Surfing Costa Rica: Four Coasts of Unbelievable Surf
by Erica Walsh
Less crowded than the beaches of Sydney, Hawaii or Southern California, the sandy stretches of Costa Rica offer plenty of swells, breaks and surf shops. Costa Rica is home to some of the best waves on the planet, crashing along beaches that are clean and blissfully empty.
For those surfing on the Caribbean coast, keep in mind that the surfing season doesn’t last long, and most of the waves are produced by tropical storms off the Mexican coast. However, these storms produce some of the biggest waves in the country and should only be attempted by veteran riders.
Puerto Viejo also known as Salsa Brava, is home to some of Costa Rica’s biggest waves. A coral reef off the coast produces Hawaiian-style breaks that often carry over 20 surfers at a time. Located in the Limon province, Puerto Viejo is a vibrant seaside town with gorgeous waters and waves that tempt surfing pros.Westfalia extends south from Limon to Cahuita, offering breaks from the left and right. The best part of Westfalia is its reliability — it offers consistently good surf, but be forewarned of the riptides and jellyfish.
Portete beach is located very close to Limon, so you’ll have easy access to the small bay. It’s also a great spot for swimming and snorkeling if you’re the only surfer in the family. Portete is also close to Playa Bonita, where you can test out some bigger waves.
North Pacific Coast
The North Pacific Coast is encompassed by the Guanacaste Province and is the country’s most visited region. However, this area, home to some of the best and most easily accessible diving and surfing spots, is also one of Costa Rica’s least populated regions.
Playa Naranjo, more commonly known as Witch’s Rock, is one of the best breaks in the country, with some very strong offshore winds between December and March. There aren’t any resorts or hotels located here, but nearby Witch’s Rock Surf Camp is the perfect place to stay and learn. Instructors will teach you the basics and shuttle you and other newbies to the famous swells of Playa Naranjo. You can also camp out, but 4-wheel drive is a must and don’t forget a mosquito net.
Playa Grande provides consistent swells and breaks, making it one of the best overall surf spots in the country. It also offers a quieter spot than beaches like Playa Tamarindo and the beach’s north side is a great location for swimming, safe from the dozens of surfers tearing through the Costa Rican waters.
Playa Negra is a right-handed point break that the locals describe as epic. The waves are as powerful as they are reliable. For experienced surfers, the ride is best when the waves are breaking overhead, so head to Playa Negra on days when storms are kicking up some aggressive surf.
Central Pacific Coast
This region is the most easily accessible, just a short distance from San Jose. The resort towns offer a bit more nightlife than the other coasts, and the surf here is fantastic, making Central Pacific the place for a more lively vacation.
A beach that offers one of Costa Rica’s longest rides, Boca Barranca is a left break in front of a river mouth. You can ride these waves over half a mile when the conditions are right, so if you longboard, this is the beach for you. There’s great access to this beach, so it’s best to arrive early to avoid crowds.
Playa Escondida is an excellent point break for rights and lefts. For members of the beach club, the surf is accessible by land. If you’re just visiting, rent a boat from Playa Jaco or Playa Herradura. These waves are best surfed at high tide, so check tide times before hitting the surf.
Hermosa beach juts out into the Pacific Ocean, giving the waters there constant swell. The beach stretches for several miles, so you should be able to stake out your own territory. Some of the best breaks occur off a sandbar located in front of a large tree known as the Almendro. Ask a local to point out this primo spot.
South Pacific Coast
Unlike the Central Pacific Coast, the South Pacific is home to some of the largest last remaining stretches of Pacific Coastal rainforests. This is the coast surf if you’re only packing a wetsuit, a board and a sleeping bag — you’re surfing with Madre Nature.
Playa Dominical offers beautiful lush landscapes and waves for all skill levels. On the north end of the beach in front of the Baru River mouth, the surf is a little bigger and provides a challenge for skilled surfers.
Pavones is a left point that offers one of the longest rides in the world. This beach is located 8 hours from San Jose by car, but you’re welcome to pack your camping gear and stay a few nights. Rides here can last over three-quarters of a mile, considered one of the longest in the world. The surf here can be fickle, with the best surf occurring between April and November.
Cabo Matapalo is located directly across the bay from Pavones and catches the same ocean swells. Matapalo is much less surfed than Pavones, so if you’re looking to avoid crowds or just learning, this is an excellent beach for you. It’s drivable from Pavones, so make sure to hit both of these spots on your surfing tour of Costa Rica.
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