The pretty 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 (low clearance) in the dry season (though you’ll still have to ford two creeks except at the very driest times of year), but you’ll need a 4WD or high clearance in the wet. 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: the bird-rich Reserva Biológica Nosara and the Refugio Nacional De Vida Silvestre Ostional, famed for its arribadas of olive ridley turtles.
If you’re in Nosara on a weekend in January or February, or on a public holiday such as the first of May, be sure not to 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 in bumpy communal trucks to join in the fun.
Typically, the village bullring (redondel) is no more than a rickety wooden circular stadium, held together with bundles of palm thatch. Here local radio announcers introduce the competitors and list the weight and ferocity of the bulls, while travelling bands, many of them from Santa Cruz, perform oddly Bavarian-sounding oom-pah-pah music at crucial moments in the proceedings. For the most fun and the best-seasoned rodeo jokes, sit with the band – usually comprising two saxophones, a clarinettist, a drummer and the biggest tuba known to man – but avoid the seat right in front of the tuba.
The recorrido usually begins in the afternoon, with “Best Bull” competitions, and gets rowdier as evening falls – after dark, a single string of cloudy white light bulbs illuminates the ring – and more beer is consumed. The sabanero tricks on display are truly impressive: the mounted cowboy who gallops past the bull, twirls his rope, throws it behind his back and snags the bull as casually as you would loop a garden hose, has to be seen to be believed. The grand finale is the bronco bull-riding, during which a sinewy cowboy sticks like a burr to the huge spine of a Brahma bull who leaps and bucks with increasing fury. During the intervals, local men and boys engage in a strange ritual of wrestling in the arena, taking each other by the forearm and twirling each other round like windmills, faster and faster, until one loses his hold and flies straight out to land sprawling on the ground. These displays of macho bravado are followed by mock fights and tumbles, after which everyone slaps each other cordially on the back.
The recorrido is followed by a dance: in Nosara the impromptu dancefloor takes up the largest flat space available – the airstrip. The white-line area where the planes are supposed to stop is turned into a giant outdoor bar, ringed by tables and chairs, while the mobile disco rolls out its flashing lightballs and blasts out salsa, reggae and countrified two-steps. Wear good shoes, as the asphalt is super-hard: you can almost see your soles smoking after a quick twirl with a hotshot cowboy.
The atmosphere at these events is friendly and beer-sodden: in villages where there’s a big foreign community you’ll be sure to find someone to talk to if your Spanish isn’t up to conversing with the sabaneros. Food is sold from stalls, where you can sample the usual empanadas or local Guanacastecan dishes such as sopa de albóndigas (meatball soup with egg).
Top image: Sunset at the beach in Nosara, Costa Rica © seaburleigh/Shutterstock