled ride as you pass through river beds and ditches under the jungle canopy to reach your final destination. There are no (enforced) traffic rules and most locals travel by motorcycles and all-terrain vehicles – usually piling on several people, surfboards and an occasional baby.