Costa Rica’s Best Surf Spots

For many, the search for the perfect wave 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.

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.

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 times are summer (late May-early Sept.) and winter (Dec.-Mar.), when Atlantic storms push through the Caribbean, creating three-meter (10-foot) 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 Parque Nacional Santa Rosa, and Witch’s Rock at Playa Naranjo, one of the best beach breaks in the country. While many of the hot spots require a 4WD vehicle for access, surf excursions from nearby Nicoya beach resorts make them more accessible. The best time is during the rainy season (May-Nov.).

The Nicoya Peninsula

Nicoya offers more than 50 prime surf spots, more than anywhere else in the nation. Just north of Tamarindo is Playa Grande, with a five-kilometer-long (3-mile-long) beach break acclaimed as Costa Rica’s most accessible and consistent. Tamarindo is an excellent jumping-off point for a surf safari south to more isolated beaches, including at Playa Avellanas and Playa Negra (definitely for experts only), Nosara and Playas Sámara, Coyote, Manzanillo, and Malpaís. All have good surf, lively action, and several surf camps.

Central Pacific

Central Pacific surfing centers on Jacó, where the waves appeal to beginners and intermediates. Farther south are 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. The best conditions are July to December.

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 (0.6-mile) 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 Tenth Edition of Moon Costa Rica.