There is no shortage of yoga centers in Costa Rica, but not too many have a freshwater spring or a perch on a little mountain in the jungle. A true wilderness escape, Samasati Nature Retreat is ensconced in 250 acres and looks out over the Caribbean hamlet of Hone Creek, just north of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca.
Samasati is not really on the map. There aren’t many signs for it. In fact, it’s sort of a legend even to the villagers below, to whom it might seem more like a John le Carré spy novel setting than a renowned yoga destination with an office in San Diego.
My family and I defied the statistics by arriving in the dark and on foot after disembarking a local bus at the crossroads of Hone Creek and carrying our children up this private mountain. A Samasati chauffeur in a 4×4 came across us as we stumbled up the track, saving us from what one of our party said would have been a lot of swearing.
The front desk is at the dining hall, which is open to the night breezes and to the Caribbean view by day. The feeling of this common area, as we would see echoed in the private cabins, is that you have everything you need and not too much more. It’s like a summer camp for kids who’ve grown up to be introspective and like to bunk in the woods, preferring meditation to sing-alongs and reading to beach volleyball.
The bunkhouse campground lends some intrigue, as does the vast expanse of wild space that surrounds the visitors. Each bungalow is a spare, hardwood affair with screens instead of air conditioning and a wildlife guide instead of television. Ours had two single beds on the main level, a porch with a hammock, a hot water shower and toilet off the main room and a loft with a double bed. Screen walls surrounded. It was a reminder of how basic life can be – assuming one could afford the room and board.
A family like ours could feel at home here, if nervous about making too much racket for the neighboring bungalows, stationed just meters away. The trick is to arrive when your kids are tired or to have already instilled an appreciation of quiet in them. Bonus points if they enjoy listening to the natural sounds of real nightlife. We arrived when our kids were tired. They woke up and started shouting, though, so we went to breakfast immediately.
At Samasati, guests provide their own entertainment, presumably gleaned from the forest, books, and moving and stretching the body. Visitors can walk the extensive trails around the camp, and they want to go to the beach, the shuttle price is included, as are the daily meals.
There are visiting and resident yoga instructors who routinely turn a yoga tenderfoot like myself into someone a bit more flexible and balanced – instead, my family ran around in nature. I also found a chance to peruse the in-house literature, which tells the story of four people envisioning this very retreat and bringing it to pass, having the cabins built of tropical hardwoods that had already fallen in this very forest. Those original owners are still around to steer the ship.
One of them, Chiara Zani, told me Samasati was the first place in the South Caribbean specifically geared to yoga, massage and meditation, and was also the first vegetarian restaurant. More recently, Samasati has offered up parcels of its land to guests, and some have constructed houses. The “Samasati Gate Community” has been in development for about seven years, but there are still parcels available, starting at $60,000. Residents come from about five different countries besides Costa Rica; Zani says they all have a “certain understanding and appreciation of the importance of sustainable living.” You can see how some of these folks have interpreted that architecturally at samasatiproperty.com.
If you’re not sure about moving in, you can get a taste of the life by renting a room, a cottage or a complete jungle house, all of which offer a quality, barebones experience that is almost certainly a prerequisite for nirvana.
Single occupancy in the low season starts at $110 for a room, and $135 for a cottage. A house runs about $750 a week. Specialized yoga retreats are often available, including teacher trainings such as one coming up Jan. 4-25. In conjunction with the Italian-based Hari Om Yoga School, Samasati Nature Retreat will be hosting what it calls “one of the best, highly professional, first-class yoga teacher trainings” it has ever run. Tuition starts at $2,465, and it is half price for Costa Rican citizens or residents. More information at hariomyogaschool.com or samasati.com.