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Surfing in Costa Rica: Your Guide to the Best Waves

by Octavia Drughi

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With over 300 gorgeous sandy beaches, year-round warm water, steady winds, and consistent swells, Costa Rica is a surfing mecca and one of the best places in the world to learn to surf. 

In Spanish, Costa Rica means “rich coast”. With delicious cuisine, vibrant nightlife, lush rainforests, and impressive tropical surf, it truly lives up to its name. 

At the borderline between North and South America, only nine degrees north of the Equator, both of the country’s coastlines (Caribbean and Pacific) are blessed with exceptional waves and warm water. What’s more, the many surf camps in Costa Rica and surf spots along these sandy shores are less crowded than all-time popular surfing destinations like Australia, Hawaii or Southern California. 

 

Where to go surfing in Costa Rica

Surfing in Costa Rica can be broken into four areas:

Planning an adventure in the country of “la Pura Vida”? Read on and find out what are the best surf spots in Costa Rica:

 

Surfing on Costa Rica’s Caribbean Coast

The swells that reach Costa Rica’s Caribbean Coast are produced by tropical storms off the coast of Mexico, which give birth to some of the largest and most powerful waves in the country.

The best surfing conditions can be found during the hot dry season, between December and March.

 

Puerto Viejo

Recommended for: Advanced surfers

surf-puerto-viejo-costa-rica

Image credit: Selina

Surfers from all corners of the world travel to Costa Rica’s Southern Caribbean coast to have a glimpse of the famous Salsa Brava reef break. The coral reef just off the coast produces spectacular Hawaii-style waves, which are among the biggest in the country. To give you a better picture, the waves can “accommodate” up to 20 surfers at a time. That’s how big they are! 

You can expect big barrels from January to March. These steep, wild and challenging waves are for experts only.

 

Playa Cocles

Recommended for: All levels

playa-cocles-costa-rica

Puerto Viejo is a small, laidback seaside town in the Limón Province. South of Puerto Viejo, Cocles is a lively surf village, with Caribbean and reggae influences at every corner. These turquoise waters surrounded by jungles and banana plantations receive consistent swell all year round and are excellent for beginner surfers. That being said, the best conditions can be found between January and April.

 

Cahuita

Recommended for: All levels

surfing-cahuita-costa-rica

Boasting the largest coral reef in Costa Rica, the white sand beaches of Cahuita don’t see too many crowds. There are usually only Limón locals here, and the surf is great for beginners and intermediate riders. The number one surfing spot in Cahuita is Playa Negra, considered one of the cleanest and most beautiful beaches in the country.

The best waves hit this shore between November and April.

 

 

Surfing on Costa Rica’s North Pacific Coast

guanacaste-costa-rica

The country’s most visited region, the North Pacific Coast of Costa Rica receives constant swell all year round. However, the best waves can be found during the rainy season, between May and November. Please be advised that the rainy months of September and October can receive massive amounts of rain, making many secondary roads impracticable even with a 4X4.

 

Tamarindo

Recommended for: All levels

surf-tamarindo-costa-rica

Image credit: JarleNaustvik

Sunny Playa Tamarindo is probably the best-known surf spot in Costa Rica. With consistent swells and offshore winds, knee-to-chest-high surf that is best at mid and high tide, it’s a great place for beginners in December and January. However, there’s a good chance of finding mellow waves throughout the rest of the year too.

Intermediate surfers can surf at Playa Tamarindo between May and November.

» Join a surf camp in Tamarindo.

There are actually two surf spots in Tamarindo: Playa Tamarindo and Playa Langosta. The latter is only a 15 minutes’ walk from Playa Tamarindo and offers fast left and right point breaks, as well as plenty of restaurants, hotels, and surf camps. Playa Langosta is recommended for experienced surfers only.

Thanks to is Central Pacific location, it also provides quick access to other great surf spots like the Witch’s Rock, Ollie’s Point, and Playa Negra point breaks, which can be accessed through the Santa Rosa National Park. These breaks are recommended for experienced surfers only.

 

Playa Grande

Recommended for: All levels

surf-guanacaste-costa-rica

Image credit: Hotel el Manglar

One of the most accessible surf beaches in Costa Rica, Playa Grande receives consistent swell all year round, as well as frequent offshore winds. This beach break offers plenty of barrels and is best at mid-tide.

Between June and August and again between December and April, the waves here can get a bit crowded, but finding a spot all to yourself shouldn’t be too hard.

 

Playa Avellanas

Recommended for: All levels

surf-playa-avellanas-costa-rica

Image credit: La Oveja Negra Tamarindo Surf Camp

One of the least visited beaches in Costa Rica, Playa Avellanas is one of the best surfing destinations in the country. A short drive south of Playa Tamarindo, this quality beach break offers awesome waves that are relatively easy to ride. Please take note that Avellanas is relatively off the radar – only a few cabins and surfer retreats service the area, with some howler monkeys here and there.

At the north end of Playa Avellanas, past the river mouth, lies a hidden gem reserved for experts only. A left-hand reef break, Little Hawaii is best at low tide, and these offshore waves can reach 18 ft (5.5 m).

 

Nosara

Recommended for: All levels

surf-nosara-costa-rica

Image credit: Selina

With few crowds and a laid-back atmosphere, the chic surf town of Nosara is located within walking distance from the most reliable surf in Costa Rica. There are a few beaches here, but most surfers will prefer Playa Guiones, a beach break with a sandy bottom that’s suitable for all levels of surfers.

» Join a surf camp in Nosara.

Throughout most of the year, the waves are gentle enough for beginners. But when big swells kick in, only experienced surfers can go near the waves. Expect more surfers between January and March, as well as in July.

 

Surfing on Costa Rica’s Central Pacific Coast

santa-teresa-costa-rica

The most easily accessible surf spots in Costa Rica can be found on the Central Pacific Coast, as they are within a short distance from capital San Jose. The many seaside towns offer great nightlife, while the surf is top-notch. The best waves can be found between May and November.

 

Santa Teresa

Recommended for: All levels

surf-playa-hermosa-puntarenas-costa-rica

Image credit: Bernal Saborio

There are several world-class breaks around Santa Teresa, offering a great variety of waves to suit every level of surfer, from complete beginners to pros. Here are the ones you should add to your bucket list:

Playa Hermosa means ‘beautiful beach’ in Spanish. And yes, it does live up to its name, offering some cool waves to surf all year round. South of the busy tourist city of Jaco, this beach is several miles long and can receive some massive, hollow waves. No wonder it’s the venue of the international Quicksilver Championship, held each year in August. Best time to surf at Playa Hermosa is between April and November.

» Join a surf camp in Santa Teresa.

Playa Santa Teresa is home to several beach and point breaks that can produce some hollow waves recommended for more experienced surfers. It works best with a low tide, when the waves are faster.

surf-playa-carmen-costa-rica

Playa Carmen is renowned for its consistency and can be surfed all year round. The waves are not too powerful, which makes this a good spot for beginners. The seabed is rocky, so extra caution is necessary. 

 

Jaco

Recommended for: All levels

surfing-jaco-costa-rica

The small beach town of Jaco is the first stop on most surfers’ itineraries in Costa Rica. Only a 1.5 hour’s drive from capital San Jose, Playa Jaco offers great conditions for beginner surfers at low tide and some world-class waves for experienced riders at high tide.

The beach break can produce waves as tall as 10ft (3m). Experienced surfers will get what they bargained for between April and November when the tide is high and rising.

 

Manuel Antonio

Recommended for: Beginners and intermediate surfers

surf-camp-manuel-antonio-costa-rica

Image credit: Holis Spa and Wellness Center

The coastal city of Manuel Antonio is popular thanks to the Manuel Antonio National Park and seemingly deserted white sand beaches. The surf here, although not as renowned as other spots in Costa Rica, is pretty amazing and absolutely uncrowded.

Playa Manuel Antonio offers a beach break that’s perfect for all levels, with fun, gentle waves. The best time to surf here is from May to November.

Playa El Ray, located south of Manuel Antonio, resembles Playa Hermosa quite closely. This deserted A-frame break is great for all levels.

Other beach breaks near Manuel Antonio are Playitas, Boca Quepos and Boca Damas.

 

Boca Barranca

Recommended for: All surfers

surfing-boca-barranca

Given the right conditions and during a southwest swell, Boca Barranca becomes one of the longest left-hand breaks in the world. Located in front of a river mouth, the waves here can be ridden for up to half a mile (almost 1km). Boca Barranca is a favorite among longboarders, so make sure you arrive early in the morning to reserve a spot and avoid the crowds.

 

Surfing on Costa Rica’s South Pacific Coast

Dotted with lush coastal rainforests, the South Pacific Coast of Costa Rica is a real-life fairytale. In terms of the weather, the most pleasant months are between December and April. However, the best surfing conditions can be found between May and November.

 

Playa Dominical

Recommended for: All levels

surf-playa-dominical-costa-rica

Image credit: Roman Königshofer

Some of the biggest and fastest waves in Costa Rica can be found at Playa Dominical. Don’t be alarmed, though. This long stretch of beach has something for all levels.

At the northern end of the beach, near the river mouth of the Bar River, the surf is bigger and more suitable for skilled surfers. Known as the most consistent surf spot in Costa Rica, this river mouth offers a wave worth riding almost any given time.

About 1.2 miles (2km) south of Playa Dominical lies Dominicalito, a beach break with offshore rocks, best at high tide. It is usually small and therefore great for beginners.

 

Playa Pavones

Recommended for: Intermediate and advanced surfers

surfing-pavones-costa-rica

Image credit: Pura Vista Eco Villas

An eight hour’s drive south of capital San Jose, this secluded jungle beach has an epic point break. Playa Pavones is home to one of the longest left-hand breaks in the world, up to three-quarters of a mile long (1.2km). Make sure you pack your camping gear and spend a few nights on the beach under a canopy of stars to make the most of this absolutely stunning surfing destination.

 


Join a surf camp in Costa Rica and test the waters yourself!

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