Breathing Deeper with a Yoga Retreat in Costa Rica

“I was at a stage in life where I was looking to do something that was more meaningful,” says Mary Byerly about her decision to move to Costa Rica. “My career path was not my passion, and I had been living in Florida for a number of years. After experiencing a cool yoga retreat in Mexico, I started thinking that this was something I wanted to explore. I loved how guests could do as much or as little as they wanted, there was no pressure and no set schedule.”

The experience inspired Mary to shift to a new lifestyle. “I looked around the United States but couldn’t find a place I could afford or a climate I liked. Many people had mentioned Costa Rica, so in 2000 I visited the country.”

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Checking out the different areas in a country before deciding where to purchase property was an important part of Mary’s journey. Additionally, it was helpful to visit during different seasons to experience the differences in weather.

Finding the Right Part of Costa Rica

“I first headed towards the Caribbean coast but realized it was too flat and humid. I wanted more mountainous terrain and changes of season. So I deliberately went towards the Pacific coast,” Mary explains.

Guanacaste was calling Mary’s name. This north-western province has a dry season and a green season. And although the daytime temperature is between 85 F and 95 F throughout the year, you feel the seasonal change once the rain starts.

“I love how the green season begins with a flip of a switch,” Mary says. “The land becomes lush and vibrant as soon as the first rain hits. Sometimes, I even get to wear pants and a sweatshirt.” All this is relative, though— night-time temperatures only dip into the low 70s F in October.

A side-by-side comparison from the pool, dry season versus green season
A side-by-side comparison from the pool, dry season versus green season.

Practical Tips for Moving to Costa Rica

“When looking to purchase property, you have to shop around,” Mary says. “There is no Multiple Listing Service (MLS) and there aren’t as many rules and regulations for real estate agents here, so you have to be aware of that.”

Mary purchased two lots of raw land, giving her seven mountainous acres overlooking Playa Tamarindo and Playa Grande, for $160,000. Prices have gone up substantially since then.

Costa Rica is a peaceful democracy that prioritizes education and healthcare over military expenditure. Although socialized healthcare has its limitations, Mary knows her monthly $94 CAJA (Costa Rica’s socialized healthcare system) payment will take care of any emergency.

Mary sold her home in Florida, packed up a container, and moved to Costa Rica in 2003. After a fair amount of blood, sweat, and tears (along with lots of paperwork to get the business started), the yoga retreat center; Panacea de la Montana, was born.

“My biggest advice is that you shouldn’t do construction or renovation projects without being in the country. You need to keep tabs on what is happening.” It’s also helpful to talk with various builders and their past clients for advice and recommendations during the building process.

Building a Business…and a Community

“Panacea started out as a yoga retreat,” Mary says, “which included all vegetarian meals, daily yoga, water exercises, beach shuttle, and other amenities depending on the length of stay. Now I operate my yoga school with community classes and yoga teacher training opportunities.”

Mary also volunteers with a group of seniors, providing nutritious lunches and activities to keep the elderly engaged and active. “I love the people and continue to have great relationships with Costa Ricans. Over the years, I’ve taught yoga at a local school and for local women.”

Gardening and volunteering are essential parts of Mary’s weekly routine
Gardening and volunteering are essential parts of Mary’s weekly routine.

Guanacaste is called The Gold Coast; it has beaches galore. From the mountain, you can quickly get to Playa Tamarindo. Within 30 minutes in either direction, you can find remote beaches, black-sand beaches, shell beaches, surfing beaches, and calm bays.

Eating at local sodas (a typical restaurant serving meals which include rice, beans, plantains, salad, and a meat option for about $5) and exploring roads she has not yet traveled are activities Mary enjoys. “Just the other day, I found a fantastic teak farm on a Sunday adventure and, in pure Costa Rican style, the owners took me on a tour,” she says.

Waking up with the sun to drink coffee in her open-air living area overlooking the pool and ocean, while enjoying the sounds of the birds and monkeys, was exactly the connection to nature and a slower-paced life that Mary had been dreaming about back in Florida.

As the end of the day comes full circle, Mary usually returns to the same spot to enjoy the unfailing way Mother Nature colors the evening sky with awe-inspiring sunsets.

“My whole philosophy was that, since nature is so beautiful, I want to enjoy it all of the time,” Mary explains. “I go inside to sleep and spend my days grounding myself in the outdoors.”

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