Costa Rica’s Best Surf Spots

A surfer on a longboard turns into a crumbling wave.

Surfing in Costa Rica. Photo © José Pablo Orozco Marín, licensed Creative Commons Attribution No-Derivatives.

Dedicated surfers are constantly in search of the perfect wave. For many, the search has ended in Costa Rica, the “Hawaii of Latin American surf.” You’re spoiled for choice, with dozens of world-class venues and no shortage of surf camps, surf schools, and rental outlets.

The Caribbean Coast

The Caribbean has fewer breaks than the Pacific but still offers great surfing. Waves are short yet powerful rides, sometimes with Hawaiian-style radical waves. The best time is late May through early September and December–March (when Atlantic storms push through the Caribbean, creating three-meter swells).

A 20-minute boat ride from Puerto Limón is Isla Uvita, with a strong and dangerous left. Farther south there are innumerable short breaks at Cahuita. Still farther south, Puerto Viejo has the biggest rideable waves in Costa Rica. Immediately south, Playa Cocles is good for beginners.

Guanacaste and the Northwest

Surfing is centered on Santa Rosa National Park. The best time is during the rainy season (May–November). Hot spots such as Witch’s Rock at Playa Naranjo (one of the best beach breaks in the country) require a 4WD vehicle for access, but surf excursions operate from Nicoya beach resorts.

The Nicoya Peninsula

Nicoya offers more than 50 prime surf spots, more than anywhere else in the nation. Tamarindo is the surfing capital and an excellent jumping-off place for a surf safari south to more isolated beaches. Just north of Tamarindo is Playa Grande, with a five-kilometer-long beach break acclaimed as Costa Rica’s most accessible consistent break. There’s fine surfing the whole way south from Tamarindo, including at Playa Avellanas and Playa Negra, a narrow beach with fast waves breaking over a coral shelf — definitely for experts only when the waves are big. Continuing south you’ll find Nosara and Playas Sámara, Coyote, Manzanillo, and Malpaís, all with good surf, lively action, and several surf camps.

Central Pacific

The best time is July to December. Central Pacific surfing centers on Jacó, though the waves there really appeal to beginners and intermediates. Farther south lie Playa Hermosa, which has expert beach breaks and an international contest every August, and Playas Esterillos Este and Oeste. Farther south, what Manuel Antonio lacks in consistency it more than makes up for in natural beauty. Dominical has “militant” sandbars and long point waves in an equally beautiful tropical setting.

Golfo Dulce and the Osa Peninsula

The cognoscenti head to Pavones, on the southern shore of the Golfo Dulce. On a decent day, the fast, nearly one-kilometer left break is one of the longest in the world. The waves are at their grandest in rainy season, when the long left point can offer a three-minute ride. Cabo Matapalo, on the Osa Peninsula, is another top spot.

Excerpted from the Eighth Edition of Moon Costa Rica.

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