Best Surf Spots in Costa Rica
With dozens of great surf breaks on two coasts, warm water year-round and great places to chill after hitting the water, Costa Rica is a world-class surfing destination. So what are the best surf spots in Costa Rica? Ooh, that’s a tough question, but let’s explore!
The answer, of course, is it depends. Are you a beginning, intermediate or advanced surfer? Do you want to visit a certain part of Costa Rica for reasons other than the surfing? And once you strip off the wetsuit and hit the town, what kind of town do you want to be in?
For our purposes, let’s first look at the most popular surf spots on the northern Guanacaste coast, where Special Places of Costa Rica is located. Our vacation rentals are clustered mostly along the corridor between Playas del Coco and Brasilito, so we’ll talk about the surf spots you can visit in a day without a long drive or the need to spend the night elsewhere.
Then we’ll expand the search to some of Costa Rica’s most iconic surf breaks, from the central and southern Pacific to the Caribbean. So get ready – it’s going to be a wet ride!
Best surfing beaches in northern Guanacaste
Looking at a surf map of Guanacaste from north to south (within relatively easy reach of SPCR properties), here are the standout surf spots.
Named for a steep, picturesque islet that juts out of the ocean like a fortress with a really big moat, Witch’s Rock is one of the most famous surf spots in Costa Rica.
But it’s also one of the least accessible, located off the isolated Santa Rosa National Park and very difficult to reach by land. But if you’re an advanced surfer looking for some of the country’s best barrels and tubes, catch a boat to surf this unforgettable spot.
Not far from here is Ollie’s Point, known for long, green walls and a fast, hollow wave. It’s named for Lt. Col. Oliver North, who oversaw a secret airstrip here to supply the Contras during Nicaragua’s civil war in the 1980s.
With its many bays and sheltered inlets, the northern Guanacaste coast is not known for great surf spots around Coco, Potrero, Flamingo or Brasilito. But just a half-hour from Flamingo, and right across the estuary from Tamarindo, Playa Grande is the best surf spot within an easy drive of SPCR properties.
Playa Grande is also the home of Las Baulas Marine National Park, a nesting ground for leatherback sea turtles. Just be aware that other than a few businesses along the road, there isn’t much of a town here. Some surfers paddle across the mouth of the estuary from Tamarindo, which isn’t recommended because there are crocodiles there.
Now we’re talking Surf Central. Rivaled only by Jacó as the biggest surf city in Costa Rica, Tamarindo vaulted to prominence on the international surfing map when it was featured in the 1994 surf movie “The Endless Summer II.”
Tamarindo offers good year-round surfing for both experts and beginners, and lessons are widely available. Witch’s Rock Surf Camp is the top operator here, offering lodging, lessons and even surfboard shaping demonstrations by local legend Robert August.
Tamarindo is also a nightlife and party capital, with no shortage of restaurants, bars, shops and revelers.
Avellanas and Negra
Playa Avellanas and Playa Negra are two top surf spots south of Tamarindo – a bit more remote but still reachable in a day from points north. Each has its own claim to fame to attract the adventurous surfer.
Avellanas has five wave peaks to appeal to all skill levels, and according to surfertoday.com, Negra offers “a consistent and fast barreling wave for surfers who seek pure adrenaline moments in warm waters.”
Best surf spots in southern Nicoya
Nicoya is the name of the large peninsula that starts roughly at Tamarindo and extends south from there – most of it in Guanacaste Province, with the southern parts in Puntarenas Province.
Nosara is a unique enclave on the central Nicoya coast famous for two things – surfing and yoga. Be prepared to see a lot of people in bikinis, board shorts or yoga pants who talk about “mindfulness” and “conscious living,” and who may prefer to sip on a smoothie than to chug Imperials.
The area that goes by this name includes a handful of beaches, of which the most popular is Playa Guiones. This is an excellent spot to learn to surf, with shallow water and few hazards, and surf schools abound. But more experienced surfers can find plenty of challenging waves in this area.
Santa Teresa, Carmen and Mal País
These three gorgeous beaches on the southwest Nicoya coast all offer consistent waves. A coastal road that connects all three is lined with restaurants, hotels and of course surf shops. This area is popular with expats – visitors who come to try the waves and never leave.
Best surfing beaches on the central Pacific
You can skip the Gulf of Nicoya, which offers little surfing because, well, it’s a gulf. But south of there, you can find multiple spots popular with surfers.
Jacó and Hermosa
Jacó is arguably the party capital of Costa Rica, but it also has great surf and is a frequent host to national surf competitions. Both beginners and advanced surfers can find the waves here to suit their skill level.
Playa Hermosa, just to the south, has some of the most consistent waves in Costa Rica, without nearly so many people, though it’s for more experienced surfers. Just don’t make the mistake of confusing this Playa Hermosa with the town of the same name north of Coco, where there is no surfing.
Most of Manuel Antonio is located on a hillside ridge, but at the end of the road is Playa Espadilla, which stretches all the way into Manuel Antonio National Park. The southern part of the beach is a good spot for beginning surfers at high tide, while the northern part offers a challenge for more experienced wave riders.
This little surf town, right on the main coastal highway, is known for a fast, hollow wave that breaks near a river mouth. It’s also a fun, walkable town, with plenty of lodging and places to eat.
Best surf spots in southern Costa Rica
On the southern tip of the Osa Peninsula, Matapalo is a town with no town there, though there are multiple vacation rentals and a handful of great hotels. It has three strong right breaks, at Pan Dulce, Backwash Bay and Playa Matapalo, for surfers of all levels.
It’s quite a haul to get to Matapalo from just about anywhere, but you’ll find some of the most pristine and wildlife-rich jungles Costa Rica has to offer.
Pavones is said to have the world’s second-longest left break. A south swell pushes into the Golfo Dulce from the Pacific Ocean, squeezing between Matapalo and here, and when it collides with a rocky point, it peels off to the left for a ride of up to 1,000 yards.
The small village of Pavones is well off the beaten path, and surfing is the only game in town, but many repeat visitors find it well worth the effort to get here.
Surfing Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast
The Caribbean coast offers fewer surfing options, especially in the north, and waves aren’t as consistent year-round. But it is home to one of Costa Rica’s most famous waves.
Puerto Viejo is a fun and funky town on the southern Caribbean coast that’s known among surfers for the biggest (and possibly most dangerous) wave in Costa Rica. Reachable by paddling out from the center of town, it’s known as “Salsa Brava,” which roughly translates “Angry Sauce.”
Definitely not for beginners, Salsa Brava is a right-hand barrel that rises off a sharp coral reef, known for breaking both boards and bones. But if you can hold your own in this lineup, and come back for more, you’ll earn some major cred. Just be aware that the locals can be a bit territorial, and respect their boundaries.
Other somewhat gentler surfing options in the south Caribbean include Cahuita and Cocles. All along this southern coast you’ll find some of the most spectacular beaches in all of Costa Rica, backed by lush green jungle.
Any list of surf spots in Costa Rica is going to be incomplete, as there are so many to choose from. But if you do your homework, talk to other surfers and do some exploring, you’ll find the one that’s right for you.
In most places, you’ll find 80-degree water year-round. There is no bad time to surf in Costa Rica, but generally speaking, the rainy season from mid-April through November is considered peak surfing season on the Pacific side because of the southwest swell. On the Caribbean, you’re likely to find the best waves from December through March.
See you in the water!