In the past few decades, Costa Rica has become synonymous with surfing. Mild air and sea temperatures, long point breaks, and wide beaches have even resulted in famous surfers relocating to Costa Rica and Costa Rica being chosen as the home for the 2016 World Surfing Games.
As a result, there are lots of surf schools, rental shops, and experts in Costa Rica who can help ensure that you have a great surf trip, whether it is your first or hundredth time getting up on a board.
What are the waves and surfing conditions like in Costa Rica?
In general, Costa Rica has become an ideal place for surfing because of its year-round air and water temperatures which stay in the upper 70s to mid-80s Fahrenheit.
However, there are many other micro-conditions that make some beaches stand out above others for surfing. These include:
- Wind currents: In the southern Pacific, the air currents come up from the south, while in the northwestern Pacific, the air currents are offshore and flow in from the mountains. Locals, fishermen, and surfers pay attention to these currents and, as a result, know the best times to engage with the sea.
- Swells: Surfers pay attention to the size of swells as they are larger and more stable than the smaller “wind waves” that crash closer to the shore. High, spaced-out, and long swells are found throughout Costa Rica and give a surfer more opportunity to practice their sport.
- Surf breaks: What is underneath the ocean is just as important as how it looks from above. Surf breaks are the underwater features – like rock or reef – that define how a swell will break. Some of Costa Rica’s best surfing, like Witch’s Rock in the Santa Rosa National Park, happens around rocky formations that consistently guide the waves.
Where to surf in Costa Rica?
With 800 miles of coastline, there are endless opportunities to get into the water with your board.
Which Coast (Pacific or Caribbean) is best for surfing?
The Pacific coast is twice the length of the Caribbean and offers many more surfing locations than the Caribbean. Additionally, the fetch–or the distance over which wind blows over open waters–is much greater on the Pacific coast than on the Caribbean coast, resulting in higher swells.
However, there are great surfing spots on both coasts. Read on to learn about the best spots to surf in Costa Rica.
Best Surf Spots in Costa Rica
Tamarindo: “The Endless Summer”
Though it has always provided consistent waves under gorgeous Pacific coast sunsets, the party beach town of Tamarindo started getting a lot of attention after “The Endless Summer II” came out in 1994. This sequel to the 1966 surf classic follows one of the original movie’s protagonists, Robert August–who is now a resident of Tamarindo–as he surfs the waves famous to the area, specifically Witch’s Rock.
Even though the best surfers in the world have come to call Tamarindo and the surrounding beaches home, it has lots of fully-accredited surf schools that make it a great place for beginners and children to learn how to surf as well.
Santa Teresa: “The Mecca”
Beyond the wave breaks of Santa Teresa and its surrounding beaches (Hermosa, Carmen, Malpais) where the surfers float waiting for the next swell, you will hear accents and languages that range from northern California to southern Argentina. This is because Santa Teresa has become something of a mecca for moderate to advanced surfers to come to practice the sport. Sunrise and sunset are the most popular times of the day for surfers to find 3-5 foot swells that come in 10-15 second intervals.
Santa Teresa is a little more remote and hard to reach than some of the other beaches on this list which makes it even more of a gem. It has become a little more populated in recent years due to its famous residents like Tom Brady and Gisele Bundchen and a visit by Shakira and as a result, the town itself is going through some growing pains as it paves its main road and learns how to manage its surge in development. However, despite these new developments, the beach continues to be dominated by barefoot surfers with their boards.
Playa Hermosa: “The Surfer’s Beach”
Playa Hermosa is a small beach town located on the Central Pacific just south of Jaco – which is also known for its surfing culture but is not included on this list since its proximity to San Jose makes it too popular for our preference. Hermosa means “lovely” and this beach certainly earns its name with its soft sand and long beaches with a view of the verdant Nicoya Peninsula in the distance. It is also a common stop on the Costa Rican national surf circuit and hosts several surf competitions every year. It is a great beach for beginners and advanced surfers alike.
Playa Pavones: “The End of the Earth”
Located on the southern tip of Costa Rica’s Golfo Dulce, reaching Playa Pavones may feel like traveling to the end of the earth. However, for advanced surfers, it is well worth the journey as it is home to a famous left-breaking wave that extends for almost a mile and allows a surfer to stay on the board for a minute or longer.
The area around Playa Pavones and the Golfo Dulce was home to a major effort by local fishermen and surfers to prevent a multinational tuna farm from being developed near the entry point to the gulf. This homegrown environmental collaboration was documented by Jeremy Evans in a book called “The Battle for Paradise” and it demonstrates how threatened natural places continue to be and the importance of building community alliances to make informed decisions about local well-being.
Puerto Viejo: “The Caribbean Delight”
The best places to surf on the Caribbean coast are Puerto Viejo and nearby Playa Cocles. Puerto Viejo’s famous “Salsa Brava” wave is located right in front of the little beach town and is considered the biggest break in Costa Rica and should only be surfed by experts. Playa Cocles is two kilometers to the south of Puerto Viejo and has several surf school options.
One benefit to visiting Puerto Viejo is that it has one of the most active local surf cultures, which is a great way to learn from the pros and engage with the community. You can read about more benefits of visiting the Caribbean coast here.
Dominical: “Magical Paradise”
Dominical is a small beach town on the road between Quepos and Uvita on the south-central Pacific. It is a great place for surfers of all levels and, despite its popularity, the town itself has not had the same issues with over-development as other areas have. It is also a good jumping-off point for surf excursions to Uvita in the south and Manuel Antonio in the north.
When is the Best Time to surf in Costa Rica?
The best time to surf in Costa Rica is relative to the goals for your trip.
The dry season (December/January through March/April) is the most popular season to visit Costa Rica and since there is less rain, there is less dirt run-off from rivers that muddy ocean waters. Likewise, roads are more reliable in the dry season. Conversely, beaches tend to be full and hotel and activity reservations are required months in advance.
Learn more in our article covering the best time to go to Costa Rica.
Can beginners surf in Costa Rica?
Yes! Costa Rica is an ideal place for beginners to learn how to surf due to the year-round pleasant weather, surf infrastructure, and wide variety of beach conditions.
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John Rabenau has been working in the eco-tourism & adventure travel industry in Costa Rica since 2002. He has worked in a variety of capacities from Outdoor Educator & Principle Guide to Itinerary Design Manager & Business Owner for numerous organizations. He has grown Costa Rica Escapes into one of the most reputable Costa Rica travel agencies since its creation in 2006, hosting more than 5,000 people with custom vacation itineraries.