Sophisticated jungle living in Nosara, Costa Rica

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by Nikki Mantell on May 5, 2010

Facing work burnout, for this year’s vacation escape, my boyfriend Mike and I left ourselves out of the planning loop. Surfing was our only requirement, and since one of our other two travel companions doesn’t, she was in charge of finding an easy beginner’s beach break that also boasted a small town with at least one decent yoga studio.

Since cheap flights were also a requirement, we ended up in Nosara, Cost Rica.

Surf towns can be magical destinations. For readers who remember my past pieces on Sayulita, Mexico, such laid back, off-the-beaten-path, low-scale tourism development spots are great places to hunker down, catch some waves and hopefully mix with the locals. Nosara, or more accurately, the little town, if I can call it that, on Playa Guiones on the Pacific coast in the northern end of the country, offers all that.

Nestled in the rainforest that Costa Rica is famous for, dusty dirt roads wind through lush vegetation. Peeking out of the tree ferns and palms are a loose scattering of surf shops, a handful of restaurants, and small hotels that rarely rise more than two stories. This surf town also boasts the required packs of small, ridiculously cute street dogs that befriend you for your entire stay, then break your heart when you have to go.

Also in the mix: a Parisian bakery, million dollar homes with imposing electronic gates, three Amercian car rental agencies, at least four international real estate agent offices. What it lacks: any sense of real cohesion – buildings are spread out randomly along stretches of road; and locals (known as ‘Ticos’) to hang with.

“Sophisticated jungle living” is how the Lonely Planet describes the Nosara area. The gorgeous, seven-kilometre beach break of Guiones attracts ‘yummy mummies’ whose surfing husbands are starting to show grey at the temples. The kids doing tricks on the short boards are outnumbered by the retired-and-impossibly-fit crowd. (I think I had the highest BMI of anyone out there.)

The only Ticos on beach are the surf instructors. The only conversations I had in my fluent Spanish included “cerveza” or “donde esta el bano”. Nosara started to boom about five years ago, with North Americans buying up and developing the jungle lots; the good news is most reportedly have a good environmental conscience and are doing their part to protect the hugely diverse rainforest.

Since Guiones, is somewhat remote, and you need a 4×4 to get anywhere, the result feeling is of being trapped in a tourist compound. Restaurants offer American food at American prices. Even though Costa Rica’s standard of living is higher than the rest of Central America, the “sophisticated jungle” destination of Nosara is almost par to what you’d spend in Canada.

Still, a surf getaway in the beautiful Costa Rican rainforest is just what the doctor ordered for Mike and I. The 38 C heat knocked us flat (literally, in our pool-side chairs) for four days. Then it was a good-clean-living routine of waking at 6:30, catching the first wave by 7, breakfast at the hotel by 9, reading, snacking, sleeping and another round of the same after the scorching sun eased up at 3 pm. We were never in bed later than 11:30 pm.

If readers can forego experiencing local food and culture – for the trade off of seeing a family of howler monkeys on the way to first-rate yoga class, then Nosara area is a good bet.