Book! Pack! Go Travel! by Robbie Mamo

Nosara, Costa Rica

Nosara, Costa Rica

Enjoying a great stay in a place that will always have a piece of me even though it has lost most of it’s rustic charm and the younger vibe is fading away I decided it was time to go up to Playa Guiones in the Nosara region for a few days and see what that area is like now. The only way to go North up the peninsula is by rental car or shuttle and depending on the height of the rivers that you have to cross along the way this may not even be an option at all. Since it was dry season this wasn’t a concern and knowing that I wouldn’t need a vehicle once I arrived in Nosara.

I booked my shuttle from Santa Teresa through Tropical Tour Shuttles. They picked me where I was staying at Zeneidas and took me all the way to Nosara for 30 000Col/$60 and this took 5 hours. This was a steal as the only other way would be to take an early morning bus to reach the ferry to Puntarenus, then travel to Liberia and get another bus to Nicoya and pray that I make the bus leaving Nicoya for Nosara etc. which would have been a full day of travelling and a lot of time and effort. The minibus was very clean, well maintained and the driver even created a hotspot for us to check our email quick and in my case send one off last minute to let a friend I planned on meeting up with know when I would arrive. This was definitely one of the best experiences I’ve had on a shuttle and I’ve been using these guys for years because of this!

The tour bus I took with Tropical Tours came to my hotel to pick me up which is always a bonus!

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Costa Rica’s Nosara region & Playa Guiones

Where to stay…

Once I arrived in Nosara I then went to the surf beach town of Playa Guiones which is where I will be staying while I’m here. People use the term Nosara loosely for the general area but the main surf beach here is Guiones.

I chose to stay at The Sunset Shack which is a boutique hostel conveniently located a short walk to the beach and a short walk to the main road where you can do some shopping. The rooms here start at 15 000Col/$30 per night for a shared room and private rooms start at 50 000Col/$100 per night.

All rooms have AC, hot water, hammock chairs, lockers and a small fridge. The rooms are cleaned daily and every few days the sheets are stripped and new body and hand towels are provided. This is what makes this a boutique hostel! The rooms all face well planted gardens and a very nice pool and there are lots of birds and wildlife passing through each day. Its one of the best places I’ve stayed for $30 or less anywhere whether hostel or not. I had the room to myself for almost a week mid February which is surprisingly a lot less crowded here but still very busy!

They also offer board rentals and lessons to guests or anyone interested. I think it’s handy to have rent a board from the place you are staying at and have done this quite a bit. Considering the least expensive option at a regular hostel here is only 5000C/$10 less per night this is the best deal going for what you get. I also suggest this place for families visiting the area because of the laid back atmosphere, good pool and restaurant on the property.

The garden view rooms.

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My hostel room with AC, hammock chairs and a little kitchenette.

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The pool and garden lounge area.

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When I was here in the past I stayed in North Guiones at Kaya Sol Surf Hotel which has shared rooms starting at 7500Col/S15 – 10 000Col/$20 per night and private rooms starting at 20 000Col/$40 – 55 000Col/$110 per night. The prices depend on what room you have as they all have different amenities as well as what season you are planning on being here. This is located a short walk from the beach in a convenient area of town. They have a nice garden layout, well kept rooms, a small pool with a fountain that lights up at night. In addition they have a  great restaurant that has lots of live music through the week and a good variety of choices on the menu.

Garden rooms at Kaya Sol.

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The swimming pool and lounge area.

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Also located in South Guiones and the most common place for most backpackers to stay is Nosara Beach Hostel which has a good reputation and is the best budget choice in this area for a long time. This is probably the most social place to stay for people on the hostel circuit and is located steps to the beach and off in a quiet area. They only have shared dorm rooms at 10 000Col/$20 that have 3 bunk beds and can accommodate 6 people and a bed will cost you per night. Each dorm room has it’s own bathroom and shower and the rooms are basic but effective. There is a large common area and a kitchen as well as a large garden with hammocks and chairs to relax in.

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There are many high end options for where to stay here. You can spend $10 000 + per week to rent an oceanfront villa that sleeps 10 people but more realistically if you are looking to do it up and can afford it I suggest the Harmony Hotel which has amazing rooms starting at 150 000Col/$300 per night and suites for 300 000Col/$590 per night. Their restaurant is considered to be in the top three in the area and by some peoples opinion, the best.

The town…

The difference between this area and Santa Teresa is the layout of the town. Here it is technically more built up, more touristy, etc etc. but due to the landscape it is built in pockets whereas everything in Santa Teresa is mainly focused on one street. This spreads out the action here and makes it a much more relaxed peaceful vibe. It is also the most expensive area I’ve been to in Costa Rica and there are a few modern plazas in addition to many hotels, restaurants and bars. This area has been developed for quite a while and attracts a lot of expats that live here full time. It’s a good life down here so I can’t blame them! This place has definitely been on the map for a long time and lots of people jokingly call Nosara, “No secret.”

There are a few plazas in town with various businesses located inside. All the development in this town has been built in a tasteful way and because it is in little pockets based on the difficult landscape to build on it isn’t in your face at all.

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Fresh molasses is spread over some roads to keep the dust down.

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The crossroads!

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It’s nice to be in an area that has some options for things to do, a full size grocery store and still be this close to great waves and maintain a natural setting despite meeting peoples needs that aren’t just visiting here but live here year round. If you don’t like modern looking buildings when you are down south then you might not feel so away from it all here but the way the town has been laid out is the saving grace. The crime is also very low and most peoples only complaints are having their electronics and furniture stolen while they weren’t around the house here but those are almost always inside jobs that are motivated by greed and not random thefts which show more disparity.

There is a market every Tuesday and Saturday here on the main road leading down to the beach in South Guiones.

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Fresh squeezed orange juice is what I look forward to buying and this goes for 3500Col/$7 for one liter and other sizes are available. There are also lots of artisan stands and food items available.

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I hope you like to surf…

I personally consider this to be one of the best beach breaks in Costa Rica and between here and Santa Teresa and a few other lesser known breaks in the area anyone can feel spoiled being in this part of the country. The beach here is pristine and goes for miles! It is also home to some of the best waves in the country and expect it to be crowded out in the water during peak times. I’ve always been able to go out and get waves each time out no matter who is in the water and not because I’m a good surfer but it’s just a matter of hanging out off to the side a bit away from the crowds and being patient. I go out for at least 2 hours each session.

Playa Guiones!

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The one weekend I was in town was during the national surf competition. The town was packed and there were judging stands, sponsors with tents set up on the beach and lots of action all weekend.

The road to the beach the weekend of the surf competition.

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The judging stand and sponsors tents.

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The tide made it easy for spectators to stand up close to the action.

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Like any popular surf beach there is a really good chance that depending on how much water is moving around from the tide and swell you will encounter strong rip tides. Be careful swimming here and if you are looking for a more swim friendly area the closest option is Playa Pelada which is one cut over from Guiones and can be accessed on foot. If you like natural bathing pools check out the far South area of Guiones where the reef meets the beach there are a few large basins that are popular for those wanting to relax in a natural pool.

Bathing pools and people hanging out while the tide is out!

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Playa Guiones is known for having high populations of stingrays and every week there are numerous people getting stung which is extremely painful. To avoid any contact you need to shuffle your feet when walking out into the water and any time you are off your board it’s a good idea not to make any contact with the sand if you can avoid it.

This sign warns people of the stingrays and suggests shuffling your feet.

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Other beaches in the area…

If you are looking to see other beaches in the area and have some form of transportation then you have quite a few options within just under an hour drive as you head North up the peninsula. There is only one gas station in Nosara so always try to keep as close to a full tank of fuel as possible. If driving at night be careful because there are lots of ravines that are wide open and its a common site to see vehicles off the road. I also don’t suggest walking on the main roads at night either because first it is going to be super dusty and second there are a lot of blind corners on the mountainside and a fair bit of vehicle, atv and motorcycle traffic. So if you absolutely have to then you need to bring a good flashlight

Twenty minutes to the North is Ostional and this is considered protected land and is home to the Ostional nature reserve of the same name. This park is dedicated to protecting and maintaining giant sea turtle populations which rely heavily on the black volcanic sand here to lay their eggs. This is also a surf beach with both left and right breaks starting from the large rock north up the beach. It is sand bottom here and I’ve had some great sessions and haven’t seen it overly crowded on any occasion. There are also programs you can find out about in the area which get groups of people together to assist with the conservation efforts.

The black sand beach at Ostional.

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Nice place for some sunset surf!

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The best swimming beach in the area with the most tropical vibe is Playa San Juanillo and this is further up the coast away from Ostional. This is a very small protected bay that lies between two large rock outcroppings and has calm clear blue water, a coral reef and sand that slowly becomes courser and courser as you move away from the main beach. This sand eventually becomes various large pieces of coral and shells and this is a testament to how much life lies out in the reef beyond. This is a perfect spot for fishing off the rocks, in a small boat or doing any snorkelling or scuba diving. It is also a great beach to picnic on because of the presence of some trees to find shade under.

San Juanillo is a perfect place to swim, snorkel, fish and relax!

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Fishing boats anchored in a perfect natural harbour.

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The sand becomes raw pieces of coral for a large area surrounding the reef.

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Coral close up.

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Further yet is Playa Marbella about an hour from Nosara give or take but like any of the coastal roads its a good idea to have a 4×4 if you are planning on travelling in rainy season and in some cases you need a snorkel fitted depending on how much rain hits the area during the wet season and where you can actually drive.

Marbella is simply a beach. There is literally nothing there! For me this is refreshing as although I haven’t been coming down south for consistently for more than 10 years and seen lots of places build up over the years it is always great to find a place where for the time being is just you, the beach and the waves! This being said there are no beaches in the whole area of Nosara that have always considered to be the most consistent wave but any time I’ve been there at various tides I always had waves to ride and the most people I’ve seen out are 4 others and there are a few peaks in this relatively small bay.

Marbella is also a black sand beach and is my favourite surf beach in the area!

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In the other direction is a small bay called Playa Garza which is less than 5 minutes from town. This is a popular fishing area for commercial fishing and sport fishing and the bay makes a perfect anchorage because of the natural offshore reef which acts as a breakwater. This is also the best nearby option for a swimming beach close to Guiones.

Playa Garza is a great place to find calm water and relaxation!

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A local and his horses pass through while the sun is setting.

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If going to any of these beaches its a good idea to buy what you need in Nosara and if you have a vehicle then you can take advantage of a full sized grocery store or “Super” if there is anything you’ve had a hard time finding at the mini supers which are what the small convenience stores are called in Costa Rica. There are a few local Mini Super’s here and you can find the basics in Ostional and on the way to San Juanillo but there are only one store per town. As mentioned before Marbella has nothing so if you are doing a day trip be prepared with whatever you need because you won’t want to leave once you get to this amazing beach and especially once you get a few waves!

Bring your sunscreen…

One thing about Playa Guiones is there is absolutely no shade anywhere near the beach! If you are packing up for a day on the beach make sure you bring at least one umbrella or you are guaranteed to get burned if you aren’t used to sun this hot. While I was here the temperature reached 37C and the sun was out in full force from 9 am until starting to set. This means extremely hot sand so either learn to run or hope you hide your sandals well enough on the beach and most importantly remember where you put them!

I usually surf mid morning and again in mid day depending on how much sun I want to deal with but this just means using the proper equipment and having good sunscreen. I personally use Avene mineral for my face and it goes on really easily, you don’t need to use much for full protection and it is easier to remove than a lot of the zinc based creams out there typically marketed for surfing and outdoor watersports. I don’t like any cream near my eyes so for around my eyes I use Viche sunblock stick and this has also been perfect for my tattoos when I’m suntanning or don’t have a shirt on because it goes on light and can be painted over your design without leaving awkward tan lines on the skin around them!

The arsenal of sunscreen. I haven’t had a sunburn all trip and this is why!

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Juan Surfo’s Surf Shop!

The surf shop in town I like to deal with is called Juan Surfo’s! This is the only locally owned and operated shop in the area. Juan is always around and he is a good guy to deal with which is what keeps most people coming back. His shop has the best selection of surf gear and the best selection of rental boards in the area which is cool considering he started off renting boards out of his house almost 10 years ago. He is one of the original surfers in the area and has welcomed newcomers since the beginning. He can help you out with anything surf related and also has vacation rentals available through his website.

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This whole building is filled with rental boards to suit any preference.

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Where to eat…

One thing about this area is there aren’t Soda’s everywhere you turn like other places in Costa Rica. This I find a bit odd but when driving around there were so many choices for places to eat and locally owned and operated restaurants serving authentic Costa Rican food. If you don’t have  a vehicle you are still in luck thanks to Soda Tica, which is located at the top of the hill on the left inside the newest plaza. It is as good as you will find authentic costa rican food anywhere and the prices aren’t inflated like most of the other businesses in this area. They serve a great meal at a fair price and they are open at 6 am until 3 and closed on Sunday.

I can’t go too long without a fish casado and they serve up a great one! I also went there for breakfast often and liked to order the “torta” which is a plain omelette with gallo pinto which is a mix of rice and beans. They also had an in house green salsa that had a nice heat to it and lots of flavour to smooth it out. The salads here are also made with care and they have a savoury vinaigrette salad dressing that is seasoned with sage and other herbs. I also suggest the chicken rice as with any rice dish in Costa Rica you just can’t go wrong. I didn’t see much seafood on the menu other than a few fish options.

The ladies hard at work preparing the best local food in the area and they have the fastest service in town by far! It’s also a popular place to get food to go!

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Fish casado

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Chicken with salsa

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Fried cheese! A must try and one of the national favourites!

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Casado with pork. This one came out with fried onions, mixed veggies, salad, and rice and beans.

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My favourite breakfast here. Gallo pinto with “torta” and toast.

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The Gilded Iguana Hotel and Restaurant was a solid choice and I haven’t have a bad meal there yet! They also had a great fish casado and while a little on the pricy side at 5000Col/$10 they use mahi-mahi. Known elsewhere as dorado or dolphinfish this is a slightly more expensive fish than what is typically served with a casado. They serve their casado with beet salad which is a nice addition and my friend mentioned that it could have something to do with the owner being Australian as it is a popular food there. It’s also the only place to watch sports in town and there are few televisions set up and usually have the popular game to watch playing on any given night and if you don’t see what you want to watch they will usually play what you want.

Fish casado with Mahi-Mahi.

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Chimichanga.

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Every Friday they have English style fish and chips and this is two large fillets served with fries and salad. It was 7500Col/$15 and was one of the best meals I’ve had on this part of my trip.

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They also have great specials and I had the seared yellowfin tuna one night and it was the best priced in the area while in the same league as tuna I’ve had from other more expensive restaurants. The yellowfin special was 8000Col/$16 and was a good serving of quality food.

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La Luna is a beachfront restaurant located in Playa Pelada and offers a great view, a fun drink selection and top notch food.The restaurant is in a large stone building with high vaulted wooden ceilings and is on a million dollar ocean front view! I often go here for a sunset drink but one night I had the seared tuna and it was served with rice and salad for 9000Col/$18. I also tried a few of the internationally inspired mixed platters to start and they were freshly prepared and used very good ingredients. Before my meal I tried a raw chocolate mixed drink that could also be ordered infused with fresh mint. They have tables available on the sand in front of the main dining area and an inner restaurant lounge area near the bar with couch style open seating for all the seats against the outer wall.

The seared yellowfin tuna from La Luna beachfront restaurant.

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Located on the same grounds as my hostel is Campesino Bistro and Bar. Being a stones throw from my room I ate here quite a bit. They have a straight forward daily menu with lots of sandwiches, salads and appetizers and is the same for lunch and dinner but the focus of the restaurant is using what is in season and/or available at the time. I don’t eat too much beef but often down South the quality of the meat isn’t always the best so if I find a place serving high quality beef it is a nice treat. I usually get the burger special which is served with fresh cut fries. The burgers are a really good size and the toppings are generously added as well. My favourite burger was the CBA burger which is cheddar cheese, bacon and avocado for 5500Col/$11 and it was as good as any gourmet burger I’ve had. Here I was asked how I wanted my burger cooked and it caught me off guard. In Canada and many countries restaurants are required to cook the beef well done or more. I asked for mine medium well and it came out a light rose colour on the very inside which is how I wanted it.

The fish and steak specials seem popular here and I’m sure if the beef is the same quality as what I tasted in the burger than It is guaranteed to be excellent! One thing I wish I had ordered earlier from here were the chicken wings. These are jumbo wings and served either with the in house made bbq sauce or buffalo style. I like mine dry with the sauce on the side and they came out perfect. There were 3900Col/8=$8 per serving and I usually doubled up when I was really craving wings.

Bacon, cheddar and mushroom burger.

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Bacon, cheddar and avocado burger.

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Across the road and as mentioned before as one of the higher end options in Guiones the Harmony Hotel has a top rated restaurant and it is considered to be the best or one of them by anyone who has been here for any number of years. I had the best tuna steaks of my trip here and although slightly more expensive at 12 500Col/$25 it was well worth every penny. One was sesame encrusted and the other was simply seared and salted. Both were served with chopped mango and house prepared teriyaki sauce. I also tried a passion fruit daiquiri which was freshly prepared with juice they squeeze daily. They also have really good sushi there and the rolls start at 5000Col/$10 and are a decent size.

Sesame encrusted yellowfin tuna from the Harmony Hotel.

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Seared yellowfin from the Harmony Hotel.

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Another new restaurant in town is Burgers and Beers. As anyone can notice by now I do enjoy a good burger. Here they are definitely trying to be the gourmet burger option in town. There isn’t that much of a choice and I felt they could have given more fries. I had the bacon cheddar burger and it was 6000Col/$12 and it was the simplest and cheapest option on the menu. The beef was fairly good here and also cooked slightly rare. The presentation was good on the wooden butchers block but as you can see most of it is empty.

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Of the three places I’ve ordered burgers in Guiones I found this was at the bottom with Gilded Iguana ranking in second and the champion is definitely Campesino. They had the best beef, the best and largest amount of toppings as well as the best bread. In addition, their burgers arrived on a toasted and buttered bun which was the ace card for me.

Restaurante Il Basilico is located a short distance from Playa Guiones on the way to Nosara. This is by far the best place to get pizza and Italian food and the seafood pastas are the best in the area if not all of Costa Rica. The portions are very generous and most people left with some leftovers to enjoy.

Here is the lobster spaghetti which features a whole lobster and a few langostino with a tomato sauce. All the pasta dishes here can also be ordered with a cream sauce or a mixed rose.

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This is the mixed seafood spaghetti which has prawns, shellfish, octopus, calamari and langostino also served in a red sauce!

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I still managed to find some street food in Guiones and I lucked out and had seafood rice this family was selling at the side of the road at the entrance to the beach the weekend of the surf compeition. This was served with a really tasty salad and this was some of the best seafood rice I’ve ever had. The best thing about the rice was that they had taken the shells out of it after it was cooked and it also had langostino which are one of the tastiest treats to come out of the sea. I also opted for the combo which included a bag of tamarind juice :)

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Costa Rica has some of my favourite snacks and those are the Trits ice cream sandwiches, candied peanuts called “Garapanizado”, Chirulitos spicy corn twists and Pezuelo brand creme cookies!

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It is definitely “no secret” why Nosara is a popular destination for surfers and people wanting to hang out in a tropical paradise. With so many surf breaks in the area, lots of options for accommodation and retreats as well as amazing food options you won’t find too many better places to visit in Costa Rica!

Gone on a whim…