Life's a Beach

Break for Pura Vida: A Solo Surf Retreat in Nosara

by Mia Vandermeer
Surfing Sunset surf at Playa Guiones. All photos by Mia Vandermeer.

NOSARA, COSTA RICA — It was mid March in Chicago. The sky was gray, the trees laden with icicles, and the ground coated in brown slush. I was four months into my first Midwest winter, and I needed out. I booked a ticket to Costa Rica. I was going surfing in Nosara.

A Place Called Harmony

I first learned about Nosara through a high school friend who spends winter breaks with her family at Harmony Hotel on Playa Guiones. A place called Harmony in Costa Rica? Sounded pretty lovely. I didn’t need much more convincing. 

Unsurprisingly, Harmony had no availability for a someone booking with two days' notice. After some internet sleuthing, a phone call, and a brief email exchange, I discovered The Nomadic, a boutique hotel with bunk rooms for solo travelers looking for affordable luxury. The hotel had a pool, complimentary breakfast, and was a short walk from the beach. I booked a bed for six nights. 

In no time, I was wading in waist-high, 85-degree turquoise waves, sifting smooth black sand between my fingers. With every passing moment, the biting cold of Chicago faded away. The baptism of la pura vida had begun. As had my solo surf retreat.

Warm Water

Step one in a solo surf retreat: Book a lesson. Whenever I surf a new break, I always schedule a session with a local instructor to learn waves and gain confidence in the water. I tried several different schools, but I only fell in love with Agua Tibia, a family-owned, locally staffed school near the entrance of Playa Guiones. They offer board rentals, private and group lessons, and day trips to breathtaking breaks in the area. The best part? After every session, instructors prepare an ice-cold coconut for post-surf hydration.

I booked a lesson at 6 a.m. every day for the rest of my trip. If that’s not love, I don’t know what is.

Beach Read

Step two: Find a good book. The smart traveler will bring one from home, but in my scramble to pack, I did not. To my luck, Harmony has a bookstore stocked with English and Spanish books. To my even greater luck, before I bought a book, a splendid gentleman I met while dining at the bar at El Local offered to drop off a book for me. I thanked him for the kind gesture, assuming that was all it was. But sure enough, the next morning a copy of Elin Hilderbrand’s Golden Girl was waiting at the front desk.

A Day of Pura Vida

I wake up at 5:30 with the sun and the surrounding jungle fauna. I slip into my swimsuit and grab my towel and set off on the fifteen-minute walk to the beach, just enough time to read the waves and scout my takeoff spots.

At Agua Tibia, I’m greeted with a smile and a waxed board. After a two-hour session, I sip my coconut water on the way back to the hotel for their unbeatable breakfast spread: banana pancakes, huevos rancheros, egg burrito, gallo pinto (a traditional local beans and rice breakfast), fresh fruit, and chilled juice. Nothing satiates my post-surf cravings like breakfast at The Nomadic.

At 9 a.m., I head over to the raised palapa for the complimentary daily yoga class (available to non-guests for $15 and locals for $10). Once my yin and yang are balanced and I’m feeling rejuvenated, it’s time for the pool, my book, and critical rest and relaxation.

For lunch, I head to Destiny Cafe for a refreshing, tropical fruit smoothie bowl with all the superfood toppings my heart desires.

During the early afternoon, typically the hottest part of the day, I entertain myself with a shaded activity. I may head to the fitness studio at Nalu Nosara for a boxing or barre class and breath work. Or I’ll take a tuktuk up the hill to Bodhi Tree Yoga Resort for an aerial yoga or stretching class.

Around 5 p.m., I walk to the beach with my camera in one hand and an Imperial beer in the other to catch the sunset. As coral orange and rosy pink hues fill the sky, the ambitious run past me with their boards underarm, stoked for their second or third surfs of the day.

As dusk turns to night, I walk towards the north side of town in search of ceviche or fish tacos or I head to Playa Pelada for a delicious dinner at La Luna. If I've met travelers during my day (very likely in Nosara), I might join them at a full moon festival on the beach or a late-night jungle rave. Nosara may seem like a sleepy surf town, but the nightlife scene is strong. You just have to know where to look.

Before long, I’m back in my bunk bed, 5:30 a.m. alarm set, stoked to do it all again tomorrow.

Is it any wonder that on my last day in Costa Rica I called the airline and requested a flight change?

“I need another week, please.”

Keep La Pura Vida Alive

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