Travel Spotlight

Postcard from Nosara, Costa Rica

The February week I spent with my girlfriends in Nosara, Costa Rica, combined everything we could want on a surf trip: excellent waves, charming accommodations, delicious natural cuisine, scenic nature, just enough shopping and nightlife and an inimitable laid back vibe.

Together with my American and Australian friends, I’ve traveled to some of the world’s top surf destinations. Nosara, a small town nestled between green hills and three-mile long beach on Costa Rica’s northwestern Nicoya Peninsula, offered some of the most consistent and enjoyable waves we’ve been lucky enough to ride.

We stayed at the Harmony Hotel, an inviting collection of bungalows, hotel rooms, open-air dining room, and palapa-style yoga studio tucked into the forest. We relaxed between sunrise and sunset surf sessions by the serene swimming pool and its wide-leafed tropical plants, lounging under umbrellas against the midday sun. The Harmony Hotel was a short walk through the trees to Playa Guiones, an expansive beach that is drawing ever more surfers from around the Americas.

Most surfers here don’t venture beyond the swells of Playa Guiones; it’s large enough to accommodate wave-riders of varying abilities and it’s rarely over-crowded. The Harmony Hotel also had a beachside kiosk where we could leave our boards at the end of the day, making it exceptionally easy to get out of bed, throw on a bikini, and paddle out at the crack of dawn.

But a surfer’s dream is to have peeling, consistent waves all to herself. Our guide, a former competitive surfer who has called Nosara home since 2010, obliged. We strapped our boards atop his dusty Land-rover and explored beaches that were less than an hour away, but where we were the only people in sight. It was just us, some mildly curious turkey vultures, and wave after wonderful wave.

These desolate beaches were nature preserves, created to protect the sea turtles that lay their eggs onshore. One late afternoon we followed a naturalist at Playa Ostional to the north to view hundreds of olive ridley turtles come ashore and lay their golf ball sized eggs in the sand.

Playa Guiones is also part of the nearly ten-mile-long Ostional preserve, which bans construction by the beach and requires buildings within 600 feet to remain below the tree line, so nesting turtles can always see the moon.

The strict regulations have no doubt contributed to Nosara’s laid-back vibe. The twisty roads into towns are still unpaved, and from the beach all you hear are ocean swells and howler monkeys in the canopy, and all you see are water, sand, sky, and forest. The mellow ambiance has also fueled Nosara’s popularity as a yoga destination, with an established school and discreet yoga studios.

We were grateful to the yoga practitioners for inspiring Nosara’s excellent vegetarian and pescatarian fare. At the Harmony Hotel, we ordered sushi rolls by the pool and nut butter smoothies and granola clusters at its breezy juice bar under the trees. Or we crossed the dusty street to Robin’s Café (; 506-2682-0617) for nourishing veggie wraps and luscious gelatos made from local papayas and mangoes or blackberries grown in the nearby hills. One evening we savored lemony hummus and wood fired pizzas with a sunset vista at the Luna Café (506-2682-0122), tucked into a rocky cove in Playa Pelada.

Shopping was limited, but we found a few gems, like the spare and ethereal Bazzar Boutique on the Harmony Hotel’s grounds and La Luna Gallery (506-2682-0122) in Playa Pelada, which carries sublime summer wear. As for beach attire, most of the surf shops are uninspired, but the sleek SURFO t-shirts at Juan Surfo’s (506-2682-1081) store make great gifts.

There’s little in the way of nightlife, with the exception of live music at the Gilded Iguana, which was the only place we ate that had a more traditional surfer menu of fish tacos and burgers. But the early bedtime suited us, given that the best times to surf are the still first hours after sunrise and the evening “glass off” at sunset, when the onshore winds subside.

At sunset Guiones Beach fills up with Nosara’s best surfers, who spin their boards clear out of the water against the backdrop of an amber-hued sky. Out on our own surfboards at day’s end, we were awe-struck by the rush of colors all around us – as the blazing oranges, reds, and pinks of the sky reflected onto the water and sandy shore.

On our last full day in Costa Rica, we delayed the bumpy three-hour van drive back over the hills to the Liberia Airport Hilton until after dinner. This offered us one more full day to soak up the easy-going pace in Nosara, relax by the Harmony pool, and enjoy one last sunset surf session under a coral-colored sky.

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