Nosara (Costa Rica)
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The scenic drive from Sámara 25km northwest to the village of Nosara runs along shady, secluded dirt and gravel roads punctuated by a few creeks. It’s passable with a regular car in the dry season, but you’ll need a 4WD or high clearance in the wet. Plan your trip to Nosara with our guide to Nosara — based on the The Rough Guide to Costa Rica, your travel guide for Costa Rica.
The road follows a slightly inland route — you can’t see the coast except where you meet the beach at Garza, about ten minutes before Nosara. This little hamlet is a good place to stop for a refresco at the pulpería, and perhaps take a dip in the sea.
In contrast to Sámara, the vast majority of people who come to Nosara are North Americans and Europeans in search of quiet and natural surroundings.
Indeed, the two main tourist attractions hereabouts are nature reserves. Namely, the bird-rich Reserva Biológica Nosara and the Refugio Nacional de Vida Silvestre Ostional, famed for its arribadas of olive ridley turtles That’s the term for the unique mass synchronised sea turtle nesting phenomenon that takes place here.
Yoga and surfing are also popular pursuits, with many lodges offering classes in either or both.
Nosara is more of a widely scattered community than a village as such. It spreads along three beaches and the hinterland behind them. The centre, if you can call it that, is known as Bocas de Nosara and set about 5km inland.
The atmosphere in Bocas de Nosara itself is shady and slow, with the sweet smell of cow dung in the air and excitable voices drifting out from the local Evangelical church. People are friendly, and Nosara is still low-key, though it does get busy in the high season when travellers flock here in search of seclusion.
The area around the village can be very confusing, with little dirt and gravel roads radiating in all directions. To counter the lost-tourist effect, locals have erected copious signs, though there are so many at certain intersections that they add to the confusion. Resign yourself to looking lost at least some of the time.
From rowdy rodeos, to world-class wildlife-watching experiences, Nosara may be small, but its big on unforgettable travel experiences. It also boasts a clutch of beaches to bliss out on, or surf and snorkel from.
If you’re in Nosara on a weekend in January or February, or on a public holiday such as the first of May, don't miss the recorrido de toros (rodeo). Recorridos, held in many of the Nicoya Peninsula villages, are a rallying point for local communities, who travel long distances to join the fun.
The recorrido usually begins in the afternoon, with “Best Bull” competitions, and gets rowdier as evening falls. After dark, a string of cloudy white light bulbs illuminates the ring. and more beer is consumed.
The recorrido is followed by a dance. In Nosara, an impromptu dancefloor is created on the airstrip. The white-line area where the planes are supposed to stop is turned into a giant outdoor bar, while the mobile disco blasts salsa, reggae and countrified two-steps.
The atmosphere at these events is friendly and beer-sodden. Food is sold from stalls, where you can sample local Guanacastecan dishes, such as sopa de albóndigas (meatball soup with egg).
The three beaches in the area – Guiones, Pelada and Nosara – are fine for swimming, although you can be buffeted by the crashing waves, and there are some rocky outcrops.
Playa Guiones is the most impressive of the beaches. It’s nearly 5km in length, populated by pelicans, and arguably offers the best swimming, though there’s little shade.
Playa Guiones is also popular for surfing, though not especially suitable for beginners. The Frog Pad rents out surfing equipment and offers classes to help you get up to speed. They also rent snorkelling gear.
The whole area is a great place to beachcomb for shells and driftwood, and the vegetation, even in the dry season, is greener than further north.
Attempts have been made to limit development, and a good deal of the land around the Río Nosara has been designated a wildlife refuge.
The not-for-profit SIBU Sanctuary rescues injured and orphaned animals, provides veterinary care and rehabilitation and, when the time is right, releases them back into the wild.
Howler and white-throated capuchin monkeys, coatimundi, porcupines, collared anteaters and tree skunks are among the species you can spot on the guided tours.
There’s also a souvenir shop and an adopt-a-monkey scheme, as well as opportunities to volunteer.
Accessed through the Lagarta Lodge, the Reserva Biológica Nosara protects nearly one hundred acres of mangroves and dense forests.
These are home to a bewildering number of bird species, among them blue-footed boobies, ospreys and peregrine falcons. You’ll also encounter innumerable monkeys here. There's quite a bit of terrestrial wildlife too, including crocodiles and caimans.
An elevated walkway (2hr round trip) passes through a beautiful section of mangrove swamp where the calls of birds and frogs seem jarring against the ghostly silence.
Consider hiring a guide at the Lagarta Lodge for the chance to learn more about the fascinating reserve. Boat and kayak trips are also available, in case you want to explore further.
Located 8km northwest of Nosara, the tiny community of Ostional and its chocolate-coloured beach make up the Refugio Nacional de Vida Silvestre Ostional. This is one of the most important nesting grounds in the country for olive ridley turtles, who come ashore to lay their eggs en masse from July to December.
If you’re in town during the first few days of the arribadas you’ll see villagers carefully stuffing their bags with eggs. This is quite legal — villagers of Ostional and Nosara are allowed to harvest eggs, for sale or consumption, during the first three days of the season only.
Note that you can’t swim comfortably at Ostional — the water’s very rough and plagued by sharks, for whom turtle-nesting points are like all-you-can-eat buffets.
Into nature? Discover the most beautiful national parks in Costa Rica, and be inspired by our customisable Costa Rica Eco Adventure trip.
Nosara has some excellent beachside accommodation if you’ve money to spend. What's more, the owners and managers tend to be more environmentally conscious than at many other places on the peninsula.
A local civic association keeps a hawkish eye on development in the area, with the aim of retaining Nosara’s natural charms and preventing it from becoming another Tamarindo or Montezuma.
The cheaper accommodation options are in or near the village, but you’ll need to rent a bike or count on doing a lot of walking to get to the ocean.
Browse more places to stay in Nosara.
The Nosara area has a profusion of very good restaurants given the area’s relative isolation. There are a number of places in the village, most of them on and around the road leading to the beach or on the road into town.
That said, many of the better restaurants are huddled together near Playa Guiones, where the majority of tourists eat.
Find out more about eating and drinking in Costa Rica.
Your best option is to hire a bike frrom The Frog Pad (T2682 4039) in the Villa Tortuga complex about 150m back from Playa Guiones.
They rent a bikes from US$15/day, as well as quad bikes and golf carts.
Given that one of Nosara’s draws is its low-key ambience (rodeo days aside), we recommend spending at least 4-5 days here to unwind and feel the benefits of that vibe. For example, you could easily spend a few days just relaxing on its three beaches.
In addition, if you love wildlife, you'll want another few days to visit the Reserva Biológica Nosara and the SIBU Sanctuary.
Then there’s turtle-watching at Refugio Nacional de Vida Silvestre Ostional — an experience so special, you might want to see it more than once during your stay.
Need help planning your trip? Check-out our Costa Rica itineraries.
Wildlife lovers wondering when’s the best time to visit Nosara will want to be here between July and December. This is when olive ridley turtles come ashore on masse to lay their eggs. It’s a truly breath-taking experience.
It’s worth bearing in mind that the drive from Sámara is dotted by a few creeks. As a result, it requires a 4WD or high clearance vehicle in the wet season. In Costa Rica, this runs roughly from May to mid-November, with the rains heaviest in September and October.
So, if you're coming for turtles, consider visiting Nosara at the start of their season before the heaviest rains are due, or hold-off until December.
For more on the best time to visit different destinations in Costa Rica, read our guide to when to go to Costa Rica.
There’s a daily direct bus from San José as well as several from Nicoya and Playa Sámara. All of them pull in at/depart from the stop adjacent to the Super Nosara Grocery.
Destinations: Nicoya (5 daily; 1hr 30min); Playa Sámara (3 daily; 40min); San José (1 daily; 5hr 30min).
NatureAir, Sansa and Aerobell fly daily to Nosara from San José, landing at the small airstrip by the village centre and the namesake river.
For more transportation tips, read our guide to getting around Costa Rica.
Looking for more inspiration? Read up on the best things to do in Costa Rica, and get yourself a copy of The Rough Guide to Costa Rica.
Our Costa Rica travel tips will also help you plan your trip. Alternatively, if you're not a fan of planning, you'll love our customisable Costa Rica itineraries.
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Top image: Sunset at the beach in Nosara, Costa Rica © seaburleigh/Shutterstock