An OTP interview with three young proprietors who made their dreams of opening retreat centers in costa rica come true.

The South Pacific is home to dozens of modern retreat destinations nestled in the jungle covered mountains on properties that overlook the vast Pacific Ocean with its mix of sandy beaches and rocky outcroppings. The transformational Costa Rica retreat centers that have made their homes here in this part of the world have chosen this location because it promotes a sense of wellbeing, deep relaxation, and attunement with nature.

Akka Institute in Ojochal, Navina Retreat Center in Cortes, and Ikara Retreat Center in Portalon are three boutique wellness centers in Costa Rica’s South Pacific that host facilitators and guests who are looking for a space in which to transform their clients or themselves. Each of these retreat operators chose Costa Rica for the transformational properties that they themselves felt after their first visit. Light-filled and breezy communal spaces, comfortable places for relaxation, and views of jungles, mountains, rivers, and the ocean all come together here to create the healing spaces that people from around the world are seeking. 

The three young proprietors running these centers are bringing their passion for wellbeing to the people. Read on to learn more about their stories and what brought them home to Costa Rica.

Akka Institute in Ojochal

The main deck at the awe-inspiring Akka Institute

Sophie Paternot is a Sagittarius who was born in Switzerland. She moved to Costa Rica nine years ago after visiting and immediately falling in love with the wilderness and the freedom she felt in the quiet community of Ojochal. She began her long-time dream to open a retreat center in 2020 with the opening of the stunning Akka Institute. This architectural masterpiece was lovingly designed using mostly natural and locally sourced materials. It has a powerful aesthetic that is immediately captivating and feels transcendent when paired with the sounds of the flowing river that borders this property.

Akka Institute is a health and wellness center near the entrance to the village of Ojochal which currently offers weekly classes in yoga, tai chi, aerial silks, and Brazilian jiu jitsu. Massage therapy is also available at Akka and there is a lovely little boutique that sells handmade products by local artisans.

The gorgeous main yoga studio at Akka Institute

Sophie loves the sense of community that she feels in Ojochal, the place where she has chosen to build her life. She wants to give back to her community and she sees offering uplifting classes to the community in a beautiful space as an important goal in her life. “[I love] seeing people’s before and after face when they attend a class or an event. There is a very noticeable sense of lightness about them.”

Sophie Paternot, owner of Akka Institute

Sophie invites everyone to come and experience Akka and to “be kind and remember to have fun.”

Navina Retreat Center in Cortes

Navina Retreat Center in the verdant foothills above Cortes, Costa Rica

32-year old Drew Hume is the owner and founder of Navina Retreat Center in Cortes, Costa Rica. He is originally from Australia, though he lived in Toronto for 8 years before moving to Costa Rica. After his first visit to the South Pacific coast, he chose Cortes as the location to pursue his vision for creating a retreat center that could be a beacon of hope for the future.

Since even before the inception of Navina, Drew dreamt of having a place in which to cultivate and nurture an international community of like-minded people. He was deeply drawn to the jungles in Osa, where he instantly felt nourished by the rainforest.

“When I first came down in 2012, I simply fell in love with the place. The nature, the culture and people, the climate – it all combines to create something that deeply feels like home.”

Drew returned home to Toronto and started writing his business plan that would become his school of Thai massage there, which evolved into this jungly, mountainside retreat near the coast in South Pacific Costa Rica.

Dave Hume, the 32 year old entrepreneur and owner of Navina Retreat Center

Drew loves seeing the effect that nature has on the people who visit Navina. He believes that there is a cleansing process that naturally happens when visiting this magical location. He values the whole process of the retreat to the jungle, “from the discomfort through to the deeper connection with themselves and with the nature around them by the end of the trip.”

Navina hosts regular retreats with different themes including yoga, Thai massage training, and more. The property is also a sanctuary for many colonies of bees, both stingless and honeybees. Drew plans to offer courses for beekeeping in the future when travel becomes an option again for more people.

Navina’s bee colonies in the sunset light

For those who are currently able to find themselves in Costa Rica, Drew welcomes them to Navina with this great reminder: “The power of being in and staying in nature is profound. There is so much that it can offer our overall health.” 

Visit Navina’s website to learn more about their bee colonies and to sign up for Drew’s healthful eating online cooking course with dozens of simple, whole-food recipes.

Ikara Retreat Center in Dominical

The main house at Ikara Retreat Center in Portalon, close to Dominical, Costa Rica

Married couple Jamie and Melinda Atherton started Ikara Retreat Center in Portalon, close to Dominical Costa Rica late last year. They only just moved to Costa Rica in October 2020 from the Snowy Mountains of Australia but they already feel comfortable to call Costa Rica home. 

“We have settled in, we had no plans to return, and now, because of COVID, we cannot anyway,” says Melinda, who has fallen in love with the eco-minded communities in the South Pacific.

“For the last 15 years, we have been working towards a move to South or Central America as we have always loved traveling to this part of the world. We wanted a life of simplicity and fulfillment. We eventually chose Costa Rica as our final destination because of its biodiversity, its protection of its native wildlife, and simply its beauty.” 

After years of living in the Snowy Mountains, Melinda, and her husband, Jamie, were ready for a change. “We wanted to experience the equal energies of living near the equatorial line,” says Melinda. “We had lived the last 15 years in the Snowy Mountains so we thought moving to a tropical environment would be a nice point of difference. We wanted access to fresh. locally-grown, organic, or chemical-free produce, which is abundant here.”

The couple quickly decided that they wanted to share these points of difference about life in Costa Rica with the world. They chose to open a retreat center as an opportunity to live a simple lifestyle while meeting interesting people along the way.

“With a retreat center, we could offer modalities of healing that we feel strongly about,” says Melinda. “[Jamie and I] have a lot to offer. We were aware that the retreat industry, especially yoga, is somewhat saturated but we are confident that we can offer a point of difference that will attract the right people to us.”

Ikara currently offers yoga retreats and iboga plant medicine retreats — two powerful modalities that they say can be used to reunite the self with the soul, and to liberate the spirit. They envision Ikara to be a special place where they can help people with this transformation.

Jamie and Melinda Atherton at Ikara Retreat Center

Jamie and Melinda are both certified Hatha Yoga Teachers, which is a traditional form of yoga. They specialize in restorative yoga practices, meditation, yoga for beginners, and yoga for the elderly. They also offer functional yoga training and they teach alignment and stability in yoga poses. 

The couple value the community that they live in and offer special pricing to locals to encourage people who may not have had the chance to experience yoga. They are currently working with Kickboxing Club in Uvita to offer weekend kickboxing workshops and are open to hosting other collaborative retreats.   

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