Best Places to Surf in Costa Rica

Best Places to Surf in Costa Rica

Costa Rica means rich coast in Spanish. The two words couldn’t be any more fitting to Costa Rica, the country. With its lush landscape, vibrant nightlife and mouth-watering cuisines, the Central American country makes a world-class destination for surfing. It has two very beautiful coastlines; one on the Caribbean side (measures 132 miles or 212 kilometers) and the other on the Pacific (measures 631 miles or 1,016 kilometers).

Each coast has a unique culture and landscape. But what they have in common are beautiful, sandy beaches and clean, world-class waves that provide unrivaled riding opportunities. It should come as no surprise that enthusiasts get a kick out of surfing in Costa Rica. So if you’re thinking of letting off steam then perhaps a vacation to the small country of just under 5 million people may help.

But first, you will need to know the best places to surf in Costa Rica. It wouldn’t hurt to also know the type of climate to expect and the best time to visit. Let’s dive into that, shall we?

What Is The Climate Like In Costa Rica?

Costa Rica has more than 300 white, gray and golden sand beaches. They are the show-stealers, but the country’s tropical climate is just as important to surfers. Its average temperature ranges from 70 to 810F. There are no extreme summer or winter temperatures but the rainy season that typically starts in May and ends in November does come with lower temperatures, especially in the mountainous regions.

The Caribbean Coast, on the other hand, enjoys its own microclimate because of the trade winds that continually keep the air warm and moist. Water temperatures average 790F for the most part of the year. If you want an even warmer climate you can head over to the Pacific Coast where water temperatures average 86F. The entire coastline is known for having more sunny days than anywhere else in the country. That alone makes it arguably the best place to surf in Costa Rica.

What Is The Best Time Of Year To Surf In Costa Rica?

One of the best things about Costa Rica is that it has a consistent surf all year round, which explains why it’s one of the top surfing destinations. Despite the popularity, the country’s sandy shores are always less crowded compared to other places like California, Australia or Hawaii.

As is the case with any destination, there is a high and low season for Costa Rica surfing. The high season spans from December through April when temperatures are considerably high. Surfing spots are usually more crowded during that period. It coincides with Costa Rica’s biggest holidays; i.e. Christmas, New Year and Easter.

The latter is particularly busier than the rest and lasts up to one week. Many Costa Rican families use the opportunity to head to the beach and unwind. As you might expect, accommodation is pricier during that time, so you may want to make your booking earlier.

The low season for Costa Rican tourism starts in May and ends in November. It’s the wettest time of the year and tourists stay away on account of high rainfall. Many experienced surfers, however, consider it to be one of the best times to surf in Costa Rica. The high rainfall creates storms and swells in the Pacific, which results in nice tides that surfers can ride.

Where Can You Surf In Costa Rica?

The best Costa Rica surfing spots can be grouped into four:

  • Best surfing spots in the Caribbean Coast

  • Best surfing spots in the South Pacific

  • Best surfing spots in the North Pacific

  • Best surfing spots in the Central Pacific

Best Surfing Spots in Costa Rica’s Caribbean Coast

The ideal time to surf in Costa Rica’s Caribbean Coast is between December and March. That’s when it gets the best waves; most of which originate from Mexico’s tropical storms. Thinking of hitting the Caribbean Coast? Here are some excellent surf spots that you need to try:

Salsa Brava

Location: Puerto Viejo

Best for: advanced surfers

Type of break: reef

Type of tide: all types

The Salsa Brava reef break is the most popular and the best Rican surf spot on the Southern Caribbean coast. It has amazing Hawaii-style waves that originate from coral reefs, not far off the coast. The biggest barrels come between January and March. That’s when surfers visit the Caribbean surf towns to try their hands at the spectacular Salsa Brava.

If you are a beginner you may want to stay clear off Salsa Brava’s waves. In addition to being large, they are very steep and usually drop surfers right into the barrel. Fun as that sounds, they also get hollow and super-powerful in the blink of an eye. That’s why even experienced surfers are usually advised to have their helmets on when riding Salsa Brava waves.

Playa Bonita

Location: Puerto Limon

Best for: advanced surfers

Type of break: reef break/beach break

Type of tide: high & mid

Beyond the rocky shoreline of North Limon lies one of Costa Rica’s best surfing beaches – the Playa Bonita. On its south end is Los Tumbos, a left-hand surf that breaks at low tides to create shallow, fast and hollow waves. Because of its inconsistent nature, the Playa Bonita surf requires a big swell, and it gets it from the oh-so-common wind swells (rather than ground swells) that originate from the south and southwest hemispheres.

The big wind swells may be exciting to experienced and intermediate surfers but they make the Playa Bonita a tad bit dangerous for beginner surfers. If you are relatively new to surfing you can consider learning a few things from the Surf for Life surf camp that’s located nearby Limon before hitting the waves.

Playa Negra

Location: Los Pargos

Best for: beginners and intermediate surfers

Type of break: reef/rocky

Type of tide: mid & high

If you’ve watched the movie “The Endless Summer II” then you’ve seen Playa Nagra. The movie is well worth your time, especially if you are a surfer, so if you haven’t watched it yet you may want to add that to your to-do list.

Cahuita, the white sand beach where Playa Negra is located, boasts the largest coral reef in Costa Rica. Not many tourists visit this beach, which makes it a surfers’ paradise thanks to its clean water and right-hand reef break. The best time to surf is during high tide because low tides expose rocks and corals that can be very dangerous.

Best Surfing Spots in Costa Rica’s South Pacific

The South Pacific Coast of Costa Rica offers stunning sceneries and world-class surf breaks. Beyond the lush rainforests lie laid back surf towns and pleasant surfing beaches. Here are the very best surfing destinations in the South Pacific:

Playa Dominical

Location: 

Best for: all surfers

Type of break: beach

Type of tide: all tides

Some people describe the Playa Dominical as the best place to surf in Costa Rica on account of its long stretch of beach. At any given time there’s always a wave arising from at least one beach break. Plus it has something for all surfers – from beginners to intermediates and experienced surfers.

At the river mouth of Bar River, you will find a bigger surf that is suitable for advanced surfers. Towards to south is Dominicalito, a beach break that is formed by offshore rocks. This one is perfect for beginners, but make sure you ride high tides so that you don’t get injured by rocks.

Playa Pavones

Location: Pavones

Best for: Intermediate surfers

Type of break: point break

Type of tide: all tides

The wave at Playa Pavones comes to life between March and November, during which period it grows into the longest warm water left-hand wave in the world. At its best, it measures well over three-quarters of a mile and lets you ride the top for more than a minute.

Unsurprisingly, Playa Pavones is one of the most loved surfing destinations in the world. It’s not uncommon to find it crowded, especially when the wave hits the 6 or 8-foot range. If you are patient enough to find your spot you will certainly enjoy a surf of your life.

Best Surfing Spots in Costa Rica’s North Pacific

Costa Rica’s North Pacific Coast gets more visitors than any other place in the country. Understandably so considering it has waves all year round, with the best ones coming between May and November. That’s the best time to go surfing, but keep in mind that it’s also the rainiest season.

You may want to plan for a wet climate and a few impracticable roads. But once you get to the shoreline you will have very few regrets about making the trip. Surf towns like Tamarindo offer excellent amenities. Plus the world-famous Witch’s Rock surf camp is nearby. If you find yourself in this area you may enjoy these top-notch surfs:

Playa Grande

Location: Tamarindo

Best for: all surfers

Type of break: beach break

Type of tide: mid to high

One of the most loved surfing beaches in Costa Rica, Playa Grande attracts a large crowd of surfers for two main reasons. First, it is arguably the most accessible beach, even in the rainy season. And by the way that’s the best time to plan a surfing trip to this spot; i.e. between May and November.

Secondly, its beach surf breaks are excellent for surfers of all experience levels – from beginners to intermediates and advanced surfers. They offer plenty of barrels that are best surfed at mid-tide. The presence of sea turtles makes the experience even more magical.

Playa Tamarindo

Location: Tamarindo

Best for: beginners and intermediate surfers

Type of break: beach break

Type of tide: mid to high

It’s hard to talk about Costa Rica surfing and not include Playa Tamarindo in the discussion. Perhaps the best-known Rica surf, the Tamarindo has a sandy floor that makes it excellent for beginners and enjoyable for intermediate surfers. It is located at the river mouth of the Tamarindo River and offers a wave (up to chest-high) that is best at mid and high tide.

Located about 15 minutes’ walk from Playa Tamarindo is Playa Langosta, another great surf with fast right and left point breaks. This one is ideal for intermediate surfers. 

If you are an advanced surfer looking for that extra thrill you can head over to the Playa Negra, Witch’s Rock or Ollie’s Point; all of which are easily accessible from Playa Tamarindo through the Santa Rosa National Park.

Playa Avellanas

Location: Tamarindo

Best for: all surfers

Type of break: reef break

Type of tide: mid to high

Playa Avellanas is located roughly 6 miles south of Playa Tamarindo. It’s arguably the least visited surf break in Costa Rica, yet it has some of the best swells in Palo Seco, River Mouth, Little Hawaii, La Purruja and Lola’s. 4 of those 5 peaks are safe for beginners and intermediates, but Little Hawaii is usually reserved for experts only. Its left-hand reef break generates offshore waves that soar as high as 18 feet (5.5 meters). You will like it at low tide.

Best Surfing Spots in Costa Rica’s Central Pacific

If you are all about convenience then the best place to surf in Costa Rica is the Central Pacific. All the surfing beaches are within a short distance from the country’s capital, San Jose. A typical surf camp on this side is surrounded by hotels and restaurants rather than local villages. 

That makes the Central Pacific an ideal surfing destination for tourists who enjoy some nightlife, not those who are looking for a laid back scene. And since you asked, here are three surfs that will make your trip worth every second:

Playa Santa Teresa

Location: Cobano

Best for: intermediate and advanced surfers

Type of break: beach break

Type of tide: all types

Located at the southern end of the Nicoya Peninsula, Playa Santa Teresa plays host to multiple beaches and point breaks that generate swells for intermediate and experienced surfers. Its hollow waves are enticing on a low tide, which you will usually find between May and November.

If you want the ultimate experience try visiting Playa Santa Teresa in June. You will be received by triple overheads that originate from the beach’s point breaks. Their high speed makes these waves dangerous for beginner surfers. So if you’re new to surfing you could consider taking lessons from a nearby surf camp, like the Santa Teresa Surf Club.

Playa Hermosa

Location: Jaco

Best for: all surfers

Type of break: beach break

Type of tide: high

Playa Hermosa is located about 6 miles south of Jaco, a surf town that’s famous for being the gateway to Costa Rica’s national parks. More importantly in this context, Playa Hermosa is a haven for surfers and is the host venue for the annual International Quicksilver Championship. With high tides that can reach up to 13 feet, this surfing spot lives up to its name (Playa Hermosa means “beautiful beach” in Spanish) thanks to its clean beaches and presence of waves all year round.

 Playa Hermosa, north of Jacó.
Playa Hermosa, north of Jacó.

The rainy season (April to November) brings the largest swells to Playa Hermosa. If you are an experienced surfer you will get a kick out of riding waves as they break on the beach. But for beginners, their sheer height and speed may be too much.

Boca Barranca

Location: Boca Barranca

Best for: beginner surfers

Type of break: river/sand

Type of tide: low to mid

If you happen to be in Costa Rica between May and September be sure to try out the Boca Barranca surf. It’s one of the longest lefts in the world, and the second-longest in Costa Rica (after Pavones). It gets its best surf breaks from a southwest swell. Under the right conditions, you will get a lasting wave that you can ride for one straight minute. The fact that it is located in a river mouth helps in sustaining the duration and length of waves.

Get your board and surf on…

Costa Rica has something for everyone, whether you are a beginner, intermediate or experienced surfer looking to feed your adrenaline. The trick lies in proper timing and choosing the right surfing spot. If you get those two right you will have a blast surfing in Costa Rica.

Be sure to double-check that your surfing destination matches your experience level. If you are not sure we recommend heading over to the nearest surf town or surf camp and inquiring about the size and intensity of a break. You don’t want to step into waters that you are unsure about.

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