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The Beginner’s Guide to Surfing in Colombia

by Rachel Young

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Colombia is a spectacular land of variety and opportunity. It almost seems as though, no matter where your interests lie, the country always has something to offer. 

Daredevils will be thrilled by the country’s dense, uncharted jungles, while culture junkies will delight in the people’s mystical, tactile zeitgeist. The cuisine is hearty and honest, and its wellness scene is up and coming. Yet what is the one thing you don’t see that often?

Surfing in Colombia hardly gets the recognition it deserves!


Why go surfing in Colombia?


With long coastlines nestled up against tropical rainforests, Colombia is known for harboring a number of world-class waves; some might even consider Colombia’s Pacific coast to be home to the best surfing on the continent. However, the country’s tumultuous history has kept its surf scene relatively out of the spotlight. Until recently!

Though it may not immediately spring to mind when considering the world’s premier surf destinations, Colombia’s sexy dangerous charm is quickly gaining popularity and drawing people from all over the world. As the only South American country with long coastlines that breach both the Caribbean and the Pacific Ocean, it’s certain that these surfing gems won’t stay hidden for long.

It’s a combination that makes sense, and people are quickly realizing this as the country’s tourism continues to blossom. Colombians are known for their music and their dancing, hence its nickname of ‘The land of a thousand rhythms,’ which are as essential to the locals as water is to a fish. The need to move one’s body and be close to one another is a part of their roots, and they run incredibly deep. In the same boat, Colombia’s identity is closely tied to the nature that exists in extreme abundance within its borders.


With the Amazon to the Southeast, deep oceans to the west and mountains splitting them down the middle, Colombians are, and always have been, close to nature and the ocean (which flanks them on two sides). Surprisingly, though, most of the surfers in the country are not Colombians themselves. Though there are small clusters of local surfers here and there, many of the people on the waves are visitors who come to the beaches to do just that.

The best time to surf in Colombia varies depending on where you are, but the Caribbean coast tends to be better in January/February. The Pacific has a slightly longer surfing season, from April to December.


The Caribbean coast


Photo credit: Newtours Colombia

Though many would consider Colombia unconquered, that shouldn’t frighten beginner surfers who want to test their sea legs in the warm, equatorial waters.

The Caribbean coast is more accessible to travelers and newbie surfers than the isolated Pacific beaches. This also means that it’s more crowded with beachgoers and pleasure-seekers.

The country’s Northern Caribbean shores are dotted with surf camps and beginners will have fun in the gentle, low-riding waves. Camping and hiking opportunities lie not too far away, allowing adventurers to dabble in different areas while not sacrificing the accessibility to the ocean entirely.


Intermediate surfers have options available to them, too. Cartagena, a popular port city, has somewhat windy conditions that create waves suitable for all levels. The Cartagena Jetty, which lies at the west end of the beach, is one in a series of man-made protective barriers that entice surfers and locals alike. A quick 30-minute jaunt outside of Cartagena is Galerazamba, where larger waves can be found.

Those who seek more challenging waves can continue east towards Barranquilla and visit Pradomar, arguably one of the Caribbean’s most popular and crowded beaches and surf spots — but with good reason. The break is one of the most consistent in the area and is quite fun to experience. With an abundance of water sports like water skiing, jet skiing, stand-up paddling, this area’s laidback nature makes for a well-rounded surf vacation.


The Pacific coast


Colombia’s Pacific coast can sometimes be considered its final frontier. It takes a while to get to it, the beaches have stronger currents, but also fewer people — a true delight for those who love a challenge. Accessibility is one of the biggest factors keeping the crowds light here.

Colombia’s infrastructure is developing, but the pace of construction struggles to match the boom of Colombia’s popularity and, as a result, traffic from big cities to smaller towns may delay a schedule-oriented traveler. Travel to and from the surf breaks can be expensive (some areas are only accessible by boat, and gasoline for automotive costs a pretty penny), so it’s advisable to gather a couple of surfers and split the cost — and hire a guide that knows the area, while you’re at it.

If you’re dedicated and have a taste for adventure, Colombia’s Pacific beaches can be an exhilarating experience. With few restaurants, surf towns or lodging options, these beaches make an ideal day trip — or, if you’d like to stay overnight, prepare to camp out.


Photo credit: Quimbaya

On the western side of Colombia, one of the first surf destinations you’ll hear about is Nuquí. To get here, you’ll need to take a flight from Medellin or, if you’re trying to get to the surrounding areas, a boat may be your only option.

Your efforts will be rewarded, though, with an unspoiled, sleepy town in the midst of paradise, where life is lived slowly. Nuquí acts as a headquarters for surfers in the area, providing basic comfort… but not much more.


Photo credit: Surfer Today

Branching out from Nuquí, you’ll find Pico de Loro, Juan Tornillo, and Chocó — each with their own set of strong currents and rocky environment. You’ll find jungle all around, so birds and other animals are likely to be your only competition. Gauchalito, a few hours south of Nuqui, has several small hotels where rentals and surf lessons can be found.

Further south still, Juanchaco is particularly notorious for its large waves and distinct lack of hotels. To get here, you must take a boat and then walk to your destination.


Photo credit: Tio Tigre 

Is Colombia a surfer’s paradise? The local surfers are few and far between. The surf industry is small. You won’t find surf shops tucked around each corner. But what it lacks in notoriety and pomp, Colombia makes up for in earnest quality and challenge. Cut off by thick jungles, you can experience the ocean as you were meant to, push your limits, step out of your comfort zone, and relish the unhurried way of life that the Colombians have mastered so well.

Grab your surfboard, harness your adventurous spirit, and give Colombia a whirl!


*Cover photo credit: Eric Wienke via Flickr

Want to surf on both the Caribbean and the Pacific coasts? Go on a surf camp in South America and explore the world-class waves in Colombia, Peru, Chile, and Ecuador!

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