Time marches to the rhythm of the tides here. Dry tropical forest covers the hillsides like giant florets of broccoli and spills down to collide with white and grey sand beaches at the tide line. Rivers meander through estuaries of mangrove providing cover for crocodiles, turtles, and fish. The skies above them team with birdlife; the trees with monkeys. And, the soothing sounds of crashing waves are never far away.
If you’re one of those people who consider themselves more of a traveler than a tourist, then you might want to give the Nosara region on Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula a bump or two up on your bucket list of travel destinations. This laid-back haven for granola heads, yogis, and surfers is located far from the national and international tourists that can crowd more well-known destinations in the country.
The Nosara region is considered a little off the beaten path. And, folks here are just fine with that. Residents and locals alike are down-to-Earth, happy, active, and healthy. People here seem to connect with nature intuitively. The area’s eco-centric lifestyle combines well with the many yoga retreats, surfing schools, and organic cafés. And, it resides in one of only five Blue Zone’s in the world.
Nosara’s endearing “pura vida”-yoga-surfer-organic culture has made it a top destination in Guanacaste for travelers who like to be in on the edge of it all but in the middle of nowhere. Anyone who’s made the move here will tell you there‘s no better place on Earth.
The Nosara region: climate and geography
The Nosara region of Guanacaste consists of five beaches and nearby villages: Playa Nosara, Playa Guiones, Playa Garza, Playa Pelada, and Playa Ostional. The actual town center of “Nosara town” lies inland about five miles and is where much of the Tico population resides. Most of the hotels, yoga retreats, restaurants, cafés, and surf shops are located in Playa Guiones, making it the most popular spot with expats, as well as with foreign and national tourists alike.
The Nosara region is situated about half the way down the west coast of the Nicoya Peninsula. It borders el Refugio Nacional Silvestre Vida Ostional (“Ostional Wildlife Refuge”). Ostional is famous for its arribadas (“mass nesting events”) of olive ridley and leatherback sea turtles, and is one of the largest olive ridley nesting sites in the world. It’s frequently at the top of everyone’s bucket list for Costa Rica.
Two of the longest rivers in Costa Rica – the Río Montaña and Río Nosara – flow into the Pacific Ocean at Playa Nosara. They teem with wildlife and are popular with nature-lovers who want to kayak, or take a boat tour, or enjoy the abundant species of birds, reptiles, and other flora and fauna that can be seen along their banks.
Like the rest of Guanacaste, the Nosara region enjoys a “wet season” (also called “winter”, “green season”, and “low season”) and a “dry season” (also called “summer”, “golden season”, and “high season”). The dry season runs from about mid-November through mid-May. The wet season occurs during the rest of the year, with the wettest month of all being October.
The dry season is a time when the tropical dry forest – a deciduous jungle, really – sheds its leaves to conserve energy during the long absence of rain. It’s hotter (90°F on average), drier, dustier, windier, and sunnier than the rest of the year. And, because the dry season coincides with the cold, North American and European winters, it’s when you’ll find the most foreign tourists visiting the region. Sun worshippers, take notice: You WILL NOT BE disappointed!
The wet season is when the tropical dry forest bursts into life again, after six parched months with almost no rain. Within just a couple of weeks of the arrival of the rains, the canopy bursts forth with emerald foliage. The temperature cools a bit (85°F), rivers swell, and wildlife abounds as food becomes plentiful again.
It usually rains for an hour or two every day (the exception being October when it can rain for days on end). Almost every evening, the magnificent cloud formations during the wet season create color-soaked, impressionistic backdrops for unbelievable Pacific sunsets. And, there are fewer tourists to contend with. Bear in mind, though, by the time October rolls around, Nosara’s backroads and dirt roads are more like mud-sucks. 4WD and road clearance, required!
Some Nosara history and local culture.
Much of the land on the Nicoya Peninsula was converted to huge beef cattle ranches after the arrival of the Spanish in 1520. Growing sugar cane also became a big part of the local economy. The tropical dry forest was practically eliminated, and pastureland took its place.
For centuries, life in Nosara remained relatively unchanged and revolved around five or six big beef cattle ranches and a cowboy culture that still exists today. But, in the early 1970s a group of foreign expat pioneer investors purchased three of the ranches and created what became known as el Proyecto Americano (“the American Project”). The idea was to develop about 3,000 acres into home sites, public spaces, and an 18-hole golf course.
It didn’t work out and by 1975, the project was bankrupt and without a developer. The area had no municipal government, no police force, no reliable water and electricity service, and the roads were a mess. Some gritty residents decided to form the Nosara Civic Association (“NCA”) and take things into their own hands.
The NCA is credited with keeping Nosara largely green – especially near the beaches. The community’s conservation policy requires homes, hotels, and businesses to be set back from the beach, creating a 250-meter buffer zone for wildlife. There is no mega-hotel development here, as is characteristic of other areas of Guanacaste.
The 1970s also marked the “discovery” of the world-class surf break at Playa Guiones by a few surfers from the USA – and word of the discovery travelled fast. In 2017, Nosara was ranked as the fastest-growing surf destination in the world by economists from University of Sydney, Australia, who analyzed over 5,000 surf breaks around the world.
The beaches. Oh, the beaches!
Playa Nosara is a long strip of dark volcanic sand beach defined by bocas (“river mouths”) formed by the Montaña and Nosara Rivers. It runs along in the Nosara Biological Reserve – an estuary of swamp, mangrove jungle, and waterways that’s very popular with stand-up paddlers (SUP), kayakers, and boaters. The bird and animal watching here is phenomenal! You may have to take a boat to the beach, especially during the wet season.
Playa Guiones is a three-mile stretch of white sand beach with a perfect surf break. Its large window for swells makes it the most consistent in Costa Rica – and fun for surfers of all ability levels. The town has some yoga retreats, expat-owned boutique restaurants, cafés, businesses, Pilates studios, surfer schools, some hostels, and a few tranquilo (“mellow”) bars. It’s the region’s most popular beach.
Playa Pelada is to swimmers and snorkelers what Playa Guiones is to surfers. The town is tiny and super laid-back. Catch a spectacular sunset while dining at La Luna (“The Moon”) Restaurant on the beach.
Playa Garza is a little fishing village on a beach that’s protected by a reef, making it an ideal location for fisherman to anchor their boats. You can purchase the catch of the day right off the boats there. There are some charming bars and restaurants to pop in on too.
Playa Ostional is world famous as a sea turtle nesting site, where thousands of olive ridley and leatherback turtles come to nest (and hatch) throughout the year. As mentioned above, it lies within the Ostional Wildlife Refuge and is a nature lover’s dream when the turtles are nesting. Surfers also frequent Playa Ostional, but there can be a wicked rip current at times.
Liberia’s Aeropuerto Internacional Daniel Oduber Quirós [“Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport” (LIR)] is located about two hours away overland, and is the closest international airport to the region. Direct flights from major U.S., European, and Latin American cities are available via most of the major airlines, thus making LIR the main air transportation portal for foreign visitors.
Domestic flights are also available to and from Nosara’s regional airport (NOB). It’s about a four-hour drive to the Nosara region from Costa Rica’s capital city of San José and its international and domestic air transportation hubs.
Cable TV, broadband internet (including fiber optic, in some areas), and mobile voice and data services are reliable and widely available. Cabletica is the main cable TV/internet provider nationwide. Kölbi, Movistar and Claro also offer home internet, internet TV and mobile voice and data packages. You’ll have no problems remaining connected to the outside world in Nosara.
The cowboy and pioneer culture that makes up Nosara’s past history is still visible in Nosara’s cultural fabric. But, today you’ll also find a lot of surfers, yoga practitioners, nature lovers, foodies, and granola-head expats from North America and Europe woven in amongst the cowboys.
It’s also one of the oldest expat communities in Costa Rica and English is widely spoken – especially in Playa Guiones, where, at times, you might do a double-take and think you’re in 1960’s California. The pristine Nosara region can be described as a thriving surfer/yoga/organic enclave on the edge of it all and in the middle of nowhere. It’s a place that has always appealed to many people who have a pioneer spirit.
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Pura vida from everyone at Nosara Community!