I found Nosara to be the most charming surprise. The roads were atrocious, the country was in an eight month drought, and everything was brown when we arrived (especially by the Liberia airport). Also, the humidity is out of this world, although thankfully only in the mid-afternoon, and Guiones beach in Nosara, our destination, at first glance, was nothing special.
It was brown and dry-looking, even though the whole ocean laid in front of it.
For some reason, none of this disheartened me. I kept thinking it should. I didn’t know what to expect of Costa Rica, because I hadn’t done much research, but I had presumed the landscape might be lush and green with all the jungle talk that goes on in conversations involving Central America. However, when we flew in, it looked more like the Sahara desert, trees all withered in the sun. My friend and I joked that we might have flown into the wrong Liberia. We forged on and I thought of all the other unbecoming airport locations in the world, and took into account that we did have another three hour drive to our intended destination. Perhaps as we drove, things would green up.
The journey from the Liberia airport to Nosara is only 76 miles, but because the roads are so badly potholed and graveled in areas, not to mention that our taxi van did not have suspension, it took three hours to get there. We drove on a two lane road and would periodically come up to these little one-lane bridges, in which one lane of traffic was supposed to pause to wait to cross. I couldn’t immediately tell if there was a system for deciding who would cross first or if people just took their chances. Also, the roads are not marked, and many of the cars drive slow, so if you need to pass, which happened often, you needed to just use your best judgement as to whether it was safe enough. Sometimes our driver thought it was safe with a bend in the road and zero visibility up ahead…but you know, whatever. VACATION!
No one could drive above 40mph on these roads, so I comforted myself with the idea that even if a car were to swing around the bend with us in their lane, perhaps one of us could slow down enough and pull off the road a bit to miss an accident. Maybe. Also, my dad was seriously handicapped, with a brain injury, from a car accident, in a taxi, on a two lane road, in South America. I told myself the chances of it happening to me, too, were slim.
As we drove, we passed small houses with their doors open and windows flung wide and an outdoor table in every yard, usually under the shade of trees. Laundry hung on long outdoor clothes lines of almost every house. Red shirt, green underwear, blue pants, white socks. It looked like Tibetan prayer flags. Chicken and sheep could occasionally be seen on the road. Our driver was very proud of his country. He kept slowing down to point out small attractions in broken English, “A volcano over there!” and “Look, mangos on that tree!” And our favorite, “Over there, chickens in the park!” One time, he took us off the main road and through a residential area before stopping the van and opening our doors. “Iguanas!”
We drove on and then, without fanfare, turned onto the road that led to the hotel we were staying at – and, just like that, we had arrived. And I was a bit taken aback. The road leading up to it was so unassuming and normal, and then all of a sudden this huge majestic structure appears a little like, “where did that come from?” We hadn’t driven into a lush jungle at all. The surrounding areas were still pretty brown, but the foliage around our hotel was watered and green. We were greeted at the front desk by Francisco, who checked us in and presented us with fresh coconut water right out of the coconut. This thrilled my friend Sally and I to no end and rejuvenated our spirits after the long, hot drive.
Scoping out the hotel grounds as we walked to our rooms was instantly elevating as well. Pool? check. Open air eating area? Check. Juice and smoothie bar? Check. And for the kicker, our rooms had king sized beds facing full length glass doors that opened onto a private deck in the trees complete with an outdoor shower. Hello!
We stayed at The Bodhi Tree Resort and it did not disappoint. It is definitely the most luxurious resort in the area. Each morning we were greeted by a beautiful buffet of breakfast foods. The Bodhi Tree serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner in the same fashion, with a focus on nutrient-rich, whole foods, while accommodating many special diets. You’ll find a wide array of offerings for lunch and dinner, like vegan tabbouleh salads with plenty of parsley, fresh grilled vegetables, curried cauliflower and raisin salad, and entrees like chicken and zucchini kabobs with verdant chimichuri sauce. We ate breakfast at the resort nearly every morning, and enjoyed fresh-squeezed tropical juices, fruit platters, sunny side up eggs, homemade corn tortillas, salsa, and gallo pinto (black beans and rice). When you stay at the Bodhi Tree, you get a daily yoga pass and can pick from a variety of classes happening each day. I’d usually stroll down to the chalk board with my coffee and peruse the schedule. The biggest question of the day was always: should we do yoga before our surfing lesson or after?
Humidity in Nosara, at least in March, was spotty. Mornings and evenings were dreamy. Warm but not too humid or hot. But come noon, that humidity kicks up 500 notches and lasts until about 4pm. We usually did all of our activities in the mornings and evenings and would opt to take naps or lounge by the pool in the afternoon, but there were a few days we would rent bikes to grab some tacos or shop. I could be out in the elements for 10 minutes or so without much trouble, but after that the sweat would start to roll down my back. Because of this, swimsuits worn under clothes was mandatory. I don’t love humidity, but it wasn’t oppressively hot the whole time, so I could deal just fine with the few hours. I found Costa Rica’s humidity situation more pleasant and easier to handle than, say, Cancun.
On my last full day in Nosara, I sat in Robin’s Cafe, where in addition to great food, they also served delicious vegan ice cream. Because I wasn’t eating dairy at that time, this was such a delight to find. I had helped myself to a few scoops of the “lime in the coconut” flavor during our stay, although “pineapple ginger” came in a close second. It was morning now, so I resisted ordering a scoop, but just barely. Instead I went for a watermelon— excuse me, SANDIA, banana and coconut milk smoothie. As we waited for our breakfast, which consisted of scrambled eggs, pinto gallo (rice and black beans), avocado and salsa wrapped up in a homemade corn tortilla with roasted white sweet potatoes on the side, I started reading a fat, well-worn guide book that was sitting on a nearby shelf alongside other various books and maps. I read about La Fortuna, with its famed Aerol Volcano and mineral hot springs, where the guidebook suggested you book a room in a less congested and touristy area where, and I quote, “the views of the volcano’s lava flow are just as good.” Um…lava flow? Hard to imagine that I was a mere 5 hours away from seeing a real live volcano with active lava flow and was going to leave the country having not seen it. La Fortuna is officially on my “must see” list next time – because, obviously.
Next, out of all the many pages in the guidebook, I randomly landed on Nosara. I thought it would be interesting to read about a place I’d been for several days and see if my experience and the guidebook’s description matched up. It said Nosara was a laid back classic surf town. I had picked up on that vibe. It also stated that among its population there was a large community of expatriates living and working in the area. This also was pretty apparent from the get-go, which I loved, because the kind of people who drop everything and move to Central America to be warm, surf, eat fresh food, do yoga, and live the simple life have got to be some of the best kind of people. The guidebook went on to say that the locals were very against development in the area. I breathed a sigh of relief. This, I know, is ironic coming from a local in a small resort town who is married to someone who makes our living off development, but that is besides the point. As a visitor, I saw Nosara as like a pomegranate. So many bright red, juicy, jeweled pockets everywhere, separated by the thin white pith that no one seems to want to eat. Pomegranates have a rough exterior, but is alluring even so. This is why people display pomegranates in fruit bowls. And this is exactly why I’d recommend Nosara to vacationing friends, even though they’ll be met with terrible roads and a brown beach. But oh! That brown beach. It transforms at sunset, magic hour, all abuzz with people, children, beach fires, and dogs. The light turns sexy, like a glass of rosé, and the ocean appears to be made of beach glass. It’s one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen.
We booked a reservation at La Luna, a nearby restaurant known for its incredible beach setting and legendary sunset viewing each night. After some watermelon margaritas, when the sun got low, the whole restaurant left their plates of coconut shrimp and plantain chips and fresh guacamole to gather and watch it set together like a communal party. Pictures were taken in large quantity. After the set dips low, La Luna’s enchanting atmosphere continues when the strings of lights light up overhead. It’s absolutely beautiful. Everyone leaves La Luna feeling like life is precious and good.
Nosara’s raw beauty and excellent vibe inspires you to gloss right over the bad road business. Plus those “negatives” all add to the charm of this town, not take away. To fix the roads and build a Four Seasons would all but destroy its charm. I haven’t been myself, but my brother-in-law visited Tamarindo several years ago and absolutely loved it for it’s honesty. Then, he came back to visit five years later and it wasn’t the same. It had become popular, they had built hotels and were about the tourists. He said he’d order a daiquiri and they would use a pre-made mix instead of the fresh fruit.
“Don’t it always seem to go, but you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone…”
So when I read that the locals were passionate about protecting their town from being built out, I was ecstatic. More than anything, what will call me back to Nosara is its quality and authenticity. It’s not trying to be anything. It just is. And what it is, is downright cool and inspiring. The people are warm and hospitable. Our surf instructor, Juan Carlos, invited us to eat with him on our last night, because you make friends with people easily there. Our other instructor, Jesse, told us exactly where he lived. I asked this white-haired woman who was at Robin’s Cafe every time if she was, in fact, Robin. She was a little harried at the moment so she smiled and said , “Oh, I don’t know some days,” which was a real answer.
I took five yoga classes while staying at our resort. Four out of the five were taught by Nikita. Nikita intrigued me, and not just because of her name. At the end of our first class we were saying, “she’s a good yoga teacher”. By the end of the second class we said, “I think she is the best yoga teacher I’ve ever had.” And by the end of the last class, I wanted to be her BFF forever. Never mind that we hadn’t exchanged more than a hundred words, or that we lived thousands of miles away. She probably gets that a lot, though. As she teaches class, she’s up front, talking and guiding our practice. When she walked in to teach a class, she had playful, calm, and confident energy. When she started teaching, the flow was effortless. She knew exactly what our bodies were going to do before we made a move, and walked us thorough our poses in such a way that we hardly had to make adjustments. She could do this because she was obviously very experienced, knowledgeable, and present. She made eye contact and connected with every person in the room. She was very, very good at her job. And naturally, when people are shiny like that, you want to know more about them.
I would go back to Nosara tomorrow. As my sister said, “there’s something about Costa Rica that makes you want to let your hair go wild and live the simple life. The pure life. The Pura Vida life.” The Costa Ricans nailed their slogan. You can slow down and taste life there. The so-called sour parts mixes with the sweet, to create a deep, well-rounded flavor. And isn’t that what we are all after? Isn’t that what creates lasting satisfaction? It was for me. It really all was magical. Forgive the word, but it was. From open air, tree top yoga, monkeys swinging on telephone lines, learning to surf and riding our bikes around town, to walking home from dinner with friends, eating fresh fruit and homemade corn tortillas everyday, to “Chicken in the park!” – It was all simply epic.
I had this reoccurring theme of wanting to be friends with people I had just met several times during my stay. This is notable because I don’t feel that too often in my normal life. It wasn’t just because I was on vacation either. I’ve been on vacations before and have never felt that. Here’s what I think was going on: I think it’s the place. I think I found a part of “my people” in Nosara that I don’t find a lot of in my daily life. Specifically, a higher concentration of people who brought out my hippie, laid-back, homeopathic, fun side. It’s one of my very favorite parts about myself. I like sophistication, getting dressed up as much as the next girl, but I’ve also got a heavy dose of beach-life blood flowing through my veins. I grew up in southern California and my dad lived to surf. He also spent a lot of time in the jungles and beaches of Brazil. I grew up looking at pictures and imagining myself there. That sort of life feels a bit like home. Big parts of me that lay dormant most of the time came alive there and that’s why I’ll go back. For the way Costa Rica made me feel— At home.