What do you get when you combine yogis, surfers, monkey-lovers, and gringos in Costa Rica? NOSARA. A few years ago, I spent two weeks in Nosara to surf and volunteer with baby monkeys.
I soon discovered that surfing is totally not my sport (where are the chairlifts? where?), and my time there quickly turned into lazing on the beach and volunteering with the monkeys.
My “job” — one of the toughest I’ve ever had — was to essentially sit in a room full of baby monkeys and let them crawl on me. (Why did I ever leave? I don’t know.)
I recently had the pleasure of returning to Nosara as a date to a beautiful wedding, and I think it’s time I wrote about it.
Nosara is tiny. And when I say Nosara, I mean Playa Guiones, which is where the majority of the shops, restaurants, and hotels are located. The actual city of Nosara is not on the beach and doesn’t hold much attraction for the average visitor (other than a less expensive grocery store).
Let me just say it. Getting to Nosara is a pain in the ass. There are flights from San Jose on Nature Air, which, if you have the money, is probably the easiest. For the rest of us, you can rent a car, or take the bus from San Jose –> Liberia –> Nicoya –> Nosara. There are also little gringo shuttles from the Liberia Airport.
Most people come to Nosara to surf or do yoga. These two attractions have created an interesting community of expats and tourists, with maybe six or seven Costa Ricans running around. There’s a decidedly organic/health-conscious feel to the town, with an abundance of 40-year-old women walking around that have a better body than I did at 17.
The rest of Nosara is made up of young families and retirees. It’s seems like a pretty safe place.
It’s also safe to say don’t come to Nosara if you’re looking to party all night long. I mentioned the 40 year old hotties, right? Well, you don’t get a bod like that from drinking Imperials all night long. You get a bod like that from drinking organic carrot juice for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
And the surfers are mostly beginners, so if you’re picturing Swayze in Point Break, you’re off. If I know surfing like I think I do, I can tell you that those peeps go to other, more advanced swells. (Swells. Like that? Check out that lingo I’m throwing in. I’ll be a hot surfer chick in no time.)
If you somehow got lost on your way to San Juan del Sur and end up in Nosara, there’s one club. It’s called La Banana, and I’ve never been to it. Everywhere else closes early. We got motivated to go and see some live music one night, only to find it shut down. It was 9 pm. On a Friday. You get the idea: Nosara isn’t a great place to go and meet a bunch of other backpackers and party til dawn.
Nosara is one of the best places in the world to learn to surf, as the waves are small but consistent. A few years back, I took lessons from Cacho, whose business has been growing a ton. At Cachos Surf School (so official these days!), a 90-minute private lessons costs $50 and board rentals are $15/day.
The Nosara Yoga Institute offers yoga teacher trainings all year long, as well as daily classes to us more flexibility-challenged folk. The 90-minute classes are taught in English and cost $10.
Unfortunately, Nosara Wildlife Rescue is no longer accepting volunteers for less than a month, so unless you have a lot of time, volunteering with the baby monkeys won’t be a possibility. They now offer tours for a $50 donation. I know that sounds steep, but keep in mind that it’s going to a great cause… and that everything is expensive in Costa Rica.
“The longest zip line in the world” is available through Miss Sky Canopy Tours. I heard, howevs, that it was a not-so-great experience. Talk to people before you go.
At the nearby Playa Ostional, there are also TURTLES. Of course, being that turtles are my unicorn (always dream about, never see), it wasn’t the season for them. But if you go in the fall, you’ve got a good shot!
Like any beach town, however, the beauty of Nosara is that you don’t have to do anything. Playa Guiones is a beautiful virgin stretch of sand. Because of the aforementioned turtle friends, there’s no lights or buildings allowed within 200 meters of the sand, which keeps the beach nice and pristine.
One of my favorite things about Nosara was our hotel, the Harbor Reef Surf Resort. I’d seen the hotel the last time I was there, and I knew I wanted to stay there on this visit.
Service at the hotel was excellent; every employee that I encountered was friendly and helpful. The room was simple, but pretty and spotless, with nice bonuses like A/C, hot water, and fridge. (Maybe these aren’t bonuses for normal people, but after living in Nicaragua for three months, I found them pretty sweet!)
The location is fabulous, as it’s less than a five-minute walk to the beach and less than a ten-minute walk to the main part of town, where the shops and ATM are.
The hotel bar/restaurant was also a wonderful place to spend a few hours… or days. The bar pool literally had bar stools in it. It doesn’t get much more awesome than that. One day, we actually made it our goal to see how long we could spend just in the bar pool. Number of hours: 4. Number of piña coladas: much more than 4.
The grounds of the hotel were the best part. While the rest of Nosara was dusty and dry, the Harbor Reef made you feel like you were in the middle of the jungle. Beautiful butterflies can enjoy the flowers while hungover humans can enjoy the hammocks. The day after the wedding, we didn’t even leave the hotel grounds. There really was no reason to. The beach, you say? The hotel’s two pools did us just fine.
My only complaint about the hotel was the abundance of mosquitos. I wish the netting on the windows was a bit better, or that they’d offer mosquito nets, as we got eaten alive at night. It would also have been cool if the free breakfast came with some eggs. But, I’m kind of grasping at straws here.
That’s because our stay was excellent. Though it’s not cheap, the location, service, and grounds make it well worth it, especially when you consider other area accommodation options. (If you go to Nosara, you’re going to have to spend money. Get over it.) Overall, I’d highly recommend it.
Robin’s Cafe – Wonderful selection of vegetarian food, including wraps, sandwiches, and more exotic dishes. Homemade ice cream. Pricey, but worth it.
Il Basilico – Yummy pizzas for $10, though you have to take a taxi or have a car to get here.
Beach Dog’s Cafe – Never tried it, but I heard from several people that it was a good spot.
The Gilded Iguana – Tasty food in a fun atmosphere — often with live music!
Hotel Lagarta Lodge – This hotel restaurant in Playa Pelada is an exquisite place to watch the sunset and grab a few drinks.
La Luna – This Playa Pelada restaurant is where the wedding was held, and it was absolutely gorgeous.
If you’re looking to get an authentic Costa Rican experience or travel on a budget, Nosara probably isn’t the place for you.
Nosara is packed with gringos doing gringo-y things, and there’s no way to avoid it. This makes it an expensive place to vacation — almost on par with many places in the States. If you need to save money, I’d suggest avoiding Costa Rica all together and visiting Nicaragua (because it’s awesome) or El Salvador (for world-class surfing).
If you’re okay with the gringos and the prices, Nosara is a great place to spend a week. It’s beautiful, the people are friendly, and there’s lots to do.
Muchas gracias to Harbor Reef for offering me a discounted stay at their property. All opinions, as always, are my own.