The Best Surfing Beaches in Costa Rica
Guanacaste and the Nicoya Peninsula
Surfing in this area is good year round. The weather is best from December through April, but still nice most of the time through the end of August. September and October are the rainiest months. The biggest waves can be enjoyed from from May through November.
Playa Grande: Playa Grande is one of the most accessible big wave beaches in Costa Rica. It is conveniently located within a 45 minute drive of Liberia Airport and just 15 minutes from Tamarindo. The beach is actually located within Las Baulas National Park, which was created to protect the huge leatherback turtles that nest there.
Generally, Playa Grande is not crowded, so finding your own spot is not a challenge. There are several surf shops for lessons or board rentals. There are a handful of small hotels to choose from, though only a couple with quality amenities.
Tamarindo: Tamarindo is one of the most popular surf towns in Costa Rica. It is also one of the most Americanized. There are two large beaches in the town, Playa Tamarindo and Playa Langosta. Playa Tamarindo is the most popular, with beautiful white sand and waves of varying sizes depending on where you go. Playa Grande is broken up by many rock outcroppings, but has BIG waves. This beach should only be surfed by experienced surfers.
While Tamarindo is a popular area, the beach is long and parking areas are spread out. You can almost always stake claim to your own spot. There are many surf shops in the main town area for lessons or rentals. There are plenty of lodging options to choose from.
Playa Avellanas: Playa Avellanas is one of the least visited beaches in Costa Rica, but one of the best for big wave surfing. There are no big hotels on the beach or a town center, just fields, mangroves and beach scrub. Lola’s Beach Bar is the only business on the beach. They are famous for their pizzas and great views to the surf.
Nosara: Nosara is a laid back town with a hippie-surfer vibe. There are several beaches in the area, but most visitors will end up at Playa Guiones. This is a long, un-crowded white sand beach that serves up nice shoulder high to overhead waves just about every day.
The town of Nosara is not actually located on the beach, but is within walking distance. There are several surf shops for board rentals or lessons. There are also a handful of small hotels to choose from. While Nosara is nice, it is difficult to access with poorly maintained roads and frequent bridge washouts on the way. When the weather is nice, the dirt roads become powdery. Due to the road conditions, many people use ATVs as their primary mode of transportation, turning the town into a dust bowl in the summer.
Samara and Carrillo: Samara is a fun little authentic Costa Rican surf side village. The waves are perfect for beginners during high tide, usually waist to chest high. Just south of Samara, Playa Carrillo offers great surfing for experienced surfers with head high waves at the south end of the beach during high tide.
There are a couple of surf shops on the beach at Samara, but none on Playa Carrillo. The majority of hotels in this area are small budget oriented hotels/hostels, but there are a couple nicer hotels in the area.
Mal Pais and Santa Teresa: This is one of the most difficult beach areas to access in the country, but one of the best beaches for surfing in Costa Rica. There are three main beaches in the area, Santa Teresa, Carmen and Malpais.
Playa Santa Teresa has the biggest and fastest waves in the area. It is best for experienced surfers, providing point breaks, beach breaks and large swells. Surfing is best during low tide when the waves are faster. Playa Hermosa is also located in this area, but is better suited for beginners.
Playa Carmen is located between Santa Teresa and Mal Pais. The waves are better for beginners with both a left and a right break over sand.
Other beaches in Mal Pais include Punta Barrigona and Sunset Reef. Both are left hand reef breaks . Surfing on the reef can be dangerous at both locations.
There are many surf shops for lessons or rentals, with the majority located near Playa Carmen. While there are plenty of hotels in the area, most are small boutique hotels with few rooms.
Central Pacific Surfing in Costa Rica
The Central Pacific coast of Costa Rica offers several great surfing locations. The weather is best from late December through April. May through August is also a nice time to visit, though you should expect some rain. October through mid-November can be very rainy. The best waves are experienced from May through November.
Boca Barranca: This is mostly surfed and boogey boarded by locals, just south of Puntarenas. When conditions are right with a southwest swell, this turns into one of the longest lefts in the world. The water in this area is not the cleanest and you will have to keep your valuables close. This is not a tourist destination and therefore there is only one decent hotel in the area.
Jaco Beach: Jaco is a great surfing destination if you are looking for shoulder to head high waves close to San Jose (1.5 hours away). High tide is best for experienced surfers, while low tide is better for beginners. There are several peaks on the three kilometer beach, which can become crowded on weekends.
There are many surf shops in Jaco for rentals or lessons. Visitors can choose from a variety of accommodations including the heaviest concentration of condominiums in Costa Rica. The night life can become pretty wild in Jaco with many bars to choose from. Tourists should be careful in Jaco as this is a higher crime area.
Playa Hermosa de Jaco: This beach has some of the biggest waves in Costa Rica that run from head high to double head high. There are several good spots on the beach, which can become crowded.
Several surf shops are available in the small beach village. Lessons or rentals are easily available. Hotels in Hermosa come in all shapes and sizes, but have one theme in common – surfing.
Esterillos: There are three main beach in Esterillos; Esterillos Oeste, Esterillos Central and Esterillos Este.
Esterillos Oeste is the most popular with the best waves from January – March and June – August. There are a few barrels during high tide. Waves break far out during low tide.
Esterillos Central has river mouths at both ends of the beach and is best surfed when the waves are chest to head high.
Esterillos Este is the most remote of the beaches in Esterillos. The beach is best surfed when waves are chest to head high.
There are several hotels in the Esterillos area, but there is not a town center or much to do unless you drive up to Jaco or south to Manuel Antonio.
Palo Seco: Playa Palo Seco is one of the most beautiful beaches on the Central Pacific. The beach is long and has many breaks of varying height. There are few visitors to this beach due to its location near Parrita, but it is well worth the trip from Manuel Antonio. There are no surf shops in the area, but there are a couple small hotels.
Damas Island: This is a great alternative to surf lessons on Playa Espadilla from Manuel Antonio. The island is only accessible by boat. The beach offers varying breaks providing good surfing for beginners and experienced surfers. There are no hotels on the island, most visitors come from Manuel Antonio with a tour operator.
Playa Espadilla, Manuel Antonio: This is the main beach in Manuel Antonio. Surfing small waves is okay on the south end of the beach during high tide. The north end of the beach offers larger waves that can be chest high to head high when the swell is right.
There are several surf shops in Manuel Antonio, so picking up a lesson or a rental board is possible. There are many hotels in Manual Antonio, but this is one of the most popular beaches in Costa Rica, so advance reservations are almost a necessity.
South Pacific Surfing
The weather in the South Pacific is best from December through April. May through July provide fairly good weather and August through November are very rainy months. The best surfing is from May through November, though you will be able to surf year round.
Dominical: Dominical is home to some of the biggest waves and best surfing in Costa Rica. The small town revolves around surfing with surf shops on just about every corner. Dominical is best reserved for experienced surfers.
There are plenty of small hotels in this area, but keep in mind most are budget oriented. The few nice hotels reserve well in advance.
Playa Hermosa: Yes, another Playa Hermosa. This Playa Hermosa is located about 10 minutes south of Dominical. The beach is a long one with a couple rivers that feed into the ocean. This a great beach for beginners and experienced surfers as the breaks can vary in size depending on where you choose from waste to head high. Due to location the beach is rarely crowded. There are no hotels in the immediate area, though there are some 10 minutes north in Dominical or 10 minutes south in Uvita.
Uvita: The beaches of Uvita are all located within Marino Ballena National park and therefore a $10 per person daily entrance fee is required. Playa Colonia is the most commonly surfed beach and provides great waves for beginners. There are many small hotels in Uvita, including some high end luxury boutique hotels in the mountains overlooking the beaches. There are a couple surf shops inn town where you can rent a board, pick up lessons or repair dings.
Pavones: Pavones is the most remote surf destination in Costa Rica and requires a major effort to access. Visitors have to come in through Golfito where you can take a boat down to get there. When the conditions are right, this beach has one of the largest lefts in the world. That said, conditions have to be just right due to its location on the inside of the Golfo Dulce. The beach can actually go weeks without a decent swell. Once a good swell comes, visitors and protective locals can swarm in. For these reasons, Pavones is not a good destination for visitors with limited time.
Caribbean Surfing in Costa Rica
Playa Negra, Cahuita: This is a great beach for beginner and intermediate surfers. The beach is usually un-crowded with mostly locals surfing. The waves are best from November through April and usually chest high. There are a few small hotels in the area and a surf shop in town.
Salsa Brava, Puerto Viejo: This is probably the heaviest wave in CR and pushes through a narrow, shallow reef. This is definitely for experts only. When the conditions are right, onlookers will crowd around a small restaurant and bar right on the edge of the beach to watch the surfers run the pressure cooker gauntlet.
Playa Cocles: Located just south of Puerto Viejo, Playa Cocles is an excellent beach for beginners and intermediate surfers. In fact, this is probably one of the most underrated beaches for surfing in Costa Rica. The waves are fairly consistent with both left and right breaks. The best surfing is in the morning before the afternoon breezes blow it out. There are a few surf shops in the area and many small lodges to choose from.