The impetuous Aries that I am I have invariably raised my nose up for years to the idea of traveling to Costa Rica. The constant health nut chatter of eco-friendly resorts, the abundant amount of wellness-superfoods, and the “unpretentious” crowds of yoga guru followers far and wide I was never sure if it all failed to indeed be extra pretentious the likes of Tulum. My family and I were planning our annual Cousin’s Camp summer trip last year and Costa Rica was, for some godforsaken reason, on the top of our list. I ignored the country all together for months until the cousins started moving forward with this idea. Undeniably outvoted and before I knew what happened tickets were purchased. Unbeknownst to myself the cousins began their research and I was going to have to lower my nose and stare at this country straight on, at the very least, to make the most of our trip.
Here’s my TAKE on our surprisingly awesome surf trip to Nosara, Costa Rica...
“Why Nosara” I asked. Of all the places in Costa Rica how do you choose one destination over the other? After hours of research I realized that most of the areas in the country had a carbon set of opportunities: jungle tours, zip lining, river rafting, hanging bridge canopy tours, yoga classes, eco-friendly this and that, and of course surf camps. I got lost in the jungle of internet information and it all started to look the same. I decided it was time to revert to the old school route of simply asking “trustworthy” friends on where to go in Costa Rica. Friends who have visited the country as a family with a similar concept of what traveling should be like. A little bit "roughing it", a challenge here and there, adventure, a hint of luxury, and of course mandatory relaxation. It was Costa Rica after all so this list of criteria should be fairly achievable. A place us grown-ups could have fun and unwind letting the kids run free and wild as they please.
Months of deliberation between the cousins I came to the table with vouch worthy intel on a small chill surf village called Nosara. Known for it’s famous sand bottom surf break Nosara lies on the southern pacific coast located in the middle of the Nicoya peninsula. The day after school let out for summer we flew five and a half hours from New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport (JFK) to San Jose’s Juan Santamaria International Airport (SJO). From SJO we got on a small forty-five minute Nature Air flight directly to Nosara Airport (NSO).
As we drove into the beach town I quickly realized we had reached surf mecca and immediately left my doubts in the trunk of the car. I was grinning ear to ear after spotting the waves breaking ten feet high and anticipated the perfect surf vacation. Nosara is “pura vida” at its finest. Spotted with local establishments with unpretentious travelers from around the world and, surprisingly, no yoga mats slung over their shoulders. What better way for the kids to learn how to ride waves and take in the pure surf culture Nosara was clearly offering.
There are a plethora of boutique hotels along Playa Guiones in Nosara. Playa Guiones is arguably the most beautiful beach in the area. You won’t find any large all-inclusive resorts or chain restaurants. Each resort has it’s own Costa Rican beach-style vibe typical with open air common areas decorated with surf and zen motifs. On par with the hotels there are many simple delicious Costa Rican and Italian restaurants. You’ll order the Country’s most common dish of grilled chicken, Gallo pinto or Casado (rice mixed with black beans), and fried plantains. You’ll order fresh caught ceviche and tres leches cake for dessert.
If you're looking to stay at a super laid-back surf hotel I highly recommend the Harbor Reef Surf Resort. You'll find a wide assortment of budget conscious travelers mostly consisting of writers, artists, film makers, pro and beginner surfers, families, and the occasional expat. It's not exactly the kind of place you want to arrive with highbrow demands but if you need to lock your surfboards up at night and enjoy tacos and beer at the thatched roof swim-up bar you'll be in heaven. Request rooms 18 or 19 at the back of the property with your own private balcony on the second level waking up to the howls of commuting Howler monkey troops.
If you're desiring a break from the sometimes too chill vibe of Nosara I recommend putting the extra money down for The Harmony Hotel. It's very simple in design and on par with Nosara but certainly comes with your everyday modern amenities with a Chateau Marmont Hollywood-style vibe. You won't be going to breakfast without your hair done or be able to avoid the occasional cell phone ring in the distance but it's chic to perfection. The restaurant and juice bar at The Harmony are alone worth the cost of admission. Stay in one of the private garden bungalows or suites in the back of the property for a more peaceful experience as you relax in a hammock away from the other guests.
Playa Guiones is where you will find a rock free sand bottom surf break appropriate for all levels of surfers. Far out on the break you’ll come across six to ten foot dark blue shortboard waves, then a secondary waist high break for the longboard cruiser, eventually turning into white wash perfect for the little kiddos.There’s no shortage of healthy sun tanned gods and goddesses flaunting their string bikinis and sometimes too short board shorts as they pose in their daily yoga sun salutations. You’ll meet hardcore travelers, surfers, yoga experts, and expats from around the world. Turning in their old “working for the man” lives in for a freedom-like lifestyle the new residents prove that it isn’t a dream so far-fetched. Many of the surf instructors are ranked high on the pro circuit and choose Playa Guiones as their home base with the year-round surf’s up mentality.
BEST BEACHES AROUND NOSARA
BEST YOGA RETREAT
HELPFUL TIPS WHILE IN NOSARA
1. If you rent a car in Costa Rica make sure it’s an SUV as most of the time you’ll be on dirt roads. The mandated government car rental insurance will be more than the car rental itself but know that it’s not a scam. Accept this insurance happily knowing that you can bring the car back totaled (worst case scenario) without any responsibility. I would also highly recommend renting a GPS navigator to plug in actual GPS coordinates of a destination. You’ll find that whenever asking for directions or an address to any destination you’ll be given exact latitude and longitude GPS coordinates guaranteeing to find where you need to go.
2. You can also check flights directly to Liberia International Airport and drive to Nosara if you don’t want to take the small flight from San Jose International Airport. Unless you plan on a road trip through Costa Rica you don’t want to drive from San Jose to Nosara as it’s at least a six hour drive mostly on rough dirt roads.
3. NATURE AIR has flights all around Costa Rica and is a great way to get around if you aren’t keen on driving yourself.
4. As a whole Costa Rica is very safe. However, like most beach towns, you’ll want to make sure you don’t leave any valuables unattended while on the beach.
5. Nosara is a perfect place to rent a bike for getting around. If you feel a little more adventurous there are many places to rent four wheeler ATVs. This is something that you can arrange when you get there either through your hotel or many of the rental places in the area.
6. Bring rain gear, insect repellent, and flashlights.
Story and photographs by Noe DeWitt