Costa Rica’s Top 10 Beaches For Intermediate to Advanced Surfers
By Sean O’Grady
Costa Rica is home to lush rainforests, biodiversity, and some of the best surf in Central America. With warm water and rideable waves year-round, it's been one of my favorite surf destinations in Central America.
Over the past few years, I've enjoyed living in Costa Rica while working remotely and studying Spanish. During this time, I surfed every part of Costa Rica, and each region has unique features and challenges. As you can tell from the post, certain spots resonated with me deeply and left me with unforgettable memories of some of the best surf of my life, so I've created this guide for the top 10 best places to surf in Costa Rica for intermediate to advanced surfers.
Like all surf trips, you have two main things to consider. Where and when? In Costa Rica, you have four main areas for great surf; the Nicoya Peninsula or Guanacaste, the central pacific coast, the southern pacific coast, and the Caribbean coast. I've broken this guide down by each region and picked the best surf beaches and breaks within each.
Regarding when to plan your Costa Rica surf trip - the country has two major seasons, and I love both for different reasons.
The dry season is from December until April. The weather is best in the dry season, with offshore winds, but it is more crowded, and not as much swell.
The wet season or rainy season runs from May - November. It rains at least once daily, but Costa Rica is less crowded, and the swells can get huge. It's my choice for the best surfing.
Throughout this guide, I offer a rating from 1-10. A rating of 1 is like a 1-foot Venice Beach, and ten is a perfect 8-foot Cloudbreak. If you're planning the ideal surf trip to Costa Rica, check out this helpful guide with all the best spots to surf and tips about catching the perfect wave.
GUANACASTE/NORTHERN NICOYA PENINSULA
A super fun, remote, A-frame wave that breaks over a river mouth sandbar. The waves can stand up and hold their shape down the line for a nice long barrel or face to hack on, especially with the offshore winds you get between January and March. Head there between December and February for the best offshore winds or between March and November for the best SW swell. I suggest heading out in the rainy season between May and August to score some S-SW swell with fewer people in the lineup since any rain you encounter will usually be in the afternoon. Take the 45 minutes boat trip out from Playa del Coco and have a blast.
This is the quintessential, punchy Costa Rican beach break. Playa Grande is a must if you are looking for fun, fast barrels, and some faces to smack while enjoying warm weather and offshore winds. It's a 20-minute drive or 5-minute boat ride from Tamarindo, which makes it easy enough to get to, but that means most of anyone around the Tamarindo area will be there too, fighting for peaky barrels, so mind the crowd and be respectful.
This spot contains a variety of reef, beach, and river mouth breaks which produce some pretty great waves with the right combination of swell and tide. It usually gets more swell than the neighboring Tamarindo area just to the north, so come check out this area when it's small in Tamarindo.
About midway down the Nicoya Peninsula, well south of Tamarindo and north of Nosara, this rocky reef break has some fun faces and short barrels. Still, it requires a medium to higher tide to have enough water over the shallow reef. This break has a solid local crew, so be mindful of them, especially given the small takeoff zone.
If you are in the Nosara/Samara area, head 20 minutes south of Samara to find this remote beach break that draws in the SW swells, creating waves significantly larger than surrounding breaks. Camaronal works on most tides, like most waves on the Nicoya Peninsula, like a solid SW swell with some N offshore winds.
SOUTHERN NICOYA PENINSULA
Santa Teresa South (La Lora)
Look for the path to the beach just 100 feet north of the La Lora nightclub to find yourself an excellent beach break with fun shifty A-frame peaks. This particular break is at the northernmost part of Santa Teresa Beach and is usually less crowded. And because it is more north, it catches more of those fantastic SW swells through the summer that misses Mal Pais and Playa Carmen. If you go during low tide, you will find some nice little barrels and plenty of 15-300 foot long faces to hack on until you are exhausted. If you really want a thrill, head another 500 feet to the rocky point called Rocamar with a heavy right-hand barrel that breaks over a dangerously shallow reef. Added bonus: not many crocs around here!
This heavy, barreling beach break is known to most surfers already, but in case you haven't paddled out here yet on a solid S, SW swell with a mid-high tide and offshore winds, pull off the highway and treat yourself. Given that it's right off the major highway between San Jose and the pacific coast and only 15 minutes south of Jaco, it sees its fair share of crowds during a solid South swell. The A-frame peaks you'll be chasing here constantly shift and will move 100 feet away as the alongshore currents and rips are strong here, but they don't last too long and won't take you too far. If you score an A-frame, hold onto that spot as long as you can and enjoy!
On a solid S, SW with some overhead+ size, head here for an excellent, long, and rippable right point break during the rainy season. This spot is quite fickle - it's even more erratic than its neighbor Pavones across the bay, but when conditions line up on an 8-foot+ SW swell, then these proper point breaks start to link up, and you have yourself a powerful 500-foot + righthander, and the long drive down the coast will be well worth it. Especially since Costa Rica doesn't have many extended rights, and it won't be as crowded as surrounding breaks. Watch out for the crocs at river mouths.
I'll try to be impartial here….but….wow. Not many surf breaks EXCEED your expectations, but Pavones is one of them. The long drive and the crowds are totally worth it. This is one of the world's longest lefts and is no mushball. It starts working around head high, and then the point breaks start connecting around 8 feet. The 1st break in front of the river mouth is hollow, fast, has some barrels, and is the hardest to make. But once you make that section, boy oh boy, you have 500-1,500 feet of fast wall to carve, bottom turn, and cutback on until you drop. You hear people say 1 or 2 good waves are enough for a session, and honestly, it's pretty true. Truly incredible. It's a must-surf on a trip to Costa Rica.
The fun, fast, short, and hollow barrel of the east! Small takeoff zone with tons of hungry locals to contend with over a shallow coral reef. Definitely worth checking out early in the morning during the rainy season when it's not too crowded. Go get some 5-second barrels and spit onto the shoulder!