Costa Rica is a country in Central America that borders Nicaragua to the north and Panama to the south. A visit to Costa Rica is a visit to a tropical country with white palm beaches on both the Caribbean coast and along the adjacent Pacific Ocean coastline. In addition, Costa Rica has a large number of beautiful, unspoiled rain forests in the interior with a very large biodiversity of plants and animals. Costa Rica is also a relatively stable and safe country in Central America with a good infrastructure. Both in 2009 and in 2012, the population of Costa Rica was ranked first in the Happy Planet Index, which indicates how happy people are based on, among other things, the ecological footprint.
A number of surf spots on the west coast of Costa Rica offer waves of an absolute world class caliber, but when the circumstances are right, you can also go for a surf session on the east coast. On both coasts it is wonderfully warm and the sea water temperature is so pleasant that a wetsuit is hardly necessary, but bring one just in case.
For more information about surfing in Latin-America, check out the following articles:
Surfing in Costa Rica in a nutshell
- Surf spots: The Atlantic coast of Costa Rica offers surf spots of unprecedented beauty. Tamarindo is known as one of the best spots worldwide, but along the entire coastline you will find surf spots of similar quality.
- Happiness: The population of Costa Rica was ranked as first in the Happy Planet Index in 2009 and 2012, indicating how fortunate people are based on, among other things, the ecological footprint of the country.
- Climate: Due to the location of Costa Rica, the country has a wonderful, tropical climate. The country has two seasons: a ‘dry’ summer and the ‘wet’ winter. Summer runs from December to April and winter runs from May to November.
- Food and Drink: Costa Rican cuisine is a fusion of the kitchens from Africa, Southwest Europe and China. The country is located between two oceans and has fish lovers much to offer. Fresh fruits and vegetables are also plentiful.
- Nature: In addition to its beautiful beaches along both coasts of the country, Costa Rica has a large number of unique, unspoilt rain forests in the interior with a very large biodiversity of plants and animals
History of surfing in Costa Rica
Nowadays, surfers who come to famous the surfing institutions like Tamarindo and Santa Teresa, can hardly imagine that in the 60’s and 70’s almost no one was in the water. Surfers from the US rarely came to Costa Rica for a surfing holiday, meaning that in the 70’s and 80’s only locals were here to enjoy excellent waves with empty line-ups. Surfing tourism was given a strong boost by the ‘discovery’ of, among others, Tamarindo and Witches’ Rock 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 surfing holidays in the world. Tamarindo is still the most important surfing destination in Costa Rica, but of course there are, especially on the west coast, many of other hidden gems waiting to be discovered.
The surf seasons
Surfing is excellent all year round on the west coast of Costa Rica. In the dry season (the European winter) it will be more accessible for beginners and there will be less rainfall. The more advanced surfers, however, should not be stopped by the wet season: even then the sun shines regularly. For beginners we recommend November to the end of March in Costa Rica. During this period you are assured to have beautiful weather and good, consistent waves that do not get too high. In short: perfect conditions to improve your surf skills considerably.
The surfing season on the Caribbean coast runs roughly from October to April. Times of almost no waves are alternated with high waves that are driven by storms. Surfing on the Caribbean coast is therefore especially suitable for experienced surfers.
The best Surf Spots of Costa Rica
Surfing in Tamarindo
Driven by the success of the film ‘Endless Summer II’, Tamarindo is probably the best known surfing destination in Costa Rica. The original fishing village is about an hour and a half’s drive south of Liberia. Although it can be considered as a tourist village, it still feels fairly wild and there is certainly no question of a high-rise. Tamarindo offers an interesting mix between the local ‘tico culture’ with modern influences, which, because of tourism, have spread 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 in and around Tamarindo. Playa Grande offers the most consistent waves of the area. This can make it 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, even in combination with surf.
We’ve also written a full guide on Surfing in and around Tamarindo.
Surfing in Santa Teresa (unique!)
What once started as a small fishing village has grown over the years into a relaxed, annual surf destination. Consisting of Playa Carmen, Santa Teresa and Mal Pais, this destination offers waves for every type of surfer. Beginning surfers can practice very easily at Playa Carmen because of a beautiful beach with a sandbar that keeps the waves relatively low. You will find a fantastic surf resort within a few minutes’ walk, with a lovely swimming pool and a real surf vibe. More experienced surfers are great at Santa Teresa, where point breaks cause firm barrels. After surfing, all surfers head to the Nativo Sports Bar for a wonderfully refreshing Margarita. In short: white beaches, surf spots for every level, many surf schools and surf camps and one of the most beautiful sunsets that Costa Rica has to offer. Santa Teresa must be on your list!
We’ve also written a full guide on surfing in and around Santa Teresa.
Surfing in Santa Nosara
Nosara is a true surfing paradise. Beautiful nature, long beaches and very good facilities make this destination a great base for your surfing holiday in Costa Rica. Nosara is also well known in the yoga world because of the many yoga institutes and retreats in the area. The town actually consists of different, quite remote villages that are referred to as Nosara to the outside world. Transport is therefore more important to arrange here than in the other villages.
The two most important surf spots in Santa Nosara are Playa Guinoes and Playa Pelada. In Playa Guinoes you will find very good, consistent surfing conditions throughout the year. This surf spot is also suitable for surfers of every level. Playa Pelada, on the other hand, offers a completely different surfing experience. Surfing at Playa Pelada is possible between November and May because wind from the west or north is needed to break the waves.
Surfing in Puerto Viejo
The only village on the east coast of Costa Rica in this list is Puerto Viejo. Campfires on the beach, Rastaculture 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 the climate is different from the climate on the west coast of Costa Rica. You will find the best weather here in September.
The surfing season on the Caribbean coast is significantly shorter than on the west coast of Costa Rica. The surfing 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 get very high during the surfing season. Surfing on the Caribbean coast is therefore more suitable for experienced surfers.
Surfing in Avellanas
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 a height of eighteen meters, this destination is not suitable for novice surfers. South of Little Hawaii you will find El Parqueo, where the surf runs long and smooth and is therefore ideal for beginning surfers and longboarders. It is important to note that Avellanas is not accessible by public transport. Also don’t 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 visit Lola; a famous beach bar.
Surfen in Dominical
Due to the 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 to beach lovers because of the many beaches that surround Dominical. Please note: fairly strong currents can occur off the coast of Dominical.
The most famous surf spot of Dominical is Playa Dominicalito. This spot is located south of Dominical and is a good spot for starting surfers and swimmers. Here you can also enjoy a beautiful view of a place where you can see the waves of the ocean hit the rocky coast and you can enjoy a beautiful sunset all year round.