The Harmony Hotel

Nosara, Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica Book from US$210

Sensitively designed eco-hotel set in lush blooming gardens, with a spa, organic food and a white-sand surf beach
The Harmony Hotel isn't easy to reach, but it’s well worth the effort. An eco-hotel with exemplary credentials, it sits in the jungle of Nosara - a coastal town made up of 4 beaches - and a few yards behind one of the most stunning surf beaches on the Nicoya Peninsula, Playa Guicones. It’s become the place to stay for city-dwelling surfers and grown-up Bohos who are too old - and too well-off - to stay in a grungy surf shack, but still want the feeling of a stylish, authentic hotel.

With its wood and wicker furniture, palm trees, freshwater swimming pool and open air/open-plan layout, the hotel has a 1950s Hawaiian resort feel. This is not, I emphasise, a luxury hotel: there are no plasma screen TVs or iPods in the 24 rooms, and service is more of the chat-at-the-breakfast-table variety than silent obedience. But if luxury means a healing centre, organic food, sunrise yoga on the beach before hitting the surf, a hotel with integrity, the sound of waves drifting you to sleep in a big comfy bed, and a tropical paradise, then Harmony would more than qualify as a top-notch destination.

Highs

  • A hotel in tune with nature - it's environmentally conscious, and set in tropical gardens, with howler monkeys, hummingbirds, iguanas all around
  • The vegetable patch serves the kitchen, food is organic, shower water is recycled, and the hotel contributes to local environmental and social projects
  • New York levels of service delivered with ‘Tico’ charm
  • Rooms have private patios, hammocks and outdoor showers
  • Direct access to the beach down a pathway crowded on both sides by bush that sings and twitches with life
  • A protected (no building allowed) 6km white sand beach for yoga, surfing, shell collecting, nature walks, horse and bike riding and cold beers at sunset

Lows

  • An adventure to get there: most guests take a small plane from San José to Nosara. Once there, the pot-holed, jungle dirt tracks are only suitable for 4x4s. The dry season means dust on the roads, the wet season brings thick mud
  • Expensive compared to other hotels in the area
  • Power cuts are a frequent occurrence
  • With its rip tides, Playa Guiones is more of a surfing beach than a swimming beach
  • Nosara is not so secret anymore: American retirees own many of the hotels, surf schools and restaurants

Best time to go

Costa Rica has 2 seasons: dry and wet (the latter has been renamed the ‘green' season by the tourist board). In the dry season (October-April), days are hot and the beach and roads can be busy (and dusty). We visited at the beginning of the 'green' season (May-September), and experienced few showers and lots of sunshine, with clear skies. The rain is tropical and usually only lasts for a few minutes, though you may want to avoid September and October, which are the wettest months. Late April is a lovely time to come - Nosara is quiet, the roads are clear and the waves smaller making it ideal for those wanting to learn to surf.

Our top tips

Stay for as long as you can - a week, if possible, would be bliss.

Bring small US dollars for local cafes and bars. Also pack some trousers for the canopy tour and hiking boots if you want to tackle the jungle trails.

Great for...

Beach
Eco
Family
Great Outdoors
Spa
  • = Recommended
  • = Best in region
  • = World favourite
  • Boutique Hotel
  • 24
  • Restaurant and bar (open daily)
  • All ages welcome
  • Open all year
  • Outdoor Pool
  • Spa Treatments
  • WiFi
  • Pet Friendly
  • Disabled Access
  • Beach Nearby
  • Off-street Parking
  • Restaurants Nearby
  • Air Conditioning
  • Guest Lounge
  • Terrace
  • Garden
  • Gym
  • Bicycles Available
Room: Bungalow

Rooms

The clean, modern bedrooms have been built with the environment in mind; clearly much thought was put into their materials and the imprint they would leave. Aptly, their modern take on 70s surf-style décor and furnishings are simple and unfussy so as not to distract from the real purpose of your stay - getting outside.

Facing the pool, Cocos rooms lie along the 2 open-air corridors of the horseshoe-shaped main building. Smallest and cheapest in price, they have an enclosed wood-decked patio with a heated shower and hammocks.

The Bungalows, set in the tropical garden, are bigger and more private (though still close enough to each other that we could hear our neighbours’ children in the morning - ask for a bungalow on the outskirts of the gardens). Each has a seating area inside with jaunty striped sofas and bamboo armchairs for lounging, and a lovely raised deck outside with rocking chairs, hammocks and plenty of room for surfboards and bicycles. For families or groups there’s also a 2-bedroom Suite (with 1 large bathroom) hidden in the garden.

Fittings are simple - white sheets on enormous kingsize beds, high beamed ceilings, tin roofs, hessian lamps, rocking chairs on wooden decks, a minibar stuffed with post-surfing health bars, and much-needed air con and ceiling fans.

The functional but spacious tiled bathrooms have delicious shampoos and body washes by Red Flower, a US range of organic, 100% biodegradable and biocompatible beauty products. When you shower, the water is then reused to water the hotel’s banana trees, ginger plants and heliotropes.

Features include:

  • Air conditioning
  • Coffee tea making
  • Cots Available
  • Extra beds
  • Fan
  • Internet access
  • Minibar/fridge
  • Phone
  • Safe box
  • WiFi
  • Wifi internet

Eating

Meals are generally taken in the open-sided restaurant at wicker tables and chairs. Food is local and organic, with vegetables provided by the hotel’s patch.

Breakfasts, particularly, are very good. Guests return from surfing to tuck into smoothies blended with protein powder (surprisingly delicious), homemade granola, fruit, and the Breakfast Burrito (food of champions: a tortilla filled with scrambled eggs, cheese and avocado and served with fries).

Lunch can be taken in the restaurant, by the pool or at The Juice Bar, an attractive rancho-style, open-sided bar with a thatched roof. This serves more health-restoring fare: fresh juices, salads, tuna burgers and the like. There are plenty of variations on the Tico staples of black beans and rice.

The dinner menu has a global feel with ceviche, satay and coconut curry (and lots of vegetarian options). I’d say, for the most, stick to the Costa Rican dishes, which are cooked with confidence. When we were there, some US guests complained about the prices, but the exchange rate for Europeans is kinder and, in volume and quality, our meals were good value. Cocktails are delicious and the bar is an appealing place to hang out.

Alternatively, you can walk to the local restaurants at night: there are fireflies to light your way, but the hotel provides a torch, too. In the village, ensure you drop in to Robin’s to try the owner's superlative peanut butter ice cream (such is their colossal calorific content, she’ll only allow you 2 scoops a day!). For a romantic experience go for a candlelit meal at La Luna, a restaurant overlooking Playa Pelada, with outdoor tables lit by candles and moonlight. Lastly, don’t leave Costa Rica without eating some extraordinarily good Italian food, served in the strangest location (a tree house), at La Dolce Vita, just outside Nosara. Let the charming Italian owner pick your meal, knowing you’re in safe hands. If you fancy a drink Kaya Sol is a lively bar in town.

Features include:

  • Bar
  • Children meals
  • Coffee tea making
  • Minibar/fridge
  • Restaurant
  • Restaurants nearby
  • Vegetarian menu
Eating:
Activity:

Activities

  • Learn to surf. If you ever planned to give it a try, this is the place to do it - the hotel can arrange lessons. Catch a sunset wave and you'll suddenly understand why you never see a stressed-out surfer. NB Stingrays in the water mean you have to shuffle into the surf

  • Shell hunt along the white-sand beach, which is fringed with mangroves and littered with appealingly crooked driftwood. Climb up the headland to the strange, twisted temple-like edifice (described by one as a ‘Salvador Dali rendition of a Frank Lloyd Wright’) that overlooks deserted Playa Pelada

  • After a full moon, see Olive Ridley sea turtles lay eggs at Playa Ostional, part of a protected wildlife reserve. The hotel organises night-time tours

  • Kayak along the Nosara river estuary, or take a boat trip to see the crocodiles, parrots, pizotes, monkeys and snakes that inhabit the Rio Nosara Biological Reserve

  • Go on a high wire adventure over deep canyons and rainforest on a canopy tour; the hotel can make arrangements on your behalf

  • Rent a 4x4 and drive to San Juanillo beach for snorkelling, or go deep sea fishing for ahi tuna, dorado (mahi mahi) and snapper then have one of the local restaurants cook your catch

  • Swim in the kidney bean-shaped pool, have a massage in the Healing Centre or opt for a bizarre ear-candle treatment for ‘surfer’s ear’, to dislodge all the salt water!

  • Try the free meditation or daily yoga classes in the spa’s pretty pavilion

  • Go horse-riding, borrow a mountain bike and cycle along the beach, or hire a guide and go hiking in one of the many surrounding national parks

  • Play table tennis at El Ranchito, next door to the Juice Bar

  • Harmony is into sustainable tourism: plant a tree on the hotel’s eco-tour, make a donation to the howler monkey rescue project, visit a local coffee plantation or take a tour of a ceramic workshop or nearby school, both of which Harmony sponsors

Activities on site or nearby include:

  • Birdwatching
  • Boat trips
  • Cycling
  • Fishing
  • Hiking
  • Horse-riding
  • Kayaking
  • Mountain biking
  • Nightlife
  • Plantlife / flora
  • Snorkelling
  • Surfing
  • Swimming
  • Well being
  • Wildlife
  • Yoga

Kids

There’s plenty to do, including playing on the long, sandy beach, boogie boarding, wildlife spotting, having ice cream at Robin’s, and splashing in the swimming pool.

Best for:

Children (4-12 years), Teens (over 12)

Family friendly accommodation:

The Suite has 2 bedrooms (but only 1 bathroom), and all rooms have space for 1 extra bed or baby cot.

Baby equipment:

  • 4 baby cots
  • Baby bedding

Remember  baby and child equipment may be limited or need pre-booking

Children's meals:

There are special early dinners for children, kids menus and half portions of regular adult meals at the hotel restaurant; ice cream parlours and nearby beach restaurants are child-friendly too.

Kids Activities on site:

  • Swimming pool
  • Children's DVDs
  • The beach!

Kids Activities nearby:

  • Surfing on Costa Rica's best beach break (or more mellow breaks down the coast)
  • Plenty of outdoorsy activities: guided hiking, riding, kayaking, ziplining
  • See Olive Ridley turtles (in season)

Distances:

  • Airport: 15 minutes
  • Hospital: 50 minutes
  • Doctor: can be called to the hotel
Kid Friendly:

Our guests' ratings...

9/
Rooms
8/
Food
8/
Service
9/
Value
9/
Overall

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Rates for The Harmony Hotel