I’ve always lived near the coast. But in Florida, where I’m from originally, a trip to the beach wasn’t always fun, thanks to crowds, noise, and looming hotel towers.
But during my recent trip to Nosara, a Pacific-beach community on Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula, I found the polar opposite of those overrun Stateside beaches…and a place unlike any other I’ve visited during my two years in this country.
The seabirds diving for fish in the shallows outnumber any people on the beach. Rough lean-tos of palm fronds or sarongs strung between bits of driftwood provide shelter from the tropical sun along miles-long stretches of sand. And a large wildlife refuge (meant to protect nesting sea turtles) means no development along the beach—no homes, no condos, no hotels. Sunsets are enjoyed with a cooler of cold beers among friends with toes in the sand, not on a terrace of a fancy resort.
I’d heard about how special Nosara was for years, due to the natural beauty and its active expat community. But it took me a while to visit because it’s not as easy to get to as the beaches along the Central Pacific coast and Southern Zone.
Jutting out into the Pacific on the country’s northwest corner, the Nicoya Peninsula is set apart geographically from mainland Costa Rica. It’s more than an hour’s drive to the nearest sizable city, Nicoya. And from the capital, San José, and the main international airport there, it will take the better part of a day and include a mix of rough dirt roads and pavement winding through forest, farmland, and mountains. One route, to the southern tip of the peninsula, even includes a ferry crossing. And travel through the peninsula can be tough. Some roads are impassable during the rainy season from May to November.
But Nosara doesn’t feel isolated—just off the beaten path. It has a small-town atmosphere where everybody knows everybody. You have all the modern amenities: high-speed Internet, cable or satellite TV, fully-stocked grocery stores with plenty of imported items, and restaurants from brick-oven pizza to fine dining. You can live comfortably, though it’s come a long way in this regard.
Electricity came in the early 1980s. Landline phone service came in 1999, cellphones in 2002. Before then, CB radios came standard with homes.
“The first people here had building materials brought by boat to a spot down the coast, then taken by ox cart to the building site,” says Peter Burke, 70, who moved with his wife, Faith (also 70), from Buffalo, New York. “When we came in 1991, only six or seven local people had cars.”
“We were looking for a warm place to retire. And one of our motivations, other than great weather, was to live a more ‘challenged’ life. We wanted to learn a new language and be immersed in a new culture,” says Faith.
There are a few town centers in this area. In Nosara, the traditional Costa Rican town, you’ll find the local “general store” that has staples, produce, and even a lot of imported food items, but it also carries tools and other hardware supplies. This is where most people do their grocery shopping. Closer to the beach, just a short walk inland from Guiones, is another town center of sorts. It has boutiques, real estate offices, and restaurants geared to the expat and tourist crowd, with tanned beachgoers zooming by on ATVs—a preferred mode of transport.
Pelada is one of the area’s best swimming beaches and is the site of the local fishing cooperative. You can catch the boats on the beach or flag down the pickup truck with a big freezer as it goes through town. Fresh sushi-grade atún (tuna) and dorado (mahimahi) are about $6 a pound. You’ll also save by sticking to fresh fruits and vegetables at the local farmers’ markets and roadside stands—about $25 should fill your fridge for the week. Costs for most everything else in the store are about 15% to 20% higher than other areas due to being trucked in to this somewhat out-of-the-way area and its popularity with visitors. But there are still reasonable prices for housing available, especially considering the seaside location.
The vibe in Nosara is bohemian, thanks to all the surfers (Nosara is well-known for consistent, quality waves) and the plethora of centers for yoga and other wellness practices.
It’s easy to see why the natural beauty and relaxed way of life in Nosara has been attracting expats and tourists to this up-and-coming hidden gem for years.
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