Guide to Surfing in Costa Rica

Surf’s Up All Over Costa Rica

Large stretches of Costa Rica’s land area are located on the two coasts with only a relatively short distance between them. Its shores offer a wide variety of beaches and waves for all levels of surfers.

In this surfing guide, we have divided the country into four regions: North Pacific, Central Pacific, South Pacific, and Caribbean. Waves are classified depending on their difficulty level: intermediate or advanced.

Northern Pacific

Three-hundred days a year the offshore winds from the Gulf of Papagayo help to form perfect waves for Guanacaste’s beaches.

For transportation, the best option is to rent a four-wheel-drive vehicle. Public transportation is available departing San José from the Alfaro Bus Terminal. There are also buses to Tamarindo at the Liberia bus terminal. From the Central Pacific, if you do not have a car, there are shuttles available for a fee.

Roca Bruja • Advanced
This beach, located in the Santa Rosa National Park, is one of Costa Rica’s ideal surf spots due to the perfection of its waves. From the beach of white sand, you will notice that both rights and lefts break in perfect alignment. The waves form a cylindrical tube that can be surfed at high or low tide.

To get here you can take a four-wheel-drive vehicle through Liberia, where the entrance to the Santa Rosa National Park is located. The park has a camping area, but be sure to bring fresh water. You can also take a boat from Coco Beach or book with a tour operator.

Playa Grande • Intermediate
This beautiful beach is part of the Leatherback National Marine Park. This is a beach break with the main break located in front of the parking lot. It is best surfed during high tide when the waves form up in an orderly fashion. You can also surf it with a southern swell, provided the waves remain small enough so they don’t close out too soon.

Playa Grande is about 20 minutes north of Tamarindo on the paved road, taking a left at the Villareal junction.

manuel antonio surf beach
The golden hour at Manuel Antonio Beach.

The advantages of this area include its year-round waves, easy access and all the amenities.

Most locations are easily accessible and distances between them are relatively short. There is no need to rent a car as public transportation is pretty efficient. Coming from San José you have to take the road to the airport and then later exit toward Manuel Antonio. Buses from the Coca Cola terminal depart regularly.

Jacó • Intermediate
There are different spots on this beach where you can find some nice waves, some suitable even for beginners. One only has to walk along the beach to find the best spots. Surf from high to medium tide, or vice versa. The main break is in the center of the long beach, near Bohío Street. Further south the waves become a bit smaller.

There are buses from San José to Jacó leaving from the Coca Cola terminal. It is recommended to pay a direct shuttle if you are coming from Tamarindo.

Hermosa • Advanced
This long beach has about five main breaks that go south, each of which is surfed at different tides. Terraza and Tulín are surfed at low tide. Backyard, El Árbol and La Curva are best surfed at medium tide. Hermosa is famous for being one of the most powerful beach breaks in the world.

This beach is five minutes south of Jacó by car. You can also take the bus to Quepos from the Coca Cola Terminal in San José and tell the driver to stop at Playa Hermosa.

Southern Pacific
Best time to travel: from April to September, when southern swells begin to hit one after another, yielding exceptional waves.

The best travel option is to rent a 4×4 car.

Dominical • Advanced
This beach break is tubular, fast and demanding. Medium tide is ideal for its superior shape. A large swell is not needed and it is recommended to surf in the early hours of the day.

The quickest way to get to Dominical from the capital is along the Costanera Highway. From Quepos to Dominical, the new, paved road is in perfect shape and takes around a half hour.

Of course, there is also the traditional route through the mountains, via the infamous Cerro de la Muerte. Take the Pan-American Highway south to San Isidro del General (also known as Pérez Zeledón). There you’ll head west for an hour to get to Dominical.

Matapalo • Advanced
This area has three completely different breaks. Matapalo is a long right with a rock bottom that is fairly consistent with any swell and is surfed at medium tide. Backwash is the next break before Matapalo. Also with a rock bottom, it breaks quickly back and forth at low tide. Pan Dulce is the first break that we find in the area and is much smoother. It is also a right with a rock bottom. It is surfed at high tide since at low tide many rocks are above the water.

Puerto Jiménez is the closest town to Matapalo and is 18 kilometers from Pan Dulce. It is recommended that you go in four-wheel-drive vehicle.

This is the second longest left in the world, located at the edge of the South Pacific. It has incredible waves, a rock bottom, and measures the length of ten football fields.

You can surf all day and when the waves are over your head the beach will be full of surfers. Its waves are smooth and have fast sections and tubes that never close out.

cocles southern caribbean 750
Playa Cocles is a popular Southern Caribbean surf destination.

The Caribbean moves and feels differently from the Pacific. One day the waves can be huge and wild while the next day the sea is like a calm blue pool.

Buses leave San José from the Caribbean Terminal. If driving a private car, take the road to Guápiles across Braulio Carrillo Park.

SALSA BRAVA • Advanced
This is the most radical wave in the country and is formed by strong currents caused by a huge plate of coral. It breaks left and right, but the right has more travel.

To ride this wave, you will have to follow a narrow channel which cuts through the coral in very shallow water.

Salsa Brava is recommended only for surfers who know exactly what they are doing.

This beach is at the heart of Puerto Viejo.

COCLES • Intermediate
This is the most popular and consistent beach break in the area. With several rights and lefts, Cocles does not offer very long or orderly waves, but they are fun and strong.

Like all waves in the Caribbean, these waves are created by tropical storms.