Updated: Jan 25, 2020
Cindi and Eliana Dominguez, Owners of Santa Swimwear
A palpable,entrancing energy pervades Santa Teresa, a dusty beach town that lines the lush, dense jungles of the Puntarenas Province, just under a hundred miles west of Costa Rica’s capital, San José. The surfer sanctuary boasts a community of café baristas, boutique owners, surf instructors and yoga gurus, arguably most of whom are female business owners.
In other words, if “girl power” was a place, it’d be Santa Teresa.
To follow are just a handful of some successful and inspiring women-owned and -operated businesses I recommend visiting in Santa Teresa, Costa Rica.
This travel guide is part of an ongoing column featuring women-owned and -operated businesses around the world. A growing body of research reiterates that the wealth gap is rife, female entrepreneurs are conditioned to evade defeat rather than to succeed, and women with ambitions to own businesses face unique challenges like unequal access to funding. As female travelers, let’s lift local women up—because empowered women empower women.
FOOD & DRINK
Natalia Rimolo, Co-Owner of Tipsy Wine Bar
“My husband and I were both working in the wine industry and, one day when we met up for a lunch break, he asked me what I would like in this life we were about to start together—I told him that I’d like to move to Santa Teresa to start a small wine shop and bar,” says Natalia Rimolo, the Costa Rican co-owner of Tipsy, who opened up shop with her French husband, Louis. “I came up with the name Tipsy, and all his family was baffled by the funny name. Everyone was very supportive, however, although they were also skeptic of our plans to move to a town in the middle of the beach and jungle (that Louis didn’t even know at the moment!) and open a wine shop of all things.”
Tipsy, which boasts local live music on Thursdays, offers an array of fine wines and assorted cheese plates.
“I grew up in Costa Rica and left to study abroad when I was 18 in 2004,” she says. “This was quite unusual for a young Tica woman. I finally returned in 2017 at 33 years old to open our business and move to where I always someday planned to retire: a beautiful beach. I have spoken about this to many people who live in Santa Teresa and have taken on the challenge of opening a business in this eclectic place. It’s a great adventure, and we have gotten to meet some great people.”
Earth Café, owned by Katinka Bronge (who hails from Sweden), offers a refreshing respite from Costa Rica’s blistering heat. The menu of acai bowls topped with juicy fruits to garden-fresh avocado toast will satiate any appetite—especially vegans.
Kamila, an Italian female entrepreneur, moved to Santa Teresa, where she opened Pronto Café. There you’ll find Italian street foods like the truffle arancini balls and pesto lasagna, as well as some world-renowned Italian coffee. It smells like Italy. It tastes like Italy. But it’s tucked into this tiny corner of Costa Rica.
The Bakery, owned by a woman named Adi, offers a full menu replete with breakfast, lunch and dinner options, as well as an assortment of traditional Italian desserts. From savory sandwiches like the caprese to sweet smoothies packed with nutrients to cannolis galore, you may find yourself at The Bakery every day, sometimes all day. Plus, there’s unlimited pizza on Mondays.
Margriet, Owner of Zwart Café
“I was inspired by the feelings of happiness I felt by simply existing in this place,” says Margriet, owner of Zwart Café, a white-washed café adorned with the vibrant gallery of Margriet’s original paintings. “There was no WiFi and no cell service; it was all about connecting with energy and light. I was able to find my true self without preconceived conditioning—a pattern or loop of what life is ‘supposed to be.’ I believe in freedom. And, here, I found a way to feel free, surf and paint.”
Chop It – Holy Cow Burger is owned by a woman named Barbara who offers up fresh organic salads and wraps made to order, as well as gourmet hamburgers made with 100 percent certified hormone- and antibiotic-free grass-fed beef. Go for The Tara wrap (mixed greens, arugula, kale, apples, grilled chicken, beets, radish, goat cheese and cranberries), and stay for the hand-cut fries.
Drift Bar, owned by a woman named Sharon Ramsay, is a bar and lounge serving up, arguably, the best cocktails in town. Read: cucumber watermelon margaritas and pineapple jalapeno mojitos.
“I don’t like artificial flavors and sugar in drinks, so I first opened the cocktail shop to provide high-quality all-natural cocktails at an affordable price,” Ramsay explains, adding that Drift Bar strives to be non-waste, producing little-to-no garbage and composting on a daily basis. “Where possible, fruits are purchased from local farmers, then cold pressed, mixed with alcohol and bottled ready to go.”
Within a year, the cocktails at Drift Bar became so popular that Ramsay decided to expand and open a lounge area serving cocktails, wine, beer and vegetarian tapas, too. And while you’re having drinks and tapas, you can also relish in the local art at the bar’s very own gallery teeming with inimitable, ocean-inspired works.
“The gallery area was a bonus for me; it’s been over a decade since I’ve had my own studio space and gallery,” she says. “The bar pretty much pays for the huge gallery space, so it’s allowed me to come full circle and return to being a full-time artist.”
“I had what people think is a perfect life in Barcelona: a good job in the fashion industry, a nice house and an amazing family,” says owner, Alexandra Hawley of her life before moving to Costa Rica five years ago. “But I woke up every morning feeling that something was missing, So one day I started looking for animal volunteering opportunities, and Costa Rica was the first place I found. The next week I resigned from my job, left my house, gave a goodbye kiss to my family, and went on an adventure to find this amazing life I’m now living.”
During her first three years in Costa Rica, she worked as a waitress and the manager of a restaurant and catering service, but she was tired of giving her energy and ideas to someone else. So she started putting money in a piggy bank for her dream project: having her own fare-trade clothing brand with her own designs.
“One year and a half later—following a lot of effort, hard work, laughs and love—I finally have my own shop, PAWO (Pacific Wolf Factory) in Santa Teresa, the town I have chosen as my home because of the vibe, beaches and, most importantly, happy and simple lifestyle,” she says.
Studio Colectiva showcases both local and global designers with a curated collection of womenswear, menswear, apothecary, art, books and publications—all with an emphasis on small production and quality. The shop also collaborates with designers and artisans around Central and South America to offer exclusive and in-house designs.
“I did real estate back in Brussels, Belgium but came here to Santa Teresa because the nature is so beautiful and powerful; you feel connected to yourself here so all of the superficial clothes, the car you drive, the money have, your social situation, don’t matter here,” says Natalia, owner of Shop Shop, as well as Green Nest Estates, a real estate company that also offers a number of experiential services such as surf and yoga classes, horseback riding, snorkeling and canopy tours. “There are loads of social levels here, and nobody cares. People care about who you are, not what you do or what you have. So I wake up in paradise. I don’t work to go on vacation; every day is my vacation.”
Natalia and her best friend, Alexis, opened shop together, both working for the boutique and the real estate company. She says that, in Santa Teresa, her friends like Alexis are family.
“Alexis is a fashionista, and we decided that just because you live in the jungle doesn’t mean that you have to look like a jungle girl,” she says. “It’s nice to have clothes to present well and feel good about yourself. So our clothes are cute and nice, and they’re not too expensive.”
Cindi and Eliana Dominguez, Owners of Santa Swimwear
“We are sisters and fashion designers,” Cindi and Eliana Dominguez, owners of Santa Swimwear, say. “We love the sea, and nature brought us here to Santa Teresa.”
Santa Swimwear offers a carefully curated collection of thoughtfully crafted swimsuits that are both beautiful and functional.
“We love designing our line of swimsuits, working on each print and each design to feel comfortable and feminine, thinking of all types of women who come here to surf and enjoy the beach and the unique magic that only Santa Teresa has,” they say. “So we decided to open our store with the swimsuits designed by ourselves and inspired by this beautiful paradise.”
SURF & FITNESS
Pura Vida Adventures is the dream venture of a California native, Tierza Eichner, and who now lives part time in Oregon and part time in Santa Teresa. The avid surfer and mother of twins said goodbye to her dot.com job and moved to the “wildness of it all” in Santa Teresa, where she opened her women-only surf camp and yoga retreat in 2003.
“I came here 17 years ago… and it was the first time that I truly found Zen, which is why I wanted to do something here—the waves, the beautiful beaches, the people,” Eichner says.
Pura Vida Adventures takes surf instruction to another level, offering both video analysis of lessons and paddle school sessions on the bay, so students can learn to paddle and turn on their boards in shallower and much calmer water.
“I’ve had a staff that’s incredible,” she says. “We’ve done a lot of stuff throughout the years that pushes the envelope in terms of surf instruction. So one thing that completely sets us apart from other all-women’s surf camps and surf camps, in general, is that we will absolutely teach you how to surf—and I can guarantee that to anyone who comes through our doors.”
“I own my own company, Costa Rica Surf & SuP, and I also work for other companies in town [as a freelance surf instructor],” says Audrey Mayoud, an avid surfer. “I chose to teach surfing because it’s my passion, so I came here 15 years ago to surf in this paradise.”
Mayoud says that surfing has changed her life, and she enjoys watching how it changes the lives of her clients, too.
“I really love my job and love to make people happy by connecting them with a powerful element, the ocean, so they glide along the wave with huge smiles,” she says.
“fiSiQ is an evolution of my work here in Santa Terea over the past decade,” says Lauren, owner of the company, which is located at Hotel Trópico Latino. “I feel deeply rooted in this community and love teaching such a thriving, international clientele of locals and visitors.”
Lauren is a second-generation pilates trainer and movement therapist, an integrative nutritionist and a mother of four grown children. Her business begins and ends with alignment, as she teaches clients to lengthen and strengthen their bodies from the center outward, impacting their health, bodies, lives and the world around us.
“I’ve been an entrepreneur throughout my adult life—guiding others toward their optimal fitness and overall wellness is my passion,” she says.