‘Don’t miss the turn in Nicoya City.’
This about sums up what most travel guides to beach towns in the Nicoya Penninsula of Costa Rica are likely to say about Nicoya (the town, not the region, or gulf for that matter). Travel guides often skip over the journey to the destination.
Sure, they may give you the ‘how’ – take this bus, grab this taxi, the trip from the airport should only take an hour, again, don’t miss the turn in Nicoya City – and we provide that sort of information here on this site in our travel guides as well.
However, as any traveler knows, it’s the journey that often holds the real gold and our unrealistic expectations of it going smoothly are often the real sources of frustration and disappointment.
So this little, let’s call it a tip, a suggestion, not really a guide, is about what has come to be one of my favorite experiences on our regular family surf trips to Nosara.
The City of Nicoya Costa Rica
Not to be confused with the more general Nicoya Penninsula or the Golfo de Nicoya, Nicoya City is a good-sized town of about 25,000 people located right in the middle of the Nicoya Penninsula at an intersection of two larger highways.
You don’t see much about Nicoya City in travel guides aside from the heads up that you need to make a turn there when you are heading from the Liberia Airport towards Samara or Nosara.
Nicoya City is the fork in the road where the pavement ends and the classic, infamously potholed Guanacaste dirt roads begin. Without the modern GPS-guided maps, you may need to stop and ask a local how to navigate the directions through town.
But, of course, today we all know exactly where we’re going and how long it will take to get there, as we rush to get our feet in the sand, making the most of every precious second of our vacations.
Our First Tast of Nicoya City
We first go a taste of the charms of Nicoya City on accident, as most great travel experiences tend to happen. We had hired a driver to pick us up at the Liberia Airport, a Nosara local who we would get to know a little over the years.
This wide-grinned Tico in his thirties who just oozes pura vida as he told us stories about growing up in Nosara without electricity (smile, who needs it) and having a number of different careers in his life (electrical engineer, tour guide, entrepreneur) and the wonder of travel (why would you ever leave Costa Rica?).
He had to stop and talk to someone in Nicoya City, so we parked and got out to stretch our legs and take a look around. Immediately, the feeling was on of being in real Costa Rica, not a place dominated by tourists, not a place where everyone spoke English.
I wandered over to the Colonial Church of Nicoya in the center of Parque Recaredo Briceño Arauz, old folks sat in the shade of a massive Guanacaste tree and kids in school uniforms practiced some sort of choreographed line dance.
I looked across the busy street, the one leading to the beaches, as my wife took the kids into an inviting bakery for something to eat, not knowing that she had just gone full cultural immersion with a woman at the counter who spoke zero English.
The Road to Nosara
Cars loaded with surfboards cruised by without stopping, oblivious to the fact that they were missing an opportunity to begin to slow down, to stretch their legs after long flights and hours in the car, to let their minds unwind and begin to soak in the sounds and aromas of a new country before they were grabbing an organic juice smoothie or frozen daiquiri by the pool.
It’s funny. On one hand, on your trip to Nosara for example, you can’t miss Nicoya City. You will most likely go through it to get there (unless you take the longer, even bumpier route along the coast).
Yet at the same time, almost everyone misses it.
You don’t have to go out of your way, it will already be on your map. All you have to do is stop.
I’ll give you a bit of warning though. A stop in Nicoya City might just send you searching for other, non-touristy towns along the way, planting that seed that you need to see more, that maybe that quick little stop on your way to the main attraction was actually one of the best parts of your trip.
Nicoya Costa Rica Hotels
There are a few places to stay in Nicoya, although this is something I intend to research more.
Where to Eat in Costa Rica
Planning a Trip to Costa Rica? Here’s the information you need plus some more reading just to get stoked:
Read more Roam Chronicles.