Costa Rica has long been Central America’s most iconic surf destination.
With a tropical climate, two surfable coastlines, and the world-renowned ‘Pura Vida’ lifestyle, there are plenty of reasons to pick Costa Rica for a surf trip.
I first visited Costa Rica in 2016 during my time working for the International Surfing Association (ISA) when we hosted the ISA World Surfing Games at Playa Jacó.
After my work duties were finished, I headed north to explore the country’s Nicoya peninsula and experience the country for myself.
Why Surf in Costa Rica?
Costa Rica has a few advantages that draw surfers: the relative safety, tourism infrastructure, and high-quality waves.
Costa Rica is known as one of the safest countries in Latin America, especially for tourists.
Due to their long standing as a travel destination, they have a robust infrastructure in place to cater to tourists.
This draws many surfers who are weary about safety in other locations.
With beach breaks, points, and reefs on both the Pacific and Caribbean coasts, Costa Rica is well-positioned to receive waves year-round.
How To Get To Costa Rica
Costa Rica has two international airports: one centrally located in the capital of San Jose and the second conveniently located on the north Pacific coast in Liberia.
I personally flew into San Jose and out of Liberia.
Costa Rica is a great surf destination in any season. The central and south sections of the Pacific coast are best on south swells from March through October.
Guanacaste on the north Pacific coast likes the north swells from November through March. The Caribbean coast lights up in the winter from December to February.
When planning your trip, just be aware that the wet season is May through October, where torrentially rainy afternoons are common.
The 5 Best Waves to Surf in Costa Rica
Roca Bruja, otherwise known as Witches Rock, is one of the best waves on northern Costa Rica’s Pacific coast.
Only accessible by boat in Santa Rosa National Park, Witches Rock is an intermediate to expert A-frame beachbreak that is known for its consistent barrels.
When I was passing through Guanacaste I made a point out of getting on a boat to Witches Rock. I took a boat with some friends from Playa del Coco and the perfect A-frames that I experienced absolutely lived up to their reputation.
A-Frames just a boat ride away in Costa Rica. Photo Courtesy Quarnstrom
However, my trip to Roca Bruja had a bit of bad luck, coinciding with a proliferation in jellyfish and causing my session to be cut short. Ouch.
A small village down at Costa Rica’s Pacific southern extreme, Pavones’ left hand point break rivals any wave as the longest in the world.
The rock-bottom point fires on a big south swell and rewards surfers with countless sections for barrels and turns.
Located just outside of the lively town of Jacó, Playa Hermosa is known as one of the best, most consistent beach breaks in the country.
I got the opportunity to surf Playa Hermosa a few times and can attest that it’s a board-breaker wave. It packs a punch and is best for beginner surfers to avoid.
While Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast is dotted with tons of waves that cater to all levels of ability, Salsa Brava is the most infamous.
Located in the town of Puerto Viejo, Salsa Brava is an expert-only wave known for its gaping left and right barrels that break over shallow reef.
Waves aplenty in Santa Teresa. Photo Courtesy Quarnstrom
Santa Teresa is a popular, eclectic surfing village on the tip of the Nicoya Peninsula.
It features a long beach break that can provide quality waves for all abilities depending on the conditions.
Surf Gear You’ll Want to Bring to Costa Rica
The tropical sun can be brutal in Central America, so pack accordingly – sunscreen, glasses, hat, rashguard, warm water wax.
While most Costa Ricans who work in the tourism sector speak English, bringing a few useful phrases in Spanish as well to help to fit in with the locals.
Costa Rica’s Culture
Costa Ricans know how to eat. Make sure to fill up on the famous gallopinto (rice and beans) and delicious tropical fruits to kill the hunger after a long surf session.
And if you get sick of surfing, Costa Rica has endless opportunities for excursions and cultural activities.
From the unique flora and fauna of the rainforest to the towering volcanoes, Costa Rica has plenty to offer in addition to its waves.
What To Avoid When Surfing in Costa Rica
As with any surf trip, don’t test the locals’ Pura Vida vibes and be an idiot in the lineup. Respect common surfing etiquette and there will be enough waves to go around.
The Bottom Line: Surfing in Costa Rica
A surf trip to Costa Rica is a rite of passage for any surfer from the US. And it’s for good reason that the country holds such high esteem for a traveling surfer.
Between the waves, the people, the wildlife, and nature, few places on Earth rival what Costa Rica provides.
Every surfer should make the pilgrimage and experience Pura Vida for themselves.
Dispatches is a firsthand account of the surf scene abroad from American Surf Magazine Contributors.