Costa Rica has been my annual surfing/vacation destination for six years. And for the last three the sleepy coastal town of Nosara, far from a paved road with pot holes as big as kiddie pools has fulfilled my need for sun and relaxation where I can leave makeup, blow dryers and any notion of working hard far behind. I just work on trying to drop into a wave.
It’s all about livin’ outdoors-surfing, biking, swimming, and walking on the beach with the addition of margaritas and cold beer.
It will forever be a grand memory of where my husband proposed to me on the beach at sunset with the perfect ring. The main beach of Nosara is Playa Guiones, a 6 km expanse of white sand running in a straight line from Punta Pelada to Punta Guiones. Playa Guiones is the epitome of low-key beach life and ranks among the best surf spots on the Nicoya Peninsula. Here’s what you need to know: You will encounter friendly dogs everywhere you go. One may become your evening chaperone while you walk home from a restaurant with what you had presumed would be only your flashlight to guide you, others will sit or wander by your chair at one of the many local bars and others find nothing wrong, nor did we, in walking into your house for a short visit or to lay on your terrace in the shade. Actually, you'll encounter animals of all kinds.
For filling your stomach: I start with the food since being from originally from New York; we always want to find good food. The Gilded Iguana—one of my favorites for any meal. The breakfast burritos and pancakes surprised me with how tasty they were. I learned of the breakfast goods after waking up to no power in town. In the early hours of the morning after St. Patrick’s Day one of the town’s large fuse boxes blew out and for everyone who thought they would be sleeping in under the cool air conditioner and wake up to enjoy their own fridge contents we were snapped out of it when all electricity was out. Word traveled fast that the Gilded had a generator. If I weren’t enjoying such a fresh selection of fruit everyday at my rented house it would have been hard to keep me away on daily basis. As for other selections, go for whatever fish has been caught that day. One of the waiter’s brothers operates a deep-sea fishing company and whatever is caught can be brought back to Gilded and shared with the restaurant. One night we all dined on tuna sushi and grilled tuna. Plus the guacamole and chips are always good starters. If you’re still thinking breakfast or perhaps have a stomach growling for lunch, ride your bike to Café du Paris. Like every restaurant in town it’s open on all sides with just a roof on top. This roof is shaped like a tall pointed tee-pee. Go for the fresh fruit with yogurt and granola or for lunch the chicken curry salad filled with all the salad fixings and piled with tender, marinated chicken. One of mine, and many others favorites is La Luna. It’s located on a hillside with THE view of the sunset. Besides table seating on their outdoor terrace they also have big cushions, blankets, benches and low tables on their lawn that stretches to the hillside for optimal sunset viewing with a margarita in hand. Their fish is top notch and the jasmine rice is delicious. Expect to see several friendly dogs that wander about with or without their owners.
For competition to sunset viewing with La Luna, you can head up to Hotel Lagarta Lodge where you can view the spectacular sunset unobstructed since it’s 40 meters above sea level and offers a view of the coastline of Ostional and the Reserva Biologica Nosara below. When you have a hankering for something sweet, head to Robin’s, just down the street from Café du Paris, for homemade ice cream, chewy brownies and chocolate chip cookies. She also serves sandwiches—my top picks include the chicken salad with a paprika mayonnaise followed by a scoop of wild blackberry sorbet or caramel oatmeal raisin cookie ice cream. And due to my sweet tooth, I always buy a cookie to save for later. Marlin Bill’s is on a small hill that looks down the main drag that leads to Playa Guiones. The staff is incredibly nice and what’s not to like about Bill, who adopted his best friend’s cat when he died. Their claim to fame is their jalapeno sauce, which I opted to for go. While they are heavy handed with the butter and garlic on some dishes, it’s easily forgotten when you bite into their creamy key lime pie courtesy of Bill’s Florida raised wife. If you have a car, jeep or like us are willing to walk a few miles then set out for La Dolce Vita for an Italian meal that will need a bit of walking off after wards. i.e. good but you may leave bloated. The owner, Roberto, left his home near Milan for a vacation in Costa Rica, fell for the lifestyle and decided to stay and open a restaurant. That was 12 years ago. It’s pricey when you compare it to other restaurants in town, but now I’m hooked on pairing speck with goat cheese and balsamic. Giardino Tropicale is all about the delicious thin crust pizza and sangria. We started with a glass, then moved to a pitcher and accordingly walked a little wobbly home. If you want to receive a greeting from the house dog you’ll have to offer him a little cheese. He ignores left over crust and answers to “cheese please.” Plus there are two markets in town, a large one near the airport and a mini super with a remarkable selection of fruit, food and wine near Kaya Sol. Besides lying by the pool:
While there are several surf schools in town I recommend stopping by The Frog Pad and inquiring about lessons. Dave Malbon, owner of The Frog Pad, can give you a lesson or get a recommendation. Since we rented a house near The Frog Pad, it became our go-to place for rentals and booking all our activities from horseback riding to canopy tours, fishing charters and even taxis when we need them. Surfboards per week: $75 Bikes per week: $50
Plus you can rent DVD’s, swap books, log onto the Internet or make inexpensive international phone calls. They’ll also gladly make a call to reserve a spot for zip lining and set up a round trip taxi. Zip lining in Nosara is a must on your to do list assuming you don’t have a fear of heights. At Miss Sky Canopy you can choose the morning or afternoon group, but smart ones choose morning for the slightly lower temps and 13 rides as opposed to only eight in the afternoon. Have someone call ahead for a reservation. Most taxis charge about $15 round trip whether it be one person or four people in the truck or van.
And what better way to end the day, before heading to the beach for an awesome sunset, than a massage. Tica Massage across the dirt road from the Harmony Hotel is the popular laid back spot for an hour massage. Whether in the upstairs loft or ground floor cabana, you’ll pay $55 for a rubdown. It’s an all-female masseuse team and while they change from year to year, we enjoyed the healing hands of Jennifer and Mailynn. Nightlife: Just about every night of the week one of the bars or restaurants has live music sometimes good, sometimes average, but still fun and Friday and Saturday are the nights that draw the most attention. Kaya Sol, is the friendly spot for beers each night and live music. Le Banane, Gilded Iguana, and Bar Toucan are the other regular “hot” spots for nightlife. For an insiders experience, head to Tropicale disco for a lot of shakin’ and for an out of it’s element addition to Nosara a visit to The Black Sheep is requisite particularly if your vacation includes St. Patrick’s Day. It’s an Irish drinking club located on the mountainside above Nosara with a view of the valley yet transports you to Dublin within it’s doors. Beware the Irish car bomb, which is a glass of Guinness with a shot of scotch and Bailey’s dropped in. People claim it tastes like chocolate Dr. Pepper. Please drive safe.
If you can be trusted with a match, a small bonfire on the beach is usually a highlight of our vacation. Head to the beach, find the wood, light a match and be responsible; meaning be sure to put out the fire with plenty of sand when you’re done. We usually roast corn soaked in salt water or roast marshmallows. We create an untraditional version of s’mores with what we find at the mini super. Where to shack up: If you want more space, wish to eat at your leisure and pack a smaller bag, opt for renting a house. It’s our third year and we’ve rented the same place at Villa Tortuga each time from David Malbon. They have options of 1-3 bedrooms that include a kitchen, dining and living room, outdoor patio or terrace plus washer/dryer and what my friends consider important—the blender and DVD player. We find renting a house more affordable and comfortable than a hotel room, especially when you have a surfboard to store for the week. VillaTortugaNosara.com
Harbor Reef Lodge not only offers several house rentals around town, but is one of the two most popular hotels in town as well. The lodge has two small pools, one of which has a swim up bar. Many visit the restaurant for sushi. Harborreef.com At Harmony Hotel, comfort meets effortless, high standards of sustainable living. It’s inspired by low-key glamour and total escape. Enjoy lounging by or taking a dip in the salt-water pool, walking amid the luscious foliage and flowers that thrive to create a habitat for a diverse animal species. Many rooms have outdoor hammocks and some have heated outdoor private showers. The Healing Centre at Harmony offers massage and other spa services plus yoga for $12 everyday. The bonus to their yoga program is the opportunity to set up a private session for 1- 5 people for just $40 total. They even have a free salsa class on Thursdays. Harmonynosara.com Extras: Day-tripper—drive to the beaches of San Juanillo. First stop at the white sand beach in the cove where the fisherman dock their boats and with old sneakers or water shoes swim over the rocks and do a bit of snorkeling. Best place to snooze is under the trees for cool shade. When it’s time for lunch start back up the road toward home, stop at La Bahia for lunch; an Italian restaurant disguised in Balinese décor above the black sand beach in the cove diagonally across from the white sand beach. After a lunch of pizza and fresh fish, coincidentally dropped off fresh via horseback from a local fisherman, take the back path down to the black sand beach for a final swim before heading back to Playa Guiones. On our visit, we had the black sand beach all to ourselves; a great gift on our last day. The water was deep enough for swimming while the waves were soft, never pounding. If you wish to be awe struck at the sight of hundreds of turtles coming to lay their eggs during the aribadas at Ostional then plan your trip between the peak times of July to December. Seasons: Everything’s in bloom—November and December Dry Season—January-March Hottest month-April Rainy Season-May-October Getting there: Most flights take you to Liberia or San Jose. If you land in San Jose you’ll definitely want to take a flight from there on one of the smaller airlines, Sansa or Nature Air directly to Nosara. From Liberia, catch a flight to Nosara or hire a taxi for $120-$150 (1-6 people) to drive you to your destination which will take about 2 ½ hours.