There’s no longer any such thing as an undiscovered place, only an undeveloped one. Not with satellites and cell phones and Yelp. Nosara, the surfing and yoga paradise on Costa Rica’s remote northwest coast, is such a place. A quick Google search will find you all kinds of information, including the New York Times’ boast that Playa Guiones, the main draw of the area, is the best place in the world—yes, the world—to learn how to surf.
But just because it’s on the map, and the Internet, doesn’t mean that the place is at your fingertips. Far from it. Nosara is a 2.5-hour drive from the nearest main airport, at Liberia, and six hours from Costa Rica’s capital, San Jose. And while a 2.5-hour drive might not sound so bad, the last 15 miles of that ride are on a dirt road so twisty, rutted, sloped, kidney-busting, dusty and worn that there may as well be no road.
And yet it’s that very dirt track that keeps the place sacred. Beaches to the north of Nosara, accessible by paved roads, have that let’s-stay-at-the-Hyatt spring break feel that make you think you could be anywhere. Getting to Nosara takes some work, and some discomfort. It definitely keeps out the riff-raff. And those seeking luxe life. This is more of an ecolodge and B and B kind of place.
Guiones is at one end of a 10-mile-long coastal wildlife refuge, where development is prohibited within 200 meters of the high tide line. The result: dense jungle begins where the sand ends, and the skyline is dominated by coconut palms and howler monkeys. Want a taco and a cold Imperial beer? You’ll have to walk a bit. Want a pool with a swim up bar and umbrella drinks? You’re in the wrong town. You need to chill.
Which is exactly what my family and I did during a week in Nosara last month. We visited because my friend Karen, a hardcore surfer, heard about the place about ten years ago and wisely bought a house here. She offered, we jumped. And we surfed. We swam. We boogie-boarded. We went paddle boarding on the Rio Nosara, and we rode the local zip line. And that’s about it. Because that’s all there is to do in Nosara. If you’re looking for Senor Frog’s-style partying, this isn’t the place for you. Nightlife is pretty much limited to watching the sunset, cold sauvignon blanc in hand, from a day bed at La Luna while Latin trance music pulses, or salsa dancing with the locals at Olga’s near the beach, where a pitcher of Imperial will set you back five bucks, and even less as the night wears on.
No, the real draw here is the water. Playa Guiones is about 4 miles of uninterrupted white and black sand, with multiple surf breaks that can range from knee-high to way overhead, left-handers and right-handers. Locals take up the best spots in the lineup before work and just before sunset. There’s almost always a decent swell here, but the locals told us winter was the best time to come as the surf was more reliably big then.
Also reliable: the eye candy. Nosara is home to about a dozen yoga retreats, each one of which seemed to be staffed and patronized by groups of young women sporting the standard yogini body, which is to say the type so long and lean you could bounce quarters off it, and tastefully tattooed. I hear they even let guys come do yoga classes.
There are some decent restaurants here. La Luna has an interesting take on Mediterranean cuisine, and El Chivo does a good job with Mexican food and a better job with tequilas. A couple of diners serve casadas, the Costa Rican take on the Hawaiian plate lunch. But you’d be better off buying fish or shrimp from the guys who bring their day boats in near Olga’s place and grilling them back at wherever you’re staying. You might miss the scene and pulse of a flashier place, but in Samara, you make your own scene.