Last updated October, 2018
Nosara is a special place; so special in fact that this 6,000 person village in northwest Costa Rica, on the Nicoya Peninsula (Province of Guanacaste), has become a mainstay on our travel calendar each year. In American terms, think of Nosara as the neighborhood, Nicoya as the city and Guanacaste as the state.
We first learned of Nosara in 2016, after learning of its thriving expatriate community, world-renowned beaches, and focus on eco-friendly tourism in this wonderful article. Playa Guiones is known for incredible surfing, a vibrant yoga scene, and outstanding food. We absolutely love it, as it's become a home away from home for a couple weeks every year.
Since we visit the area at least once we year, this article serves as one of our most up-to-date guides, with more things to do and updated lists each time.
The custom Google Map below has all of the places we've visited and enjoyed most in Nosara. You can add it straight to your Google Maps account and easily access these destinations during your trip. Enjoy!
When to go & how to get there
When to go
The area has two seasons to be aware of: dry season (aka high season) November - April, and rainy season (aka low season) May-October. These seasons can highly impact the quality and cost of your trip. We recommend November - February for the best conditions, but here's how it works:
- January - February: The best time to go, as the area is still green and the weather is almost guaranteed to be outstanding. Temperatures can be in the 80-90's.
- March - April: This is the end of the dry season, so much of the lush landscape turns brown and weather can get pretty hot. We've heard mixed reviews about visiting at this time of the year, also because it's a bit more crowded.
- May - August: You are taking more of a risk on weather, since this is the beginning of the rainy season. However, the temperature is cooler and the town won't be as busy. Waves are stll good!
- September - October: This is the lowest part of the rainy season and many local businesses are closed. For this reason, it's quite affordable and quiet. We have visited twice in October and loved it! If you are looking for an active social scene though, don't visit at this time.
- November - December: Keep in mind Christmas and New Years are the busiest (and most expensive) times of the year, but it's a wonderful time to visit. November is the kickoff of the high season and everything is super green from the rainy season.
You may initially plan to visit during the dry/high season, but not so fast! There are many reasons why you should consider visiting in the rainy season like we have before. In late October, we had the town virtually to ourselves. Also, it only rained a few of times, just once during the day.
Many believe that what makes Nosara such a magical place, untouched by all the big hotels and tour companies, is the fact that it's not easy to get there. From most cities in the US, it takes 8-14 hours to make a one-way journey. The Nicoya Peninsula remains one of few areas in Costa Rica with largely unpaved roads. Locals are very protective of Nosara and prefer to keep tourism from lowering the quality of life. Organizations like the Nosara Civic Association are working successfully to protect and reforest the area to maintain its original state.
You can fly into two major airports: San Jose (SJO) or Liberia (LIR). LIR will end up being the most affordable, but in some cases SJO is more accessible. At either airport there are ATMs where you can get cash in USD or Costa Rican Colones. We recommend getting $500-1,000 USD in CR Colones from the airport ATM, as the nearest ATM in Nosara requires a taxi ride.
It's a 2.5 hour drive to the beach from the airport, about 2 hours of which is on unpaved roads. The scenery is gorgeous, but it's bumpy! Make sure to book your taxi beforehand, because anyone at the airport will be charging more than they should. We recommend the Gypsy Cab Co, which costs $45 per person + tip (10% is great).
If you are staying in a hotel like the Harmony or Guilded Iguana, you can purchase transportation through them. It's a bit more seamless, but you'll pay upwards of $100 per person. In any case, we recommend paying cash, as you don't want the company to have your card on file in case the taxi driver doesn't show up. We ran into that problem before (with a different service) and had to scramble for a ride at the last minute.
San Jose (SJO)
San Jose is a larger airport, and you are more likely to get a cheap/affordable flight there. Just keep in mind that if you fly to SJO, you'll have to take one more flight in a small plane (8-12 people capacity) to Nosara's single-runway airport. Driving to Nosara from there isn't really an option because it takes 6+ hours.
Nature Air and Sansa Airlines can get you from SJO to Nosara for $100-140 per person, each way. The flight is only about 35 minutes and I think it's beautiful, but for my wife Anastasia, not so much. It's a very small plane, so the ride can and will be bumpy. We'd only recommend it for more adventurous travelers that don't mind turbulence.
What about a car rental?
Since taxis and transportation are pretty expensive, you may be tempted to rent a car. I wouldn't recommend it for a few reasons:
- The roads are pretty crazy! I also wouldn't trust Google Maps in an area like this.
- In the rainy season, the roads easily get flooded. You could get stuck, or worse.
- Renting a car in a foreign country is a bit more risky, gas is much more expensive and the fees add up. While the price may look cheap, renting won't really save you any money in the long run.
Generally, there's a much higher probability of drama on your trip if you rent a car. Since no one likes drama on vacation, I'd steer clear from this seemingly convenient option.
Getting to Nosara can be stressful, but hang in there! Once you settle in for a cold drink and your first sunset, the journey will have been worth it.
Things to Do
Nosara isn't one of those vacations with a wall-to-wall tourism schedule. It's best for relaxing, recharging, and possibly looking inward for a mental reset. There are a couple of fun tourist things to do, but you'll be spending most of your time chilling out near the beach.
Go to the Beach
What makes Costa Rica so special is their commitment to environmental conservation. Roughly 25% of the country is protected land, including all of the four main beaches in Nosara. This tiny little country makes up 0.03% of the earth's surface, yet is home to nearly 6% of the world's biodiversity. In addition, no development is allowed within 200 meters of the ocean.
Playa Guiones is the most popular beach in Nosara, best known for the consistent surfing conditions and stunning sunsets. A lot of the action is centered around Guiones, so it's also convenient to local shops, restaurants and activities. The closer you are to the beach, the better.
You'll notice that Guiones is refreshingly devoid of beach chairs. It's for walking, swimming and surfing. You can bring your own towel to hang out, but there aren't chairs and cabanas on this beach. For lounging, I'd recommend sticking near your hotel pool. But be sure to head out to the beach each night around 4:30pm to watch some amazing surfers, then to watch the sunset. It's awesome! Playa Guiones is where you should spend most or all of your time, but there are a couple other nearby beaches:
- Pelada - since there are no waves, this is a a quiet beach with good swimming and nearby trees for shade on a hot day. There are also a few restaurants nearby, like La Luna and El Chivo, and it's walkable from Guiones.
- Garza - you'll see some small boats on this beach, as it's the unofficial local fishing harbor. It's on the way to Guiones by car, but you won't have any other reasons to spend time there.
For 330 days or so each year, Playa Guiones has great surfing conditions. We highly recommend heading over to the Nosara Surf Academy and grabbing a lesson with Kim or Doyles ... they are both great instructors and know the Guiones waves very well. You can also rent a surfboard from them for the entirity of your stay, and it's a short walk to the beach.
Nosara is also a Yogi haven. The Harmony Hotel has an onsite studio with at least two classes per day, but there's also a local Nosara Yoga Institute. Everyone takes their yoga seriously around here, and I really enjoy the daily 9am class at the Harmony Hotel, which is complimentary if you are staying there.
We don't think of Nosara as a big sightseeing excursion, but there are a couple wonderful nature-related activities worth your consideration. First up is the SIBU nature sanctuary. Your $65/person entry fee is put to good use, as this organization rescues, rehabilitates and releases native animals in the area; howler monkeys in particular. Be sure to make reservations before attending.
Costa Rica is also home to nesting grounds for thousands of sea turtles each year, called the Ostional Wildlife Reserve. What happens there is an incredible scene you can only see a couple of places on earth. The turtles are out between July and December, and you can go early in the morning or in the evening to see them.
Keep in mind that to see the turtles at Ostional, you'll have to book a tour a day or two in advance. We recommend speaking with your host/hotel about booking a tour, which will include your ride and guide for the tour.
Eat & Drink
There are many wonderful food and drink options in Nosara. You need not worry about things like the quality of the tap water or food, it's safe everywhere. Vegetarians also have a plethra of options in nearly every restaurant. This list is alphabetical, but Rosi's is our favorite.
Let's run down the list!
- 10Pies - Absolutely phenomenal pizza, and the best tuna poke I've ever had. Atmosphere is also very good!
- Al Chile - By far the best cocktails in town. If you don't go for a meal, do yourself a favor and have a couple cocktails. The Chilliguaros shots are tasty, like a spicy bloody mary in a shot glass. The food is also outstanding. We're big fans of the Yucca fries, fish tacos and Costilla borracha burrito.
- Burgers and Beers - This restaurant has a wide selection of local Costa Rican beers (I haven't had a bad one), in addition to outstanding burgers. They are hilariously $18, so the meal can be shared unless you are very hungry.
- Cafe Fiore - Great location in town, a nice spot for quality Italian food and a nice glass of wine.
- El Chivo - Known for their fun "Taco Tuesday" night, El Chivo is a great place for tacos and a fun, local atmosphere. Even if you can't be there on a Tuesday, it's a fun night out.
- Go Juice - These folks have an amazing selection of healthy acaí bowls, smoothies and more. The PERFECT Nosara afternoon snack after hours at the beach.
- Harmony Hotel Restaurant - This restaurant is in the hotel, so it's not going to be the most affordable. However, the food is fresh and they have a bunch of great options three meals a day. We loved the tuna poke, coconut fish soup and green curry with chicken. There's also a juice bar with amazing smoothies, juices, salads and sandwiches. From the bar, you must try the almond chocolate chip cookie. WOW!
- La Luna - This spot has a wonderful outdoor area (your hotel/host can make a reservation) that's perfect for watching the sun set. Be there around 5pm for that. We had a seafood ceviche and margherita pizza that was fantastic. Food and atmosphere are an A+.
- Le Bistrot - This restaurant is slightly off the beaten path at the Giardino Tropicale hotel, serving pizzas and other Italian fare. We had a wonderful hawaiian pizza!
- Olo Alaia Surf & Brew - A hip surf shop where you can spend $900 on a surfboard, or purchase some other high-quality goods. The reason we're listing it here is because they have nice coffee and beers. It's a relaxing spot to hang out and have a drink.
- Pacifico Azul - This place is known for having the best fish entrees and we've never been disappointed. The menu also includes pastas and a little something for everyone, but we recommend fish.
- Peruana - Great ceviche and I believe some Peruvian influence on the menu. It's a whole food truck type of vibe at this place, and it's very enjoyable.
- Robin's - Robin is a local expatriate with a lovely indoor/outdoor cafe. You can have a great little lunch there, all the food is good. But the ice cream is the best in town.
- Rosi's Soda Tica - Our favorite place! This is a local favorite, where you'll find the most authentic, and delicious, Costa Rican food. The price is also authentically Costa Rican, so you get a lot for your Colones. They serve three meals a day, and any of the Casados are fantastic.
- The Guilded Iguana - This is another hotel restaurant, so the food was a little pricey but solid overall. They have a little of everything. The bar seems like a great place to hang out at night and meet people.
Cocktail alert! This is important. Try a Guaro Sour and have several of them on your trip. It's a well-known Costa Rican cocktail and tastes like lemonade.
Where to Stay
We love the Harmony Hotel. The people are wonderful, the food is wonderful, the accommodations are wonderful, and it's a very short walk to the beach. Breakfast and a yoga class are complimentary every day. If you can afford the price, there's no need to look any further. The Harmony is a very special place and won't disappoint. We recommend the Bungalow rooms, but if the price is a little too high, the Cocos (small rooms sharing a wall) are excellent as well.
On our next visit we're excited to visit the long-awaited remodel of The Guilded Iguana. It was under construction for more than two years and finally opened in 2018. The rooms are gorgeous, and the location is certainly better than the Harmony Hotel. The price seems comparable with the Harmony, so you should most definitely check it out.
Aside from these hotels, here's a list of other properties worth your consideration:
If you are good with more of an AirBnB experience, or you are visiting with family or a few other folks, Nosara has some wonderful options:
- Nalu Nosara - these 2-3 bedroom villas are modern, gorgeous, and close to the beach. It would be hard to ask for more.
- Sunset Shack Hotel - A good option if you are looking for something more affordable. It has the same American owners as the Harmony Hotel, and is home to the wonderful Al Chile restaurant. It's also a short walk down to Playa Guiones every day, or to the shops and restaurants.
- Surfing Nosara - These folks have a large inventory of rental properties and can work with you to rent the right one. This is best if your group is larger than two people, but if you want a home to yourself, there are 2-person options as well.
- The Nomadic - This is a "hostel" on the most affordable side, but is still quite nice. We have friends that have stayed there and really enjoyed it.
- Villa Vela - A beautiful and private 2-bedroom villa, great for a family or trip with friends.
- Villas Costa Bella - these 4-bedroom villas are super convenient to the beach and local restaurants, and share a lovely pool. They also have very affordable 1-bedroom suites.
It's a good idea to grab $500-1,000 worth of Costa Rican Colones at the airport when you arrive. While local businesses do accept USD, and most even accept credit/debit cards, don't expect the exchange rate to work in your favor. I feel like the locals appreciate it more when you use local currency.
Location is important
You may be tempted to rent or stay in a place that's a little off the beaten path, maybe just a couple of miles away. However, the terrain is dusty and unpaved. 2 miles can take 10 minutes pretty easily, and can be rather unpleasant. It's in your best interest to stay somewhere in close proximity to the action at Playa Guiones.
Nosara is a place to relax with a book, enjoy time in the ocean, take in some yoga and eat the wonderful food. It's a place to recharge, to stay put for hours on end and relax. Don't plan on lots of excursions or tours, as that isn't really the purpose of this kind of trip.