At first glance, the town of Nosara might seem like little more than a tangle of dirt roads, some winding their way through lush jungle, others dead-ending or bringing you right back where you started. But take a closer look and you’ll see why so many people fall in love with this quirky beachside town. With a landscape of secluded coves, serene rivers, and vast tropical forests, Nosara is a place to escape, recharge, and discover where the next road leads.
This past year, we spent a couple of months living in Nosara and exploring everything this famous yoga-surfing destination has to offer. In this post, we’ll give you the essentials for planning your own visit, including our favorite activities, restaurants, and hotels.
Nosara is located about halfway down the Pacific coast in a remote section of the Nicoya Peninsula. The closest international airport is Liberia (LIR), at about 2.5 hours away. Costa Rica’s largest airport in San José (SJO) is about 4-5 hours. From either location, the drive is along well paved highways for most of the way until about an hour outside Nosara when the road turns to rough dirt (four-wheel drive recommended).
Tip: If you’re flying into San José and aren’t up for the adventurous drive, you could always take a small plane directly to the airstrip in Nosara. Nature Air offers daily flights starting at $80 that will get you there in less than an hour.
Once you arrive, it won’t take long to discover Nosara’s unique layout. Unlike many of Costa Rica’s coastal towns, Nosara doesn’t have a main strip along the beach. Instead, the roads and businesses are set back from the ocean by a buffer of thick jungle. To get to the beaches, there are numerous offshoots that run perpendicular to the main road. One of the major ones brings you to Playa Guiones. This stretch has the largest concentration of shops and restaurants and you can walk to most places, including the beach. Other roads off the main way lead to Playa Pelada, another beach community just north, and the “Boca,” where the Nosara River empties into the sea. These sections are smaller and more spread out than Guiones but have some of Nosara’s best restaurants and hotels hidden among them. Following the main road inland toward the airstrip, you will find more practical amenities like a gas station, hardware store, and a larger grocery store. This area was the original town center and is still where a lot of the locals live and work.
Getting Around in Nosara
Because Nosara is so spread out, many travelers prefer to have their own transportation. When selecting a vehicle, keep in mind that the roads in and around Nosara are very rough. You’ll no doubt notice during your visit that most of the locals get around by motorcycle, ATV, or sturdy SUV. ATVs can be rented in town and if you need a rental car, be sure to check out our rental car discount.
Tip: If you’d rather not rent a vehicle, opt to stay in Playa Guiones, close to the center of town, to have the largest selection of restaurants and shops. If you want to venture out to Pelada or elsewhere, tuk-tuk taxis are always available and are by far the most fun way to travel!
What to Expect
Nosara might feel wild and remote, but it boasts an impressive array of amenities. Built into the thick jungle, you’ll find gourmet health food shops, bakeries, surf schools, yoga studios and wellness retreats, spas, boutique hotels, and restaurants serving cuisine from all around the world. Because these businesses cater to travelers and the large expat community, prices tend to be on the higher side for Costa Rica.
Activities in Nosara
As for activities, Nosara is best known for surfing and yoga, but offers plenty of other things to do as well. Here’s a short list of some of the most popular activities and attractions.
Surfing and SUP
If you’re coming to Nosara for the waves like a lot of people do, your first stop will probably be Playa Guiones. Guiones is Nosara’s most popular beach because it has a beach break that can be surfed almost any time of day. Another good spot for the more experienced is Playa Pelada. If the tide is right, Pelada has a nice wave that breaks off the rocky point and sometimes the locals will even jump right off the rocks and onto their boards to catch the waves.
If you’d rather spend some time relaxing on the water, take a SUP tour up the beautiful Río Nosara. Along this calm river, you can paddle through thick mangroves to see birds and other wildlife.
With its roots in farming, and some cattle ranches still in operation today, it should be no surprise that horseback tours are one of Nosara’s most popular activities. Several operators offer these excursions, and the view of the jungle and beach from atop a horse is an experience you won’t want to miss.
Tip: We went riding with Boca Nosara Tours and loved it. They take great care of their horses and the guides are super friendly. Check out our post the Pure Life Pace: A Horseback Tour in Nosara for more.
Peaceful rainforest surrounds, singing birds, waves lapping the shore, and outstanding sunsets are some of the key elements for the ultimate yoga escape—and all can be found in Nosara. Whether you’re a full-on yogi or are just giving it a try, work on your mind-body connection at one of the many studios in town. Nosara helped put Costa Rica on the map as a top yoga destination.
Join the locals and kick up some dust of your own in an ATV. These tours are available through many different operators in town and take you into the nearby hills, through rivers and to waterfalls, all while giving you some great ocean views.
Wildlife and Bird-Watching
Wildlife, especially howler monkeys, can be seen throughout town, but if you want a closer look, there are a few places to check out. The Nosara Biological Reserve is a private 35 hectare (90 acre) reserve managed by the Lagarta Lodge and is a great place to see monkeys, lizards, land crabs, and up to 270 species of birds, including the Long-tailed Manakin and Turquoise-browed Motmot.
Nosara also has a couple of amazing wildlife centers that help howler monkeys and other animals that have been injured or abandoned. Refuge for Wildlife and Sibu Sanctuary, together as the Nosara Wildlife Center, offer tours of their facilities. Recommended donations are $50 per person (Refuge for Wildlife) or $65 per person (Sibu Sanctuary). All proceeds go towards helping the animals.
Restaurants in Nosara
As the name implies, this open-air restaurant on the way to Playa Pelada is the place to go for delicious Italian cuisine. The wood-fired pizza is memorable and the seafood and homemade pasta dishes (try the gnocchi!) are very good as well. Il Pepperone also makes a strong margarita for those looking to let loose.
For the freshest seafood, head to Pacifico Azul. The main menu has many standard dishes, but the daily specials are what make this restaurant stand out. Check the chalkboard to see what the local fishermen have brought in that day, and get there early for the most choices. Pacifico Azul is now the space at the Guilded Iguana Hotel, near the northern end of Playa Guiones, so look for them there.
If you want a taste of authentic Costa Rican cuisine, head to Rancho Tico. This restaurant and bar in the original part of Nosara (near the airstrip) is a popular hangout for locals and tourists alike. Rancho Tico is great for larger groups and they have a huge menu that will please everyone, even the kids. Traditional dishes like casados (rice and beans with meat and salads) are typically enjoyed at lunch, and beef, chicken, or fish dishes with delicious sauces are popular for dinner.
Burgers and Beers
Costa Rica’s craft beer movement is still in its infancy, but Burgers and Beers has some delicious brews that you’ll be hard-pressed to find anywhere else in the area. This place is a little pricy, with burgers around $14 apiece, but they’re huge. If you’re on a tight budget, you could always split one and order an extra cerveza or two.
Right on the beach at Playa Pelada, Olga’s is a local favorite that has been around for years. It’s super casual, but is a great spot to grab a beer and watch the surfers and beachgoers cruise by. We highly recommend the patacones (fried plantains) with guacamole.
For a cool treat in the heat of the day, check out Seekret Spot on the road to Playa Pelada. This tiny place makes homemade gelato in flavors like maracuyá (passion fruit), coco (coconut), tiramisu, and deep dark chocolate. As a bonus, on Saturday afternoons there is an organic farmers market right across the street.
Hotels in Nosara
Below we give our recommendations for hotels, B&Bs, and lodges. Keep in mind, though, that Nosara also has a wide selection of vacation rentals, which might be a better option for families and groups. Something else to consider when deciding where to stay in Nosara is location. Like we said above, you don’t need a car if you’re in the main area of Playa Guiones, but you will probably want one if you’re in Playa Pelada or Boca Nosara.
L’Acqua Viva Resort and Spa
Built in a style that pays homage to Costa Rica’s indigenous cultures, the structures and architecture of L’Acqua Viva are what make this resort unique. Lofty ceilings, open and airy gathering places, beautiful natural feeling pools, and native wood all around give a simplistic, back-to-nature feel. And even with its elaborate furnishings and air conditioned rooms, L’Acqua Viva still ties seamlessly into its jungle backdrop. $165-700. Check Availability and Prices Here.
Eco-luxury might be the best way to describe the exquisite Harmony Hotel. Using sustainable practices but still devoted to keeping things upscale, it’s the little things at Harmony that will make you feel pampered. Cocktails served with bamboo straws, shampoo and bodywash made from local flowers, organic cotton sheets, and native tropical gardens surrounding the pool are just a few examples. $250-700. Check Availability and Prices Here.
Bodhi Tree Yoga
If you’re coming to Nosara for yoga, this is one of the best places to stay. Bodhi Tree offers yoga retreats and also many daily classes. The upscale jungle resort has spacious bungalows, more affordable single and double rooms, and if you’re on a budget, you can stay in one of the nicest dorms we have ever seen. A juice bar serves up healthy smoothies and the on-site restaurant is known for its innovative cuisine. $75-400. Check Availability and Prices Here.
Teak Pacific Hotel
Conveniently located near Playa Pelada and some of the restaurants listed above, Teak Pacific has a great location and nice setup. The roomy casitas are fully equipped with kitchens and comfortable living rooms. The property is also nicely landscaped and there is a pool if you don’t feel like strolling down to the beach for a swim. $139-209. Check Availability and Prices Here.
Hotel Luna Azul
Luna Azul is located about 15 minutes north of Nosara, closer to the famous turtle-nesting beach of Playa Ostional. This boutique-style lodge has 7 private bungalows, each with an outdoor shower and large terrace (some with ocean views). The owners are what make this place special, though, with their gourmet cooking and personal approach. Since it is outside town, a rental car is recommended. $120-215. Check Availability and Prices Here.
A good choice for surfers, Giardino Tropicale is an affordable option within walking distance to Playa Guiones and the center of town. The hosts are known for their friendliness and willingness to give local recommendations. There is also an Italian restaurant on the property that has delicious wood-fired pizza. $75-120. Check Availability and Prices Here.
Villa Mango B&B
Located on a hill near Playa Pelada, Villa Mango has sweeping jungle and ocean views, a saltwater swimming pool, and warm décor throughout. This charming B&B is definitely a great deal for the area. $49-125. Check Availability and Prices Here.
Nosara might not seem like an idyllic vacation getaway right away, but spend some time exploring and you’ll start to discover small pieces of paradise. Hidden beaches, secluded jungle trails, gorgeous lookouts, and even gourmet cuisine. The road, though sometimes long and dusty, really does lead to paradise.
Are you planning your trip to Nosara? Let us know if you have questions in the comments below.
Post Updated: December 31, 2016