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Living the Pure Life in Nicoya, Costa Rica

Blue Zones, those special places on earth where people live longer and healthier lives, first came to prominence in the ground-breaking book by Dan Buettner, Blue Zones. 

Nicoya, Costa Rica is one of those unique locations where lifestyle, diet, and low stress have dramatically bettered the lives of Ticos and expats alike. Truly, Nicoya embodies the essence of the Costa Rica mantra “pura vida”– pure life.

Nicoya, Costa Rica

Nicoya, Costa Rica

As a result of the publicity generated by Buettner’s book, towns in the Nicoya Peninsula, such as Nosara, are experiencing a new level of growth. Expats seeking a less frenzied existence have discovered what native Costa Ricans have known for years – that Nicoya is a special place to live, explore, and experience.

Nicoya, Costa Rica Has Been a Desirable Location from the Beginning

Even from its earliest days, the Nicoya Peninsula has been a valued location. In the pre-Colombian era, the peninsula was occupied by two groups: the Churusteca and the Nicoya. However, after a visit by the Spanish conquistador Gil Gonzalez Davila in 1523, Nicoya’s colonial era began in earnest.

From Spain to Nicaragua to Costa Rica, Nicoya Followed Its Own Course

The first chapel in Nicoya was erected in 1544 and is considered to be the oldest parish in Costa Rica. Ten years later, Pedro Ordonez was appointed magistrate of Nicoya as the whole Guanacaste region became part of what was known then as Nicaragua.

Natives of the area, called Gunacastecos, had a strong independent spirit and on July 25th, 1824 voted to secede from Nicaragua and join Costa Rica. Later, on December 7th, 1848 Guanacaste and the Nicoya Peninsula formally became a Costa Rican province.

Even today this spirit can be found throughout the peninsula. The flag of Guanacaste is still flown although the principles of “pura vida” temper this desire of a separate destiny from the rest of the country.

What Makes Nicoya a “Blue Zone”?

The term “blue zone” is defined as a region or group where the residents live longer, healthier lives. Originally used in studies done by demographers Gianni Pes and Michel Poulain of Sardina’s Nuoro County, the term was popularized by Dan Buettner in his book of the same name.

Buettner identified the Nicoya Peninsula as an area meeting the criteria for a “blue zone”. In 2007, Nicoya was the subject of a Quest Network expedition examining these findings.

Nicoya, Costa Rica

Nicoya Peninsula from the air

What Expats Can Expect Living in Nicoya

Perhaps the key feature of moving to the Nicoya Peninsula is the pleasant discovery that the pace of life is slower. Three of the most popular towns on the peninsula – Nicoya, Nosara and Samara – are all small communities with a true Costa Rican “vibe” attractive to visitors, expats and locals. Amenities are basic and are continuing to be improved to provide service to the new arrivals from the U.S., Europe, and Canada.

The cost of living, while not the most inexpensive in the country, is far more affordable for those on a budget than other expat destinations such as Escazu, Tamarindo, or the Central Valley. The types of properties available for sale or rent is broad and can range from a small “tico” house to a modern residence with landscaping and pool; again, price can vary on what a particular individual is seeking as their ideal tropical escape.

Higher-end items like vehicles, appliances, and electronics are higher priced (as is the case throughout Costa Rica) since they have to be imported and are subject to import taxes. Most big ticket items would require a trip to the San Jose area since that is where the vendors who sell them are located.

Getting There and Back Again

International flights into Daniel Oduber Quiros airport in Liberia make travel from outside the country to the Nicoya region a convenient task. With the number of daily flights increasing, flight options will increase in the future.

There is a small airport at Tambor that does have scheduled flights with domestic carriers Sansa and Nature Air. There is a second airport located in Samara that does not have regularly scheduled flights. However, it is possible to arrange for private charter flights from San Jose.

There are a number of transportation options to get to the Nicoya Peninsula proper. The first option is to drive; while there are some paved roads, the number of gravel and dirt roads in the area make having a 4×4 vehicle the most desirable choice. Rental cars are available in Liberia or San Jose (if that is your initial point of arrival.)

There are buses that connect the communities in the Nicoya region with both Liberia and San Jose. This is part of the excellent public transportation system in Costa Rica and is an economical way to get where you are going and to actually have the time and freedom to enjoy the ride.

Lastly, for those seeking a different approach, the ferry from Puntarenas travels to both Naranjo (for the area around Nicoya and Nosara) and Paquera (for Tambor, Montezuma, and Santa Teresa). The roughly hour-long ride can give passengers a great opportunity to see the Gulf of Nicoya and views of the peninsula from a new perspective.

Things to See, Things to Do

The Nicoya Peninsula has a large collection of activities to go with its stunning beaches, natural preserves, and colorful villages. Whether your tastes run to pulse-pounding adventure or quiet contemplation, there is something here for everyone.

Adrenaline and Meditation – the Surf/Yoga Blend

As part of the lifestyle options available in Nicoya, there are many yoga, spa, and meditation retreats that have become world renown. Contemporaneously, surfing has become a major draw for those seeking the adrenaline rush of riding the challenging waves.  In a uniquely “pura vida” approach, there are a growing number of ocean side establishments that offer both yoga and surfing in a merger of activities that challenge both participants’ bodies and minds.

Explore Natural Beauty

The Casa Blanca Absolute Wildlife Reserve, with its 3000 acres, has been rightly called one of the most scenic spots on the Pacific Coast. The Reserva Biologica Nosara is a 35 hectare reserve with trails that lead through a mangrove wetland. Well known as a great place for bird-watching, visitors can arrange for self-guided tours through the park.

One of the most ecologically important and profound experiences on the peninsula can be found at the Ostional Wildlife Reserve. It is here, during the months of August through November, where the giant leatherback and green sea turtles come ashore to nest.

These mass inland migrations, called arribadas, occur at night (usually between 8 p.m. and 4 a.m.) just prior to the new moon. Watching these special creatures heed this primal instinct is something that can truly be said to be a once-in-a-lifetime event.

Celebrations and Festivals

The Nicoya region has a number of special festivals that can allow visitors and expats to immerse themselves in the rich cultural heritage of this land. Perhaps one of the most important celebrations is the Fiestas Civicas.

Occurring in mid-January, this is a celebration of the life and culture of the sabaneros – the Costa Rican cowboys who are an essential part of Guanacastan and Nicoyan heritage. Much like their North American counterparts, this festival is a chance to demonstrate the skills of the sabanero in the form of contests and rodeos.

The week of July 20-25th celebrates the entire province of Guanacaste, including the Nicoya Peninsula, leaving Nicaragua and becoming part of Costa Rica. It is one of the major holidays of the year.

Pica de Leña, the festival of wood cutting, is held on November 12th, celebrated with music, food, and drink.  A month later, on December 12th, the wood that was gathered is used for the communal cooking in the celebration of Yeguita – when the image of the dark Madonna is paraded through the streets of Nicoya and then returned to the main church where food and drink are once again served.

A Celebration of the Spirit

Nicoya is a special place where expats can spread their wings and explore what a life less encumbered may offer. Truly, this is the essence of what “pura vida” – the pure life – is all about.

Map of Nicoya, Costa Rica

Nicoya, Costa Rica Fast Facts

  • Population: About 14,000
  • Typical temperature: Mid 80’s
  • Nearest airport with U.S. flights: Liberia, Costa Rica
  • Nearest U.S. consulate: San Jose

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