Learn to Surf in Nosara, Costa Rica

1. Where to Stay

The Harmony HotelPhoto: Courtesy of Harmony Hotel

Choose a hotel near Playa Guiones, which has consistent swells and a sandy bottom, making it the best beach in Nosara for beginner surfers. The most luxurious (yet hardly expensive) is the Harmony Hotel (from $160), an ecofriendly property just a short walk from the Guiones sand. All standard rooms come with private back patios that let you shower outdoors while listening to the squawk of exotic birds.

Get even closer to nature by staying at the ten-room, balcony-lined Casa Romantica (from $71), a couples-oriented hotel that’s tucked snuggly into the jungle just two minutes by foot from the beach. Despite the generously sized swimming pool, the lodging does skimp a bit: It charges $10 a night extra for an air conditioner.

For more space and privacy, rent one of the four high-ceilinged cottages—all with kitchens, futoned living rooms, and patios—at Villas Canadiense (from $70). The property is just over 200 yards from the beach, while the nearest restaurants, bars, and other services are no more than a ten-minute walk away.

2. Where to Eat

Giardino TropicalePhoto: Courtesy of Giardino Tropicale

Psyche yourself up for the morning surf lesson by tossing back some super-strong local coffee at the Harbor Reef Lodge’s poolside restaurant, famous both for its traditional “tico” breakfast ($4.25) of eggs, salsa, cheese, and tortillas, and its pretty, all-female wait staff.

For lunch, pair fresh-caught fried red snapper with beans, rice, and plantains at Olga’s, a sandy-floored shack at the entrance to Playa Pelada. The only restaurant located right on the beach, Olga’s was grandfathered in after the area was declared a wildlife refuge.

As sunset approaches around five-ish, grab a table at the oceanfront La Luna and watch the horizon light up while you knife into a garlicky mahi-mahi fillet ($7) or some zesty chicken kebabs with fresh salsa ($6).

Bring a flashlight (there’s few streetlights in Nosara) and try not to get spooked by ferocious-sounding howler monkeys as you walk to Giardino Tropicale, an open-air hilltop restaurant known for its wood-oven pizza ($5 to $11). Though it’s no Grimaldi’s, you can top your margherita pie with tropics-appropriate fish or pineapple.

3. What to Do

A surf break in Nosara.Photo: Courtesy of Coconut Harry's

Like everywhere else in Costa Rica, Nosara snares tourists with zip-line rainforest tours and seaside horseback riding. But it’s the reliable, year-round surf that sets it apart. Both experienced and beginner surfers can hop 50-minute flights ($82 each way on Sansa ) from San Jose and be paddling out to sea by lunch. Hotels will help arrange lessons with local outfits like the Safari Surf School and Coconut Harry’s, both of which have English-speaking instructors. If you’re serious about nailing that pop-up, opt for two private lessons per day: one in the morning and one in the late afternoon. Prices vary but will typically run about $50 an hour, including board rental. Though Nosara’s generally safe, it’s not free of petty theft, so leave your valuables at the hotel and bury your flip-flops in the sand.

After an afternoon lesson, head to the swim-up bar at Harbor Reef and sip a freshly blended fruit daiquiri or piña colada. Later on, the nightlife crowd puts back bottles of local Cerveza Imperial at the Gilded Iguana’s poolside bar. On Friday and Saturday nights, the most energetic partiers pile into cabs and head to Tropicana Disco in Nosara Village to salsa dance with the locals.

If you wake up sore after your first day of surfing (count on it), work out the kinks in a yoga class at Kaya Sol, the Harmony Hotel, or the Nosara Yoga Institute. Or get a (totally legitimate) massage at Tica Massage (506-682-0096): $50 buys you a one-hour “surfer deluxe.”

4. Insider’s Tip

San Juanillo beachPhoto: Courtesy Puravidacostarica.com

Though Nosara’s far from undiscovered and undeveloped, you’ll still see more fish than people at secluded San Juanillo beach. To get there, rent a four-wheel ATV from Monkey Quads ($50 a day). Swing by Coconut Harry’s to pick up a snorkel, mask, and fins ($5 a day), and drive 40 minutes northwest on winding dirt roads past forests, beaches, and locals’ homes. Don’t wear anything too nice as you’ll be covered in road dust. Wash off in the clear, calm waters of this paradisiacal cove, perfect for swimming and snorkeling.

5. An Oddball Day

An arribada at the Ostional Wildlife Reserve.Photo: Getty Images

You’ll spy plenty of wildlife in Nosara, including iguanas and blue land crabs, but nothing compares to seeing the hordes of sea turtles at the Ostional Wildlife Reserve. It’s a 30-minute drive or taxi ride from Playa Guiones (many hotels provide van transportation) to the marine park; once you’re there, you can watch as hundreds and sometimes thousands of sea turtles descend upon the beach to lay their eggs. The event is known as an arribada (Spanish for “arrival”) and is best witnessed between June and December.

6. Related Links

The surfer-run travel agency Wavehunters can help book flights and arrange a ride from Nosara’s airport.

Surfingnosara.com, run by an American expat, posts detailed daily surf reports and message boards discussing the Nosara region.

Get inspired by photos of local surfers battling huge waves (don’t worry—you won’t be surfing those) at Soularchphoto.com.

Learn to Surf in Nosara, Costa Rica