Top 10 Surf Spots in Costa Rica

This small country has so many great surf spots. If you come any time other than Christmas and Easter the beaches aren't crowded. Some places like Pavones will get crowded out in the line-up when it's really firing, but other places like Playa Dominical provide good quality year-round surf where you don't have to fight your way into the line-up.


#10 Playa Hermosa - Central Pacific Coast

Ok, first things first. There are two well known Playa Hermosa's in Costa Rica.  Make sure you hit the right one.  Playa Hermosa up in the Guanacaste near Playa del Coco is not the beach you're looking for.  The waves are happening at the Playa Hermosa just a few clicks south of Playa Jaco.  Back in 2008 we met a French Canadian who was waiting for his cousin to arrive and he was worried because he was a day late.  He checked his email and it turned out his cousin had gone to the wrong place.
The 10km long stretch of beach is one of the most consistent beach breaks in the world.  Just about every day of the year, there will be rideable waves.  There isn't a lot of development here, but you will find a number of cabinas and hotels geared for surfers.  If you are travelling with other people who won't be surfing, you might want to stay in Jaco, it's 5 km's north.

#9 Play Avellanas - in the Guanacaste a little south of Tamarindo

This is one of the most beautiful beaches in the area. One of the breaks here is known as Pequeno Hawaii (Little Hawaii).  It's a good open faced right at medium tide.  There isn't a village in Avellanas, but you'll find some nice laid-back hotels and cabinas.  On weekends the beach breaks at Avellanas can get quite crowded.  At low tide you can walk for miles, exploring tide pools.  It's an easy walk, less than an hour, from Playa Avellanas to Play Junquillal.  There is a good hotel (Hotel Iguanazul) you can stop for a cold one and have a good meal, just before you get to Playa Junquillal.

#8 Playa Grande - Guanacaste

Part of National Marine Park Las Baulas (Parque Nacional Las Baulas).  It's just a stones throw from Playa Tamarindo.  You'll catch more swell here than at Tamarindo.  Playa Grande has very consistent surf break where you'll catch fun rideable waves almost all of the year.

#7 Matapalo, Osa Penninsula

Not nearly as well known as Playa Pavones, this is one of the most beautiful and pristine areas in Costa Rica.  The surfing here is incredible and so is the scenery. It is a wild drive in and once you are there you do feel like you are somewhere special. There is no power in Matapalo, so anywhere you stay will be running on some sort of off the grid set-up. The place I stayed used a combination of solar hot water, a few solar panels to charge deep cell batteries and gas for the fridge.
There are two world class right point breaks where you can catch rides that you will remember for life when its really firing on a south swell. The best time to surf Matapalo is April to October. You can surf at a mellower beach break at Playa Matapalo known as Pan Dulce (Sweet Bread). Others jokingly call it Pussy Point. The swell has to be coming from the south for Pan Dulce to work. You can ride a wave at Pan Dulce up to a quarter mile long, but it is definitely a mellower wave than the main wave that brings people in to Matapalo. That wave will take your breath away. When it's firing, you better know what you are doing.
There are no convenience/grocery stores so bring in what you need. Best to stay at a place with a kitchen and bring your food in with you. It's a hell of a long drive back to "town" 18 kilometers away over slow going road.

#6 Mal Pais - Playa Carmen - Santa Teresa

There are several places to surf here.  The most well known and best spot for beginning surfers is Playa Carmen. Pretty much the beach between Mal Pais and Santa Teresa.
This entire surfing area, collectively known as Mal Pais and Santa Teresa, is located near the southern tip of the Nicoya Peninsula. Santa Teresa has been attracting international surfers for years.  This place has a great vibe and you'll find a good selection of hotels and restaurants.  You'll wish you allowed yourself more time for this most excellent spot.

#5 Playa Dominical - South Central Pacific Coast

Now that the coastal highway between Quepos and Dominical and the toll highway connecting San Jose to the Pacific Coast is complete getting to Dominical from the Central Valley is easy. The highway is excellent and you can drive between Quepos and Dominical in under half an hour and it is about 2 1/2 hours from Quepos to San Jose.
The waves are excellent here and provide year round surfing.  From April until October the swells get bigger and the surf is heavier.  If you find the surf to heavy you can head south just a couple of miles to Playa Dominicalito (Little Dominical), which has a much mellower break.  Dominicalito has rocks, so is only surfable past mid-tide. You can't surf here at low-tide. If you come out and don't see anyone out, ask if you are unsure of rock locations.
Dominical is sandy and free of rocks. Beware of the strong rip currents which are particularly strong near low tide.  There is a wide range of restaurants and hotels to suit every budget in Dominical.  For eats, you can find Sushi, Thai Food and small Costa Rican Soda's.  Places to stay range from camping and hostels to nice hotels and vacation rentals.

#4 Puerto Viejo (Salsa Brava)

Salsa Brava is known as the heaviest wave in all of Costa Rica.  It breaks over a shallow reef and is for advanced surfers only.  The wave is fickle and works best with an easterly swell. Surfers at the intermediate level will want to head over to the beach break at Playa Cocles.  Located on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica you will feel like you have left  Costa Rica for another country.  The culture is different and the area is not as developed as the Pacific side. Things are more laid back here. There are lots of places to stay and to eat in Puerto Viejo, and you may want to head just a little south to Playa Cocles for your accommodations.

#3 Playa Negra. In the Guanacaste just south of Playa Avellanas

It's easy to do Playa Negra and Playa Avellanas on the same day, heck the same morning. Playa Negra works best at mid to high tide. It is too rocky at low tide.  It is a right point break and holds up well without closing out in big surf.   There is no town to speak of, but you will find plenty of places to stay.  Playa Negra gets crowded easily, so it's best to avoid it on weekends in the high season and at Christmas and Easter too and find a quieter break.

#2 Witch's Rock. In Santa Rosa National Park in the North Pacific region.

Just getting here is an adventure.  There are no hotels or cabinas in the park, but if you are able to drive in you definitely should camp. It's beautiful and well worth the effort. Getting into the park requires a good 4WD vehicle and many times the roads are not passable. Most people get here by boat.  The best option is to go with Witches Rock Surf Camp if you're travelling alone or in a small group, because you can tag along with their group.  If you want to hire a boat and driver to take you out for the day, it's around $200 for the boat so it can be cheaper than WRSC if you have enough people. They will stay just outside the break as long as you like.  They can also take you a little further north to Ollie's Point which many days is actually better than Witch's Rock.

#1 Pavones On the Southern Pacific Coast.

Hands down, the best wave in Costa Rica, when it is firing.  Known as one of the longest lefts in the world.  This point break is fickle and is most reliable between April and November. Getting here is easier now, as they recently built a bridge, replacing the small ferry that was necessary to cross a river.  It is only a three hour drive from Playa Dominical.  Theoretically, you could paddle out for some very early morning surf in Dominical and then head south to Pavones for an afternoon session.  There are  lots of places to stay in Pavones suiting low end to mid end budgets. Most of the restaurants are located around the soccer field in the heart of the village.

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