the sparkly life: How I Fell In Love With Nosara, Costa Rica

Monday, July 22, 2019

How I Fell In Love With Nosara, Costa Rica

nosara costa rica with kids
nosara costa rica with kids
nosara costa rica with kids
nosara costa rica with kids
al chile nosara costa rica
So this trip happened in the tail end of March, and I'm just writing about it now, but let's ignore that procrastination. I'm obsessed with Nosara, Costa Rica, you guys, and I really want to tell you about it.

Now, truth be told, awful and privileged as this sounds, I didn't want to go to Costa Rica. We always do our "big" vacation over spring break, and I was looking forward to a pool and a beach chair and not much more than that. I had never been anywhere in Costa Rica before, so I mistakenly imagined that it was just for people who were after an active, rugged vacation of zip lining, surfing, and rainforests, and that's just not my vibe. 

Well, my husband talked me into it by showing me that our hotel did in fact have a pool. Fine. I'd go. But turns out, I was so wrong. So wrong. I absolutely fell in love with Nosara. We all did. (So much so that, before we even left, we booked a hotel stay for a return trip next year!) 

Nosara is amazing. It's a tiny surf town tucked on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. It's relatively remote: a good two-plus hour drive (half of which is on bumpy dirt roads!) from the small-ish Liberia airport. But as far away as it may be, it's surprisingly hip! They have the coolest little restaurants that serve amazing food including countless vegan and gluten-free options. It's also super eco and nearly impossible to find a plastic water bottle or straw around. (Bamboo straws abound!) And there's yoga and a general spirit of wellness everywhere. In many ways, it felt very much like a piece of Venice, CA, or Brooklyn had been plopped down in this Costa Rican village.

Yet, Nosara is really the best of both worlds. Despite the chia bowls and cool taco spots, it also still manages to feel very undiscovered in many ways. For example, you won't find a single cabana, chaise, or bar on the beach. By law, it's completely undisturbed by development. (You'll just find surfers--tons of them!) 

And there's monkeys! This area of Costa Rica is famous for their howler monkeys and you'll learn why they're called that pretty quickly. (Throughout the day you'll hear their call--which sounds like a cross between a lion roaring and a scary ghost howling--as a soundtrack in the nearby jungle). There are also dirt roads and no street signs or addresses anywhere in Nosara! To get around, rent a golf cart (if I give you one tip about traveling to Nosara, it would be that), and then just ask the locals how to get where you need to go!

Everyone speaks English there; we didn't have any trouble communicating. That said, while there, I found myself jealous of the fellow Americans who could speak Spanish to get around. So, a few weeks after I got back, I signed up for a local Intro to Spanish class, and downloaded the DuoLingo app. My goal is to be able to speak at least some broken Spanish when we go back next year. :)

And yes, we are going back next year! Staying in a different hotel and renting that golf cart the second we get there. Here's a little bit of what made our trip so special--and what I'd recommend--if you're considering checking out Nosara for yourself...

nosara costa rica hotels


nosara costa rica hotels

nosara costa rica with kids

howler monkeys

Where to Stay

A great thing about Nosara is that it's not overdeveloped (yet!). There are no giant hotels or tall buildings of any kind. Just tons of little boutique hotel options as well as Air BnBs.

(*Admittedly this is very limited list--there are tons of other places--but I'm only including hotels that we have personal experience with...)

Olas Verdes: This was where we stayed! It's a LEED platinum eco hotel that's very cool because it's located literally in the jungle, so it feels very Costa Rica. And we would see monkeys in the trees above us when we were lying by the pool or walking to breakfast! It's also very close to the beach (not always the case in Nosara)--about a five minute walk through the jungle from the hotel to the shore. The rooms are all suites, but keep in mind that only the bedrooms have air conditioning. (The living rooms/kitchenettes do not, which is not a big deal during the day, but you would not want to sleep in them at night, and some have pull-out couches that are meant for sleeping if you have a larger group, so keep that in mind.) We had a mini fridge and a toaster oven in our group--both came in super handy. The staff was very nice and helpful in setting up outside excursions for us, and every guest gets a cute metal water bottle when you arrive! Note: The trade-off for the cool jungle location is that you are kind of far from a lot of stuff. (It was a good 15-minute walk to get to Beach Dog Cafe; 20-plus minutes to "town." And a taxi is really required to explore further than that.) Translation: You will definitely want a golf cart if you are staying here. 

The Gilded Iguana: Truth be told, this is the hotel I really wanted to stay in, but we booked too late and they were all full. But...we actually booked it for next year while we were there! Can't wait to stay there in 2020. Located in North Playa Guinones, it's a super chic boutique surfer hotel (very reminiscent of something like the Surf Lodge in Montauk) with a gorgeous pool, a fabulous restaurant (see review below), a great little gift shop (worth visiting even if you don't stay here), and a separate surf club down by the beach. 

nosara costa rica restaurants

nosara costa rica restaurants
where to eat in nosara

where to eat in nosara costa rica
where to eat nosara costa rica

nosara restaurants
where to get coffee in nosara costa rica

Where To Eat

Beach Dog Cafe: This place is a Nosara institution and a must-visit! We ate there several times. They have an extensive menu with tons of vegan options, and a very cool beach-bar vibe. Despite the big menu, I got the fried avocado tacos every time I went though. They were incredible! Located in Playa Guiones. 

La Luna: Another must-visit! I actually heard about this from an expat, and I'm so glad she told me about it as it's one of my favorite places we visited in Nosara. It's located in Playa Pelada (take a taxi there), right on the beach, so your kids can play in the sand while you're waiting for your food. Reservations are a must, especially if you want a table outside (and you do want a table outside, so you can watch the sunset!). This was also by far the "fanciest" restaurant we went to in Nosara. Most Nosara restaurants are super casual (think flip flops and shorts), but this is a step above. It's definitely the place to pull out a nice sundress or khaki pants for the guys, but it's still casual--just fancy for Nosara. And while the location is gorgeous, the food is incredible, too. It's Mediterranean with fish, steak, salads, and brick-fired pizzas. We way overordered, because we thought the pizzas were personal pizzas judging by the reasonable-by-NYC-standards prices, but nope! They were large pizzas. So for two adults and two kids, we had three giant pizzas (goat cheese, salami, and pepperoni), a steak, and a huge antipasto platter. It was all amazing, but a lot. (I also had a watermelon margarita, which was out of this world.) And the best part: Since we had a mini fridge in our hotel room, we ended up getting all of the excess pizza to go, and we ate leftover slices for lunch and snacks over the next few days.

Al Chile: This was one of our favorite spots! It's a delicious open-air bar/restaurant in downtown Guiones with super yummy drinks and tacos. This also happens to be the pick-up/drop-off spot for Nosara Day Camp (see below), so my husband and I would often grab lunch or a margarita here and then wait for our kids to come back from camp. I loved the guac and chips, tacos, yuca fries, and pineapple salad. 

The Gilded Iguana Restaurant & Bar: Loved this place. It's a good stop when you're craving food that feels a bit more familiar, and the large, open-air restaurant has a cool, upscale-beachy vibe. I got the gnocchi pomodoro for dinner (yum), a panini for lunch (also yum), and frozen rose to drink both times (double yum). They also had a good kids menu. My kids tried the buttered noodles and waffles, and they approved.

Harmony Hotel Juice Bar: The same expat who had suggested La Luna recommended this to me, and I made the mistake of waiting until the end of our trip to visit it. It's awesome! It's a crunchy-chic little juice bar hidden in the jungle behind the Harmony Hotel. (Ask the guard how to get there. You take a little meandering path through the trees.) They have coffee, smoothies, baked goods, and other light bites like sandwiches. Lots of vegan and gluten-free options. Very cool! (There is also a healthy and yummy-sounding restaurant located in the hotel, but we never had a chance to eat there.)

Robin's Cafe & Ice Cream: This little spot in Playa Guiones serves breakfast, lunch, and ice cream. We only went here for ice cream, so haven't tried the sandwiches, salads, etc, but the ice cream was super yummy!

La Brasa: This tiny Argentinian food truck is located just outside of Gabi's Place (see below). The steaks were delicious and our kids hung out on the adjacent play equipment while we waited for the food, which was nice.

El Manglar: This was the restaurant in our hotel, so we ate there a lot. And if I'm being totally honest, it did get old. (But what hotel restaurant wouldn't?) But I would definitely recommend checking it out. The ambiance itself is great: It's an outdoor restaurant located under a canopy of jungle trees, and they have some great authentic dishes. My favorites for lunch/dinner: cold cucumber soup, fettucine a la granja, Surfer Chicken, and their dip trio which included fresh guacamole, pico de gallo, and black bean spread. And for breakfast: The Surfer Sandwich (fresh bread, scrambled eggs, and avocado) and huevos rancheros (topped with fresh avocado!) were really good.

nosara costa rica with kids


nosara costa rica with kids

nosara costa rica with kids

Kids' Camps

Having a good kids' club option pretty much made the trip for us--and for our kids! Since Nosara's hotels are tiny, they don't offer kid's clubs, which is a luxury we've really gotten used to. Instead, they have two local day camps that take kids from any hotel and provide awesome activities for them. Our kids did Nosara Day Camp for the full week and loved it. It was perfect because we'd eat breakfast together as a family, drop them off at camp, and then while they did their thing, my husband and I would basically have our vacation time! (This usually meant he would surf and I would sit by the pool and read.) Then, he and I would grab lunch and pick up the kids right after that. Then, we'd spend the afternoon as a family. It was perfect.

Nosara Day Camp: The activities change every day, but some things that my kids did during their week: mango farm tour, kayaking, a cove at the beach, fishing on a farm (and then the farmer's wife cooked that fish--and made fresh tortillas!--for their lunch! They still talk about it.), waterfall visit, and more. Lunch was provided every day. Drop-off was around 8:30am and then pick-up was between 1 and 2:30pm (depending on the activities they were doing that day).

Nosara Kids Camp: We didn't do this one because the drop-off wasn't as convenient to our hotel, but it's the other big option in the area. And it looks great! It has more of a surfing focus, but the kids also do activities like art, cooking, and Spanish.

safari surf nosara

love nosara

massage in nosara costa rica



Things to do

Tica Massage: I had heard this was a must-do, and I'm so glad I did it. It's a collection of beautiful huts with skilled masseuses. You can make a reservation, or just walk in. A one-hour full-body massage runs $75, cash only. Mine was amazing.

Refuge For Wildlife: I took my kids here one afternoon, and they really enjoyed it. This is a privately-run place run by an animal-loving expat American. She and her team care for any injured or sick animals brought to them, but they specialize in howler monkeys. We learned that there is a big problem in Costa Rica with howler monkeys being electrocuted by power lines, and it becomes an even bigger issue when the moms are killed and the baby monkeys cannot survive alone. There are grown animals living in Refuge, and also a ton of (adorable!) babies. You get to see the animals, feed howler monkeys, and learn all about the work that they do. Note: They have an age limit, which my son did not reach, but I called and they said it was okay. The concern is that it can be upsetting for some younger kids because it's not just checking out cute animals. You will hear upsetting stories and possibly view some injured animals. My son was okay with it and did fine. (He was hot and complaining by the end though!) Things to know: There is a cost of a $50 donation per person. Also, they only do tours on select days and you must book before you go, so if you're interested in going, check out their schedule when you first get to town. Also, they are changing locations soon, but there current one is very remote. It's not super far, but it's way up in the mountains. You'll definitely need to take a taxi or a tuk tuk (very inexpensive) to get there. FYI, SIBU Wildlife Sanctuary is another wildlife refuge in the area that also does tours, so they are another option!

Canopy Tour: I'm way too much of a wimp to do ziplining of any kind and this is VERY high ziplinging, but my husband took my daughter one afternoon. They loved it. 

Surf lessons: My husband and daughter took lessons through Safari Surf (they happened to be located in our hotel), and were very happy. The instructors were amazing with kids, and in three, one-hour lessons, my daughter went from sitting on a board while the instructor manned it to standing up and actually surfing!

Yoga: This is a huge thing in Nosara, and I didn't take advantage of it nearly enough. My hotel held one to two daily yoga classes at an outdoor pavilion in the jungle, but next time I go, I'm hoping to branch out. I've heard great things about Bodhi Tree Resort, which is a luxe yoga retreat but offers a full roster of classes open to non-hotel guests.

Gabi's Place: This is great little commercial area of small, varied kiosks under a big, covered pavilion. They have ice cream (Jefe's Helados--it's bare bones but delicious), a laundromat, sushi, a taco/cocktail bar, a grass-fed butcher (!), and more. But the best part is that there is an enclosed playground right next door, so mom and dad can have a drink--or wait for their food--while the kids run around and play. (They also have a big satellite TV where they show sports games if that's your thing.)


Love Nosara: Nosara is not a huge shopping town, FYI, but this store is a fun little spot to visit. It's completely open to the elements (they remove the merchandise overnight), and they sell their own line of bodycon wrap dresses, and then t-shirts and baseball caps for men, women, and children. Quality is great and it's not super expensive. My husband and kids all got tees. I'm still regretting that I didn't! Also fun: There are swings and a hammock in the store, so kids can hang out there while you browse. Located in Playa Guiones.

Golf-cart rental: Nosara is small, but spread out and the roads are bumpy and hilly. It's also hot. Walking everywhere gets real old, real fast. Renting a golf cart was a total game changer. There are a couple of different spots to rent one (and your hotel can help), but this is where we got ours.

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Nosara offers so much more, but these were a few of our favorites. If you've been to Nosara and have a favorite restaurant, shop, etc, let me know and I'll put it on my list for next year! :)

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