One of the unfortunate things about traveling is that I inadvertently bring myself wherever I’m going — my mental baggage always seems to weasel in on luggage racks. If journeys are the midwives of thought, then decamping someplace slower allows us to disconnect to reconnect, and along the way, lose our mental baggage. The more unknown and remote the place, the more profound the journey. By Marissa Hermer
My mind, body, and spirit yearned for a pure vision spring clean for spring break this year, so it was to Nosara, a remote surf town on the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica. It’s no surprise that this terra incognita village is one of the only five Blue Zones in the world, where residents prioritize health and happiness and live the longest. You can’t walk outside your front door without bumping into a familiar face, the security blanket of a cozy community. The dirt roads are sprayed with molasses to maintain the dust, and they consequently perfume the air with candy sweetness. There are coconut stands and smoothie trucks every 100 yards, where locals gather in the shade for a nap. It’s all so idyllic, like a set designer has curated everything just so.
Why Nosara, a surf town in Costa Rica is the perfect destination for a family vacation
Where to stay
Villas have been our favorite accommodation for our family of three children and three adults. Because along with my mental baggage, the kidlets’ need for immediate gratification also comes along on holiday. Room service delays are an evening death knell, and a fully loaded refrigerator solves hangry meltdowns. Rick at Wanderlust Realty will find a villa right for your family. For hotel accommodation, The Harmony Hotel is an understated, unexpectedly chic oasis in the center of town.
In the five Blue Zones, the primary source of transportation is walking. When walking, you notice your surroundings and see the details. Things do not whizz by. My Angeleno self spends hours in her car every day in the good company of her Spotify playlists, so walking with a howler monkey ambient soundtrack is a welcome reset. That said, to carry tired bodies from sunrise surf sessions to lunch, we hired a golf cart (which doubled as a surf mobile) from Limo Dan and also an ATV for quick coffee runs.
Breakfast in this Costa Rica town during family vacations
Cafe de Paris is exactly that, serving the fluffiest croissants on this side of the Seine. Don’t miss the sandwiches and the tartelettes, although our kids’ favorites were the Pokemon cards for sale near the cash register.
Queue up at Olo Alaia’s surf shop for the best coffee in town. Owner Robbie will give you the lowdown on the best breaks. Bonus: Grab a takeaway ice cream from his freezer for a post-surf sweet.
Smoothies and juices
After your sunrise surf, hit La Ventanita de Milly, a new addition to Nosara, created by the minds behind The Harmony Hotel. We got rounds of smoothies with banana, peanut butter, cocoa, honey, and coconut milk. I added a shot of espresso in mine for a morning boost. The egg sandwich is also pretty perfect. The terra-cotta terrace is cooled by ceiling fans, and the cicadas sing along with the chilled surf reggae tunes, making this the perfect post-surf respite.
Visit Maria at the coconut stand near the Beach Dog Cafe — she will machete open your ice-cold coconuts with zen-master grace and a smile, part of the Blue Zone mind, body, and spirit recipe for long life.
Harmony Hotel’s Juice Bar and surrounding seating nooks invited us to linger longer over our smoothies, and the almond butter banana toast with honey and cinnamon is now a morning staple in our kitchen.
A Gaelic Fish & Chips Taco Truck feels like a collision of food groups, but we went back four times for the taco treats. Our British-born children are fish and chips connoisseurs, and they all agreed the nosh coming out of the taco truck wins top prize.
Fish Bar is Nosara’s riff on an Australian Beer Garden: casual picnic tables, craft beers on tap, burgers, and blackened fish tacos piled with kimchi. Find a picnic table for your lunch and you’ll also likely see some iguanas loafing around the efflorescent bougainvillaea bushes.
Organico is Erewhon’s Costa Rican cousin. This jewel box of a local market is organic, carefully curated, and perfect, with healthy delicious takeaway meals and juices.
The locals all go to Gabi’s, a local food court of sorts that caters to surfing pagans. Don’t be fooled by decor or self-service — the sushi from Sushi Mar, Costa Rican fare from Soda La Barra, spaghetti Bolognese from Garlic, and plant-based fish tacos at Symbiosis are mind-blowingly good. Next door, La Brasa offers a fine dining experience with Argentinian steaks and a robust wine offering.
Falafel Box is in this triad of three food trucks near pizza spot Dies Pies — pop by for falafel pita hummus concoctions of dreams and surprise DJ sets under the fairy lights.
Activities during a family vacation in Costa Rica
Let this moment be your siren song to book in your sessions with Agua Tibia. Months after our trip, I still feel the vestigial excitement of our mornings spent with Adrian, Marcelo, Joel, Oscar, and Andy. Surfing with them has a religious import; the mornings are a sort of communion with Mother Nature. You will learn to read the waves and to understand surfer language, and they will teach you how to surrender to the ocean. They will teach you to dance on water. Playa Guiones sets can get big — 8-foot walls of force — but the Agua Tibia crew will teach you how to turtle roll under them (roll under your board with a death grip on the rails) so you will likely avoid catastrophe and milk the waves for long, satisfying rides. Under their instruction, your rational mind will switch off and you are reduced to feeling.
Check the Bodhi Tree schedule for their evening sound baths as well as their 5 pm sunset restorative yoga. A nourishing refuge to the whitewater and an antidote to a day of hard paddling.
For private yoga at home, Yali is the best. Book her ahead of time — she is brilliant with kids’ yoga as well (she teaches in the local school) and also hosts a mini sound bath after her family yoga sessions.
If your adrenaline requirements aren’t maxed out by riding the lefts and rights, dirt biking, zip-lining, and horseback riding are quick fixes to reach your daily intake level. Rent a bike and helmet at La Mona DirtVentures (make sure to pack close-toed shoes) and ride down the hills and jumps — there are also a few viewing platforms above and a bar below. Miss Sky is the longest canopy tour in the world for whizzing over Mother Nature’s munificence. Playa Ponies will take you through the beachy brush and along the sweep of the beach during sunset.
A few days in Nosara is emotional realignment — like someone has just cracked my spine — but a few days simply isn’t enough time to soak up the spirit of the place. The reality of travel is never what we anticipate, and the five-plus-hour flight on a 737 airplane followed by a two-and-a-half-hour drive on a very bumpy dirt road reminds me that good things in life never come easy. You’ll be tempted to stay forever, but book at least a week, because when it comes to a family vacation, Nosara is the place by which all other places should be measured.
This story first appeared on www.travelandleisure.com
(Main and Feature Image Credit: Marissa Hermer)
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