Saturday, April 16, 2011

Nosara and Nicoya, Costa Rica

Beautiful Playa Pelada of Nosara.

My friend Melissa and I spent the first four nights of our trip in Costa Rica in the lovely town of Nosara, which is located on the Nicoya Peninsula (also referred to as Guanacaste Province). While planning the trip, I had debated spending our time in a larger town, such as Tamarindo. However, we both wanted to experience a more easy-going and less touristy locale, so Nosara seemed to fit the bill perfectly. The only drawback was that we would have to drive over dirt roads in order to reach the town, but that seemed like part of the draw and adventure!

Our trusty rental car and fearless driver, Melissa!
After arriving in San Jose, we were picked up at the airport by our chosen rental car company, Service Car Rental. They then drove us to their office in San Jose, which was about a ten minute drive from the airport. Service Car Rental is a very small company, but each representative we dealt with was very kind and patient. While planning the trip, I went back and forth in regards to which car rental company I should go with. It seemed as though every company had both good and bad reviews on the TripAdvisor forums. In the end, I chose Service Car because they had an overall solid recommendation and they quoted the cheapest price (about $350, including third party liability insurance for eight days) of the five companies I emailed.

The drive from San Jose to Nosara took about five and a half hours, although we did stop a few times along the way. One of those stops was the town of Nicoya, which is the oldest colonial town in Costa Rica. We were both hungry and wanted to try to eat lunch at a local soda as well as make a stop at their beautiful church Parroquia San Blas, located on the central plaza.

We quickly learned that Costa Rica is filled with small little eateries called sodas. These bare bone restaurants are generally frequented by locals, and therefore offer the best value for meals. In most cases, you can order a huge plate of meat, rice, black beans, and even tortilla chips for just a few dollars. Use common sense when selecting a soda; if it's filled to capacity with locals, you know that the food is probably fresh and delicious. If the soda is nearly empty, then I would probably do my best to avoid it.

After eating at our chosen soda and filling our bellies with rice and black beans, we drove over to plaza in order to stop in at the Parroquia San Blas, a gorgeous 16th century church. The stark white church looked beautiful against the deep blue sky and made for some lovely photo ops. There is no charge to peek inside the church, so if you are driving through Nicoya, you might as well make a quick stop!

 Parroquia San Blas of Nicoya
Looking up at beautiful Parroquia San Blas
Looking out from the church to the main square.
Interior of Parroquia San Blas

From Nicoya, we finished the long drive down to Nosara. The last 30 minutes involved driving over the worst dirt roads I have ever seen in my life; it would not be possible to drive in this area of Costa Rica without a 4 X 4 vehicle.
Cows grazing in a field of palm trees...I found this hysterical!
Random boat laying in someone's yard on the drive to Nosara.

Per the recommendation of trustworthy Trip Advisor, we stayed at a lovely bed and breakfast called Villa Mango. Melissa had never been to a bed and breakfast prior to the trip so she was a little nervous about the experience. However, her fears were soon calmed upon our arriva;. The owners, a French-Portugese couple named Jo and Agnes warmly welcomed us into their home. From the main deck, we had an amazing view of one of Nosara's beaches, Playa Guiones. The grounds were lovely as well, with a decent sized pool and beautiful lush vegetation. Jo and Agnes will do whatever necessary to make your stay more comfortable. They assisted us numerous times with restaurant recommendations and booked tours for us. I can't recommend this place enough; they really made our stay in Nosara extra special!
Our bathroom had a tree trunk coming up through the floor!
Our bedroom.
Breakfast area.
The lovely main deck. I spent lots of time relaxing on those chairs and hammocks!
Melissa enjoying the pool on our first day at Villa Mango.
A daytime view of the pool area.
Another shot of the pool area.
View from the main deck of Villa Mango.
View of the pool and Villa Mango.

During each morning of our stay, we were treated to a buffet-style breakfast during which we had an opportunity to get to know the other guests and the owners. A few mornings, we were also lucky enough to see lots of Coatis (Costa Rican version of a raccoon) walk onto the property. My first glimpse of the cute creatures were from the window of our room and also at the pool, where they would stop for a drink of water (no worries; the pool was filled with salt water!).
Cute Coatis drinking from the pool! This was the best shot I could obtain of them as they were quite shy!
Villa Mango is definitely not a four star hotel; however, if you appreciate smaller-run hotels and bed and breakfasts where you have the chance to meet other guests and the owners, than this is the place for you!

Over the course of the four days we stayed in Nosara, we ate at the following restaurants:

La Luna Bar and Grill: A beautiful and elegant restaurant located directly on Playa Peleda. The views from our table were picture postcard perfect and the food was just as outstanding. We both had what we decided was our best meal in Costa Rica; Melissa had a tuna steak and I had steak kebabs. The only downside is that the food was a little higher priced than it should have been for Costa Rican standards. The view simply can't be beat though!
The amazing view from La Luna.

Olga's: A very rustic restaurant also located on Playa Pelada. Our guidebook indicated that the seafood here was recommend; however, we both went with other food options and were disappointed. This would be a great place to stop for a cold beverage during the daytime, but I wouldn't plan on eating a meal here.

The Gilded Iguana: We had dinner here on our second night. We were lucky enough to be there on a Tuesday night, which is their one live music night of the week. The place was filled to the brim but Melissa and I managed to snag the last table! The food was overpriced for Costa Rica, but the food was great and the entertainment couldn't be beat! It seemed as though the entire town and all of it's visitors were there that night!

Giardino Tropicale: This Italian restaurant was probably the best unexpected surprise of the trip. The place is owned by Costa Ricans, but they make an incredible and authentic wood-fired Italian pizza. I was impressed and the prices are reasonable! If you are sick and tired of rice and beans, make sure to stop here for some delicious pizza!

Beach Dog Cafe: An eatery only opened for breakfast and lunch, this place was a huge disappointment for me. Melissa ordered the fish tacos (hindsight; I should have done the same) which she said were great. I made the sad mistake of ordering one of their burritos. It was absolutely horrible and I actually had a difficult time eating it as it was that disgusting. The owners were extremely friendly and the place had a great vibe, especially with all of the surfers, but my food was terrible. Several other customers also ordered the fish tacos and they all seemed pleased, so apparently my decision making skills were off that day!

Rosie's Soda Tica: This local-owned soda is a great place for lunch (they aren't open for dinner). If you are looking for Costa Rican food in Nosara, this is the place! In fact, I don't remember seeing any other small sodas within town; Nosara seems to be overrun with eateries owned by Americans and Canadians instead.
My delicious chicken plate with rice and black beans at Rosie's.
Fresh pineapple juice. This was my drink of choice for most of the trip!

Most of our time spent in Nosara consisted of relaxing at the beach. We did however partake in the following two activities:

Horseback riding with Boca Nosara Tours: I love to go horseback riding, but since I never do it while at home, I always jump at the opportunity to do so while on vacation. Although I knew we were going to go horseback riding on our trip, I wasn't sure whether to save it for the rainforest portion of the trip or do it while in Nosara. I found Boca Nosara through recommendations on Trip Advisor, and after looking at their website and seeing pictures of people riding horses on the beach, I knew exactly where we would be riding horses. We had Agnes of Villa Mango complete our reservation prior to our departure as I had had a difficult time securing the reservation on my own. I learned after we arrived that the owners had a family emergency occur back in Germany so they had left unexpectedly.

On the morning of our tour we learned that a couple at Villa Mango was also scheduled for the same tour. I thought this would be a great way to get to know them! Luckily for all of us, there was no one else on the tour except for our guide, Lisa. Our tour lasted about two and a half hours, and we were taken all over Nosara, from the river to the jungle and eventually to the beach. Running with the horses on the beach was an incredible experience that I will never forget!
The stables of Boca Nosara. The horses were well taken care of and everything was neat and tidy.
These lucky horses have lots of shade to protect them from the hot Costa Rican sun!
Melissa pumped up and ready to go for her horseback ride!
Some of the scenery from our ride.
We happened upon a river during our tour!
Our tour went along this same beach (Playa Pelada). I took this shot the day after our tour.

River boat tour with Nosara Boat Tours: Most people who visit Nosara naturally focus on the beach and it's environs. However, I wanted to delve deeper, so I thought that going on a boat tour on the nearby Rio Nosara and Rio Montana would be not only entertaining, but also fun and provide lots of great photo ops. As with our horseback riding tour, we had Agnes book this one for us as well. The only downside to this tour is that it departs at 6:00 in the morning. The reasoning behind this is that it provides a greater chance to see the birds within their natural habit of the river before the morning heat sets in. The tour just so happened to depart from the same exact location as the horseback riding, so we had no difficulty finding it.

We met our tour guide next to the river, a very animated but amusing German man whom was incredibly passionate about birding. We were accompanied by four other adults on our tour, so there were six people total in our small electric boat. The tour lasted about four hours and we saw hundreds of birds, including dozens of species that I won't ever be able to remember. My favorite part of the tour however was when our guide took us into the mangroves. This was an amazing and almost eerie experience and was such a dramatic visual change from the nearby beach and ocean. I highly recommend this tour, especially for birding afficienados and those in love with photography!
Our guide and tour boat. 

Pelican sitting in a tree.

Beautiful reflections.

The reflections were absolutely gorgeous that morning. 
That's a monkey up in that tree!
I found the trunks of these trees to be fascinating! 

Going through the mangroves. 

The guide peeling a crab off the branches.
The amazing detail of the crab.


Several vultures were chowing down when our boat tour ended.

Other popular activities in Nosara that many visitors partake in include surfing and yoga. There is also a zip-lining company (although we were told that ziplining is best experienced in the rain or cloud forests) and ATV rides.

Our main focus during our time in Nosara was exploring it's three main beaches:

Playa Pelada: My personal favorite of the beaches we visited. I loved the cream color of the soft sand and immensely enjoyed it's tidal pools. Luckily for us, the beach was just a quick three minute drive from the bed and breakfast, and also doable as a walk although I avoided doing so due to the dusty roads.

This beach is far less visited than Playa Guiones, which is where most of the visitors park themselves. Playa Pelada nearly always seemed empty, which was quite strange given it's beauty. This is the place to come if you want to experience relaxation without distraction!

WARNING: I took hundreds of pictures at this beach, so narrowing it down to the 25 I have shown below was quite difficult.

The color and variation of the sand was so intriguing.

Melissa getting ready to explore the tide pools.

Shell details.

More tide pools. 

Playa Guiones: This nearly three mile long crescent shaped beach is THE place to go for surfing in Nosara. At any given time throughout the day, you will see dozens of surfers scattered over the waves and newbies learning tricks on the beach. There is always plenty of action and people watching to be had. I didn't find this beach relaxing as there was too much going on, but I had a great time photographing all of the surfers.

Mom and baby playing at the beach. 

Melissa having fun in the sun!
Working diligently on my tan.
One of the many surf lessons in Nosara.
Surf city Costa Rica! 

Playa Ostional: This beach actually isn't located within Nosara; it took us about a 20 minute drive over terrible dirt roads to reach it. This beach is well known for the Olive Ridley Sea Turtle, as thousands of them return every year to lay their precious eggs. Most of the nesting occurs during May to December, so although we were unable to witness any of the activity, I highly recommend trying to do so if you are there at the right time of year.

When we arrived at the beach, we were quite shocked to see that there was literally no one else at the beach; it was completely empty in both directions that we looked. This left us with a slightly uneasy feeling, so we decided to take a few quick pictures and then head straight back to Nosara.
Black sand beach of Playa Ostional. 

Sunsets: Nosara is well-known for it's beautiful sunsets, which should in my opinion always be enjoyed down at one of the beaches. We watched the sunset on two nights; one at Playa Guiones and the other at Playa Pelada. Both were equally as beautiful!

Surfer sunset at Playa Guiones:

Wave jumping sunset at Playa Pelada:
Wave jumping!
This little doggy became my friend!
Enjoying the sunset with me as he patiently waited for his owner to finish a swim!

Melissa (right) and I (left).

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