A Week in Dreamy Nosara

After our 4 night stay in Santa Teresa, we headed to Nosara, which is farther north up the coast on the Nicoya Peninsula. You would think there would be a nice road along the coast, but no, this is remote Costa Rica folks. There is a coastal road, but you need 4-wheel drive (which we have) and even then, it’s really not advisable during rainy season (which it is now) as you would need to cross multiple rivers and the conditions really depend on the recent rainfall. We decided to take the longer and supposedly safer route back across the peninsula and then back again to the Pacific Coast. Well, it was still quite an adventure and took about 4 hours, and STILL we had to ford a few rivers. I can’t imagine what the other route would have looked like!

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Just as it started raining, we arrived here. Palmer waded into the water to make sure it didn’t go above knee level before we attempted the crossing. Thankfully all went smoothly and we were pretty proud of our crossing river savviness.

We enjoyed traveling through beautiful rural areas and the Tico towns of Jicaral and Nicoya. Lots of green and lots of hills!

We finally arrived at our little casita in Nosara as close as you can get to Playa Guiones and felt like we were in heaven! The beach is definitely one of the most beautiful beaches we’ve seen in all of Costa Rica. A long stretch of white sand beach backed by green foliage, with surfers bobbing in the water at all hours of the day. There is no development on the beach so there are a few short paths that take you from the road to the beach.

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One of the jungle paths to the beach
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And then you arrive here!

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We spent a full week here in Nosara and fell in love with the area. It was hot and humid, but when you wake up to howler monkeys almost every morning and the beach is a 5 minute walk away, what’s not to like?! The town of Nosara is actually located a few kilometers inland and is a typical Tico town which I appreciated as it seemed to retain its traditional feel. It felt a world away from the more developed beach areas of Playa Guiones and Playa Pelada which are increasingly popular with foreign tourists. The whole area still feels off the beaten track and it’s all dirt roads, but nice hotels, excellent restaurants and holiday homes are popping up in many areas along the beach or in the hills just a bit farther away so I expect a lot is going to change in the coming years.

Here are a few of our highlights from the week:

Surf Lessons and Boogie-Boarding at Playa Guiones

Surf is what Nosara is all about as it has such a consistent break, and what’s cool is that it’s for surfers of all levels! Oscar had a blast learning to surf with his new buddy Chico.

Hanging Out at Playa Pelada

Playa Pelada is another beach just north of Guiones and has more of a local flavor. It also has a couple of restaurants right on the beach which was great for lunch with a view to watch the surfers.

Snorkeling in Tide Pools at Playa Guiones

Tide pool are pretty awesome anywhere, but at low tide on Playa Guiones there are a couple of spots where you can actually snorkel in crystal clear water as it’s protected by some rocky areas. We even saw a couple of octopi!

Good Food (and drinks of course!)

There is something for everyone here: typical Costa Rican sodas, fish tacos, shrimp and avocado salads, pipa fría (cold coconut water), fresh fruit smoothies, pizza, bagels, burgers and even gelato. Prices are a bit steep and most prices in dollars 😦 but the quality overall was VERY good.

Searching for Sea Turtles

Our whole visit to Nosara was initially planned so that we could visit nearby Ostional Turtle Refuge and hopefully see an arribada of Olive Ridley sea turtles which arrive by the thousands (!!) to nest about once a month around the new moon from July through November. Well, we planned our trip accordingly but unfortunately the turtles arrived about a week early and we missed it. We were BUMMED, but we did still visit the beach and saw some baby leatherback turtles being released to the ocean by a volunteer group.

Fishing

Oscar and Palmer enjoyed a fishing adventure with a local fisherman and had a blast catching jacks and even a yellowfin tuna which we enjoyed as sashimi for dinner. YUM! Thanks boys!

Sunsets

Best time of the day!

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La Paz Waterfall Gardens

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We celebrated the inauguration of Costa Rica’s new president Carlos Alvarado (exiting times folks!) by taking advantage of the national holiday and heading to La Paz Waterfall Gardens for a day trip. It’s located near Poás volcano (currently closed due to recent emissions) which is about an hour north of San José’s airport. It’s a beautiful area with green rolling hills and lovely vistas as far as the eye can see. The gardens are part zoo, part rescue center along with typical Costa Rican culture exhibits and part of the exclusive Peace Lodge Hotel with prices starting at $300 per night. Fancy schmancy!

 

I admit I knew the place was a tourist destination and was skeptical of the $44 entrance fee per adult (non-residents) and $28 for kids (seriously!?!), but I’m happy to say that I was pleasantly surprised by how well done it was focusing on sustainability and natural settings, and I loved how you could actually walk through the aviary with toucans flying overhead and butterfly garden and see the butterflies coming out of their cocoons, and enter the ranarium and look for colorful native frogs in their own natural space, rather than trying to find them in their tiny cage behind the glass.

 

The snakes and jaguars were thankfully behind glass. 🙂

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There are also a number of beautiful waterfalls that you can visit via a couple of very easy trails, a little cafe and lovely gift shop at the end of the trail, and a shuttle bus that will take you back up to the entrance…where there is another beautiful gift shop. We skipped the souvenirs and instead enjoyed the free Britt coffee and chocolate samples. Ha!

 

Good thing we skipped the shopping at the gardens, because we had to stop at this amazing gift shop on the way home! What a riot.

 

Of course, Oscar wasn’t going to lose yet another opportunity of leaving a gift shop empty-handed. What can we say? Nothing says PURA VIDA more than a wooden machete with a painted hummingbird.

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Now to check out that fancy Peace Lodge some day and visit the gardens when all the daytrippers are gone!

Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. If you make a purchase or book a hotel using one of the links, we receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Our Top 5 for Sámara

With Auntie Tay Tay visiting and the kids out of school for Semana Santa, we headed to the beach (along with everyone else!) for some quality R & R.  We chose to explore Sámara, a chill beach town on the Guanacaste Coast that I’ve long wanted to check out having heard lots of good things.

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Here’s our list of what’s not-to-miss:

1. Sunset at Sámara Beach

Everyone heads to the beach at sunset! It’s the best time of day when the heat subsides but still plenty hot enough to enjoy a dip in the warm water, go for a horseback ride, enjoy an ice cream or cocktail, and not risk burning your scalp and every other piece of exposed skin. On our first night, we checked out Lo Que Hay, a casual beachfront restaurant specializing in tacos but with lots of other options and super drink specials. High tide or low tide, there is plenty of beach for everyone…even during Semana Santa. Sunset is definitely our favorite time at the beach in Costa Rica!

 

2. Spend a Day Boogie Boarding at Carrillo Beach (and don’t forget your hammock!)

About 4k south of Sámara Beach is another lovely picture perfect beach called Playa Carrillo. You can park right along the beach for free, hang up your hammock and set up camp along with lots of other picnicking families. It had the most perfect waves for boogie boarding which helped soothe our poor burnt feet after running through the scorching hot sand.

 

3. Dolphin Boat Tour

Sámara offers lots of cool activities such as surf lessons, boat tours, wildlife hikes and hidden beaches, and we opted for a morning dolphin and snorkeling tour (THANKS Auntie Tay!) that was seriously awesome. We saw manta rays jumping out of the water all around us, the spotted dolphins were also fun to watch, and we even saw a couple sea turtles. The snorkeling wasn’t all that great for us, but still fun to give it a try.

 

4. Tide Pooling at Low Tide on Sámara Beach

On our final morning, we headed straight to the beach and it was perfect as there was almost no one there and it was low tide so we had a blast exploring the tide pools on the north end of the beach, and all the critters waiting to be discovered, before having to pack up and head back home. 😦

 

5. Check Out the Town

Samara is small enough to easily get around and find your own little slice of heaven, but big enough to offer some great services, such as some fabulous restaurants (beachfront places such as Gusto Beach, and others specializing in seafood, French, Mexican, etc.) and a couple watering holes (don’t miss Franks and the Flying Taco for live music on weekends), tours for visitors, some decent shopping and even Spanish language classes. There are also troops of howler monkeys that you can’t miss right in and around town, short hikes with lovely vistas that you can take and other nearby beaches such as the secluded Playa Barrigona (“Mel Gibson’s Beach”) to explore.

 

We only had 4 nights here so I’m sure there are other gems to be discovered in Sámara. We sure hope to return!

Making Memories at Manuel Antonio National Park

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While we were staying near Playa Bejuco over the week of Christmas with the fam, we all decided to make the one hour drive and enjoy a day in Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio (Manuel Antonio National Park), an extremely popular tourist destination in Costa Rica for lots of good reasons.

It’s actually the smallest national park in the country, but the most visited due to its beautiful white sand beaches and abundant wildlife that is often easy to spot. In fact, some of the monkeys are known for steeling bags and opening backpacks to get to the snacks which we saw happen. Apparently, Pringle cans are banned as the monkeys know what they contain and the park is trying to ensure that the monkeys stick to their normal diet. The park is located two hours from San José on the Pacific Coast just south of the town of Quepos.

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White faced capuchin monkey

We opted to forego a local guide (we’d been here in January and discovered that as the park is so popular, there are large guided groups stopping everywhere to look at something), though they do often have a spotting scope which is very helpful because so it’s much easier to see the sloths and monkeys that are high up in the trees.

We walked to one of the four beaches in the park, Manuel Antonio Beach (also the most popular as it’s good for swimming and closest to the entrance), and spent some time relaxing on the beach and swimming. Oscar just learned to swim that week in the pool without any type of float or life jacket and he did an awesome job practicing in the ocean here with Uncle Keith, Auntie Annie and Grandpa. A couple of us also checked out Espadilla Sur Beach which is just behind Manuel Antonio Beach and much less busy. There are also other trails in the park which you can hike to see a waterfall and at least one of the other beaches, but we’ve yet to check them out (the heat and humidity and two little ones makes that tricky). 🙂

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Beautiful Playa Manuel Antonio

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As far as wildlife, we saw lots of seemingly fearless capuchin monkeys, a couple of sloths,  two chestnut-mandibled toucans, parrots, red land crabs and Oscar found an interesting salamander-type animal on the edge of the path. We even saw one sloth moving from one tree to another right next to the path near the entrance and quite low to the ground so that was very special. And Oscar was happy to discover his favorite monkey, cute little squirrel monkeys, on our walk back to the car outside of the park.

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Oscar’s discovery

After enjoying our time in sun, we headed back but had to make a pit stop and enjoy some cool ‘pipa fría’ (cold coconut water) sold at many of the stands just outside the park, It was SO refreshing after the being in the sun for so long!

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Selfie success…with everyone except dad

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We then headed to El Avión, a cool restaurant built around a C-123 Fairchild cargo plane with amazing ocean views, for a well deserved lunch before heading back to our oasis up the coast.

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Oscar and Alice at the controls…hold on tight!