All You Need to Know About Costa Rica Surf
If you’re planning to have a surf trip away, Costa Rica is a worthy surf destination to consider. In this article, you will learn everything you need to know about surfing in Costa Rica and more.
Costa Rica is often overshadowed by Indonesia as a surfing destination for surf aficionados from all around the world, and that's actually kind of sad. Even on our list of best places to learn to surf, it was only second to Indonesia, but that doesn't at all mean that we favor Costa Rica any less.
On the contrary, there are so many great surf spots on both the Pacific Coast and the Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica, that your surf trip there will surely be a rewarding one. For experienced surfers, there are many world class waves that break magnificently on theCosta Rican shores. For beginner surfers, there are many beach breaks where they can learn the basics and improve themselves as well.
Still, there are inevitably some questions, as is the case before any trip, be it for surfing or not. You're going to travel to a new place after all, so it's only understandable that you don't know where to start.
You don't know how the locals react to surf tourism. You probably don't know much about the culture, language, or the safety aspect. Even though you're an avid follower of weather and surf forecasts, you're still unsure about what to pack. Most importantly, you might not know which beach break is suitable for your surfing skills.
Well, we're going to inform you about all those things and list the surf spots you should absolutely visit, even just for sightseeing purposes. In the end, you won't know Costa Rica as the palm of your hand, but you'll be a well-informed surfer.
Basic Traveling Information About Costa Rica
The Republic of Costa Rica is a geographically small country located in Central America. To the Northeast, it neighbors the wonderful Caribbean Sea and to the Southwest, it's occasionally visited by the winds and waves of the Pacific Ocean. The name of the country means "rich coast", which explains why the Spanish were so keen to colonize the place in the 16th century.
As a result of Spanish colonization, the native cultural elements have diminished to an extent over the centuries. Now, it's a country where the majority of the population is Christian and speak Spanish. Yet, no matter how savage the colonization process was, it's impossible to completely annihilate the unique and rich culture of the Native American. Therefore, there are still many languages spoken and beliefs practiced, especially in the peripheral towns of the country.
Thanks to its diverse local culture and being such a hotspot for surfers and other kinds of tourists, the fun never ends in Costa Rica. A laid-back lifestyle called pura vida (pure life) is embraced throughout the coastline, which, we believe, will be quite appealing for surfers. Moreover, the local cuisine and the variety of local beverages will certainly appease you when you aren't surfing.
Let us relieve you before you rather hesitantly pose the question: it's one of the safest countries in Central America, too. Once you arrive at the San Jose airport, the rest of your travel will be straightforward as there are many domestic flights, surf tours, or boat trips you can choose from depending on where you want to go. The fact that it's a small country helps a great deal.
Weather and Water Temperature
Costa Rica is very near the axis of the equator, which means that the country entertains a tropical climate, and if there's one thing we know for sure about tropical climates, it's that they defy being categorized in our Northern sense of seasons. In other words, there's no winter, summer, spring, or autumn as we know it.
Still, there are two main recognizable seasons and a transitional one in-between: the low season (or the wet season, or the green season, or the rainy season) that starts in May and ends in November, the shoulder season from July to November (a slightly milder version of the low season), and the dry season (or the high season) from December to April.
Throughout the coastline, the weather temperature remains consistent all year around: it will vary between 20-30 degrees Celsius (70-90 Fahrenheit). However, be wary of the sudden storms and rain showers that occur frequently during the low season. You might spend the whole duration of your surf trip with just shorts, a t-shirt, and a hoodie for the night, but don't forget to pack a raincoat no matter what.
During the shoulder season, the storms and rainfall are mostly limited to night time, so it might not affect your daytime surfing. In the dry season, on the other hand, there's less storms and rain.
Similar to that of the weather, the water temperature is pretty consistent as well and it's surfable any time of the year, unless, of course, there are storms, which do happen during the low season. It'll remain at a level of 27-29 degrees Celsius (80-85 Fahrenheit), so you can surf or swim as you like.
Costa Rica Surfing Conditions
As we said before, Costa Rica has the Caribbean Sea to the East and the Pacific Ocean to the West. Although Costa Rica's Caribbean Coast might be the more appealing option for swimmers and sightseers, for surfers, the Pacific Coast is an actual paradise.
One of the reasons for that is the incoming Southwest swell all year round. However, this swell is unlike any other swell, say, you might see on the shores of Portugal or Australia. It travels a great distance: all the way from New Zealand. It's also accompanied by easterly trade winds that blow offshore. As a result, the Pacific Coast becomes a perfect surf hub for many.
Especially if you travel to the Northwest part of the coastline, you'll realize that almost every town is a surf town. You'll find many surf breaks that house surf schools and resorts. You might even sign up for a few surf lessons while you're there and enjoy the greatness of the surfing community and culture that flourish there.
For advanced surfers who want to challenge themselves on big waves, the storms of the low season work wonders. For beginner surfers, the dry season provides more consistent and mellow swell. No matter what your skill level is, though, the surfing conditions along the Pacific Coast are always accommodating.
Costa Rica Surf Spots: The Best of the Best
Now you have a general idea about what you'll get when you go to Costa Rica, but that hardly suffices, doesn't it? You want to know where the most famous waves are. You want to know which surf town is the most lively one so you can surf and party for the whole duration of your trip.
Your desire to know is well justified, and don't worry because we're going to deliver! The following are the best surf locations you should definitely visit should you make the trip, as well as what you can expect and find there.
Playa Tamarindo, Guanacaste
If you want to delve right into the Costa Rica surf experience, Tamarindo is definitely the place to visit and set camp. It's the most popular location for surfers: there are all kinds of waves at any time of the season, so everybody is happy with the number of waves they caught at the end of the day. It's the most popular location for non-surfing tourists: the sun setting over the Pacific Ocean is surely a sight to see.
Moreover, it's very close to other popular surfing and tourist locations. With boat trips that won't last more than an hour or car drives that'll take only a couple of hours from your precious day, you can reach other popular surf destinations such as Playa Langosta, Playa Grande, or Witch's Rock.
However, at least for the first days of your vacation, we don't see such trips taking place. It's impossible to say farewell to the consistent waves of Tamarindo all that quickly as there are many beach breaks you'll discover and enjoy in Tamarindo alone.
For example, there's the Estero beach where you can hang out coolly at any time of the day and jump onto your board as easily as you're ordering a glass of mojito. The waves of Estero are ideal for beginner and intermediate surfers because of their mellowness. As long as you have your longboard with you, you'll be able to make the most of it.
Aptly named Beach Break and Pico Pequeno are also other surf spots in Tamarindo that would appeal to those who are yet in the learning stages, but advanced surfers can also find waves that'll challenge them on the many shores of Tamarindo. Pico Grande and Capitan Suizo are two beach breaks where you can test yourself as you like.
There's no period we particularly recommend for visiting Tamarindo because you can always find a nice break to surf any time of the year. Even if you don't, you can party, sign up to yoga classes, and just watch the beautiful sunset, which are all worth the trip to Costa Rica, to be honest.
Playa Hermosa, Guanacaste
Playa Hermosa is another location where you can easily set up camp and visit other nearby shores known for their good surfing conditions by either short board trips or drives. The Pacific Coast town is only two hours drive from San Jose, too, which adds to its accessibility.
So, what can you expect from Playa Hermosa except for its close proximity to other great surf breaks? Well, it's one of the beaches that get the most consistent Southwest swell all year round, so there's always a wave to ride.
Unlike Tamarindo, though, the swell of Playa Hermosa is a bit higher; therefore, it's not as beginner-friendly. Those who are about to break through from intermediate stages to advanced surfing, on the other hand, will certainly have a great time there.
In addition to that, the peaks are more varied in Playa Hermosa and the waves are much more powerful compared to Tamarindo, which means you'll have a more versatile surf experience in the least. If you're only a beginner, Playa Hermosa is still a good place to set camp because Playa Jaco, which is only a 15-minute drive from Hermosa, provides waves that are more suitable for your surf level.
In Hermosa, on the other hand, you'll find great right-handers like Roca Loca, left-handers like El Gato, and reef breaks like Terrazas. Terrazas is also a popular tourist destination, so you'll find lots of life, people, and great hotels there.
If you want to do some barrel riding and use your shortboard on waves that can go up to double overhead, though, there are enough surf spots in Hermosa for you, too! Backyards, Almendros, or Tulin will provide them as long as you go there during the rainy season.
There's one thing we need to warn you about, though: crocodiles! There are many crocodiles on the Hermosa coastline, and there have been certain accidents over the years. So, be careful!
Playa Negra, Guanacaste
You might have observed that all the top three Costa Rica surf spots on our list are located in the city of Guanacaste, and that's not only because they shot Endless Summer II there, which included shots from all these playas, but also (and mainly) because the North Pacific Coast city gets the most consistent and versatile swell.
Playa Tamarindo gets some beginner-friendly waves, Playa Hermosa is more ideal for intermediate-level surfers, and Playa Negra is a haven for advanced surfers. However, unlike the other two, Playa Negra's accessibility is not really all that great, especially during the low season.
The debris from storms and wave wash-overs can easily block the road that's already difficult to drive and cause a few irritations and heartbreaks. But, if you manage to overcome this particular obstacle, you'll be richly rewarded ; in a surfing sense, of course, unless you discover a treasure-laden old pirate ship.
Among the three Guanacaste options we listed, Playa Negra offers the most powerful waves with fast and hollow waves that break over lava reefs or black sand. The most famous waves of the Negra shoreline are strong right-hand barrels. Thanks to those, it's one of the favorite surf trip destinations of pro surfers.
However, make sure that you visit Playa Negra only during the low season when the tide is higher. Low tide in Playa Negra means sharp reefs getting shallower and shallower, and unless you're Mason Ho, riding above such reefs is quite dangerous.
Playa Santa Teresa, Nicoya Peninsula
Up until now, we only talked about popular beaches. The coastline of Guanacaste is a hotspot for tourists and surfers alike, so there's only a little possibility that you might avoid crowds out there. If you're looking for a nice surf alongside some peaceful time spent with friends and family, the options above might not exactly be ideal for you.
Yet, you don't need to worry. Surfing in Costa Rica is not only about crowds coming together on white sandy beaches, frequenting surf shops, or setting up surf camps so that they can enjoy the amazing waves the Pacific Ocean provides in a communal sense. There also are overlooked surf spots where you can enjoy solitude and serenity while also scoring a world-class wave every now and then.
The Santa Teresa beach break is one of those. It's never busy, but there are always beautiful waves as well as chill cafés and pubs, friendly locals, and even vegan restaurants.
The wave height is primarily beginner-friendly in Santa Teresa as there are 3-foot waves that break into mellow white foam, but similar to all the other shores on our list, the wave quality is quite versatile. If you visit the place during the rainy season, you might even do some tube riding on 9-foot waves.
You're an experienced surfer who wants to enjoy the thrill of shallow reefs and double overhead waves? Well, in a matter of minutes (by a car), you can find yourself in the small fishing village of Mal Pais, and see the bigger swells that are more suitable for your skill set and desires.
Playa Manuel Antonio, Puntarenas
Costa Rica's not only famous because of the surfing opportunities it entertains. As you might have already gathered, considering the location of the country and its history, there are many natural beauties and historical places worth visiting.
One of those is indubitably the Manuel Antonio National Park that's full of white-sand beaches, hiking trails, unimaginably beautiful landscapes, and 109 species of mammals and 184 species of birds. So, it's fair to say, should you visit Costa Rica, you shouldn't return home without spending at least some time discovering this well-preserved beauty.
However, there's also the possibility that you settle there for the whole duration of your surf trip. That way, you won't only be exploring the national park to its whole extent, but also will find many beach breaks that you can enjoy as a surfer.
Most of the time, people don't go to Playa Manuel Antonio for surfing purposes. Therefore, you'll find less crowded beaches compared to the other options on our list. However, it doesn't mean that the surf isn't good. Especially for beginners and intermediate surfers, waves that break gently on white sand will surely be satisfying.
Advanced surfers shouldn't worry either. They can also enjoy the beauty of the national park while riding challenging yet uncrowded waves. You only need to drive south a little bit to the beach break of Playa El Rey, where there's always a world-class A-frame.
Puerto Viejo, Talamanca
We have so far only stuck to the Pacific Coast and the Southwest swell, which is pretty great, but the real jewel of the Costa Rica surf, especially for those who want to ride big waves, is actually on the Caribbean coastline: Puerto Viejo.
The town gets a consistently huge Northeast or Southeast swell depending on the time of the year, but it'll hit its peak between January and March, producing steep waves and plunging breaks that create wonderful barrels. Thanks to those, the pro surfing competitions in Costa Rica mostly do take place in Puerto Viejo.
There are two famous breaks in Puerto Viejo, which you should pay at least a visit even though your surfing skills cannot match the requirements of the waves: Salsa Brava and Playa Cocles.
Salsa Brava is a shallow reef break with waves that can go up to double overhead, but the height is not their only merit. These waves are generally so big that they can accommodate twenty surfers at the same time. Moreover, the tubes that form on shallow reefs as a result of the plunging waves promise a thrilling ride for considerably experienced surfers.
Playa Cocles, which is only a 10-minute walk away from Salsa Brava, is home to surfing competitions for almost the whole duration of the year. But sometimes, strong northerly winds might ruin the waves and subsequently the surf.
There's also a vibrant party scene and a rich cuisine in Puerto Viejo due to all that popularity. But be mindful that the waves are strictly advanced and the shallow reefs cost many surfers some broken bones and boards. So, if you don't have enough confidence in your skills, just enjoy the party.
Costa Rica surely deserves the attention of surfers. The swell is consistent, the weather and water temperature are surf-friendly throughout the year, and the waves are versatile enough to entertain surfers from all skill levels.
If you're a beginner, there are gentle and crowded waves in Tamarindo or uncrowded but still gentle ones in Manuel Antonio. If you're an advanced surfer, there are tube, reef, and barrel thrills all over the country, no matter the coast.
That's not all either. There are world-class breaks you can surf year-round, surf charters and surf camps that'll help you find what you seek, and natural beauties and a rich sea life if you care to look. Many surf camps also offer extra-curricular activities that might help your improvement as a surfer like yoga classes.
So, Costa Rica is one of the surf destinations you'll not regret visiting.