Two hours into the drive from Liberia airport in Costa Rica and we hang a right off the paved 150 highway onto a dusty, sedan-killing dirt road.
There’s that weird ‘Hmm, this isn’t what my google maps says to do—please don’t murder us, senor’ moment, but the driver is concentrating deeply on whatever podcast he’s listening to in his earbuds —hopefully not anything about the rising return of harvested body parts.
I look over to Roam About Wife; she shows no concern, having fallen fast asleep (as one naturally does riding in the back of a bucking van with the suspension of four cinder blocks) missing the rickety one-way bridges, the stops for crossing vaqueros and their herds, and one long pause for a sunbathing iguana.
Keen to the modernity of the Liberia airport and manicured towns we had just driven through, along with the paved accessibility to developed beach towns further north in the Guanacaste province, there’s an element of purposeful exclusivity here—something is up, and it starts with baby shampoo.
The Road to Nosara is Hypoallergenic
John S. Johnson III, great-grandson of the founder of Johnson & Johnson, is a surfer, nature conservationist and hotelier with—purely speculating here—one hellacious bank account. Apparently, in the late 90s, John visited Playa Guiones, smoked some of the local ganja and had a vision quest involving a flying sea turtle.
“Hey, John,” the sea turtle said. “Touch my fin and kiss my shell. Build something here, preferably a hotel.”
John, not wanting to upset the local spirits. Built the hotel. And continued to make an impact by not making an impact.
Viewed more as the anti-development developer of Guanacaste, John, known locally as Jaco, has created a bohemian, eco-friendly, anti-chain, anti-modern, time-lapse expansionists’ Shangri-La.
And it’s working.
What smarter way to deter an unmanageable influx of American ex-pats than to make your location inconvenient to travel to and fro. The realty signs, covered in thick layers of dust, simultaneously tout open properties and deter you from buying. Basically, the signs are reminder that if you buy a place down here, it’s for keeps. You can’t just pop in; you’re a local now. And if tu abuela needs a ride from the airport, that’s six hours round trip—lo siento, grandma.
We nab a garden villa at Jaco’s Harmony Hotel; an incredible, high-end eco-tel that tastefully blends into the jungly environment.
There’s a peaceful wellness center, a juice bar that sits in the middle of a Nat Geo nature scene and a fantastic restaurant that we embarrassingly eat at every day for five days straight.
Harmony is in Playa Guiones, which is a grittier, chiller, tattooed version of Tulum, Mexico. Instead of the over-the-top ostentatiousness of the elite scenester’s Insta-fest of Hartwood restaurants in Tulum, Nosara has street stands that sell burritos and art and open produce tables with coconuts and mangoes. Further down, a tie-dyed tank’ed local dude sells ceviche out of a cooler for $3/cup.
Mama always said not to buy candy from strangers, but she didn’t say anything about buying ceviche from a stranger!
There are the boutique shops and cute cafes up and down the main drag. The only chain consists of the two Rosie’s restaurants with tiny open kitchens with a handful of locals slinging traditional delicacies.
Then there’s Al Chile across from Harmony, that has, in my opinion, the best ceviche on the strip.
Looping further north toward Playa Nosara, there are more hotel options, juice bars and the Eskina Skate Park that is unfortunately under construction at the time of our visit, but we’re told the local rodeo is the next best thing to do at night.
But we’re not here for the excitement of Costa Rican calf wranglin’, although, I did get super amped following the daily routine of the area’s resident Holler Monkey family. They were super fun to watch and I think one of the baby monkeys waved at me but it could have been hallucinations from the heat mixed with all the beers. Either way, I waved back.
As much as this area of Costa Rica is a Mecca of mindfulness and grounding and melding into the greenery of nature, Nosara is known for one main thing: Surfing.
Point Break(ing) Point
Roam About Wife is convinced she’s a better surfer than me. I’m a lanky, imbalanced kind of guy that has certainly never stood on a plank of wood or any materials to ride ocean crests.
No way in hell I would never admit to Caitlin I’m a terrible swimmer, and have her go out there to be swooned by some hot-rod surfer brah, so, I psych myself up and we roll out into the ocean on a couple of kite-sized surfboards—during high tide—and I’m completely panicked by the time we get out past the breakers.
I do that cool dip your board into a wave thingie, come up proud and smiling and almost get leveled by a very muscle-y surfer lady’s board as she rips by on the next wave, scowling at my general existence.
Then, I continuously wrestle with my slippery short board for the next 10 minutes, sucking in saltwater and floundering out there like a new-born fawn. Overmatched by nature, I turn my death plank towards the beach, getting knocked by seven footer after seven footer. I wash ashore like a dead dolphin.
Roam About Wife gives me shit the rest of the day, which I rebut with praise of the fantastic forces of Mother Ocean. After another day of disses and emasculation— and I swear this happened— the final straw is watching a newborn baby child on a surfboard, placenta still attached as a leash, riding a small wave to the joy of its proud new parents.
We immediately book private surf lessons from Nosara Tico surf shop.
The next afternoon, we meet up with Kaylor, a super chill local dude with lucious, long locks to put Slash to shame and even longer surf boards for us to ride. Kaylor gives us a quick tutorial on the beach then we head into the ocean during a calmer low tide to try our hand at manageable three-foot waves.
First time trying, ever, with a push and butt slap from Kaylor, I’m able to pop up and ride my first wave. Up yours, newborn baby surfer.
After 45 minutes of live-action and patient coaching from Kaylor, he gives us the option of surfing on our own for another hour and heads back in, leaving us to splash around as a couple.
The equatorial sun starts to set and families begin their daily emergence in anticipation of yet another picture-perfect sun set. We Roam Abouts ride wave after wave, taking time in between to enjoy the peaceful bobbing cadence of the shimmering water.
This, combined with our early routine of walking on the beach, the food, the general ‘do your thing’ attitude of Nosara, and it finally sinks in how people can pack up everything and move to Costa Rica. Why there are so many ex-pats here; why John Johnson would carve out this human preserve —away from stressors, politics, distractions, social media (but not this blog, hopefully), and self-perpetuated anxieties and insecurities.
We heard it a hundred times from locals during our short time in Costa—there’s certainly something to this Pura Vida. – Mike
Next Up: I eat my weight in pasta in Italy