A Holistic Oasis in Costa Rica
In the town of Nosara, on the country’s rugged Pacific coast, a wellness movement blooms by the waves.
During the dry season in Nosara, a village on Costa Rica’s Pacific-facing Nicoya Peninsula, it’s impossible to keep anything clean for very long. Dirt kicks up from the town’s unpaved roads and coats everything it touches: low-lying palms and ferns, surfboards tied to passing cars, the bandana-clad faces of beachgoers speeding by on dirt bikes and quads.
This abundance of dirt is a bit ironic, however. Over the past decade, Nosara has become a destination for clean living. Home to just under 6,000 residents, the town boasts more organic restaurants, juice bars, yoga centers, fitness studios, and surf retreats than many resort towns triple its size.
Much of the growth is credited to the Nosara Yoga Institute. Opened in 1994 as a modest, yoga-focused bed and breakfast near good surf, the Institute slowly evolved into a world-renowned yoga teacher training facility and sustainable retreat center famed for its innovative teaching philosophies, peaceful surroundings, and back-to-nature approach. And though the Institute recently changed owners and was renamed Bodhai Tree, its legacy remains as more wellness facilities open each year.
“Nosara is an early-to-bed, early-to-rise kind of place,” says Rupert Hill, the British-born owner of the famed surf resort Surf Simply. “The omnipresence of the Internet notwithstanding, Nosara is relatively free from the types of distractions that keep most people from living how they might really like to live.”
Hill, like many of the town’s expatriate residents, came to Nosara because of Playa Guiones, a four-mile-long white sand beach known for its reliable and largely safe surfing conditions. “Guiones is special because it is consistently fun, warm, and generally uncrowded,” he says. “From a surfer's point of view, it’s incredible—not because the waves are death-defying but simply because they are always there. It’s the only place in the world where I don’t have to check the forecast—I just walk down to the beach knowing that there will be [a] fun surf coming in.”
But Nosara’s excellent surf and natural tranquility are only part of the equation. The journalist and author Dan Buettner named the Nicoya Peninsula, where Nosara is located, one of the world’s “Blue Zones”—or, places where environmental and lifestyle factors result in residents leading longer, healthier lives.
For Nosara’s residents, including its expats, this makes sense. “All I know is, since I've moved here, my hair and nails grow at an exceptionally fast rate,” says Jon Mangogna, a local fitness trainer whose TRX classes at Bodai Tree and Nalu are among the area’s most in-demand.
“The thing I love most about Nosara—and especially [about] the surf break here—is the friendliness of the crowd. There isn't much territorialism or hostility in the water like I've seen in other places. People often encourage each other at all levels.”
Jessie Carnes, a coach at Surf Simply, observes another difference in the town’s culture. “There are more women in the lineup than anywhere that I have ever surfed,” she says. “I think that makes this a friendlier place in general—you’ll hear people cheering each other on rather than yelling.” Most female surfers (myself included) feel uncomfortable in most male-dominated lineups, and the friendliness of Nosara has helped make it appealing for families and women looking for surf & wellness destinations.
And as for the dirt, Hill, Surf Simply’s founder, has a tip for avoiding it: visit in the offseason. “Many North Americans think of Costa Rica only as a winter vacation spot,” he says. “But actually, the swell is even more consistent between May and September. Although that’s technically the rainy season, it [usually] only rains for an hour around lunchtime. And instead of being arid and dusty, the jungle is lush and beautiful.”
Read on for a look at the best places to eat, stay, and play in Nosara.