Nosara is a cocktail of international surf culture, stunning back-road topography, jungled microclimates, moneyed expat mayhem and yoga bliss. It effortlessly recalls Malibu, Oahu's North Shore and Byron Bay, Australia, while remaining completely its own – only in Costa Rica – incarnation. Here, three stunning beaches are stitched together by a network of swerving, rutted earth roads that meander over coastal hills and kiss the coast just west of the small Tico village of Nosara. From the south, the first beach you'll come to is Playa Garza, still a sleepy Tico fishing village with an arc of pale brown sand and headlands on either side of the rippling bay. Fishing boats bob 100m from shore and there's a point break to the Northside. There are a few cabinas and sodas here too and lots of sand space with precious few tourists.
But there's a reason the majority of visitors descend on Playa Guiones. It's quite simply a slice of raw nectar. A wide generous undeveloped arc of marbled sand, with a few pebbles and shells mixed in, excellent beach breaks and plenty of space. It's a place for surfers, surf dogs and surf babies. You will see unmanned strollers lodged in the wet sand at low tide.
Playa Pelada, just north, is rough and rugged, dry and less endowed with surfers and luxury, which could be viewed as a luxury in itself. Things feel at once a touch spookier and more profound in Pelada. Of course, this beach lacks surf, but does have those sheared-away boulders tumbling into a foaming sea, two alluring beachside restaurants and a fishing village intimacy Guiones lacks.
Inland are remnant pockets of luxuriant vegetation that attracts birds and wildlife. The area has seen little logging, partly because of the nearby wildlife refuge. There are a few hundred foreigners living permanently in the Nosara area (mainly North Americans), the majority of them keen on protecting the rainforest. One resident described the area as ‘sophisticated jungle living,’ and indeed blending retirement with conservation is an interesting experiment. However, Ticos remain hostile to development, mainly because land prices have been driven through the roof in just under a decade.
For visitors, Nosara is a laid-back surf haven that caters to midrange tourists, but there are dorms here too, and you can definitely gut it out on a budget. The area is spread out along the coast and a little inland (making wheels a necessity). Nosara village, where you’ll find supplies and gas, and the airport, are 5km inland from the beach. The main areas with accommodations, restaurants and beaches are Playa Pelada to the north and Playa Guiones to the south. There are many unidentified little roads, which makes it hard to get around if you don’t know the place – look for hotel and restaurant signs, and ask for help. Log on to Nosara Travel’s website (www.nosaratravel.com/map.html) for a handy map.