Nosara doesn’t give a great first impression. Unlike most other beach towns in Costa Rica, Nosara doesn’t have a town centre with hotels, shops, and restaurants vying for your attention, so driving down the bumpy narrow dirt road that leads to Nosara’s famous Playa Guiones, you never really get the feeling that you have arrived.
After getting lost and running into a few more dead end roads than we would’ve liked to (beware even Google Maps can send you down roads that are actually impassable by car), we finally made our way to Downtown Guiones, a 500 m road running down to Playa Guiones.
According to booking.com, Nosara was 90% full when we booked our stay, yet walking down Downtown Guiones, it felt like we were there alone. Overpriced air conditioned souvenir shops sat behind closed doors, with small “Open” signs serving as the only indication of any type of activity. Not that we typically enjoy crowds, but where is everyone?
We were staying in Nosara B&B Retreat, a charming property hidden amidst the lush jungle trails leading towards the secluded beach of Playa Pelada.
“Let me introduce you to the area,” said the woman at the front desk gesturing towards a large map hanging on the wall behind her desk. “We are located in Playa Pelada, a smaller quieter part of Nosara. You’ll find a few places to eat in the area, but the majority of shops and restaurants are all in Playa Guiones, “ she explained tracing circles on the map. “Everything is kind of tucked away, so you really need to know where you are going or you are bound to miss it from the main road”
We dropped off our bags and hopped back in our car to explore. It felt like a bit of a treasure hunt. There was no denying it, Nosara wasn’t deserted, we just had to find its hot spots.
The newly opened Nosara Coffee House was enjoying their mid-Sunday morning rush. Kids were running around the yard conversing in a peculiar Spanglish dialect, relaxed hippy mothers were cooing their babies in the shade of mango trees, dads with dreadlocks and artistic tattoos were discussing latest news while sipping on their coffees. We ate our gallo pinto and silently observed the Nosara community in action. Everyone looked so zen, so happy, so in their element. Most of them weren’t local Ticos, but they weren’t visitors either. This was their home away from home and we couldn’t help but feel a tad bit jealous over their seemingly ideal lifestyle. (We were totally judging every single one of them based on first impressions, but let’s be serious, isn’t that the whole point of people watching?)
After popping into some shops and lingering outside the Nosara Real Estate office on the main street, we were off to check our Nosara’s famous surfing beach – Playa Guiones. Strong winds and low tide made the beach somewhat unappealing for surfing, especially for a beginner like me. We lingered for a while longer and opted to spend the afternoon at Playa Pelada instead.
Based on the number of locals hanging out at the beach, it was clear that Pelada was more swimmer friendly than Guiones. The beach was filled with locals fishing at sunset, kids playing football on the shore, and residents perched on their reclining chairs with beers in hand awaiting the perfect sunset. After a quick swim, we found ourselves a perfect spot to catch the sunset.
La Luna Restaurant was not the cheapest spot to dine in town, but this technically was our first mini honeymoon, so we splurged on a great meal with a beautiful view. For a while, the mediterranean feel of La Luna, the loud familiar (read: american) chatter all around us, made us forget that we were in Costa Rica altogether. La Luna turned out to be another expat hangout in Nosara. This was a gathering place for special events, birthday celebrations, catch ups with friends, and romantic dates. A place that oozed with American expat culture and where we once again felt like outsiders who weren’t a part of this community.
It happened again the following day at the Harmony Hotel, the hot spot for yogis, health nuts, and lovers of nature, relaxation, sustainability, and as the owners describe it, low key glamour. Hidden behind an inconspicuous wooden roadside sign, this lush jungle enclave looked like the kind of place we’d love to call home, but one that was definitely well outside of our budget. Luckily, we didn’t have to stay at Harmony Hotel to enjoy their daily yoga classes and delicious smoothies at their Juice Bar.
“I’ll have the usual, Maria”, we heard again and again as the line at the Harmony Hotel Juice Bar moved along.
This was yet another local hotspot. The Juice Bar was a place to catch up with friends, and the open air yoga studio – a place to reconnect with your mind. You couldn’t ask for a more ideal setting.
We were mesmerized by Nosara.
“I don’t think I like it”, I told Max while sipping my green smoothie through a bamboo straw at the Harmony Hotel. “It’s too Americanized, it’s pretentious, it almost feels fake. This isn’t Costa Rica. It’s a little piece of America that imprinted itself into this beautiful setting in the middle of the Costa Rican jungle. Their kids don’t even go to a local school!” (As we learned earlier that day majority of expat kids here go to the Guanacaste Waldorf School)
But 10 mins later, we found ourselves in front of Go Juice Truck, chatting with Nick, as he prepared our Tuna Rice Bowl (Tuna Poke). He wasn’t pretentious, he wasn’t fake, he was just a surfer who followed his dream of living in surfer’s paradise – Nosara.
“It’s grown quite a bit over the last few years and there is no sign of stopping”, explained one of Nick’s customers to me, a woman who’s been coming to Nosara for the last 6 years to visit her daughter in law, an owner of another restaurant in town.
“Half of these businesses didn’t exist in Nosara just 2 years ago. Guiones is getting too busy now, so my daughter and a lot of her expat friends are moving further away to Playa Pelada and beyond. They didn’t come to Nosara to live in a little expat bubble. They came for the surfer lifestyle, for the Costa Rican attitude, for a chance to let their kids grow up among nature. They came for Pura Vida.”
Hell, we can’t blame them. It’s the same reason why we are here in Costa Rica and not at a 9-5 job in Canada or Australia.
“Maybe Nosara isn’t so bad after all,” I admitted en route back to our home base in Playa Avellanas. “I think it’s the kind of place that you just have to get to know…”
Some say Nosara is the epitome of an Americanized town in Costa Rica, but we would argue that it is a unique expat community built around the best of Costa Rica’s values and the Pura Vida lifestyle.
Perhaps, you’ll just have to experience it for yourself to believe us 🙂
Does Nosara strike you as too American? Is it the kind of place you’d like to visit on your trip to Costa Rica?
Essential Travel Info:
Get in: Nosara is located on the Nicoya Penninsula, about two and a half hours by car from the closest airport in Liberia. You can hire a taxi or take a shuttle for $55 to Nosara from the airport, or opt to take a local bus. Nosara is about a four-to-five hour drive from the San Jose Airport.
Get around: Nosara is quite spread out, making it tough to get around from Guiones to Pelada on foot. Consider hiring a car for you time in Nosara or renting a bike/golf cart from one of the shops in town.
Where to stay: There are only about 20 properties to choose form on booking.com, so reserve early, especially if you are traveling during the high season (Dec-Mar). Alternatively, there are lots of choices available through Airbnb.
Where to Eat: Green smoothies and healthy snacks at Harmony Hotel or Go Juice, burgers at Burgers & Beers, coffee from Nosara Coffee House, shop organic at Nosara Organic Market on Saturday afternoon, El Chivo for Mexican and La Luna for Mediterranean inspired dishes with a great view.
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