When Nena Ocampo first set foot in Puerto Viejo, a small seaside Costa Rican town, when she was 18, she knew she’d come home. “I saw a lot of the country before I ever saw Puerto Viejo,” she says. “And I loved all of it, but once I stepped foot in that town, I was like, this is my heart.” Even so, she may not have fully realized just how much it would shape her life.
As the daughter of a Mexican father, Nena had always been interested in the culture of Spanish speaking countries, so her decision to study in Costa Rica was a natural fit. She ended up falling so deeply in love with Costa Rica that she now makes her living showing others the beauty of the Costa Rican “pura vida.”
Through her travel company, TuCamino, Nena plans retreats for women based on the principles of mindfulness, community, and service. The retreats focus heavily on yoga and surfing, allowing the women to focus on getting in touch with nature and themselves. TuCamino aims “to foster meaningful relationships and provide true immersion in the local community, while always leaving behind a positive footprint,” Nena writes on her website. “Most importantly, it is a chance to bond and support each other as women in finding our paths.”
Read on for more about Nena, TuCamino, and the community-focused beach retreats she plans!
Tell us how you first came to visit Costa Rica and Mexico. Why did they have such an impact on you?
I went to Texas A&M and I studied International Studies. For my major, in order to graduate, I had to study abroad, so I spent hours researching, and I was looking into Spain. My family is from a Spanish speaking country, and I wanted to know more about the language and different cultures, so I looked into Spain, Peru and Costa Rica. The reason I chose Costa Rica was because a friend of mine posted a picture–he’d been on a fishing trip there and he posted a picture of his trip, and it was the most beautiful sunset I’d seen in my life. I was just like, alright I’m going there. Like if this place actually exists, if this is what it actually looks like, then that’s where I’m going.
I had gone to Mexico a couple of times when I was younger, like on mission trips to border towns, and I went to Cancun in college like that whole thing, when I was 19. But I was 23 the first time I met my family–my father is originally from Mexico, so I have his side of the family there, in Central Mexico in the state of Guanajuato. I call them rancheros, they’re like more rancher type people, I don’t think a lot of them have even seen the ocean before. So actually, two years ago now, my dad and I drove from Dallas to Sayulita, and it was the longest drive ever, but it was the first time he had seen the ocean and been in it. It was a really cool experience.
How did you first come up with the idea of TuCamino?
As cliche as it sounds, I feel like the idea has always been there. I guess when I first went to Costa Rica, when I first saw the Caribbean side–because I went around and I saw a lot of the country before I ever saw Puerto Viejo, and I loved all of it, but once I stepped foot in that town, I was like, this is my heart, this is where I’m going to be.
That was when I was 18, eight years ago, and I just thought about it so much, so after I graduated I went back for a couple of months and found a job at a restaurant and hotel. I’ve done everything, I feel like, just to live there because it’s so beautiful. I love Costa Rica so much, the culture and the way of life, just everything about it, so I wanted to lead groups there, just show them why I love it so much and help them have an authentic experience. So I decided I wanted to work for travel companies. I applied but I always got denied because I didn’t have enough experience. So I decided that I was just going to create my own company that was all the things that I like doing, like yoga and surfing. I know yoga and surfing go well together and people like that, but in Costa Rica, nature is huge.
Then I added Mexico as well when I met my dad’s family for the first time. I decided I also wanted to have my trips there, not in the same place where my dad grew up, but a beach town, Sayulita. Both towns I have my retreats in are similar–small town vibe, surfers and yoga, and just really colorful and a lot of community in both of them.
When did you actually start taking action to make TuCamino a reality?
I started working on the website last January. Honestly, I really do believe that when you ask the universe for something, it responds, so I just kept saying, I need to find someone that can make me this website, and I just kept putting it out there every single day. And I met a girl at a cafe and she did websites and asked if I needed help. And I was like yeah, this is my idea–I had it written out, I had it with me all the time. And I showed her what I wanted, and we worked on it together. And that was in January and we had the site ready by March and then released it at beginning of April.
Then I really started learning everything about social media. Well, I have a lot more to learn that’s for sure. But I started promoting myself in May of last year. And I got the trips booked by December, for February. It’s been really hard, and lonely at times, as an entrepreneur you start feeling like I’m the only one doing this by myself, but it’s so worth it, it’s been amazing. I wouldn’t take back anything. And then I think about it and I do work with so many amazing people. The guy who, actually, he’s a local from Costa Rica, he taught me to surf years ago, he does our surf lessons and he also works at the jaguar rescue center. And we have amazing yoga teachers who teach every morning and afternoon for us. My friend Alia is the chef, she’s a raw vegan and she can make anything. So I have a lot of help, I’m not doing this all alone, but getting it started was difficult. But like I said, so worth it.
Tell us about the first retreat in February–how did it go?
There were four girls, three of them are from Canada and one was from Texas, between the ages of 23 and 28. I hadn’t ever met them before, they just saw my posts on social media. It was six nights and seven days and the first day was travel for them. They get picked up from the airport in a private shuttle that brought them to Cashew Hill Jungle Lodge, which is also where our yoga studio is. We had a welcome dinner waiting for them and I walked them through the week, what we were going to be doing. And then they were exhausted, which is completely understandable–Puerto Viejo is about 4.5 hours from the airport, so it’s quite a drive.
The next day, we had breakfast and we had yoga in the morning then after yoga we had a morning meditation, like a women’s circle with the yoga teacher, Danielle Duffy. She does her thing, she’s just inspiring, you know, she talks about different things, to be mindful, believe in yourself, that sort of thing, and a lot of the girls told me that was their favorite part, just that hour, getting to focus on them, and their needs.
Then they have lunch and the afternoon would just kind of depend. They got beach time, so we would take them to different beaches. One day they rented bikes and rode to a different beach and we had a hula hoop session, which was fun! I made it different each day, changed it out, but then we would have their surf lesson in the afternoon and after that everybody is pretty tired, so they come back and take a shower and get ready for dinner. Dinner is usually on their own, although a couple of them we all had together, because we all wanted to be around each other. So that’s usually the day. And again, depending on the day, it’s different, like they have the jaguar rescue center tour, the chocolate tour, and waterfall tour. So it’s a pretty jam-packed day, and it starts pretty early, around 7 and they finish yoga or surfing around 5 or 6.
Were you nervous about creating an itinerary from scratch? How did you approach that?
I was so nervous. I put it out there and then I was like, oh my gosh it’s working, but I don’t want it to work any more, now that it’s going somewhere I don’t know what to do! But yeah I had a blank page at first. I know how to build itineraries, I’ve seen it and done it, but I didn’t know what [the participants] would like. I knew what they wanted to do because they booked the trips, but I didn’t know how they saw their days. I just had to come up with what I would’ve liked and then I did send it to them and say, if there are any changes you guys would like, please let me know. And I sent them a menu as well. Alia came up with the menu and I sent it to them and they were like, this sounds delicious, we’re on board. So I wanted them to have a choice, it is their trip so I wanted to give them the option to change things or modify things, to add or take out. And they liked it!
Do you have more retreats coming up soon? Are you trying to increase the frequency of the trips?
I would do it every other week if I could, if I could just have that week off in between to plan and get going. But it’s so much fun, when they left, I was so sad! I spent all this time planning and we had the retreat and then they’re gone and I was like wait, what’s my purpose now, I don’t really know what to do with myself. So yeah, if I could have 10 a year, or 20, I mean, that would be amazing.
I have several more that are in the works right now. We are now doing private groups as well, because I’ve had some girls reach out about doing a private vacation for like birthdays or bachelorette parties, so next year we have a couple of those. They’re not booked for sure, but they should be soon. So we have three in the works–two private retreats and one public one–in January and that’s high season in Costa Rica, so it’s really fun, there’s a lot going on and it’s a good time to be there. Then this year we have one in Mexico during Dia de los Muertos and Halloween as well. And we were looking at actually making that co-ed, because I’ve had a lot of men reach out to me as well. They’ve seen the website and they’re like, wait a second why can’t we come, we want to be a part of this also! And I’m like, it’s just for women because I do want to build that relationship with women, create that sisterhood and that type of thing. But I have thought about opening the Mexico one in the fall to men and women.
Why did you decide to focus the retreats for women?
A lot of women are hesitant and intimidated to travel alone. And I totally get that, I’ve been in several situations where I was scared. So I wanted to create a stepping stone to allowing women to travel on their own. This is more an experience where you are with other people in a different country, but you’re getting to meet locals and work within the community. You get to do things like outdoor activities, and one of the things we do is we go on a chocolate tour, so you actually get to learn the bean to bar process, how to make chocolate, and you meet the locals that work in the community that do that. So there’s little things like that that I wanted to incorporate into the tour because maybe in an all inclusive or a vacation you book with an agent, you might not get that experience, you might be sitting on a beach drinking a pina colada or something. You’re not getting to meet people from there, know their story, learn how they grew up and experience what they experience every day.
Tell us more about the emphasis on community with your retreats.
There’s this theme of community in my trips and with TuCamino, because it is important that you give back to your community. I try to work with people in the community, I want to make sure, like for example, the surf school–the surf school is a local surf instructor school and the yoga instructor is somebody who’s from the community or has been living there. So that’s the whole thing, and I don’t just want the girls to come and have this experience and then leave. I want them to feel like they gave some of their time or energy as well while they were here.
We have so much going on I am going to have to reevaluate how I work everything in, but one thing that we did during the week was make signs for the beach to remind people to pick up their trash and be mindful of cigarette butts and plastic and that type of stuff. That was probably a couple of hours that we did that, and the next retreat I would like to spend more time, like a day, doing community service.
There’s a community center for kids to go to after school and on the weekends, and I’m focusing on working them. They’ll have volunteers come in and play with the kids and teach them. Also, I didn’t do this with my retreat, but with other women in the community, there’s a surf school for kids and we would go to their free surf day and sort of play with the kids, make sure they’re safe in the water, teach them if we had skills. Honestly that’s really important, just spending time with them, because there are so many little kids that want to be involved in something. So that’s something that I want the girls to be a part of in the next retreat.
Surf lessons are a big part of the retreats as well. You love to surf yourself, right?
I love what I do, but one thing in particular that has changed my life is surfing. I’ve probably taken 10 actual lessons, but it’s also just falling a lot, it’s constantly learning. That’s the thing I love about it, is you can always learn something new–even the best surfers. I know some people don’t get it, but I think that moment when you’re in the ocean and you ride your first wave, you get it, you’re like this is the best feeling, I’m doing it, by myself and it’s pretty amazing. It’s therapy in a way, just being out there away from everything.
What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve encountered as an entrepreneur?
There are a lot! I think one of them is people not believing in you, or people making negative comments, or, I don’t want to say not being supportive, but just questioning what I’m doing. Like in the beginning they’re all like, how are you going to do that, or what about this? And of course I’ve analyzed this so much, it’s my baby so I’m thinking about it all the time. But I think one of the biggest challenges is realizing I’m all I have. I have to start believing in myself, and stay confident and stay motivated because at the end of the day, this is all me. It’s awesome, it’s amazing, but on the other hand it’s scary.
Another obstacle is getting people’s trust, because all they see is social media, they don’t know me. The girls that booked the first retreat, I’m so grateful for them because they took a chance. They’re like, I really don’t know Nena, but I see what she’s doing and I want to have this experience. And I really believe that they had the time of their lives, and we still talk all the time. They want to come back next year and that, like, I got goosebumps, that got me so excited. Because if I can make that little bit of difference in someone’s life, than what I’m doing is worth it.
Do you have any advice for other entrepreneurs?
Honestly it’s just doing it, it’s just putting it out there, that’s the scariest part. Once you have it out there, of course you’re still nervous, but for me, I had this website and I waited to put it up because I was like, I don’t know if people are gonna like it, what am I even doing, I’ve never done a retreat before. And I just did it, you know. I’ve learned as I’ve been through it all, of course there’s challenges, like the first retreat. Maybe the girls didn’t realize that things were going on, we didn’t show them that, but of course there was obstacles we had to try to figure out daily. But I’d just go for it, because we have one life to live, so just give it all you’ve got, just put yourself out there. And maybe it doesn’t work but you’ve just got to try until you’re on the ground. Even then, there’s still room for improvement and you can change things, modify things. Like I said before, there’s things I want to change about the next retreat. But I would say just putting yourself out there is the number one thing and then everything else kind of falls into place–you learn as you go.
Are there ways you would like to improve upon or evolve the retreats? What are your goals for future retreats?
I would love to make them longer. I feel like we got really close in the amount of time that we had, but it wasn’t enough. I’m pretty sure they loved all of it, but with surfing–some of them had never touched a surfboard before and by the end of the week they were catching waves on their own. But it sucks because the last two days, they’re catching waves and then they have to go home. So I’d like to make the retreats longer, just to get more of an experience and not have everything so jam-packed into one week, to have more time and be able to bond a little bit more.
I want there to be more community service as well. It was hard to just sort of fit everything in, I just wanted them to have such a great experience, I had all these things jam-packed. I tried to put in as many different activities as possible just so they felt like they were getting the full experience in those five days. But they honestly had fun just staying in a new place.
What about personal goals? Is there anything you’re looking to accomplish in your personal life?
Thank you for asking that, because I feel like my life is my business! Before I’m 30, I’m 25 now, but before I’m 30 I want to compete in a surf competition in Costa Rica. I just want to have the guts to do it, because it is intimidating. So that’s number 1. Also I would like to travel more and surf, I’d really like go to Hawaii, Indonesia–there’s a lot of places I haven’t been. Central America has been my life I feel like for the last couple years, but there are a lot of places I’d like to go. Australia is another one. So traveling, and competing are two big things for me. And I guess whenever the time comes, being able to have my own house in Costa Rica. I would love to move there full time. Texas is great, my family is here, but my heart is in Costa Rica.