The road from San José to Nosara
It takes almost 5 hours to drive from San José to Nosara. The first part of the road is really good -asphalted and well indicated- until one needs to deviate to Sámara and Nosara. The last 60 km of the trip is a dirt road full of potholes, so it is not possible to drive fast. It is also an extremely dusty road, so visibility is very low most of the times.
Nosara seems to be a retirement place for very wealthy Americans and some Europeans. There is no “town” at all but a collection of maze-like dirt roads in very poor condition surrounded by extremely luxurious houses. It is impossible to go walking anywhere because places are very far away and, most importantly, the dirt that the continuous traffic lifts will not allow anyone to breathe. For the same reason, I didn’t see one single person on a bike. As a consequence, one needs the car to move around…thus worsening the dirt and the traffic. The dust is so dense that the plants on both sides of the road are white.
Knowing a bit more about the history of Nosara might help to understand what one might find. Nosara was founded in 1975 as “an American project”. A US real-estate company bought a very large piece of land (from Guiones to Pelada) and divided it into plots that were sold in the USA. Even before the whole operation was finished, the real state company filed bankruptcy but the Americans that had bought the land went ahead and claimed it. Nosara was thus not built or developed from a local village but is a real-estate project. The consequence is that there is no “city-center”, no “local” (meaning Tico) community and the “services” are not concentrated in “town” but are here and there in different houses.
There is only one large supermarket in “town”. It took 20 minutes by car to get there because of the very bad condition of the road and how bad it was indicated. The supermarket is located beside the air-strip. It looks like a storehouse from the outside (photo) but it is extremely well-assorted on the inside.
South of Nosara is the beach of Barrigona. It is a postcard beach: white sand, palm trees, clear water but with waves. There were pelicans, coaties and a fishing eagle and absolutely no constructions. It was Saturday and still, there were very few people on the beach. It was easy to park under some palm trees and there was a local guy at the beginning of the beach selling cold drinks and ice ;-). The road to the beach was like all the other roads around Nosara, a dusty and bumpy dirt road but it was totally worth the ride.
North of Nosara is the beautiful beach of Sanjuanillo. It is located in an isthmus. One side with calm sheltered waters and the other with more open sea. It is clearly a beach frequented by local families, who can park the car very close to the sand. Unfortunately, it is also frequented by quads who drive on the narrow beach to reach the point of the isthmus. Tree shadows are in high demand and quite crowded but it seems to work just fine.
Ostional is the second largest nesting place in the world for the olive ridley sea turtles (Tortuga lora). Ostional is also a wildlife protected area.
The olive-ridley is a protected species who has a very particular egg-laying massive behavior – thousands of them arrive throughout the same days to lay their eggs at Ostional. About 40-50 days later, the eggs hatch and the little turtles emerge from their nest and walk to the sea.
We were lucky enough to witness such an event. There is something magical and very special in watching the little turtles emerge from the sand, turn around to catch the sea scent and start slowly walking towards the sea. It would have been a wonderful experience..if it was not so badly managed:
- Tourists so focused on their camera/phone that step on the newly born turtles under the impassivity of the “Official” guides (actually the turtle was so badly injured that it died);
- The same official guides encouraging the tourists to take the turtles manually to the sea, as “it was taking too long and he wanted to go home” (when the little turtles NEED to walk to the sea to strengthen their paddles before reaching the water);
- Hoards of dogs on the beach digging the nest and eating the turtles as they emerge (when dogs are forbidden on the beach, and the local guides were doing nothing to deter them..) and a long etcetera.
The problem is not new- the over-tourism and lack of control in Ostional have already been in the national news. In the last Arrivadas, the number of tourists on the beach was so huge that a large number of turtles turned around without laying their eggs- below a photo in the local newspaper – Tico Times of September. WHAT AN ABSOLUTE SHAME!
So we left Ostional with a bitter taste in our mouths. On the one hand, watching the sea turtles emerging from their nests and with an incredible determination set their lonely journey to the sea is something magical. And I wish wholeheartedly that the local community and the tourists understood how significant this nesting site is for an already endangered species. I wish that they would develop a tourist model that is respectful for the wildlife and that the tourists (and guides) would receive some basic education on what is and it is not allowed to do while witnessing such an extraordinary event.
Tortuguiones is an NGO that has been recently founded by a marine biologist as a response to what she had observed while doing her PhD thesis on the olive-ridley sea turtles in Ostional. The founder had discovered that the turtle was seriously threatened by illegal take and dogs, plus there was no control over other activities that were forbidden in the refuge of Ostional like bonfires on the beach or cars.
Tortuguiones has an ambitious vision of creating a tourism model which is compatible with conservation of the sea turtles in Ostional and the surrounded area (YES!!!!). The founder’s vision (backed up by the Guanacaste Fund) is to create a large wildlife center between Nosara and Ostional, which serves as a Visitor center but also a station for researchers and volunteers. The project is deeply needed, the founder is extremely committed and it is a very interesting project/organization where to work as a volunteer.
Guanacaste Community Fund- https://guanacastefund.org/
The Guanacaste Fund co-fund community-based sustainable development projects in the Guanacaste area with funds from the Costa Rica-USA fund (CRUSA). They are located in Hojancha, a small town in the mountains of Guanacaste in close proximity to the beautiful natural reserve of Monte Alto. The Fund does not have volunteers working for them but they can facilitate volunteer work in the initiatives that they are funding (from greening schools, mini-grids, waste management, reforestation, sustainable tourism…etc).
Nosara Civic Association – https://www.nosaracivicassociation.com
The NCA was created by some of the foreign that started to settle in the area, mainly with the objective to jointly manage the development of the territory- from “Golf courses to protected areas”. The association is focused on several areas of work which include forest conservation; beach conservation and sustainable development (what NCA calls sustainable development is more like spatial planning). They welcome volunteers, mainly interested in spatial planning.
Final reflections- Is Sámara a better option?
The work that Tortuguiones is doing is extremely interesting and appealing as a volunteer organization to work with, but Nosara is unfortunately not a place where we can see ourselves living. The high dependence on the car, the constant dust and noise, the lack of a local Tico community and generally, the feeling of living in a real-estate development plan is not appealing for us. Could Sámara a better option?
In contrast to Nosara, Sámara is a small village, popular with Ticos and foreign alike. It has a much better atmosphere than Nosara as a place to live. There is a city center with a market, many different small restaurants by the beach under the palm trees and some small hotels and bed&breakfasts scattered around the beach.
In sharp contrast with Nosara where finding a decent and not exorbitantly expensive accommodation is a daunting task, in Sámara it seems possible to get a nice 2-bedroom house, furnished and US / Europe standards for about 800 US$. The road to Sámara is also asfalted all the way from Nicoya and San José. So, one avoids all forms of dirt roads. In town, I also saw many people with bikes. There is a relatively large supermarket – Patí, although is not as well assorted as the supermarket in Nosara or the one in Puerto Viejo, it has all the essentials. The cherry on the cake for us is that dogs are always welcome in the beach! 😉