The history of a place can tell you a lot about its people, culture and environment, and what makes everything tick.
In the case of Nosara, Costa Rica, its unusual and unlikely history strongly influenced how the area developed and how its communities live and thrive today.
Nosara, and its beaches of Playa Guiones, Playa Pelada, Playa Nosara and Playa Garza, are definitely off the beaten track in Costa Rica. The small towns lie on the Nicoya Peninsula, north of Samara, in the Guanacaste Province. The one road to get there is dirt and gravel, after you turn off the main thoroughfare. The community vibe is relaxed and decidedly “hippie” thanks to the abundance of surfers and yoga enthusiasts who live here, which is where the area’s modern-day history begins.
Pre-modern day history includes a large settlement of indigenous Chorotegas, who lived in the region beginning approximately 1,500 years ago and flourished until around 1520, when the first Spaniards arrived on the Nicoya Peninsula. Over the next decades, the Spanish rulers decimated the tribe by sending thousands to work in the gold mines of Panama and Peru, and took possession of their lands.
The Spanish settlers quickly converted the Nicoya Peninsula into huge cattle ranches. The cattle trade prospered here, along with cultivation of wheat and sugarcane. From this, the cowboy culture of Nicoya is still prevalent today among local residents.
Life went on this way for generations. The land was greatly deforested for cattle pasture, and it was to this stark coastal landscape that the first surfer from the United States happened upon the place in the early 1970s. He discovered the still fabulous surfing waves at Playa Guiones, and the word began to spread, with other surfers trickling down over the next years.
By this time, the Nosara area was made up of five or six large ranches. Modern-day pioneers from the United States, seeking a simpler and more peaceful lifestyle, purchased three of these ranches in the early 1970s. The nearly 3,000 acres became known as “the American Project” – a responsibly planned development originally consisting of about 700 lots and an 18-hole golf course.
A lot next to the beach started at $3,000, and electricity was only available four hours a day from a generator. Townspeople used to have to make a two-and-a-half-day horseback trip to the large town of Nicoya for supplies, and the first building supplies were brought in by boat and then oxcart. That ended in 1979 with Nosara’s first dirt road.
Municipal electricity began in the early 1980s. Landline phone service first started in 1999 and cell phone service in 2002. Before then, CB radios were standard fixtures in homes for communication. Nowadays, you have all of the modern amenities: high-speed Internet, cable and satellite TV, fully-stocked grocery stores and plenty of restaurants.
The Nosara Civic Association formed at the beginning to protect the environment and community’s interests. Reforestation was a priority, and today, thick dry tropical forest grows over the hillsides and along the coast. The original developers’ promise of a golf course was never realized, but that land is officially protected.
According to the community’s clear conservation policy, a buffer zone of 250 linear meters protects the beach at Guiones from any permanent construction as a wildlife refuge for nesting sea turtles. Homes, hotels and businesses are all set back from the beach. As a result Nosara’s beaches annually receive Costa Rica’s Ecological Blue Flag Award.
The Nosara community’s unique kinship of Costa Ricans and “gringos”, or foreigners, remains to this day. Though there are growing pains, like anywhere, residents take pride in working together on continued community planning and management of resources.
Visit Nosara for a Costa Rica beach vacation and stay at L’acqua Viva Resort & Spa, a leading eco-friendly hotel in Playa Guiones at Nosara. The Bali-style Costa Rica luxury hotel is located between the beautiful white sand beach of Playa Guiones and forested foothills, full of wildlife like frequently visiting howler monkeys.
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