By Melissa Belongea
Over the past decade, travel options have expanded considerably, encouraging more access for more people than ever before. This expansion has also led to a new generation of travelers, intent on new experiences, adventures, and places to explore. Simultaneously, this generation has grown up being exposed to broader world and environmental issues. Cultural borders are being crossed more frequently via the Internet, as globalization forges new connections and interest in different places. In this climate, young entrepreneurs are creating evermore possibilities for dynamic travel experiences and are, in the process, further growing eco-tourism into acts of adventure, environmental education, and authentic cultural exchange.
In the case of Tula Retreats, a company that organizes surf and yoga retreats to a place called Matapalo on the Osa Peninsula in the southern most region of Costa Rica, owner Julia King says one of the driving missions behind her work is to not only facilitate good times and memories for participants, but also positive tourism experiences, where the places visited are appreciated and understood for what makes them so unique. Tula Retreats takes groups to one of the most remote and bio-diverse regions in Costa Rica for a week of concentrated surfing and yoga practice. Group size is limited to twenty people at a time in order to maintain a light footprint and a more close-knit community of travelers, something King believes enhances the overall experience.
The retreat takes place in a solar and generator-powered, off-grid jungle lodge in Matapalo at the very tip of the Osa Peninsula. Nestled in rainforest and located next to the beach, the lodge that becomes the private oasis and temporary home base for the group creates an environment ideal for respite and rejuvenation. Twice daily yoga sessions are held on site in an open air studio, facing out into the jungle, with a view of the ocean. Depending on swell, surf lessons and outings occur throughout the day. Each night guests are greeted with a full sit-down dinner, prepared by a local chef with local ingredients, including freshly caught fish. Acknowledging too an era of growing food awareness and dietary specifications, all meals are catered to specific requests.
Since the Osa Peninsula remains the most pristine in Costa Rica, all four native Costa Rican monkey species can be spotted from the lodge property. Vibrantly colored Scarlett Macaws are also frequently spotted as well as sea turtles, while surfing. The Osa Peninsula is considered one of the best places in the world to witness whale activity. Twenty-four whale and dolphin species either make their home in or migrate through Osa waters, including both Northern and Southern hemisphere Humpback whales. Continuing to find new ways to connect visitors to the place they have chosen to explore, King has added an optional educational session for those interested in learning more about the ecosystem that keeps this region flourishing with wildlife. Groups this year will have the chance to hear from a jaguar researcher working in the area.
For King, deciding to open Tula Retreats came after several years of being involved with the local community. Shortly after completing undergraduate work at University of California, Santa Barbara, King took a year-long volunteer and teaching assignment with WorldTeach in 2005, where she was based in Sándalo, near where the retreat takes place. During this time she taught English to elementary students and organized extra curricular, environmental education field trips as well as beach clean-ups. King says this early adulthood experience and the Costa Rican lifestyle made a strong impression on her and has shaped much of her outlook today. Since that time, King has traveled back and forth between the United States and the Osa Peninsula. After many trips and a desire to share a similar experience with others in a way that remained respectful to the community she first became a part of seven years ago, Tula Retreats was established in 2011. For each trip, a portion of proceeds are donated to Sándalo Elementary, the school where King taught.
When asked what distinguishes Tula Retreats as a travel option, King emphasizes the health aspect of the trip. “You come back feeling refreshed and healthy, having spent time in a beautiful, isolated place, and and given the opporunity to do things that nurture both your body and mind.”