Surfing in Costa Rica

Surfing guide to Costa Rica, ,

Costa Rica has 5 main surf areas. There are 76 surf spots and 1 surf holidays. Go explore!

Overview of surfing in Costa Rica

With a name that literally translates to “Rich Coast” you might have high expectations when you visit. Luckily, the country of Costa Rica is one of the top surf destinations in Central America and the Western Hemisphere. Besides being voted as one of the happiest countries in the world, dissolving their military, and making being net 0 carbon the top priority of the country, it also has epic surf.

This small country receives waves year round, has a tropical climate, and offers a variety of activities outside of surfing. The entire Central American region has fantastic surf, but Costa Rica is the safest and most stable of all the surrounding countries, making it the obvious choice for many a surf holiday. On top of safety, wherever you choose to stay in the country there are plenty of options for all levels of surfer and levels of budget Read on to discover the four main regions for surfing in Costa Rica, what spots you can’t miss, vacation activities for the whole family, and a general look at what this tropical surf trip will cost you.

Regions in Costa Rica

The coastline of Costa Rica can be divided into four main areas. The northern section, or Guanacaste Coast; Central Costa Rica; Southern Costa Rica or Golfo Dulce/Osa Peninsula; and the Caribbean Coast. All of these areas have their own feel and waves, but you will find world class options wherever you go. Of course, the Pacific facing coastline is more well known due to its consistency, but don’t overlook pulling the trigger on a Caribbean trip when a good swell is brewing. There are slight differences in consistency among the Pacific regions, but for the most part the weather and ocean temperatures are the same making jumping from area to area very easy.

Northern Costa Rica: Guanacaste Coast

Northern Costa Rica is one of the more famous parts of the country. Like most of the country there is an amazing contrast between huge natural reserves, empty beaches, as well as more urban/party towns. This region stretches from the northern border all the way down to the edge of the Nicoya Peninsula. There is a wide variety of reefs, points, and beachbreaks up and down this entire coastline. The country begins with a national park which holds one of the best beach breaks on the planet made famous in the Endless Summer II, Witches Rock. As you head south you will reach Tamarindo. This is a trendy and buzzing surf town with some average surf, but way above average surf a short drive away. Continuing South you will definitely need a 4×4 as you come in the Nicoya Peninsula. This stretch is much more rural and home to many reefs and beachbreaks. Towards the end you will arrive at Santa Teresa, a formerly on the low town that has developed into one of the top destinations for young travelers in the world. You’ll find a laid back surf and yoga town like no other bordering the ocean and surrounded by rain forests. The surf here is fantastic year round.

Central Costa Rica

The Central Pacific Coast of Costa Rica is the easiest to access out of the four and continues the trend of consistent and quality surf. It starts on the other side of the Gulf of Nicoya from the Nicoya Peninsula with a fantastic rivermouth: Boca Barranca. On a South swell this wave lights up and can deliver rides of up to 500 meters! One thing to keep in mind is that this and many of the other spots in the region are the closest in the country to the capital San Jose which can lead to some crowds. As you head south you will arrive in Jaco. This is the biggest and most bustling surf mecca in Costa Rica, known for it’s incredible night life and beachbreaks good for every level of surfer. Jaco is where you want to be for a trip full of indulgence and some surf. Just a touch south you will find a long black sand beach: Playa Hermosa. This is a heavy but quality beachie that serves of big barrels, long closeouts, and big rip currents. This was the location for Stab High Central America, check out that series to familiarize yourself with the area. Continuing south the region turns into long stretches of beachbreaks disrupted by small points and reefs, which continues until you come to the Southern Region, or Golfo Dulce and Osa Peninsula.

Southern Costa Rica: Osa Peninsula/Golfo Dulce

This is the most remote region in Costa Rica. On the northern edge of the region is National Wetlands Park. Now, there is surf here, but you’ll need a boat and a lot of local knowledge in order to score. Also, crocodiles are common at all rivermouths in Costa Rica, but a national wetlands park will definitely have a higher concentration. Further south you will enter the Osa Peninsula which is basically a massive national park. Access to surf breaks here is hard, but there are some top quality beachbreaks and reefs here. Even further south there is a fantastic right hander, Matapalo, on the edge of the peninsula which breaks rarely but is world class when it is on. Across the gulf you will find the best and most well known break in Costa Rica: Pavones. This long (emphasis on long) left hand point break is the definition of conveyor belt perfection, even comparable to Skeleton Bay. Most surfers legs give out before the ride is over. Pavones and the surrounding area is a little more built up than the Osa Peninsula, but still not as amenity filled as the other regions. From Pavones south there are some beachbreaks and the odd point before you hit the border of Panama.

Caribbean Coast

The east side of Costa Rica offers much less surfwise than the Pacific. That being said, when a good swell is pumping there are a few world class reefs that are more than worth heading to the Caribbean for. There are fewer breaks in general on the Caribbean side and less swell consistency. The main spots are towards the South by the town of Limon. Here you will find Cahuita and Salsa Brava which offer some barreling reefs. This coast tends to be crowded a little more territorial than the Pacific. As you head north make sure to mind you manners and ask locals for the lowdown on the spots you are scoping, they might save you from the crociest break in the area.

Surf Seasons in Costa Rica

Costa Rica really has two seasons, wet and dry. The wet season lasts from May until mid November. During this time it tends to be beautiful and sunny in the morning before some torrential downpours in the afternoon. The humidity is always high this time of year. The dry season lasts from Mid November to May and offers mostly sunny days with little rain, although it can get humid in the afternoons. Surf wise you will be receiving bigger and higher quality south swells during the wet season which tend to line up with Costa Rica better than northern swells. During dry season there is still plenty of consistent surf, just not as large on average nor as consistent. Some of the most famous spots (Pavones) will really only work on a large SW swell which only happen in the wet season. The Caribbean is a little different as it only receives swell from October thru April, and even then not often. This should be the time for tracking charts and planning strike missions to the eastern coast.

Who to Bring

Surfing wise Costa Rica caters to all levels. There are breaks in every region suitable for everyone from soft top learners to ripping pros. The tropical water and consistency make this country a fantastic choice for a variety of skill levels even within the same group. Even better, these breaks are usually pretty near each other unless you are going very remote. Another selling point of Costa Rica is the fact that there are so many family friendly options. The natural beauty, infrastructure, and culture are perfect for families and non surfers will have plenty to stay occupied with while you are scoring tropical a frames.

Water Temperatures

It’s warm here! Costa Rica, regardless of region, will be boardshorts and bikini temperature year round. The water fluctuates between 26 and 28 degrees and the air temperatures are warm. Some locals will opt for a wetsuit top when it gets windy, but if you are not used to tropical water you will not need one.

Lineup Lowdown

The motto of Costa Rica is “Pura Vida” (Pure life). This extends to a way of being/interacting with yourself, others, and the world around you. Think of it in a similar way to “Aloha” or the “Aloha Spirit” in the Hawaiian islands, but slightly less co-opted. You’ll find that locals are generally quite welcoming of tourists and foreigners both in and out of the lineup. That’s not to say that you’ll be called into set waves, but you’ll be tolerated in most areas of the lineup. It’s rare that there are altercations in or out of the water, unless a foreigner does something highly egregious in which case it would be best to get out of town. Lineups away from major towns tend to be uncrowded, and even the crowded ones generally have chill vibes.


If you are planning on driving anywhere in the country I highly recommend a 4×4. This will open up many options for you that a smaller car will not allow you to have. In the dry season you might be able to get away with something not as heavy duty, but come the wet season and you will see serious offroad vehicles getting stuck in the mud, so take care. Most spots are accessible this way, but there are some that you will only be able to get to by boat, especially those in national parks (Witches Rock and Osa Peninsula). If this makes you a little nervous, worry not, it is simple to post up in one of the more built up areas and walk to everything or get a smaller care or motorcycle to get you where you need to go.

Must Surf Spots

These are the surf spots that you have heard of for good reason. You might not be able to get to all of them in just one trip, but try and get to at least one of these iconic breaks in Costa Rica.

Witches Rock

This beachbreak is a top spot in the northern region of Costa Rica. It is found in a national park and requires either a harrowing hike or a boat trip to get to. Once you arrive at Playa Naranjo you will see a rock offshore. This eerie structure lends it’s name to the spot which delivers some of the best beachbreak on the entire Pacific coast. Barrels are common. Check out our spot guide for more information!

Playa Santa Teresa

On the Nicoya Peninsula towards the southern end you will find Santa Teresa. As mentioned above this is a trendy enclave of yoga influencers and surfers alike. The beach break here is great year round, if a little overpowered at times in the wet season. The sandbars are anchored by fingerlets of rock which create great shape. The individual sandbars are often named for buildings on the main drag directly inland from the beach. Here you’ll find peaky a frames, tubes and performance sections galore. Check out our spot guide for more information!

Boca Barranca

Just inside the Gulf of Nicoya, you will find the second longest wave in Costa Rica. This is a lovely point/rivermouth left that will leave you weak-legged. Although it tends to be a cruisey, longboard wave (longboard competitions have been held here in the past) it can get very rippable on a big swell. It’s an easy drive from San Jose or Jaco, under an hour, which tends to up the crowds. Other hazards include pollution and crocodiles, so watch out! Check out our spot guide here!


Pavones is the best and most famous wave in Costa Rica. Luckily it is also decently far from the capital, so crowds are generally average. This is a premier left hand point break, the longest in Costa Rica and one of the longest in the world. It is generally cuppy, even when small, and at size it is one of the most rippable walls around. It will need a big Southwest to get going, so this is a wet season spot only. Take care to pay respect to the locals, and try not to jump off an open face just because your legs are tired! Check out our spot guide here!

Salsa Brava

This is considered one of the best waves in Costa Rica when it is on, which unfortunately just doesn’t happen often due to its positioning on the Caribbean coast. When it is working it delivers both rights and lefts over an ultra shallow reef which creates some deep barrels. This same reef has a reputation for claiming boards, skin, bones, and blood. Locals and ex pats have this spot dialed, make sure to show respect and do not take their waves, there might be slightly less pura vida on this side of the country than the other! Check out our spot guide here!

Places you can’t miss

Costa Rica is a wonderfully rich country, there is so much to do and see you will keep coming back to check places off your list. Here’s a good start for your first few visits.


“Green Mountain” is the aptly named mountain that is home to a cloud forest. This is a highly unique ecosystem and well worth a visit. The hiking, ziplining, and atmosphere are second to none in the world. A highlight that you shouldn’t miss is a night walk, taking you through the jungle with guides to see some of the coolest critters you could imagine. Plus, it’s not a long drive from San Jose!


Arenal is an ancient volcano towards the north of Costa Rica. Arenal is a stand alone peak with no other mountains or even hills around, making the views from the top as expansive as it gets. There are some beautiful sights to see here, including waterfalls, rivers, and rainforests. This area has some of the best rafting and ziplining in Costa Rica. Stay in the town and enjoy!

National Park Santa Rosa

This is one of the parks in the north of the country. The park is one of the largest in Costa Rica and is considered a “dry forest” as it receives little moisture during the dry season. Here you will find all types of fauna and flora, there is something for everyone as it included coastal regions, inland oak forests, and jungles. This is some of the best hiking around. Also, Playa Naranjo (Witches Rock) is home to one of the sea turtle breeding grounds, if you go on that specific day you can help baby turtles get to the ocean!

National Park Corcovado

On the Osa Peninsula you will find one of the most untouched stretches of habitat in any country. This is truly a place to explore highly remote rainforest, with all the rewards and risks that offers. Best to get a guide, but you can brave the hikes on your own if you’d like. Other activities include amazing river rafting and tours as well as swimming in the calm waters of the gulf.

Travel Overview

Weather/How to pack

Coming to the tropics the answers here are quite simple. It will be hot. It will be wet (depending on the season/region). There will be mosquitoes. All that being said it is best to bring some long sleeves/pants that don’t add too much heat just to keep the sun off. Sandals/Flip flops are the shoe of choice at almost every gathering due to comfort and the casual atmosphere of most Costa Rican gatherings.

I highly recommend bringing some close toed shoes if you plan on hiking at all. If you think you might reach a cloud forest or rain forest make sure to pack some warmer clothes. These areas stay cool, especially at night and shorts/sandals will simply not do. A good hat will go a long way in protecting your skin from cancer as will generous amounts of sunscreen. In the water boardshorts or bikinis are good year round although you might opt for a light shirt on top or a wetsuit top to reduce chafing.


Costa Rica is a Spanish speaking country. That being said if you are in a populated area almost everyone speaks decent to passable English. That being said it is very helpful if you know basic Spanish or even a few phrases. This goes a long way to integrate yourself into the community and show the locals that you respect their culture and customs. It might also get yourself out a of a pickle with a local who might not speak English.

Here are some useful phrases to remember when traveling to Costa Rica:

Buenos dias: Good morning/Good day

Hola: Hello

Gracias: Thank you

Por Favor: Please

Baño: Bathroom

Lo siento: I am sorry

Pura Vida: Pure Life

Now this last phrase is a bit of a tricky one as it does not translate directly. Pura Vida can be used as a goodbye, thank you, or general statement of contentment. Use this somewhat liberally (not too much as it will get annoying for everyone) but it can be the perfect phrase to end a friendly interaction.


Costa Rica uses colónes as the currency. The USD to Colones rate is about 1:550. Most business in Costa Rica will accept USD so use those in a pinch if you need to. However, when paying at business with dollars the math is always done at 1:600, which loses you a decent amount of money in the long run (anyone on a Budget Surf Trip?)It is always useful to keep a good amount of colónes on you as you will get better rates, even if using cards which are also commonly used in established towns. ATM’s and airports are decent places to stock up on colónes.

WiFi/Cell Coverage

This is one of the massive pros of traveling to Costa Rica if you are working remote. The government has made establishing fiber optic internet for all a goal, so good internet is easy to come by in any built up town. There may be cut outs if the line is interrupted but it usually resumes withing a day. Rural areas will still have some connections but unreliable, mostly on the Osa Peninsula. Cell coverage, however, expansive and very reliable throughout the country. I recommend Vodafone as a very reliable carrier. It is exceedingly easy to buy a pre loaded or pay as you go sim card at most supermarkets and load that into a burner phone or your personal smart phone. These are also very economical, but knowing a little Spanish will help you get the sim card set up if you call customer service!

Overview of Expenses

Costa Rica was formerly as cheap as neighboring countries like Nicaragua. However since word has gotten out (a while ago) and the country has invested massively in the tourist industry and reaped the benefits of those numbers skyrocketing, prices have also increased. Fear not, they are still low and you can get by quite cheaply if you know where to be and what to buy. The key is to remember there is a healthy range in how high up you can go (think luxury) and how low you can go (think crowded hostel). This extends to food as well, you can eat at 5 star restaurants or stick to the staples of rice and beans (gallo pinto) for cheap eats.

Accommodation in Costa Rica as mentioned above covers a wide range. At the lower end you can stay at hostels for as low as 10 USD a night in shared rooms at most surf towns and destinations. On the other end you can go very luxury and spend up to 1200 USD a night on a luxury villa with a couple bedrooms. Find out what works best for your budget needs and what kind of trip you want, just make sure to save some money for Imperial!

Food follows the trend of accommodation. At the local eateries or “Tiquicias” you can get full meals for under 10 USD. These generally include gallo pinto, a meat, and some salad. These are found everywhere, even in the very built up towns! On the other end you can eat at very high quality restaurants owned by chef’s or investors that cater to those looking for a luxury experience. These can run you as much as you’d like, and with the locally sourced products you will not be disappointed. These establishments tend to be clustered around meccas like San Jose, Jaco, Tamarindo, and more recently Santa Teresa.

Vehicle Rentals

Car rentals are straightforward in Costa Rica, but best if know how to drive a stick shift. Rates for cheaper only paved road cars will be around 10-20 USD per day. If you choose something a little more adventure worthy (which I highly recommend, especially in the wet season) you’ll be looking at around 35-65 USD per day. Of course you can really splurge and get something spectacular, but for the bare minimum these rates are for the par.

Surf Camps

Paying for an all inclusive stay with built in guides and lessons can be a great way to score epic waves with friends. As with most of the above categories there can be a wide range of prices for a surf camp. For this article’s purposes we will look at camps that go for about a week. Most of the budget ones start at 600 USD or so. If you add people/split rooms this cost will go down per person. More luxury/amenity fill surf camps will cost up to 4,000-5,000 USD per person, but this is on the very high end. The vast majority of camps sit in a happy middle ground. Surf camps are abundant throughout all of Costa Rica, but especially around the major surf hubs like Tamarindo, Santa Teresa, and Jaco.

Costa Rica deserves a mention on any surfers bucket list for so many reasons. Not only does it have world class surf, it offers fun for the whole family that might join you. No matter where you choose to go in the country you will have an incredible trip, just make sure to use yeeew to book! Pura Vida!

The Good
Amazing waves
Tropical weather
Amazing tourism destination
The Bad
Crowds around big towns
Wet season is peak swell season
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1 Best Surf Resorts and Camps in Costa Rica

The 76 best Surf spots in Costa Rica

Overview of surfing spots in Costa Rica

Ollies Point (Potrero Grande)

Right | Exp Surfers
200m long

Boca Barranca

Left | Exp Surfers
300m long

Roca Alta

Right | Exp Surfers
100m long

Salsa Brava

Right | Exp Surfers
100m long

Bahia Garza

Right | Exp Surfers
200m long

Roca Loca

Right | Exp Surfers
100m long

Witches Rock (Playa Naranjo)

Peak | Exp Surfers
100m long

Playa Hermosa

Peak | Exp Surfers
100m long

Surf seasons and when to go

The best time of the year to surf in Costa Rica

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