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Costa Rica is a surfers’ dream come true. With over 730 miles of combined coastline on the Caribbean and Pacific, not to mention 80-degree Fahrenheit water (no need for a wetsuit), and more than 50 named breaks, it’s not difficult to understand why Costa Rica is a top surfing destination.

If surfing is the primary reason for visiting Costa Rica you may want to pay attention to the time of year you plan your surfing vacation. A location that offers great breaks in January, like parts of the Caribbean coast, may be a lot less promising in July. The Southern Pacific coast, which has some great surf in July, isn’t nearly as good in January. That being said, obviously having coastline on two oceans is an advantage, since when one ocean is basically still, there is usually something breaking on the other side of the country. Frequently, there is great surf breaking on both coasts. With the Pacific coast being considerable longer than its Caribbean brother, it has many more surfing spots. Much of the country’s best surfing spots are found in the northwest province of Guanacaste, but there are also great surfing breaks in the Central Pacific and Southern Zones as well. In the Caribbean province of Limon, the breaks that are available are definitely worth checking out and nothing to complain about. Here’s a list of Costa Rica’s best surf spots.

North and South Caribbean/Limon

* Manzanillo

The northern end of the beach sports a decently fast break, but only when big, and the southern end has no real surf to speak of, due to the fact it is shielded by a large coral reef. Located 20 kms south of Puerto Viejo, Manzanillo is easily reached, and although it’s an unpaved road, a 4WD vehicle is not mandatory. Accommodations and a good Caribbean cuisine are available in this area.

* Puerto Viejo

Puerto Viejo boasts the biggest break in Costa Rica, which is aptly named “Salsa Brava” or “Mean Salsa.” This is big, bulky wave forms in deep water and breaks on a shallow reef. The right is typically sheer and tubular, and its left, although short, will provide a nice ride. Sharp and fast, these waves can obviously be very dangerous and should not be toyed with unless you’re a pro. Puerto Viejo is about 4 hour drive from San Jose. Puerto Viejo has numerous accommodations to choose from.

* Playa Negra Cahuita

The semi-secretive, Playa Negra Cahuita, has a great beach break, with waves year round, but since it’s not well known, it doesn’t tend to be heavily populated. Getting there – About 2 kms before the entrance of Cahuita National Park, take a left. Drive for about 10 minutes, and you’ll know it when you get there. Although remote, accommodations are available.

* Uvita Island

Located 20 minutes by boat from Limon, sits Uvita Island. Sporting the perfect left, unfortunately it breaks on a reef, so it’s obviously a very dangerous surf spot. Passage to the island is only during certain times of the year, so check in advance.

* Playa Bonita

A quick, easy drive up the coast from Limon, Playa Bonita sports a point/reef break known for its very dense, formidable and treacherous left.


* Potrero Grande

Although very remote, Potrero’s right point break with very fast and hollow waves; still draws the avid surfer. Located 270 kms from San Jose, it has no road access, but you can rent a boat out of Playas del Coco or Playa Ocotal. Camping is really the only option, as there are no facilities in Potrero Grande.


Tamarindo is the surf capital in the northwestern Pacific region of Costa Rica.Just make sure the beach is open before going. The beach has been closed before because of too much illegal sewage dumping from the local hotels, restaurants, and tour companies. Tamarindo is quite the party town and an obvious destination for many young travelers, backpackers and surfers alike. Tamarindo is a great place for beginners with its numerous surf schools and camps as well soft sandy bottom beaches with small enough surf to allow safe wipeouts, but also an excellent home base for surfing all the nearby beaches due to plenty of hotel and restaurant accommodations. A couple of noteworthy surf spots: Pico Penqueno, a rocky point; El Estero, a great river mouth break and Henry’s point, another rocky point break.

* Playa Naranjo (Roca Bruja or for you gringos, Witch’s Rock)

There's something for everyone when surfing Costa Rica.
There's something for everyone when surfing Costa Rica.
Playa Naranjo boasts one of the best beach breaks in Costa Rica, especially considering the aggressive offshore winds from December to March. Witches Rock and Ollie’s Point are renowned, as the waves here are some of the best in the country. This remote spot, about 40 kms from Liberia in the Santa Rosa National Park, is really only accessible with a 4WD vehicle or boat from El Coco or Ocotal, but there are camp grounds. Playa Naranjo definitely provides an ideal chance to enjoy wilderness surfing along with huge waves.

* Playa Grande

An extremely consistent beach break located 20 minutes north of Tamarindo. Playa Grande provides strong surf and non-stop action for the more experienced surfer. It is accessible by road, or you can walk approximately 45 minutes across the Tamarindo Estuary and head down the beach. It should also be noted that Playa Grande lies in a protected area as it’s a nesting ground for Leatherback Turtles.

* Avellanas

Easily accessible and located just 10 km. south of Tamarindo, Avellanas offers somewhat of a surfers’ choice; a decent beach break, an estuary break and a reef break known as, “Little Hawaii.” There are a few accommodations and restaurants available.

* Langosta

River mouth break located 1 km south of Tamarindo. Easily accessible.

* Playa Negra

Playa Negra is volcanic black beach with one of the best right reef point breaks in the North Pacific. Although it’s located only 5 kms from Playa Avellanas, a 4WD vehicle is highly recommended, especially during the wet season. Lodging and restaurants are available in the area.

* Nosara

A beach break with both lefts and rights, Nosara is about a 5 hour drive across the Nicoya Peninsula from San Jose (350 kms). There are food and lodging accommodations in the area.

* Malpais

If you’re looking to venture off the beaten path, Mal Pais is located on the southern tip of the Nicoya peninsula and provides a cool atmosphere with fantastic surfing action without the crowded and commercialized environment found in Tamarindo. Great beach breaks and reefs, along with its sandy bottom, provides great alternative for beginners and expert surfers alike. A 4WD vehicle is a must due to the rivers and heavy mud, but lodging and restaurants are available. Don’t forget about Playa Santa Teresa, since it has risen from offbeat obscurity to popularity and is located only a short distance away. Accommodations are also available to meet any travelers needs.

Central Pacific Coast

* Boca Barranca

A river mouth with a very long left, Boca Barranca is located just south of Puntarenas and about 100 kms from San Jose. Easily accessible just off the main coastal route with numerous accommodations to suit any travelers needs. Boca Barranco is a popular surfing destination and draws surfers from around the world. Don’t leave out Caldera Port, located just 3 kms south of Boca Barranco, with its excellent left that breaks off a rivermouth near the port. Great break during a big swell.

* Playa Tivives and Valor

After a long day of sufing in Costa Rica- time to party.
After a long day of sufing in Costa Rica- time to party.
Characterized by a variety of waves from beach breaks (Tivives) to a rocky point (Valor), Playa Tivives and Valor sport both good quality rights and lefts. The playas are located 10 km south of Boca Barranca just off the paved coastal route.

* Playa Escondida

Playa Escondida is a horseshoe reef break with a left and right. This spot gets crowed with locals during good swells and they can often dominate the peak.

* Playa Jaco

Jaco is one of Costa Rica’s most popular surf towns and located just 2 hours out of San Jose. Jaco has a sandy bottom, decent swells for beginners and is a fun beach break, but tends to close out on larger swells. Jaco hosts a wide range of tourist attractions but its central location and abundance of amenities make it a good base for surf adventures. Located on the southern tip of Jaco, just off the cliff from the coastal highway, is Roca Loca or “Crazy Rock,” a deceptive wave that breaks right over some shallow rocks and is great when swells are large.

* Playa Hermosa

Several very consistent beach breaks provide miles of heart pounding surf for the better surfers bored with Jaco. Hermosa is located just south of Jaco, where deep waters off the coast and exposure to numerous swells have developed an array of sand bars making this area the most consistent surf in the area. There are accommodations close by.

* Quepos

There are several good beach breaks in this area, as well as a small left at the mouth of the estuary located just outside of town. Quepos is less than an hour south of Jaco and being next to Manuel Antonio National Park, obviously accommodations are numerous. Playa Espadilla is located just before the entrance to the National Park and many surfers love this beach break when large swells find their way into the bay, but don’t forget about the big right at the northern end of beach either.

* Playa El Rey

El Rey sports a beach break with numerous peaks. Finding Playa El Rey - Drive south of Quepos on the unpaved road towards Playa Dominical and after about 25 minutes, turn right at Roncador. Use Manuel Antonio or Quepos for your accommodations.

* Playa Dominical

Much like Playa Hermosa, Dominical offers a strong and consistent beach break, but in a more tropical, lush environment. With a little more exploration, you’ll be sure to run into other semi-clandestine reef breaks and river mouths that lie in the area. Located south of Quepos via dirt road or if traveling from San Jose, Dominical is about a 5 hour drive on the Pan-American Highway. Accommodations and restaurants are available.

South Pacific Coast

* Matapalo

This exceptional right is located at the tip of the Osa Peninsula across from Pavones and can frequently be seen breaking from there during large swells. Accessible via Pan-American Highway, but a 4WD vehicle is advised but you can also reach Matapalo by boat from Pavones or Golfito. If boat or truck doesn’t work for you, there’s always the local airlines that can fly you down to Puerto Jimenez where you can catch a taxi to your destination.

* Pavones/Zancudo

The far southern Pacific region includes many beaches in the Golfo Dulce and Osa Peninsula area. In particular, Zancudo and Pavones standout for their fast and long left break. Pavones is regarded as one of the longest lefts in the world with its 1 km break, but unfortunately not a place for novices. It’s about an 8 hour drive from San Jose to get to the Pavones/Zancudo area. For another option, local airlines can fly you to Golfito, where you can board a bus of taxi to the area. Good accommodations are available.