This dreamy surf town is a Hollywood favourite, you just wouldn't know it.
You could dislodge fillings in your back teeth on the road into Nosara. The journey from Liberia International Airport starts smoothly enough - I travel by mini-van on bitumen through pretty towns covered in bougainvillea, surrounded by green rolling hills - but as we get close to the Pacific coast, potholes appear, as big as bomb craters, squelching mud. My driver slows down to a crawl, so slow that farmers herding cows pass us by, waving as they go.
But locals (and expats) wouldn't have it any other way. This once-forgotten part of Costa Rica has been attracting plenty of attention these past few years for the Hollywood types that come to holiday, or to live here. That's meant a sharp increase in visitors. Locals don't want to make it easy for us to get here. They'd rather mainstream American tourists (for most tourists in Costa Rica are American) stick to the resort towns, where the bitumen is as smooth as Florida's. I'm here in the green season - the months before the start of the wet season - and the roads around town are already slippery; my thongs flick brown mud up the back of my legs, and onto the back of my clothes.
Nosara's main town, Playa Guiones (where I'm staying), has long been dubbed the anti-resort resort town. There are no high-rise hotels, no chains, no fast-food joints, no late-night beach bars (almost everything closes at 10pm) and anything trendy here doesn't look like it till you're actually sitting in it. It's like a Central American version of Byron Bay; stars like Christian Bale and Drew Barrymore come here every Christmas; Woody Harrelson and Mel Gibson are former residents.
Homes on the hill above Playa Guiones cost millions of US dollars, but there's a nonchalance about the place that has me questioning the prices spruiked in the windows of the many real estate joints in town. This is a surfing town (like Byron Bay), and surfers clearly rule the roost. They travel bare-chested through the potholed streets of Playa Guiones in golf carts, quad bikes, jeeps and bicycles to and from the beach. They sit by food caravans and open-air restaurants/bars in town eating fresh fish tacos and drinking smoothies, fuelling up for the next session.
Fishermen launch their boats here, and whales and sea turtles pass close to shore.
The waves that break on the main beach here are some of the best you'll find in Costa Rica. I wake each day at dawn to surf them, paddling out in 29 degree water after walking past creeks beside the beach that warn of caiman (small alligators). It's never crowded - especially at this hour. Surfers first came here in the early 1970s. They arrived about the same time an American property developer bought up blocks of Nosara and marketed them to stressed-out professional types from the east coast. "Truly, wouldn't you like to run away here to this garden of ours," the developer asked.
Plenty did, and they're still here. I find them all over Playa Guiones. It's part of the charm of the place; these quirky, alternative 70-somethings mix in with the younger wellness crowd, a spunky-looking subgroup that wander the streets in yoga pants, sipping just-squeezed juice.
There are posters for every kind of yoga class pinned on the trunks of coconut trees, along with some of Central America's most revered yoga retreats. Nosara is part of one of the world's five blue zones - where the local population live longest on Earth.
There's much more to do than surf or take yoga classes. I spend hours each day exploring an elaborate set of paths beside the beach, finding beaches like Playa Perada, just north of Playa Guiones. It's deserted most days: a wide sandy strip of sand beside a jungle protected within a wildlife preserve. Fishermen launch their boats here, and whales and sea turtles pass close to shore. There are smaller, protected waves on this side of the beach: the perfect oasis for swimmers. Other days I take boat trips from tiny villages just south of Playa Guiones, finding islands to snorkel off; and I zip-line through the canopy of wild, pristine rainforest. But I limit these excursions out of town, so as to soak up the easy living on offer within Playa Guiones.
I'm staying in the town's most iconic resort, the Gilded Iguana. It was the first hotel built in town, and still today its drop-in, reservation-free open-air bar and restaurant invokes the communal spirit of the 1970s (I make a lot of friends in a few days). I keep my surfboard by reception; after a surf, I don't even walk back to my room. I sit down in wet shorts for breakfast served under umbrellas on a lawn surrounded by jungle.
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For a wellness town that likes to go to bed early, there are a lot of great places to go after dark. I hire tuk-tuks (motorbike taxis) that transport me along winding jungle roads to bars and restaurants set on empty beaches, or up high in the rainforest, looking down on beaches and national parks you can only access by boat. My favourite is Le Luna, where I spend entire afternoons on white wicker chairs and cane lounges out under coconut trees, eating ceviche, and drinking cocktails as the waves wash almost to my table.
There's a hipness about the place that makes me not surprised stars like Bale and Barrymore come here yearly; but there's a sense of wildness (iguanas stare at me in my outside shower) that reminds me I'm deep in the jungles of Central America.
Getting there: There are direct flights to Playa Guiones' closest major airport (Liberia International) from LA, Denver, Houston, New York, Chicago and Miami with United, Alaskan Airlines, American Airlines and Delta (fly direct from Australia to LA, or Houston, then onto Liberia International). Then take a shuttle for 2.5 hours, see terratournosara.com, or fly for 15 minutes, see flysansa.com
Staying there: The Gilded Iguana offers 29 rooms and suites, yoga classes, day spa, bar and restaurant, surf club and surf school, and activities. Rooms from $520 a night, see gildediguana.com
Explore more: nosara.com
The writer travelled at his own expense with assistance from the Gilded Iguana.