A number of surf spots on the west coast of Costa Rica offer world-class waves, but when the conditions are right, the east coast is also a great place for a surf session. On both coasts it is nice and warm and the sea temperature is so pleasant that a wetsuit is hardly necessary.
If you visit famous surf spots like Tamarindo and Santa Teresa nowadays, you can hardly imagine that hardly anyone was in the water in the 60s and 70s. Surfers from the USA came to Costa Rica in the 70s and 80s for a surf holiday, looking for excellent waves with empty line-ups. Surfer tourism was boosted by the ‘discovery’ of Tamarindo and Witches’ Rock, among others, in the film Endless Summer II. Nowadays, one of the stars of that film still has a good surf camp in Tamarindo: the Witches Rock Surf Camp. Over the years, Costa Rica has become one of the most popular countries for surf holidays. Tamarindo is still the main surfing destination of Costa Rica, but of course there are, especially on the west coast, several surf spots to be found that are suitable for all levels.
Driven by the success of the film ‘Endless Summer II’, Tamarindo is probably the most famous surfing destination in Costa Rica. The original fishing village is located about an hour and a half drive south from Liberia. Although it can be considered a tourist village, it still has a fairly wild feel to it and there are no high-rise buildings at all. Tamarindo offers an interesting mix between the local ‘tico culture’ and modern influences, which, due to tourism, have been brought over mainly from the United States. Tamarindo is therefore the ideal location if you are looking for a nice mix of surfing, nature and good (entertainment) facilities.
There are several good surf spots to be found in and around Tamarindo. Playa Grande offers the most consistent waves in the area. Because of this, it can get very busy in the water. Other good surf spots in Tamarindo are Playa Langosta, Avellanas and Playa Negra. To reach the famous, remote surf spots north of Tamarindo, it is advisable to arrange this with a surf tour at a local surf shop. Tamarindo is also a very good place to learn Spanish.
What once started as a small fishing village has grown over the years into a relaxed, annual surfing destination. Consisting of Playa Carmen, Santa Teresa and Mal Pais, this destination offers waves for every type of surfer. Beginning surfers will love Playa Carmen for its beautiful beach with a sandbar that keeps the waves relatively low. A few minutes’ walk away, you will find a fantastic surf resort, with a lovely pool and a real surf-vibe. More experienced surfers can enjoy themselves at Santa Teresa, where point breaks create solid barrels. After surfing, all surfers go to the Nativo Sports Bar for a delicious and refreshing Margarita. In short: white beaches, surf spots at every level, many surf schools and surf camps and one of the most beautiful sunsets Costa Rica has to offer. Santa Teresa has to be on your list!
Nosara is a true surfers paradise. A beautiful nature, nice beaches and very good facilities make this destination a great base for your surf holiday in Costa Rica. Nosara is also very famous in the yoga world because of the many yoga institutes and retreats. The town actually consists of several, fairly remote villages that are referred to to the outside world as Nosara. Transport is therefore more important here than in the other villages.
The two main surf spots in Santa Nosara are Playa Guinoes and Playa Pelada. In Playa Guinoes, you will find very good, consistent surf conditions throughout the year. This surf spot is also suitable for surfers of all levels. Playa Pelada, on the other hand, offers a completely different surfing experience. Surfing at Playa Pelada is possible between November and May, as winds from the west or north are needed to break the waves.
The only village on the east coast of Costa Rica in this list is Puerto Viejo. Campfires on the beach, rasta culture and the Panamanian islands of Bocas del Toro around the corner make Puerto Viejo a great holiday destination. The Caribbean coast of Costa Rica has its own culture and also the climate is different from the climate on the west coast of Costa Rica. The best weather here is in September.
On the Caribbean coast, the surfing season is significantly shorter than on the west coast of Costa Rica. The surf season on the Caribbean coast runs roughly from October to April. The waves are a lot less consistent on this coast, but driven by storms, waves can become very high during the surfing season. Surfing on the Caribbean coast is therefore more suited to experienced surfers.
Avellanas is known in the surf scene as “Little Hawaii” and is one of the best kept secrets of Costa Rica; this surf spot is only suitable for expert surfers. With offshore waves that can reach eighteen metres in height, this destination is not suitable for novice surfers. South of Little Hawaii, you will find El Parqueo, where the surf is long and smooth, making it perfect for beginner surfers and longboarders. Important to note is that Avellanas is not accessible by public transport. Also, do not expect to stay in a fancy hotel. You can stay in a number of cabanas, laid-back hotels and surf retreats. Don’t forget to stop by Lola; a famous beach bar.
Due to its very consistent waves, Playa Dominical is a very popular surfing destination in Costa Rica. The town of Dominical is relatively small, but has a lot to offer for beach lovers because of the many beaches around Dominical. Be careful though: there can be quite strong currents off the coast of Dominical.