So, you're planning a Costa Rica surf vacation. You're excited! You're hopeful. You're already shopping for special vacation surfboard wax. The only problem – you're not quite sure of where to go. Or when. Or where you'll stay. Or, well, any of it. Because Costa Rica's surf is legendary and, whether you're a beginner who's only popped up a few times or an advanced surfer looking for your next-greatest challenge, all you're sure of is that you'll soon be surfing in Costa Rica. That's an exhilarating thing to be sure of. This guide will fill you in on the rest.
Popular Costa Rica Surf DestinationsThe good news is that you'll find both beginner-friendly and good surf almost everywhere Costa Rica. The great news is that you'll find world-class surf in a few of those areas. The not-quite-as-good news is that you won't have time to surf it all. (Well, unless you're here for a few years.) So, you'll have to prioritize. At least, for this trip. Here's our rule of thumb: Stick to one major surf region per each 7-10 days of your trip, so you have plenty of time to explore, enjoy, and surf every must and many of the if-you-cans. And, be sure to identify all a region's bucket-list breaks that meet your skill level and preferences. So, about that where:
Guanacaste / The GoLocated in northwestern Costa Rica, this surf region is perhaps the most sought-after and popular in the country, due to its consistent surf and famed waves. Case in point: Guanacaste is home to both Ollie's Point (a right-point break that can run for up 300 yards) and Witch's Rock (eternalized in the classic surf film, Endless Summer II), not to mention our own Tamarindo, Playa Grande, Playa Langosta, and Playa Avellanas – all, known for their consistently incredible surf.
The Nicoya PeninsulaLocated a few hours south of Guanacaste, the Nicoya Peninsula is home to Mal Pais, Playa Carmen, Playa Santa Teresa, and other laid-back surf towns. Rugged and challenging to access, this mellow region is home to some of Costa Rica's most secluded beaches, challenging lefts and rights, and more than a few rocky reefs that churn up huge swells.
Central PacificFrom Jaco south through Playa Hermosa and Playa Esterillos, Costa Rica's Central Pacific is one of the country'smost popular surfing regions. In addition to great infrastructure, the Jaco serves up beginner waves and average peaks, while black-sand Playa Hermosa revs up the energy with huge rips, double-overheads, and other major challenges. To the south, Playa Esterillos offers a happy balance of sandy-bottom A-frames and rock reefs to create big breaks.
South PacificIf you're willing to make the trek (and it's a rugged 4x4, many-houred one, to boot), Costa Rica's southern region is rural, rainy, and great for surfing. Sure, it's not as consistent as the Central or South Pacific, but when the waves are on, they're ON. Case in point: Matapalo and its major (and inconsistent) right and Pavones, where you can ride one continuous wave for three minutes straight. Of course, great promise can come with great risk: Pavones' famous waves come only during the south swells of the May-October season – and can be absent for days on end, even during those times.
Southern CaribbeanCross the country to the Caribbean side and you'll find a different surf habitat: less consistent and a bit more territorial, the southern Caribbean's sports big waves (some times) with a fair few challenges, including a higher incidence of crocodiles and sharks. But, when Cahuita and Salsa Brava are churning, their swells, points, and beach breaks can be huge. Just be sure to stick to surf etiquette, as this is a more insular community than on the Pacific.
When to Find the Best Surf in Costa RicaNow that we've covered the where, let's discuss the when: It's always a good time to surf in Costa Rica. Let's start with the tangential bits: No matter the month, you'll hit on great weather. The water is 80-82º F year-round and somewhere, there's always an amazing wave to catch. In the dry season (generally, December-April, although it depends on the area), you'll have all-day sun and, even in the rainy season (generally, May-November, although this also depends on the area), you can expect mostly sunny mornings with the occasional glorious all-day. As a general rule, the rainy season offers bigger, more consistent, and longer rides. That's because this is the season for swells: northwest, south, and southwest swells ride into Costa Rica, peaking June-September to create some of the country's most sought-after waves of the year. Choose northwestern Costa Rica for the best of both surfing worlds: the swells of the rainy season with the drier weather of Guanacaste. And, if you're visiting during the off season, advanced surfers may consider looking to the Caribbean: October-April is stormy season here, churning up plenty of southern Caribbean surf.
Spotlight on: Beginner/Intermediate Surf Spots in TamarindoAt Stay in Tamarindo, you'll find quite a few hobbyist surfers. So, while we may not all be able to answer all of your questions about every, single aspect of a Costa Rica surf vacation, we can probably answer quite a few of your questions about surfing in Tamarindo, specifically. So, we thought we'd give you a taste of what it's like. Starting with a few of our favorite Tamarindo surf spots for beginners:
- North of the Tamarindo Diria: This downtown swell is a local favorite for newbies learning how to surf. Grab your board and head down to the beach; stand with your back facing the Diria and look right: you'll see small, but consistent waves that beg you paddle out.
- Playa Avellanas: Definitely one of those ask-a-local situations, but Playa Avellanas is a great beginner's beach on calm days. (On not-calm days, steer clear! It's advanced surfers only.) But, on a calm day, this pristine beach boasts perfectly sized waves near Palo Seco and Lola's Restaurant.
- At Capitán Suizo: Located in downtown Tamarindo, the waves in front of Capitán Suizo are some of our most predictable – and by that, we mean predictably and consistently beginner-friendly. (Pro tip: If no one's in the water, the waves are too small, even for brand-new surfers. Try again in an hour or so.)
- Casitas: Located at the river mouth (take the lancha boat and watch for crocs!) and Playa Grande, near the beach cabins (casitas) that dot the beach, this spot can be hit-or-miss: appropriate for beginners on a miss day, and more in line with intermediates on a hit day.
- El Estero: Located at the northern end of Tamarindo Beach, near the river mouth (again, watch for crocs!), this is a great spot for beginners with a bit of confidence: consistent swells and sandy breaks that deliver great practice for pop-ups and longer rides.
Intermediate/Advanced Surf Spots in TamarindoTamarindo is world-renowned for its surf – and for great reason! Our best surfing beaches tease with huge waves, hard rights and lefts, massive barrels, and other challenges so sweet, you just can't help but steer your Costa Rica surf vacation to our sandy shores. Here's a taste of what awaits:
- Pico Grande & Pico Pequeño: Two of our resident big daddies, Pico Grande and Pico Pequeño are located to the right of the Diria, just north and south of the rocky outcroppings. (Clue #1 that they're some of the most advanced breaks in town.) Bank on shoulder-high waves and frothing whitewater. Do Not Ride at low tide.
- Isla Capitán (Captain Island): A tiny island just off our main beach, this exposed reef break is easy(ish) to reach (pay for a boat ride or take a 40-minute paddle) but not often frequented – in large part, because of its rocky bottom, which is strictly for advanced surfers only.
- Playa Grande: Just past the beginner spot of Casitas, Playa Grande opens onto a long stretch of consistent (and consistently awesome) fast-breaking lefts and rights, barrels, peaks, and long rides.
- Playa Marbella: Located between Junquillal and Ostional beaches, this beach offers two spots: Playa Coco and Playa Frijolar, which each have consistent, year-round waves – huge waves and hollow barrels that break both ways. Bonus points to Playa Frijolar, which has a forgiving sandy bottom.
- Playa Langosta: Just a kilometer south of downtown, Playa Langosta may look tame but it's home to some of our favorite currents: big waves and left- and right-breaks that promise plenty of thrills for surfers unafraid of rocky bottoms. Be careful at the river mouth.
- Playa Negra: A reef break and local favorite, nearby Playa Negra grandstands with a narrow peak and thrilling right. Be aware that Playa Negra can fill up, so mind your wave etiquette.
- Witch's Rock: THE. SPOT. The very one – the legend with an incredible left that challenges even the most skilled of surfers. (Hence, surf competitions are often hosted here.) On a windy day at low-tide, prepare for seriously exciting barrels. Shoot for mid- or high-tide.