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A Trip to Nosara, Costa Rica

The best time in Nosara, Costa Rica, might be around 7am. The sun is just starting to seer through the jungle, the humidity is not oppressive, and the beach is quiet. During our stay in Nosara, I got up early several mornings for a run on the beach — something that isn’t uncommon, throughout the day you’ll see plenty of people using the beach for their running routine.



It’s particularly captivating first thing in the morning, and the heat is much more tolerable. Most of the beachgoers in the morning are elderly couples on a stroll and other runners. End your run at the Cafe Mercado and grab a delicious cinnamon roll or empanada as a reward.


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We recently spent ten days in Nosara, Costa Rica, on my first ever warm-weather vacation. I’ve been longing for a wintertime escape since I was a little kid, as many teenage journal entries will confirm. And when it comes to getting warm for a few days or weeks during the Maine winter, I’d give the vacation 10 out of 10: skin is shining and tan, I’m warm to my bones, and something about that tropical weather allows you to just unplug and relax and slow down your mind and body. 



The best part of the journey was bonding more with my stepdaughter, who came with us for all ten days. We had a blast on the beach, she pushed me to climb up the cliffs between Playa Pelada and Playa Guiones (I’m notoriously afraid of heights), and we even did a sunset horse ride together. Any time you can incorporate family in a trip (provided there’s nothing toxic to overcome) is a good time.


Nosara was chosen somewhat at random once we’d decided we wanted to go to Costa Rica. Nosara is on the west coast of Costa Rica, an area known for its high surf and sandy beaches, as well as “dry jungle” and numerous tourist spots. We were all a little surprised it was not more lush, but apparently that’s the east coast, which is more Caribbean in feel.


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We stayed at an AirBNB on the outskirts of Nosara. The accommodations were comfortable but every single day we remarked on the amazing amount of construction going on in the town. On our ten minute walk to the beach we passed half a dozen brand new houses being built — impressively, most were nearly complete by the time we left. The beach and jungle are peaceful, but Nosara itself is a booming tourist town scrambling to create infrastructure for an influx of tourists.



Nosara is a tourist destination, there is no arguing that. Everything is set up to entertain visiting Americans and a few Europeans. That’s not really our travel vibe, but it did ensure that we had a safe and comfortable trip. While the roads are pretty bumpy, it’s easy to get around via tuktuk if you download Whatsapp (you can call a ride to any destination, and they’ll even wait for you at the grocery store). I had read there’s virtually no violent crime in the area, and that seemed to be true. We felt very safe the whole time we visited, wether taking a trip in town for groceries solo or walking as a group on the roads. 


Despite the tourist vibe, the beach was actually pretty quiet. We went in January which I imagine is a pretty popular time for folks from our climate to visit Costa Rica. There were always a few people at the beach, but never a crowd. There were families with kids and many older couples walking the beaches, as well as plenty of athletic young people clearly their on yoga retreats. And if you timed it right and went to the right spot, there were also locals fishing — we enjoyed watching them cast their nets early in the mornings.



The one thing Nosara is crowded with is stray dogs. I saw two cats on our entire trip, but dogs were everywhere. For every stray there was also a pet dog, either belonging to a local or having traveled here with their owner. If you love dogs, Nosara may be the destination for you.


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As far as I could tell, many visitors to Nosara spend a lot of their time doing excursions. We wanted to relax for the majority of our time there, rather than being scheduled to the hilt, so the majority of our ten day stay was spent going from the beach to the beach bar and then back to the AirBNB. However, we did do a couple of excursions which were some of the highlights of our stay.



Costa Rica is all about relaxation, so it is common to book in house or on the beach massages - we had a professional massage and facial at our AirBNB on day one, and the masseurs arrived with folding tables and a full kit of oils and tinctures. While we did not do this, if you wanted to book a yoga or pilates class there’s an abundance to chose from for all skill levels.


We did do a horseback ride on the beach, which was absolutely beautiful at sunset. We also took ourselves on an excursion to the top of the cliffs along Playa Pelada — which is not for the faint of heart. The path is about a foot wide, and on either side you will plunge a few hundred feet to the crashing surf below. Don’t be fooled by the fact you’ll see people up there every evening, the cliffs are a pretty high risk option I’d recommend only to those who are physically fit. That said, they are totally worth it for the views and the sense of relief upon returning to the beach!




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The food in Costa Rica was the low point of the trip. We booked a dinner at El Coyol which is renown as the best restaurant in the area. I’d recommend going there, the views alone are worth it — in fact, just the drive up and experiencing the views were some of the highlights of the trip. But the food itself was pretty much bad — over seasoned, unappetizingly large servings, and not a lot of selection on the menu. 



That was our general experience with Costa Rican food, if it was considered “good” or “fancy” it was extremely over-seasoned. Beach bar food, like chicken fingers, quickly became our favorite and go to, and we were lucky to have the AirBNB kitchen to whip up chicken dinners, tuna wraps, and breakfast bowls. There is a bounty of smoothie places in Nosara, and the smoothies are delicious - but one cannot live on smoothies alone.


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One word of warning — if you fly into Nosara, expect to spend 1-2 hours in the line at customs. The tiny airport is flooded with tourists every day, and clearly cannot accommodate them all. It’s a long, long wait (half the wait is spent in direct sun in shocking 90 degree heat) after a long day of travel. You can expect delays for security on the way out as well, although the process is slightly quicker. Overall the airport is a long way away from being able to comfortably serve the quantity of people who pass through it every day.


You'll need Whatsapp to call and communicate with any Costa Ricans, such as making dinner reservations and calling tuktuks. Cash is the preferred method of payment, and US Dollars are widely accepted.


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Where to now? 

We are already thinking about finding somewhere warm to go next winter, although we won’t be returning to Costa Rica. For us, it was a little bit too touristy and the food was too disappointing. I’ll just be here bookmarking my google searches for quiet beaches and amazing food until then.

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