If you’re not familiar with Costa Rica, then you most likely will not have heard of the little beach town named Playa Grande. A place which I called home for 6 months was none other than the remote beach area of Playa Grande, a place that simply cannot be matched.
You’ll receive all the benefits of the Costa Rican, Pura Vida lifestyle, but without the overpopulation of tourists. Playa Grande is unique in the sense that it is located so incredibly close to nearby tourist trap Playa Tamarindo, yet seems to fly under the radar when it comes to crowdedness.[box type=”info” size=”large” style=”rounded”]I surfed this beach every single day for 6 months and the biggest lineup I saw was during Christmas, though there were still only about 15 people in the water. [/box]
The reason Playa Grande avoids all the tourists is because it’s pretty hard to reach if you don’t know what you’re doing. Separated from Tamarindo by a crocodile infested estuary, many tourists and locals choose to stay and surf in Tamarindo, while the true surfers head over to Playa Grande.
Playa Grande is made up of two different areas.
The main stretch of Playa Grande and the hidden reserve of the Palm Beach Estates. They both have incredibly great waves, though I tend to prefer to hang around the Palm Beach break known as Casitas.
If you want a relaxing spot to surf for your next vacation, or simply want to avoid the nasty lineups of Tamarindo, then I highly recommend you check out this spot. I could wake up and surf Playa Grande 356 days a year and you’d never hear me complain about anything.
If you want to know what Pura Vida actually feels like, then head on down to Playa Grande and see what you’ve been missing.
Playa Grande is without a doubt the only place in Costa Rica that has its town set up in such a strange fashion. Though it’s only located 1 km from Tamarindo, it’s a 30 minute drive, because there’s no bridge connecting the two towns.
This allows Grande to remain more remote and ultimately brings in significant less surfers. If you’re coming from Tamarindo, you’ll have to detour through Huacas, then continue through Matapalo, and eventually you’ll land in the main stretch of Playa Grande.
Like any surf town, Grande has surf shops, restaurants, a convenience store, a tiny school, and a ton of hostels and hotels.
The beauty of Grande is the fact that it’s located in a National Forest, so there are no buildings over 2 stories. This is insane considering how many hotels have tried to be developed in the area. Due to Costa Rica’s strict laws against building on National Forest, the hotels have turned from the five-star resorts you see in Mexico to the surf vibe hostels of Bali, Indonesia.
Your bed will be soft, the windows will be open, and monkeys will dance outside your cabina doorway and the Ticos are just downright welcoming.
While living in Playa Grande, I met a variety of different people, all of whom were incredibly helpful and friendly. To put things in perspective, I had my surfboard stolen in Tamarindo and my neighbor went out of his way to track it down. I figured I’d never see it again, but after 2 days, Oscar showed up on my doorstep with my surfboard and a fresh bar of wax.[box type=”info” size=”large” style=”rounded”]That’s how small of a community Guanacaste is. You lose something, someone helps you find it.[/box]
As far as accommodation, it won’t be hard to find a place to rest your head, the only difficulty will be finding a place that isn’t expensive. Due to its remoteness and tranquility, the majority of the hotels and hostels try to charge a lot of money.
This can easily be avoided if you find the right place, or rent a house with a bunch of your mates. I rented a pool house in Palm Beach for 400$/month, but it could sleep 2-3 people.
Otherwise you can fit 10-12 surfers in one of the beach homes, or you can stay at one of the hostels. Depending on your budget and length of stay, a rental home could be your best option. Then, you’ll be able to cook all your own food, do what you want, and not have to worry about quiet hour of a hostel.
If you want incredible cuisine, then Playa Grande isn’t the best place to find it. Although there’s a few really good Sodas (Tico restaurant), the best ones are over in Tamarindo.
The best place to get a meal in Grande is either at Bar Seven or Kiki’s on the main strip. One thing to remember is that if you stay in Palm Beach you will need a car! Palm Beach is located a 20 minute drive from the mains trip of Grande, so walking from place to place takes a long time.
One good part about Palm Beach is that you can take a 1$, 2 minute boat ride across the estuary and eat in Tamarindo whenever you want. The only problem about the boat is that it only operates between 6/7 am and 530 pm. This presents a problem, because you can’t party in Tamarindo and expect the boat guys to be working. You either have to pay a taxi (20-40$), find a place to crash in Tamarindo, or swim the estuary.[box type=”alert” size=”large” style=”rounded”]Do not swim the estuary, you will get eaten by the crocodiles.[/box]
Playa Grande has a ton to offer any type of surfer and there’s a ton of wildlife surrounding the entire town. After reading this guide, you should be comfortable enough with the town of Grande that you can find a place to stay, eat, and surf without having to deal with Gringo prices.
If you only have a short time in Costa Rica, then a place like Playa Grande is a great way to have guaranteed incredible surfing, while also being able to check out a few other close spots.
Due to its close proximity to Tamarindo, Avellanas, Langosta, Marbella, Nosara, and Witch’s Rock—Playa Grande serves as an ideal spot for surfers who want to get a heavy dosage of Costa Rican surfing.
One thing about Playa Grande that sticks out the most is the consistency of the waves. I lived there for 6 months and only could remember a few days that were really choppy. Though a 20 foot swell won’t work at Playa Grande, anything between 6-12 is going to be epic. The paddle out is extremely easy, the waves hold well, and there’s never anyone surfing Playa Grande.
Playa Grande is a beach-breaking wave, offering rights and lefts to surfers of all shapes and sizes. There are two main breaks in Playa Grande, Casitas being the one located right next to the river mouth and main grande being located right next to main town.
Casitas is located right next to a huge rock formation, so there will definitely be a few rocks below you, but during high tide you’ll be far enough above water to not have to worry. The daredevils that are looking for a hollow low tide wave are welcome to rip Grande, but as a Playa Grande veteran, I’d go high tide coming in 9 times out of 10.
Depending on the time of day you surf Playa Grande will determine what type of board you should use, or at least from my experience. Though a dedicated short boarder, I found that surfing sunrise in Playa Grande was much more enjoyable with a longboard.
I’m not sure whether it was the waves, the crowd, or the fact I was just tired at 5 a.m., but early mornings in Playa Grande was always better with a 10 footer.
But, there’s no use in wasting your time on a long boy if the waves came out to play. For this reason, I’d recommend a short board for most afternoon sessions. I ride anything as short as a 5’ 4”, and anything as long as a 6’6”, though it doesn’t really matter because it’s all personal preference.
My go-to in Playa Grande was my 6’2” Rusty Joker, but it’s really up to you >
Depending on your style of play, Playa Grande can be a phenomenal place to spend your surf trip. The waves won’t be the barrels of Tahiti, nor the length of Pavones, but they’ll be better than Tamarindo 10 times out of 10.
You’ll get to rip a few of those cutbacks you’ve been dreaming about and on top of it, you won’t be wearing that 3/2 Cali wetsuit because you’ll be in Costa Rica baby!
Okay, let’s do that surf check . . .
Like I mentioned before, renting a house with your buddies is probably the most affordable and luxurious option, but obviously there are a few additional options.
Yoga, surf, fish, enough said. The RipJack offers a ton of different styles of rooms. From singles to family suites, you’ll most likely find something that satisfies your need here for sure.
The beds are comfortable, the staff is super cool, and you’ll be located about 100 feet from the main Grande beach break. You can’t really beat that, but rooms will be priced much higher than a hostel.
Standard rooms are 80$/night, Suites are about 200$, and private bungalows are around 150$.
This boutique style hotel is located right on Playa Grande National Park beach, allowing guests to enjoy the National Park and the untouched beach during their Tico vacation.
Also, the sea turtle population in this area is out of control, especially between Oct-Dec. There will be a ton of tours every single day, so if the waves decide to take a dump, at least you’ll be able to see some cool wildlife.
This is the best option for backpackers and surfers, because rooms are cheap and you get the luxury of staying in the Palm Beach Estates. This means that there will be 24/7 security, complimentary golf cart rides, and a whole lot of rich people on vacation. In addition, you’ll be a 10 minute walk from Casitas surf break and have the convenience of everything that Palm Beach has to offer.
This is the best place to stay if you’re vacationing with your family, because it’s quite luxurious and is located just steps from the best break of the area.
Located in the Palm Beach Estates, you’ll receive 24 hour security in the gated community and have the comfort of a five star resort.
The pools always cold, the food is delicious, and the staff is helpful and friendly. Also, if there are a few non-surfers in your party, the hotel offers several tours for them to enjoy.
Simply states, there ain’t no place like Playa Grande. You have constant waves, a quaint surf town, safety, and one of the emptiest lineups in the entire country.
Though it’s a little hard to reach, Grande offers a tranquility that simply cannot be found anywhere else in the country. You won’t have to deal with hundreds of people crowding up your lineup, neither will you have to worry about walking on an unsafe beach late at night.
Everything in Playa Grande is very much Pura Vida, so feel free to kick off the sandals, rub some wax on the board and surf some of the slow breaking wavs of Playa Grande, Costa Rica.
There’s a lot to be said about Jacó, some of it is rad, but some of it is quite grungy, even for a surf bum.
For years, this beach town has been getting mixed reviews from all sorts of surfers, travelers, and vacationers, so we’re here to set the record straight.
Having visited Jacó dozens of times, I know the best places to stat, eat, and party, without feeling unsafe or unclean. The overall structure of Jacó is incredible. There’s basically one ‘busy’ street in Jacó, which is full of surf shops, taco joints, souvenir emporiums, and a whole lot of places to get drunk.[box type=”info” size=”large” style=”rounded”]There’s definitely a technique to visiting Jacó, because if you decide to just wing it solo and stay at the cheapest hostel and eat the cheapest meals, you’ll have a terrible time. [/box]
There will be a ton of people trying to convince you to stay here and eat there, but if you follow the advice on this page, I guarantee you’ll have the trip of a lifetime.
Similar to the majority of Costa Rican surf towns, Jacó caters to surfers, partiers, vacationers, and a ton Gringos. Though Tamarindo gets the name Tama-Gringo, Jacó brings in the masses of Gringos and fat Americans.
I say this with all honesty, if you want to avoid chubby, pale, gnarly looking vacationers, then I would seek a surf trip elsewhere. This is not to say that there aren’t beautiful surf babes in Jacó, because there’s a ton!
As you enter town from the north, you’ll drive past a Best Western (great place to stay if you want a quiet place), then past Tico Loco Tacos, and then you’ll eventually cross the bridge to enter the heart of Jacó, Costa Rica.
With the famous slogan “Get Wacco in Jacó”, you can imagine why so many surf bums and party animals choose to call this place home. There aren’t too many places in Costa Rica that are really built up, and Jacó isn’t extremely built up either, but compared to somewhere like Dominical or Avellanas—this places is crazy incorporated.
You won’t find skyscrapers and all inclusive resorts, but you’ll discover that Playa Jacó and Key West Florida look incredibly familiar—feels like Spring Break most of the year.
Jacó is without a doubt the most convenient surf town in Costa Rica, because you’ll be able to get just about everything you’d ever need in this town. Whether you’re looking for a specific set of surf fins, a name brand type of whiskey, or simply want some constant waves, Jacó is definitely a great place to do any of the three.
When my friends visit from the states, I don’t personally take them to Jacó (especially my parents), but if you are on a strict budget and can’t make it to the rarities of Pavones or Avellanas, then I’d definitely recommend a place like Jacó.
If you and your boys (or girls) are planning a surf trip, but want to have a bunch of late nights, then choosing a place like Jacó can be very smart.
Your day will begin with awaking to the noise of Ticos selling lottery tickets in the streets and noisy Americans strolling through the streets—some of them likely never went to sleep. Your hostel will offer a free breakfast, otherwise you can find several eateries off the main drag that provide American or Tico style breakfast for about 5$.[box type=”info” size=”large” style=”rounded”]If you choose to cook your own meals, you’ll end up paying about 3-4$ for each meal. Eggs, chicken, bread, and milk are all ridiculously cheap, so keep that in mind. [/box]
As far as places to eat, drink, and party, Jacó has some of the best of Costa Rica. Though it doesn’t mirror the quality of some of the tourist heavy spots like Manuel Antonio or Tamarindo, it definitely has some great spots.
My favorite place to munch down at would have to be the Taco Bar of Jaco. This place has fresh fish, chicken, and beef tacos at a pretty affordable price. You’ll end up spending about 14$ on three tacos, so if you’re on a backpacking budget this place is not ideal. But, if you can spend the cash and enjoy a nice taco, then you’d be insane not to make a stop here.
If you like sushi and want to treat yourself, then there’s a place called Arigato Sushi on the main strip where you can feast on some of the best sushi in Costa Rica for under 20$. As I recall they don’t open their doors until 6 or 7 pm, due to the fact they only cook with the fish that’s caught that day. Yes, it’s that fresh. The chefs here are world class and if you order the Jacó roll, you won’t be disappointed.
If you want to party, it won’t be difficult. There’s dozens of pub crawls, bars, and drug dealers everywhere, so if that’s what you’re looking for, you chose the right beach town.
I have a friend named Billy from NYC who opened a bar called Moonshine on the main strip, where you’ll find 2$ cocktails and a ton of great people to party with. Otherwise, you can go dancing at Pub Orange, drink a few beers with local surfers at Swell Bar, but you best bet is to get to sleep early and catch the sunrise surf. Because once 10 a.m. hits, the water will be packed.
Located in the Golfo de Nicoya area of Costa Rica, Jacó has a fair amount of exposed breaks and doesn’t bring in too many surfers. Normally there will be reliable offshore winds from the northeast, but like any beach, it can be terrible on bad days. The best swell is going to be fro the south, southwest, which will bring in beach breaking waves in both directions.
Whether you like rights or lefts, both will be thundering if you get to Jacó on a good day. Though some of the locals prefer to surf low-tide because the waves are a bit more hallow, I really only surf it during high tide. I’ve found that as the tide comes in, the waves break a little cleaner and because the beach is so huge, it’s never too crowded. Though I say it’s not crowded, the best point (further south), is by far the best. The waves on this end of the beach are much larger and don’t wash out as easily.
One of the best parts about Jacó is the fact that it’s so versatile for every skill level. I’ve been to a ton of beaches around the world and I’ve never seen as many surf camps than in Jacó Beach.
Not only are there about 30 surf shops (all offering lessons) in the town, but there’s an additional 10-12 beach front surf schools.[box type=”info” size=”large” style=”rounded”]These are great for beginners that have never surfed before, while intermediate surfers should stay away from these classes.[/box]
The instructors will do just about anything to convince you to take a lesson, but don’t listen! They’ll tell you that there’s sharks in the water, a terrible jellyfish population, or sting ray breeding season, but they are probably lying.
I’ve surfed Jacó dozens of times and I’ve never seen, heard, or even slightly thought about a shark. Sting rays are a different story. I’ve been stung 5 times in my life, once was at Jacó, but it’s all part of the sport.
Because there’s a ton of advanced surfers who visit Costa Rica, I have to mention Playa Hermosa de Jacó. This is where you’re going to want to surf. The wave works very well when it reaches overhead heights and has a ton of power. Hermosa is only about a 5-10 minute drive from Jacó, so it’s easy to get to. Hermosa is a great spot to visit if a big swell comes in, especially if you’ve got the balls to try a tow-in day. My advice, check the surf report and bring the gun.
Let check the surf now . . .
The Buddha House Hostel: This is one of the best options for surfers and backpackers that don’t have a bunch of money to spend on accommodations. I normally either stay here, or with friends.
The Buddha House is clean, safe, and comfortable. Three things that you won’t find everywhere in Jacó. A room will cost you 12$/night for the shared dorms, 25$/night for the private air conditioned rooms, and 35$/night for the master bedroom.
They have a beautiful Argentinian receptionist named Camilla, basically the reason I sleep there. You’ll feel at home at the Buddha House, so get cozy and enjoy your vacation.
Clarita’s: Easily the most lively place to stay in Jacó. This place is home to the Miss Jacó competition each year, so you imagine what type of things ensure.
Wet T-shirt contests, beer pong, and a ton of other games. I don’t specifically stay here, because I like to sleep at night, but I always catch a few post surf brews here.
Clarita’s is notorious for housing hundreds of drunk people, especially during high season. Though it can get quite ratchet some nights, it is actually a decent hotel. Rooms are anywhere from 40-100$/night.
Room 2 Board: This is a huge hostel complex, where a ton of backpackers stay. Rooms are 10-15/night, rooms lock, and it’s pretty clean. This is the largest hostel, so you’ll be able to meet people from around the world.
They host pub crawls, surf camp, and Spanish lessons, so it’s a pretty organized facility.
Jacó is a great vacation spot in Costa Rica, but it is most definitely not for everyone. If you’re young, like to party, and are comfortable with your surf skills, then you may feel right at home here.
There’s a ton of great eateries, a decent amount of waves, and one of the rowdiest nightlifes in all of Central America. Things to keep in mind!
Jaco is not as safe as the majority of other surf towns, so keep your belongings close! Don’t bring out too much cash, don’t get too drunk, and don’t walk on the beach at night. The locals in Jacó are by far the worst, so if you slam a bottle of Flor de Caña and smoke a bag of grass, don’t expect to make it home with any dignity.
If you avoid the beach, stay with your group, and know a little Spanish, you won’t have to worry about anything. Just don’t follow a local into a dark ally, use your head! Though it isn’t the most extravagant place to surf, Jacó is a great beach, full of a lot of great surfers, so rip some waves and drink some rum!
If you’re backpacking through Costa Rica, or are simply just hitting a few of the beaches in the southern Pacific region, then it’s likely that you’ve heard of either Quepos or Manuel Antonio. Both beaches offer a completely different vibe, so depending on what you’re looking for, you’ll fall in love with at least one of them.
Personally, I stay in Manuel Antonio, but generally prefer to surf Quepos, assuming the wave is working. These are two HUGE tourism towns in Costa Rica, so if you’re looking for a cheap, remote little surf town, then I highly suggest you seek your stoke somewhere else. But, if you want to surf some fun breaks, meet beautiful girls (also surf bros for all those surf babes out there), and generally have some very interesting nights, then the Manuel Antonio Quepos gangbang is a great choice for any surf bum’s vacation.
Located only a short 2 hour drive from San Jose, Quepos serves as an ideal place to start your surf journey (especially considering Dominical, Uvita, and Pavones are all just due south).
Similar to every tourist heavy town in Costa Rica, you won’t find the 50 cent tacos and 1$ beers here, but you can definitely scrape by if you have a few hundred dollars in the bank account.
There’s a ton of epic restaurants and bars all over Manuel Antonio, with equally as much found in Quepos. But, beware! Quepos is home to a ton of sketchy Ticos and prostitutes, so unless you want a little something, something, I wouldn’t talk to any of the “fine” women in high heels. Stick to the sun-kissed surf girls in the bikinis and you’ll go home with a few stories to brag about.
Similar to any surf town in Costa Rica, the atmosphere in both Quepos and Manuel Antonio is completely surf orientated. Though you won’t have the abundance of surf hostels and surf shops of Jacó or Tamarindo, you will get a heavy dosage of surfage if you look in the right places.
Though Quepos generally gets a bad rap for robberies and loose women, if you have your head straight, you’ll find that the sketch balls leave you alone. Just stay away from the Quepos pier/boardwalk at night, nothing good ever happens there, seriously never.
Alright, Quepos and Manuel Antonio are two entirely different towns, but they are located within 2 miles of one another, which is why we categorize them together in a surf guide.
Quepos is the Tico town located at the bottom of a giant hill, while Manuel Antonio is the town located at the top of the hill. So, you’ll have to pass through Quepos to get to Manuel Antonio, which makes surfing both of them in a weekend super easy.
First, let’s talk Quepos. This is a fairly small Tico town located about 2 hours south of San Jose on the beach, just 1 hour south of popular Jacó. Quepos is by no means a beautiful or quaint, not cute town, but the wave that breaks of the jetty makes it a gorgeous town in my opinion.
I don’t visit surf towns because they’re beautiful, I visit surf towns because I can get stoked and drink rum. If you want to soak in an infinity pool, eat a steak dinner, and get massages all day, my advice is to go to Hawaii. Quepos is gritty, but safe, so in my opinion, it’s a win-win.
From my experiences, the locals in Quepos are a lively bunch and are just looking to get drunk with a few Gringos, so if you sport a smile and a little spirit for adventure, you’ll love it here. But, for those that are willing to spend a little more money, or just want to enjoy a more aesthetic town, then hop on the bus up to Manuel Antonio for 50 cents and see what it has to offer.
Manuel Antonio is a great place for backpackers, couples, solo travelers, families, or basically anyone that wants to wake up on top of a mountain and peer out at the vast Pacific Ocean.
Manuel Antonio is perched at the peak of a mountain, so regardless of where you choose to stay, you’ll be able to bask in the glory of Costa Rican jungle. I’m much more familiar with Manuel Antonio as far as accommodations and eateries, so listen up and you’ll be treated.
Depending on you budget, you may want to buy your own food and cook it yourself, but I highly recommend a few restaurants if you have the funds.
First and foremost, El Patio is just about the dankest food in Costa Rica. They blend Caribbean style cuisine with fresh seafood to literally spin heads. Last time I was there, they had a Teriyaki Coconut Mango Tuna steak that I would eat 365 days a year and never complain about.
Though they have gnarly cool combinations of all sorts of seafoods and sauces, you won’t be able to afford this place on a poor man’s budget. Meals are generally like 20$ a plate, so only go here if you can swing it.
If you’re working with 5$/day for food, then split the bill at the Super Joseth with your buddy. You can get two huge ass Tuna steaks, coconut mango marinate, a bag of rice, and fresh veggies for 10$. Don’t believe me? Ask my buddy Uncle Steve, he still talks about my seared Tuna. Apart from the high end restaurants, you can generally find a fish taco for 2$, but like I said before you’re better off cooking your own meals while in Manuel Antonio.
Quepos: This is a tricky one, because sometimes it works and sometimes it’s flat. I’ve seen it at 1 foot and I’ve seen it at 10 feet and let me tell you, when it’s working at 10, paddle out.
Although I almost always stay in Manuel Antonio, I’ll bus down to Quepos any day if the wave wants to work. The wave is always going to break left, which is rad for everyone, because it’s a super clean left.
The wave isn’t as heavy as say, Dominical, so you can catch it and ride that puppy for a few hundred yards. If you want a barreling wave, then you want a big strong southwest or west swell, because anything under waist height will probably be pretty mushy.
Quepos used to be a pretty rad left that broke to the beach, but with the construction of the jetty, it breaks out pretty deep.[box type=”info” style=”rounded” border=”full”]Though everyone thought the construction of the new harbor was going to destroy the wave, it did the exact opposite. Now, the wave peels cleaner, faster, and ultimately makes for a much better ride.[/box]
Manuel Antonio: There isn’t a whole lot to say about this wave, because it’s going to be your typical fun-sized beach breaking wave.
If you head down the beach a few kilometers you’ll hit Playa Playitas. Playitas brings in much better waves, but Manuel Antonio beach is perfect for beginners or intermediates that want to perfect their style.
You can take a bus that runs from Quepos to the beach in Manuel Antonio for just under 1$, which will take you directly to the beach. You won’t have to pay a national park entry fee, nor deal with too many surf beginners, because the majority of tourism in Manuel Antonio is geared towards birdwatching and hiking.
Although this wave generally stays under head height, if you get a strong SW swell, expect a little power. I’ve had incredibly days at Manuel Antonio and would definitely recommend it to anyone that wants a nice salty long boarding Sunday.
Depending on your budget, you can stay at a variety of different places. Hotels are great, houses can be rented, but generally, hostels are the best options for backpackers and surfers.
Vista Serena: One of the best and most affordable accommodation options in Manuel Antonio. This place is run by Conrad and his mother (both Ticos) and they truly make all their guests feel right at home.
La Serena offers a ton of different room options (dorms, privates, cabinas, etc), so you’ll be able to find something that suits your needs. Rooms go for 10-20$ night and all options are clean and safe. You can lock up your valuables, watch an epic sunset, or just kick it on one of the several hammocks.
Backpackers: The long standing backpacker hostel in Manuel Antonio is an affordable, yet not always the safest options for backpackers. I’ve heard horror stories of people getting their packs and boards lifted at cheap hostels, so I usually just splurge the extra 2$ and stay somewhere a bit more comfortable.
La Mariposa: This is the ultimate option for people who have money to spend, or for those surfers that are visiting during the dead low season. This is a five star resort, but I’ve found accommodation for 120$/night.
That’s 60$ a person for easily the best accommodation in the area. There’s monkeys, toucans, sloths, and all sorts of wildlife running around the hotel, but you obviously won’t be getting your room for 10$. If you have the funs, I’d definitely recommend La Mariposa.
Quepos and Manuel Antonio are two incredibly beautiful destinations in Costa Rica, especially if you’re somewhat interested in wildlife. I’ve seen just about every animal from whales to sloths here, all while getting a heavy dosage of wave ripping.
It is definitely not you average cheap, surf bum town, but sometimes you have to pay a little extra to have the breathtaking views of this blessed country.
If you’re traveling with your girlfriend or family, this is an excellent way to spend time surfing, while also enjoying the wildlife of Costa Rica!
This place will have a special place in my heart forever (and yours) when you arrive.
I’ve had some of the craziest nights of my life in Samara and hope to continue to surf this town until the day I die. The entire town is full of beach bums, surf nuts, and party animals, which makes it one of the best destinations for surfers, backpackers, and anyone who wants to weave in a little rowdiness to their surf trip.
There’s a ton of hostels, beach rentals, and hotels—finding hotel accommodations is super easy and affordable. Though the main beach break normally doesn’t reel overhead waves, if you walk down the dirt road north of town, you’ll find Buena Vista, the semi-secret beach break that the locals call home.[box type=”info” size=”large” style=”rounded”]Whether you’re traveling with your family, girlfriend, or the boys, a visit to Samara is completely worth your time. [/box]
Samara has one of the rowdiest nightlifes in Costa Rica and when the waves hit, provides a dirty beach break that you’ll find yourself reminiscing about as you sit in your cubicle back in the USA while ordering office supplies.
One of my favorite parts about Samara (and also Nosara) is the idea how everyone seems to know each other. It’s got the surf vibe of places like California/Hawaii, but without the overabundance of people. Anyone surfed Trestles lately—take a number!
As opposed to visiting a place like say, Southern California, you actually get to dominate the lineup with your buds. There’s no fifty person lineup, no dickhead locals trying to maintain a dick-tatorship (hehe), no crusty comments—the atmosphere is 100% pura vida![box type=”info” size=”large” style=”rounded”]Though you can find this friendly, Hakuna Matata vibe in many parts of Costa Rica, Samara is one of the few places where everyone is like that.[/box]
From the OG long boarding Expats to the barrel hunting local Ticos, every surfer in Samara is out for one thing: fun.
You’ll hear the locals whistling, hollering, and making all sorts of strange sounds. This is the surfing I love, when you get a crew of different cultures all doing their thing, it truly creates a vibe that is unexplainable. If you’re trying to plan a Costa Rica or Central America surf trip, Samara is a great one to add to the list. You can get stoked all day at Buena Vista, grab a great fish taco, and hit the night with a bottle of rum and a clear head.
Alright, so there’s two beaches that you’ll want to surf while you’re here. The first time I came, we just surfed in front of Lo Que Hay, where Playa Samara is located. Depending on the swell, this wave is either going to be fun, or incredibly flat.
The majority of experienced surfers aren’t going to hang out here, unless theres a fat southern swell, in which case, it’s a great wave. You get the convenience of being right in front of town, it’s a calm beach breaking wave, and you may just be able to catch a few airs.
I’d recommend Playa Samara for beginners, or low-intermediate surfers that want to practice their surfing abilities. The wave is going to work much better at high tide as it comes in, which provides decent waves for long boarders, or beginner short boarders.
Unfortunately for experienced surfers, there’s some offshore rocks that block a lot of the swell, so you might want to head to Buena Vista.
Let’s take a quick break and check the surf . . .
Buena Vista is a much better beach for surfers that actually want to get pitted before they hit the town. This beach is located just north of town and can easily be reached by a 30 minute walk, or 5 minute car ride.
Though the wave isn’t going to barrel, most local Ticos find that there’s a ton of moderate sized waves here and you can definitely have a little fun with the wave lips. Lying at the north end of the estuary, near a river mouth, Buena Vista’s waves are normally pretty good. There’s going to be two points here, one is sketchy, the other is mellow.
There’s a huge rock formation at the south end of the beach, which provides a pretty sizable left, but there’s definitely a ton of rocks below. If you’re comfortable and it looks rip-able, then send it, but if you want a mellow day, then I’d stick to the other point.
Locals call this wave, Punta Tortuga, meaning turtle point, as it’s located in front of a small Turtle sanctuary. I’ve had great days riding here and it’s awesome because Buena Vista is very lush with vegetation. After you rip and earn some local respect, the Ticos will treat you to an after session coconut. They will literally shimmy up the coco trees, kick down a few dozen fresh cocos and teach you how to open them without a machete.
Due to Buena Vista’s remoteness, there aren’t any places to buy water or refreshments, so my advice, bring a water bottle. The waves at Buena Vista break moderately slow, so you’ll forfeit power for length with a lot of these waves.
For surfers that want to party in Samara, but really want to get out of their mind pitted, should head to a little Tico town called Marbella. Marbella use to be one of Costa Rica’s best kept secrets, but like most epic surf towns, it has been developed. It’s not as crazy developed as Samara or Tamarindo, but compared to what it used to be, it’s not the same.
This is a reef/rock break, dishes out epic left and rights, and should only be surfed by experienced surfers. There’s rarely a lineup, with a ton of power, and you don’t have to surf with Chads from New Jersey.
This is a very hard beach to find, but if you really want to access it, it’s very possible.
It’s going to be on the way to a town called Junquiyal, where you would normally stop, but if you keep on the road and ask a few locals, they’ll guide you in the right direction
There’s a ton of bars, restaurants, and funky eateries in Samara, which makes a post Samara surf session one of the best.
If you want a taste of natural Costa Rica, but want a twist of rage, then Samara Beach is without a doubt the best place to go. The Ticos of Samara have all had their fare share of all nighters, so don’t feel bad if you can’t keep up, because these guys are pros in-and-out of the water.
Though there’s tons of different places to start the night, a beach front eatery called, “Lo Que Hay” is of my favorites. The name which literally means “It is what it is”, delivers a heavy dosage of strong drinks, cool people, and music that will get those bones a’shaking. Maybe it’s because I’ve started so many nights at Lo Que Hay that I’m prejudice to start every night here, but you really can’t go wrong with cheap fish tacos and cheaper beer.
One of the other places where you’ll find just about everyone everyone in town is a swanky joint called Sports Bar Arriba. Located on the second floor of a shopping complex, it feels almost as if you’re walking into a high class Tico nightclub, but trust me, you aren’t.
This sports bar/surf hideout is a local favorite and the bartenders mix up some of the tastiest drinks in the area. Whether you’re looking for shots of whisky, piña coladas, beers, or anything in between, this bar most likely has it. The entire staff at this restaurant bar is incredibly friendly, everyone speaks english and I promise you will have the time of your life.
Last time I was at Arriba the bartender and I were inventing new shots; ask for the Guanacaste or the Shooter McGavin (Happy Gilmore, come on!), maybe they’ll remember.
Aside from the endless party scene in Samara, you can actually find a great bite to eat and meet some of the badass Expats that have migrated to this slice of absolute paradise. As you enter town (from the north), there’s a joint called “LuvBurger” that offers amazing organic and vegan options for those health-nut surfers out there.
You’ll find your surf munchie style tacos at El Taco Volador. Personally I’m a Lo Que Hay kind of guy, but it’s always worth a little variation when you’re visiting a foreign place. Also, Il Vino has arguably the best pizza I’ve ever had in the land of Pura Vida. Thin crust or deep dish, I’m not sure who the chef is, but he deserves a high five for sure.
If you’re looking for something quick before heading out on the waves, I’d recommend a stop at the town’s Panaderia y Heladeria. You can scarf down a quick croissant (or 5) for some quick surf energy, for this place is on the road which leads to Buena Vista surf break.[box type=”info” size=”large” style=”rounded”]Playa Samara is one of the most organized towns in the entire country of Costa Rica and you’ll be able to find everything you need for a kicks surf trip. [/box]
There’s two or three grocery stores, two ATMs (which are normally hard to come by), a few rental car places, a ton of hotels, and plentiful surf schools for the beginners. As a family friendly, surf friendly, party friendly town, Samara Beach is a place you’ll want to stay at forever. And feel free to, there’s plenty of work and there’s even a hippie commune outside of town if you’re looking for a free place to crash.
La Mariposa: This is a great hostel for backpackers and surfers, because it’s cheap, clean, and fun. Though I normally stay with friends in Samara, this is a great alternative option for people that are traveling on a budget. I’ve stayed here multiple times and have absolutely no complaints. You can rent hammock rooms for like 8$/night, or dorm rooms for 12$/night.
Samara Tree House Inn: This is a more luxurious option, which offers five or six treehouse style apartments in the heart of Samara Village. You get your own apartment, making it a great option for surf crews that want to ball-out a little bit while they party and surf in Samara. The rooms include top of the line beach furniture, a pool, WiFi, free breakfast, and a much better standard of living than any other hostel. Apartments are only 35$ per night (for 2 people). Find more info at www.samaratreehouse.com.
Hotel Samara Beach: If you want to be located super close to the beach, then this is probably one of the best options as far as accommodation goes. This place has an awesome tropical beach vibe and offers guests clean and comfortable rooms. I’m not sure what pricing for rooms are, but you can find what you need at: www.hotelsamarabeach.com.
Cabinas Nayuribe: Renting a cabina is always a great idea when you visit any surf destination. Though when I say “cabina” I don’t mean the epic luxurious one’s you find in Hawaii, but rather the Tico style of Cabina. Sometimes they are nice, sometimes they are gnarly. I’ve never personally stayed at these cabins but I know people who have and they’ve said positive things. Cabins can be anywhere between 25-60$ per night, depending on size, comfort, etc.
Samara Beach is definitely on my list of favorite destinations in Costa Rica, mainly because there’s so much to do.
I wouldn’t say it’s the most epic location for surfing, but I would recommend it as a pit-stop along the way.
Every legendary surf trip needs a few nights of hardcore partying and you’ll definitely get your fair share of late nights if you stay in Samara. Samara is a semi-popular vacation destination, but doesn’t have the overabundance of obese North Americans crowding the beach. There’s a ton of beautiful people, tasty food, funky bars, and ways to spend your day.
The waves aren’t going to be up to par for the barrel hunters out there, but I would totally recommend at least a few nights in this surf party town. Also, if you happen to be traveling with your family, there’s a ton to do as far as tours and all that jazz. Although you’ll always find me cruising waves over at Buena Vista, every part of Samara is worth a visit. Happy shredding.
Nearly all of Costa Rican surf towns have been engulfed by tourism, which can truly put a damper on a surf trip to Central America. When you visit the majority of Costa Rican surf towns, you’re going to have to deal with the beginner hussies, expensive fish tacos, and most likely, a crowded lineup.
Pavones is a tad different. Renowned as one of the most desolate and remote surf destinations in the entire country—Pavones provides surfers with a total surf oriented experience.
Being that it’s so difficult to reach, Pavones lacks the extreme amounts of surfers from around the world and rather caters to the die hard barrel hunters. Yes, you can get barreled in Pavones if you get the right swell. Pavones encompasses 10 miles of different beaches, which lines the nearly untouched Golfo Dulce area of Costa Rica. Thanks to Colin for letting us use his sick shot of Pavones—if you are looking for a surf camp in the area we highly recommend his sight: https://unaola.com/
The Rio Claro is one of the clearest rivers in Central America and this dazzling spectacle feeds into the gnarliest left breaking wave in the entire country.
Pavones is considered to be possibly the longest warm water left in the world, which is why so many people have attempted to reach it, though only few have actually made the trek. I have surfed both Chicama in Peru and Pavones in Costa Rica and on they both give the title ‘world’s longest left’ a run for the money. The only way to know is to surf them both yourself.[box type=”info” size=”large” style=”rounded”]Literally, you can hit this left for 1 mile+, and I’m not even exaggerating.[/box]
One of the greatest parts of Pavones is the entirely chilled-out, relaxed vibe that the area offers. Located in nearly the most southern point of the south pacific region of Costa Rica, Pavones is a little slice of heaven that thousands of surfers have dreamt of visiting. There isn’t the chaos of a tourist heavy atmosphere here, so you can crush waves all day, grab a slice of pizza, and enjoy a nice brew in this desolate surfer destination.
The waves in Pavones are legendary. Honestly, if you ask any old time surfer in the South Pacific and they don’t tell you Pavones is the raddest destination in southern Costa Rica, then they are lying to you.
Pavones is situated in the “deep-south” of Costa Rica, on the southern side of the Gulfo Dulce, near the small ecologically heavy town of Golfito.
You won’t be able to reach Pavones unless you truly want to rip it, because it’s just about the hardest wave to reach in all of Costa Rica. Though it may be a hard wave to get to, finding the town of Pavones is very simple, you just need to have the motivation to get your ass from San Jose to Pavones.
It’s about 8 or 9 hours from San Jose the capital and if you’re taking a bus, the trip can take 16+ hours, due to the amount of bus transfers that it requires. The majority of surfers rent a 4×4 car and can reach it without too much trouble, that’s my best advice to you.[box type=”info” size=”large” style=”rounded”]Pavones is a world class wave, consistent as all hell (150 days/year), and is without a doubt the longest left in the country. [/box]
The one problem with Pavones is that it needs a big southern swell to create the monster left that you want. The beach has a sandy bottom with rocks and the point is a long wrap around on a beach of boulders, so watch where you toss your board.
If the swell is working and you’re in Pavones, the wave goes on forever. Typical length is between 400-900 meters, which is ample enough time for you to have the left of your life. I must warn you, though Pavones is incredibly remote, when the swell hits, the town gets crowded.
There’s a ton of surfers in the south pacific region of Costa Rica, so you can imagine, word travels fast as a Japanese bullet train.
One other little unknown secret about the area is that you can also head south of Pavones and surf a point called Punta Banco, where you’ll be able to find lefts and rights. Punta Banco is much less crowded when the sell hits, so can be ideal for surfers that don’t want to deal with a crowded lineup. You didn’t hear it here.
Overall, Pavones is one of my personal favorite spots to visit in Costa Rica. It’s awesome when an enormous swell hits my hometown of Uvita and since the wave won’t hold, we grab a crew of Ticos, rent a van, and head down to the holy land of Pavones, Costa Rica.
You want a south west, south swell, the wave starts working at 3-5 feet and holds out to 16+ . . . let check the swell now.
You can surf at any tide, during any hour of the day, during any weather conditions, because you’re in Pavones and should surf regardless of the conditions anyways. The only downside is how crowded it can get, but that’s a small price to pay when you can ride the wave for 500+ meters.
No complaints here mon, just a ton of stoke!
Pavones is a small Costa Rican town located in the southern Pacific zone, near the town of Golfito (about 1.5 hours south). The entire town is reliant on its surf community, but there’s a ton of birds, so there’s also some birdwatchers.
If you catch Pavones at its peak, you can ride it the entire length of the town and impress all the cute girls watching from the beach—some of them birdwatchers. While the majority of the population is Costa Rican, a large amount of international expats have voyaged to Pavones and have been calling it home for decades.
Due to the amount of international cultures in Pavones, there’s definitely a very cosmopolitan vibe to the area, which makes it more welcoming for foreigners.
Though Pavones is incredibly small and remote, it does have a few different restaurants for surfers to enjoy, but remember, there aren’t a ton of options. There is a small surf shop called Sea Kings in Pavones—grab those goodies you forgot. The also have some boards for hire and offer surf lessons.
Obviously there are the small Tico Soda restaurants, serving up Gallo Pinto, Arroz con Pollo, and other Costa Rican dishes. Also, there’s a small Italian restaurant which dishes up tasty slices of pizza, small pasta dishes, and some other Italian infused recipes.
The only other restaurant I know if the upscale Brazilian style buffet, which has vegetarian and meat eating choices for surfers that have a little more cash to spend on gourmet meals.
There’s also a small supermarket, but it has all the essentials you’ll need. Meat, fresh veggies, fruit, bread, milk, eggs . . . and yes, beer!
Also, if you happen to be traveling with people who aren’t die hard surfers (likely not the case) then there are a few no surf activities. There’s a yoga studio called Shooting Star Studio where surfers or non-surfers can get a quality stretch in pre or post surf.
Get in the rental and check out a few waterfalls in the area or book a fishing charters in Golfito. Or good old school and just take a walk with your camera for a ton of wildlife right in you back—and front—yards.
If you want to take a day off from the waves, or they aren’t delivering, the Osa Peninsula is right around the corner and it’s one of the most bio diverse places in the world. You can see Scarlet Macaws, sloths, monkeys, dolphins, whales . . . the list goes on-and-on.[box type=”info” size=”large” style=”rounded”]All in all, Pavones has a plethora of activities for people to enjoy, but the main reason people flock to this remote little Tico town is for the gnarliest left in the world. [/box]
It’s a peaceful place, where you can surf waves, meet people from around the world, share badass stories, and see some of the world’s rarest wildlife. If you want laid-back with a mix of epic surfing, I don’t know any place better than Pavones, Costa Rica.
I normally sleep in the van we rent, or camp in a tent on one of the various camping area, but there are a bunch of housing options for people that don’t want to be such a surf dirtbag. When I role with the ladies I usually stay at one of the following options.
These are very cozy, homey cabins, tended by a super cute couple. They make you feel at home and provide you with just about anything you’d need while surfing or vacationing in Pavones. Roberta from Brazil said about staying there, “Amazing place, amazing people, amazing vibe.”
There’s a common area, WiFi, spacious cabins, and a ton of videos to watch—there’s a lot of down time in Pavones. But the best part about La Ponderosa is without a doubt the care that Marshall and Angela McCarthy provide their guests.
Got an extra 100k lying around? Marshall and Angela have some property opportunities listed on their site that look enticing.
Tell them Jason says hello and give them a hug for me, they’re great people—if you buy some land, can I sleep on it?
This place has a ton of different accommodation options. You can get private rooms, cabins, shared dorms, private rooms with shared bathrooms, the whole shebang. Rooms start at 15$/night for the shared rooms and privates are anywhere from 30-60$/night.
There’s a big kitchen, full of kitchen equipment, WiFi, hammocks, chairs, a porch, comfortable beds, and a super clean hotel. You can rent surfboards here, book tours, and park your car in a safe location. Cash only, like most of Pavones and Costa Rica.
This are another option if you want to do the cabin route of accommodation. I’ve never personally stayed here, but have surfed with a ton of people who have. Only good things. You get your own cabin with a kitchen, bathroom, and private space. Great for surf crews that want to have their own private area. There’s an open air bar and restaurant, WiFi, and a very laid-back atmosphere.
Let’s take a quick break and take a great look at the wave during a solid swell . . .
Pavones is one of the most unique locations in the entire country of Costa Rica. You’ll spend hours reaching this little surf town, but it will be worth every mile (if the swell hits).
Surfers from around the world have been flocking to Pavones for the better part of century and the waves send surfers home happy.
There aren’t a lot of places where you can get unbelievably pitted for 500 meters 150+ days out of the year, but at Pavones, you can. So pack your back, stuff your board bag with you favorite rip sticks, and head on down to Pavones, Costa Rica.
There may not be a whole lot to do as far as parting and nightlife are concerned, but you get to have the pleasure of getting up close and personal with nature in Pavones.
I’d recommend Pavones for any surfer visiting Costa Rica, it’s a must see. Get stoked my friends!
As far as the complete Costa Rican vacation is concerned, Nosara may be one of the most up-and-coming vacation destinations in the entire country. Central America, and Costa Rica for that matter, are slowly becoming more and more developed and this town is no different.[box type=”info” size=”large” style=”rounded”]Though there’s tourism and an expat community Nosara has remained a little off the grid in terms of vacation hotspots.[/box]
Nosara combines top of the line style accommodations and eateries with the remoteness of a Tico beach town. You won’t be charged an arm and a leg for a meal, but don’t expect the prices of southeast Asia street cuisine—how I miss me some Gado Gado from the stalls of Bali.
The town of Nosara is small, but there’s a ton to do, regardless of your surf abilities or interests. Obviously you’ll probably be visiting Nosara to catch some gnarly beach breaking waves, but a session or two of yoga while you’re there is a smart decision.
Nosara doesn’t have the heavy rage atmosphere of Tamarindo or Puerto Viejo, you’ll actually get some really solid days of surf in while you visit and might even heal your chakras from all that debauchery from last week. After a great night sleep, you might be able to get two sessions in a day—depends on a 5 or 6 a.m. high tide; two sessions every day, that’s what we all love, wake up to the brisk Costa Rican morning (well, not that brisk), watch the sun rise and surf until breakfast.
Nestled in the northern peninsula of Costa Rica in a region called, Guanacaste. Guanacaste is known for is “cowboy country” atmosphere, gnarly waves, and pristine beaches, though it hasn’t been overrun with thousands of tourists. Although you’ll find ridiculous crowds and hundreds of tourism companies in nearby Tamarindo, Nosara delivers a much more relaxed and chill-out vibe than any other beach I’ve visited in Central America.
There’s tuk-tuk taxis rolling all over town, the food is out of this world, and everyone in Nosara embraces life in the most positive of fashions. If you’re trying to surf Costa Rica on a budget, then Nosara isn’t the best option, but it can definitely be done if you know the right places.
One of my favorite parts about Nosara is the way how the town in general operates. If the swell doesn’t hit or the wave isn’t working, people find ways to entertain themselves. Another huge plus of Nosara is that it’s home to the majority of the beach yoga institutes, which means in shape vacationers. It’s a whole lot better to a bunch of babes on the beach than the typical overweight American vacation slug.[box type=”info” size=”large” style=”rounded”]Badass waves plus badass babes will always make for an incredible surf trip.[/box]
Nosara is definitely one of Costa Rica’s best kept secrets, for it may attract a lot of surfers, but the majority of them are fairly strong riders.
There’s two different beaches in Nosara, so you won’t get caught in too big of a lineup, but on the weekends, expect a few dozen surfers. From my experience in Nosara wasn’t your typical party surf town, but you can probably find something happening if you hit any of the bars on the main strip.
This town is set up very well, everything is convenient, but it isn’t packed with tall buildings or fancy resorts. Not to say there aren’t great accommodations, but it’s much nicer when the hotels are more boutique style as apposed to enormous all-inclusive ones.
As you enter town from the highway, you’ll see tons of surf shops, surf schools, yoga studios, Tico souvenir stores and tiny little bodega style grocery marts. The majority of the vibe in Nosara is based around surfing, yoga, and escaping from the business of your life.[box type=”info” size=”large” style=”rounded”]Everyone I met in Nosara was so awesome, it was a great breath of fresh air.[/box]
From the highway, you’ll find the main strip of the town, where you can find most of the things you’ll need during your trip. You can wake up, head to Café de Paris, where a cute french couples dishes out French pastries and killer drinks at the barista—they also have some rooms for rent but it would drive me crazy to wake up to French pastries every day.. Or you can head to Tibidabo, where you’ll find authentic Mediterranean style foods and an upscale cocktail bar.
At the end of town is where this place called the Beach Dog Cafe is located and is a great local hangout for people looking to catch natural lunch and stiff buzz. With the majority of shops and restaurants owned my Expats, the town functions pretty smoothly.
You can most definitely find Tico cuisine all over town, it’s cool how so many people from around the world have moved to Nosara and called it their new “home”. You really get that international vibe when so many cultures come together and it works super well in Nosara.
Nosara is made up of three different beaches, all serving up a different style of wave. There’s Nosara, Pelota, and Guiones—Guiones is by far the best. If you’re just learning, I’d recommend Playa Nosara or Pelota, but a beginner will hold up just fine at Guiones (as long as the swell isn’t huge).
Guiones is an enormous, un-crowded, white-sand beach, which dishes out glassy, clean, and forgiving waves.[box type=”alert” size=”large” style=”rounded”]The beach is surf-able almost 365 days a year, with about 250-300 days of shoulder to overhead size waves.[/box]
Because the beach at Guiones is huge and there’s a ton of points, every skill level of surfer will find what they’re looking for. The best times to rip here is either in the early morning, or just before sunset, arguably the best times to ride anyways.
As far as Costa Rica is concerned, Guiones has potentially the cleanest and most well developed waves in the country, which is why I find myself returning every few months. As a short boarder, low tide is probably my favorite time to rip Guiones, as the waves have much steeper faces when there’s less water.
I’ve found the wave barreling at low tide, while high tide and mid-tide are much better for beginners or badass old timing long boarders.
Much like most of Costa Rica, the locals are cheerful, friendly, and an energetic bunch. They’ll be happy to share waves with you as long as you can respect there presence.
I wouldn’t recommend dropping in on a veteran Tico, but he’ll definitely give you the head nod to rip that slow rolling right if you just give it a little time. As one of the chillest places in the whole country, locals tend to be pickier with their waves and won’t drop in on every set that rolls through.
Now, let’s check the surf . . .
There are a few surf schools around the entire town, so finding a lesson is super easy. A lot of the surf schools throughout the town, there are there I’d recommend Nosara Tico Surf School, Nosara Surf Academy (www.nosarasurfacademy.com) or the Safari Surf School (www.safarisurfschool.com) for they have the best instructors.
As an avid surf backpacker who’s been all over Central America, I whole heartedly believe that Nosara is one of the best waves I’ve surfed. It may not have the power or height of somewhere like Salsa Brava, nor will it have the remoteness of Playa Grande, but Nosara is awesome. It’s a great beach for short boarders, long boarders, old timers, veterans, virgins, intermediates, chicks, dudes, bros, weirdos, the whole goddamn shebang.
Head to Nosara, surf Guiones, and throw in a yoga session; trust me, you won’t regret a visit here.
Here’s a video to show you what’s up in Nosara:
It all depends on what type of vacation or surf trip you want to have. Nosara is a little bit on the pricier side, but can easily be conquered by surf backpackers if they choose the right accommodations.
If you are traveling with a crew, you will probably want to rent a house somewhere and avoid staying in a hostel. But if you are traveling solo or with a small group, then theres a bunch of hostels and surf camps that cater to people trying to live on a budget.
Nosara Beach Hostel: This is one of the places I stay when I’m surfing Nosara, because it’s like a 2 minute walk from the southern point of Playa Guiones. Bunks here range from 10-15$, usually have air conditioning, and are super modern. You walk into this hostel and you’ll feel like you just walked into a millionaires kitchen.
The hostel is very spread out, so you feel more comfortable than a standard backpacking hostel. This is the most popular hostel in Nosara, so it brings in people from around the world. The majority of people here are either surfing, yogaing, or looking for some peace in Central America. I have only good things to say about this hostel and would recommend it to anyone who wants to surf the break for a few days and needs a place to live cheaply at.
4 You Hostel: Another great hostel choice, perfect for backpackers. You pay 13-18$ per night here, but are housed in an extremely luxurious hostel. There’s a room to lock your board in, there’s badass keypads for the doors (so you won’t have to worry about losing your hostel keys), an enormous shared kitchen, and plenty of area to lounge. This hotel is definitely the cleanest in Costa Rica, so you can actually feel clean while you sleep.
The Gilded Iguana: A stapled landmark in the town of Nosara, the Gilded Iguana has been housing backpackers, surfers, and vacationers for years. This place has a super chilled-out vibe, a great seafood restaurant, and is located a few yards from the beach. There’s a pool, clean rooms, air conditioning, and a bunch of different room styles. I’d recommend this place for any surfer who has a little bit more dough to spend on accommodations, or even if you want a great bite to eat, a trip to the Iguana is a great idea.
Nosara is without a doubt one of the most beautiful parts of the country. I’m not sure whether it’s the people, the waves, the town, the vibe, or the overall happiness of the locals, but Nosara has a distinct atmosphere.
The people are friendly, everyone’s in great shape, and everything is very clean and warming. If you want a place that feels like a less crowded, smaller, more homey version of San Diego, then Nosara may be the best place to visit.
Everyone wants to meet you, everyone wants to surf with you, and everyone wants you to get stoked out of your gourd. Enjoy Nosara.
A surf trip to Costa Rica would not be complete without a journey to west coast, where surfers can find some of the most consistent waves in the entire country.[box type=”info” size=”large” style=”rounded”]The region is called Guanacaste and it’s jam packed with beaches that bring the heat almost 365 days a year. [/box]
Depending on what type of atmosphere you’re looking for, a vacation to this part of the country can really turn your surf trip from mediocre to goddamn phenomenal.
There’s a party-heavy surf town called Tamarindo, where you can find perfect waves, rowdy nightclubs, and some of the best cuisine of the country.
Tamarindo is going to be perfect for beginners, intermediates, and advanced surfers, because the wave really is whatever you make it. There will be some days that the swell will reach overhead and only the badass local Ticos will hit the water, but most days it’s going to stick between 3-5 feet.[box type=”info” size=”large” style=”rounded”]It won’t be like your barrel days on the water, but I promise days on the water in Tama are some of the best I’ve ever had. [/box]
The town isn’t the cheapest (possibly one of the most expensive), but can easily be enjoyed by any surf dirtbag that’s strapped for cash. From my experience in Tamarindo, I only really have positive things to say. The town is bitchin’, the waves are consistent, and the spread of bikini babes is definitely the most impressive of all of Central America.
Tamarindo has its pros and definitely has its cons. There will be waves just about every single day of the year, but you may have to share those waves with a few Chads from New Jersey (no disrespect to the NJ crowd).
As a vacation hotspot, there’s a ton of people trying to learn how to surf here, but if you head over towards the river mouth, you’ll find you have some space.
Tourists tend to stay away from the river mouth because the crocodile horror stories the Ticos, and myself, have been telling to tourists for years. There hasn’t been a legitimate croc attack in that river for years, I use to swim across it to surf Playa Grande 5 times a week and haven’t been bothered. Derek says he used to do the same.[box type=”alert” size=”large” style=”rounded”]But beware, there are crocodiles in there, I’ve seen them![/box]
Anyways, the wave in Tamarindo is going to be a solid beach break, with exposed rights and lefts, which gives you the option of choosing what you want to rip.
Personally, when the river mouth right is working, I’ll head there 9 times out of 10. The wave in Tamarindo doesn’t generate the power of a Hawaiian powerhouse, but it’s going to be fun if you know what you’re doing. These are definitely intermediate style waves, so don’t head there hunting for barrels, because you’re going to just be sent further north to Witch’s Rock—article coming soon here on Salt Water High so stay tuned.
Generally you’ll catch fun sized waves that you’ll be able to cut back, catch air, and bust those 3’s that you’ve been wanting to show off. With a wave that isn’t going to crush you if you bunk a 3, Tamarindo is easily one of the best beaches to surf in Costa if you don’t mind forfeiting size for fun (that’s what she said).
Tamarindo is without a doubt the best surf/party destination in all of Costa Rica. The bars tend to close when the sun comes up, the Imperial beers are cheap, and you can get away with just about anything.
Every restaurant, hotel, and surf school knows every single language. From English to Swedish, you’ll feel comfortable knowing that the locals actually understand what you’re talking about in your drunken stupor.
Though Tamarindo is made up of only about two strips of streets, there are dozens of restaurants in the town. There’s so much to do in Tamarindo that even if you don’t surf, you’ll have the best vacation of your life.
If you’re there in December or April and a taxi driver offers to drive you “La Rodeo”, take him up on that. The Rodeos in Villareal (town right outside Tamarindo) is one of the biggest Tico parties of the year. Just imagine hundreds of Ticos taunting bulls, running for their lives, wasted beyond belief on rum; a straight party.
Regardless of what season or day of the week you’re in Tamarindo, I promise there will be something to do. Whether you want to get blackout wasted, or sip sangria and watch the sunset, Tamarindo delivers an unforgettable beach vacation that tourists have been loving for decades.
If you’re a beginner surfer or you just want a refresher course, Witch’s Rock Surf Camp is a great business to support.
Developed by surf legend Robert August, the surf staff here is the most knowledgeable and organized surf camp in the country.
Instructors know basically every language, teach in a concise manner, and prices are very affordable.
Witch’s Rock is named after the famed Witch’s Rock surf break near Playa Naranjo. Though a very difficult spot to reach, Witch’s Rock and Ollie’s point are two of the most incredible surf destinations in all of Central America.
Here is their video for a digital taste:
Pura Vida Hostel: This is a great place to stay if you’re looking to save money on accommodation and also want to meet a ton of rad people. This place is safe, comfortable, cheap, and super fun. They host reggae parties on Thursdays, have hammocks everywhere, and a really cool staff. Bunks cost between 8-15$ per night, with private rooms ranging anywhere from 20-40$
Hotel Diria: This is probably where you want to stay if you are vacationing with your family, or if you have a real job and can afford to stay at a hotel. This place is right on the beach, the staff will hold your board, and the Diria owns nearly half of Tamarindo. Rooms aren’t cheap though. You’re going to spend between 300-600 per night, but the rooms are epic.
I stayed here when my Dad came down for Christmas and it was definitely the best hotel we stayed at during our little Costa Rica surf adventure. They are one of the few bars that actually can make killer cocktails, but they won’t be cheap.
Barcelo Langosta: Though this resort style hotel isn’t actually in the heart of Tamarindo, it’s definitely one of the best all inclusive hotels in Costa Rica. It’s right on Playa Langosta, which is the adjacent beach to Playa Tamarindo.
The swell works great here and the resort has private access to the river mouth break. A stay here is going to cost you a hefty tab, but if you plan to vacation with your family, this is a great place to do so.
If you come to Tamarindo and don’t end up waking up on the beach with an empty bottle of rum, then you really didn’t party hard enough. There’s a bar called Sharky’s (https://www.facebook.com/CostaRicaTamarindo), where everyone usually starts the night.
They have a great Ladies night on Saturday, which brings in a ton of, you guessed it—ladies. Also, they have a great 2 for 1 cocktail hour that will get you right wasted after a day on the surf.
I spent the majority of my nights at Pacifico, stealing bottles of Flor de Caña and asking the DJ to play more rock n’ roll.[box type=”info” size=”large” style=”rounded”]Pacifico is a great spot with a lot happening. [/box]
They may charge you a 2$ cover, but most nights when it’s popping off, it’s totally worth it. But the best of the best is a bar and grill called, Witch’s Rock.
Robert August, one of the legendary surfers from Endless Summer II, bought this plot of land way back in the 70s and has tuned this place into the best stretch of Tamarindo.
As apposed to Diria which has totally Americanized the beach, Robert August built a more Tico friendly spot for surfers to hang out. Witch’s Rock is actually a brewery—they have an amazing Witch’s Rock Pale Ale, and a tasty Gato Malo dark ale.
There’s a band called Glass Eye that plays Witch’s Rock every Friday night from 5-8ish and they’re awesome. If you only have one night in Tamarindo, I suggest you check out this spot, for it’s really the best that Tamarindo has to offer.
Tamarindo is your most surf friendly, tourist packed town in all of Costa Rica. Notoriously known as Tama Gringo, you’ll find more tourists than locals, making prices on food, drink, and stay more expensive than ever.
Though Tamarindo gets a bad reputation for housing so many tourists, it truly is one of the ore entertaining beach towns I’ve visited.[box type=”info” size=”large” style=”rounded”]As a poor backpacking surfer, I lived in Tamarindo for 6 months and scraped by just fine. [/box]
If you avoid eating out every night, don’t break your surfboard, and drink the local rum, you’ll be able to have a nice cheap vacation in Tamarindo.
Overall, Tamarindo is a safe, colorful, lively town that is home to some of the most fun waves of the country. Just remember to budget your funds and remember that everything is going to be a bit more expensive in Tamarindo.
Nearby Beaches (articles coming soon):
Playa Dominical is a hippie haven for surf junkies and yogis alike, for this little slice of paradise is one of the least developed beaches in the entire country. Apart from being the cheapest, safest, and arguably, most authentic, Playa Dominical offers one of the largest waves in the country.
The surf report for Dominical normally turns off the less experienced surfers, so most of the time you surf here, it’s going to be pretty empty. That’s not to say you’ll get a 1pm lineup to yourself, but if you’re an early riser, bet on getting pitted for 2+ hours.
Unlike the other beaches in Costa Rica, Dominical virtually has no resorts or hotels. If you look back at the beach from the break line, all you really are going to see is lively palm trees and a few pieces of driftwood. There aren’t any buildings above 2 stories, so the vibe here is very simple, happy, and surf oriented.
This desolate beach offers a few different points, so there’s always plenty of room for everyone to catch a few beauties. Depending onyour skill (and fear) level, you can find the best wave of the area right next to the river mouth, but I’ve seen barreling waves just about everywhere in Dominical. Thefirst time I surfed Dominical I instantly fell in love with everything about the waves.
Playa Dominical is a strong barreling wave, where the wave holds size without closing out, but with a strong wave comes consequences. Don’t be surprised to see broken surfboards and unexperienced surfers being pulled out to sea. As long as you can hold your own through a strong riptide and overhead wave, I wouldn’t worry to much.
For the surfers that are less experienced, but still want to be able to stay and surf near Dominical, should head to nearby (1km) Dominicalito. These waves are considerably smaller and rarely get over shoulder height, allowing beginners to enjoy a day on the water without worrying about breaking a rental.
The first day they rolled slow, the second day some power developed and we were cutting back like nobody’s business, and by the end of the week, we were dropping in on double overheaders. I haven’t had many better days of surf in my life, so if there’s a fresh swell coming in through Dominical, my advice is: call in sick. Especially if you’re getting high tide at around 5:00am/5:30pm, those are going to be the best days to be surfing Dominical. I always prefer to surf two 1.5 hour sessions, gives me time to enjoy my day and explore the towns in which I’m surfing.
Check out the barrels in Dominical!
Marbella (this place is epic)
This town is so tiny, but has so much to offer, something that really makes it unique. Most Costa Rican towns aren’t going to offer all the amenities you’ll find in Dominical. Though it doesn’t have resorts and skyscrapers, it has a ton of little storefronts and rum bars that usually get pretty crazy at night.
Another awesome thing about Dominical is that it’s surrounded by natural waterfalls! Literally you can go on a jog and find a waterfall. Normally there will be a bunch of local kids running with towels in the jungle, follow them and you should find yourself a nice 200 foot waterfall. These falls make for a great day hike between sessions. Ask a local where you can find a waterfall and they’ll be happy to point you in the right direction, Ticos love waterfalls.
The vibe in Dominical isn’t geared towards partying as much as a surf city like San Diego, but it’s definitely there. Dominical basically only has two streets, both of which are filled with small surf hostels, Tico restaurants, and little souvenir shops.
One of the best features of the town is the local markets that get set up from 8am-5pm every day. Here, you’ll find everything from handmade bracelets to Romeo & Juliette Cuban cigars (super cheap here compared to other parts of C.R.). These market stands are all set up right along the strip of road that borders the beach, so feel free to forget the sandals and shirt at home and just stroll the beach, there’s a ton to look at. Most of the trinkets and knick-knacks are going to cost you between 2$-10$, while the larger carvings and knitted clothing is going to range into the 20-50$ range.
One thing that makes Dominical an ideal destination for backpacking surfers is its affordability. You can easily live off 300$ for a week, that being said, you won’t be living the lavish, eat out every night, drink until bar close lifestyle. Food and drink is cheap if you find the right market (or local) to buy your produce and liquor off of (there’s a few old ladies that sell rum infused with banana and strawberries). In short, the town of Dominical is tiny, but the waves are huge and the weather is perfect.
Though Dominical is located pretty far south along the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica, it’s surprisingly easy to get there. Depending on your mode of travel, it can take anywhere between 5 and 8 hours to reach it.
Most likely, you’ll be flying into San Jose International Airport and from here, it’s about 4.5 hours if you drive in a rental car or private shuttle. If you’re like me, and don’t have the funds to pay a shuttle 200$, then you’ll be a bus warrior! I understand that the language barrier can be scary for some people, but trust me, Costa Ricans are incredibly helpful and very nice.
The easiest way to get to Dominical is either hopping on the direct bus from San Jose to Dominical (though this bus sometimes takes 8 hours!) or taking the bus from San Jose to Quepos, then transferring over to Dominical from Quepos. My best advice would be to make the journey from San Jose to Dominical a 2 or 3 day journey. There’s a few really good surf beaches on the way to Dominical, so if you have the time to visit Quepos and Manuel Antonio, I highly suggest you do.
If you have limited time, then from the San Jose airport, take a taxi to the Delio Morales bus company (every taxi driver will know what that means). This direct San Jose to Dominical bus leaves at 6 am and 3pm, but those times are subject to change. Unlike so much of Costa Rica, the route between San Jose and Dominical is 100% paved, which makes travel way quicker and easier.
Piramy’s Cool Vibes Hostel: This is where I stay when I go to Dominical, because it’s affordable, comfortable, and only about 200 feet from the beach. A cute French couples own it, they’re super young and cool with ju
st about everything. This isn’t a surf party hostel, but it’s probably the chillest accommodation option in the entire town. Dorm beds cost between 8-12/night, while the private rooms are 25$/night. The price is really absurd considering the view and care you get at Cool Vibes. I mean, it’s called “Cool Vibes”, everyone is going to be rad as hell!
Tortilla Flats: This is a local favorite. They have great food, amazing drink specials, and know how to throw a proper party. If you want to stay up late, rip shots of high proof rum, and meet some badass locals, then Tortilla Flats is the place to be. A lot of the Ticos that hang here can DK Boogie board better than you can probably surf, so make sure you don’t disrespect these guys; they’re all legends. Prices for rooms are a little more expensive, you’re going to spend anywhere between 20$ and 80$ per night here.
Hotel Cuna Del Angel: This is your standard luxurious hotel option. It’s located a little further from the beach than the hostels, so it’s much more quiet. Rooms start at 110$/night and go up from there.
Renting a house: This is the best option for people that want to bring all their surf buddies and have the time of their lives. Rental homes in Costa Rica are very cheap, it’ll cost you about 1,000$/week for a house/cabana close to the beach. I’ve rented a cabana from Pyram’s for a week and the total cost was 250$ for 5 nights, and we stuffed 8 of us in there. Cheap as all hell.
Playa Dominical is a less developed version of Jacó (minus the drugs and prostitutes), for it’s nearly surrounded by lush rainforest. Dominical is a must see for any surfer who’s trying to get totally stoked without paying the hefty fees of a tourist town. If you’re looking for power and height, then this is probably a great option, but if you’re still a beginner, I’d stick to nearby Uvita or Quepos.
Tired of sharing a lineup with hundreds of other surfers?
You want to surf with the locals and earn some Tico respect—then may we suggest planning a trip to Costa Rica’s legendary, Playa Avellanas.
Located just 2 kilometers from nearby and tourist trap Tamarindo, Playa Avellanas boasts some of the most consistent waves in the entire country. This beach is gnarly for so many different reasons, the power, the height, the speed, it’s exactly what you’re looking for in a wave.
I’ve surfed just about every beach in Costa Rica and I would without a doubt say that if you want a consistent wave that won’t disappoint, then there’s no better beach than Avellanas.
The best part of Avellanas is the fact that there’s basically zero tourism in the town, I mean, there isn’t much at all in the town. You have your standard surf hostels, a few taco joints, and whole bunch of badass expat surfers. I’d been surfing Playa Tamarindo for months before I discovered this little gem and when I looked out at the breaks, I literally shit myself. The beach is so incredibly vast that it’s able to deliver 7 different points, yeah, 7 different points to shred.
Because Avellanas receives such epic swells, you can catch a tasty right or left, the choice is absolutely yours. My personal favorite (and the locals will agree) is the wave that pushes out from the river mouth. Here is a video to get you stoked.
Locals have termed this wave “Little Hawaii”, and you can honestly get barreled there almost 300 days a year. What people forget about Costa Rica is that you can surf every single day, regardless what the wind decides to do. Of course, an onshore or cross shore wind aren’t going to be ideal, but you can definitely find a few fun jibs regardless of the wind direction.
Tons of people flock to Costa Rica to do all sorts of surf related activities. Whether you’re a first timer, intermediate, semi-pro, or SUP bro, you’ll find your happy place in Avellanas. Unlike some of the local only beaches around the world, Ticos (Costa Ricans) are incredibly warm to foreign surfers. As long as you don’t drop in on their waves or snag them in a lineup, you’ll keep your limbs—just kidding! Costa Rica is by far the safest country in Central America.
I can’t stress the abundance of surf points enough. Because there’s seven points to surf, you rarely have to sit in the water and wait for some Chad to get his wave. For the more experienced surfers, you should head north in the beach to the river mouth and catch the wave known as “Little Hawaii”.
If you’re entering the beach from the public parking lot, then just head as far right as you can. Trust me, you’ll see that bad boy breaking in the distance. Also, if you’re like me, and like to explore, you’ll find there’s a secret little dirt path that veers off the main road.
If you take that road (not fit for cars), you’ll find yourself right in front of this epic wave and definitely far away from the crowds. I’ve seen this wave top 12 feet before, but most days you’re looking at a height anywhere between 4 and 8 feet.
In addition, though most days the wave in front of Lola’s tends to stay pretty small, you can go barrel hunting steps from the parking lot. This spot, known as “El Parquet”, normally adheres to a lot of the beginners and intermediates, but surely anyone can have fun riding that wave.
There’s a ton of surf lessons going on over here, so if you don’t want to dodge the New Jersey vacationers, then I would stay away from this break.
As you move down the beach, you’ll find a handful of other waves breaking, so you really can judge what you want to ride for the day.
La Purruja breaks over a reef and is popular with the more advanced surfers, El Estero is a consistent break and its peak allows for perfect lefts and rights. There isn’t a strong current or a gnarly reef below where you’ll be surfing, so don’t be scarred to rip it. Avellanas is always working, but the best conditions are going to be at high tide rolling in, or mid tide.
A few things to remember about Avellanas is that it’s not your typical lavish, all inclusive surf destination. You won’t find Taco Bells or fancy resorts, it’s much more Ma & Pa vibe over there.
The majority of people who come and surf Avellanas for vacation find themselves either renting a beach house, sleeping in a hostel, or for the rich folk, staying at the JW Marriott just a bit north of Playa Avellanas.
Though the Marriott has its own private beach and a golf course, I’m a huge fan of supporting the local Ticos that are trying to fill their beds. With smaller accommodation options, you’ll find that your dollar goes much further.
Local fruit and vegetable vendors will pull up their donkeys right on the beach and you can buy a backpack full of produce for under 5$. But be careful, these guys will try to overprice some of their products if you look like a total Gringo, so try speaking a little Spanish. Even if you don’t know any Spanish, you’ll get much more respect if you at least try to engulf yourself in the Tico culture.
As far as the town of Avellanas goes, there’s not much, but there is enough. You can grab bite to eat at the famous Lola’s Bar & Grill, a place where almost everyone hangs out at after a day of surfing.
Beers are normally 1-2$, drinks are a bit more, and burgers are 5$. The people that work at Lola’s are all legends; I’ve rolled in there with 25 cents and offered to tell jokes for beers, they’ll hook it up if you seem like a good person.
The Beach Box serves up organic breakfast and dinner tacos at about 2-4$/each. Unfortunately there’s not much more food options in Avellanas, so family style dinners at hostels are huge here.
There are two market stores, where you can buy anything from pancake mix to toilet plungers, so don’t fret if you run out of something.
Due to its remoteness, getting to Avellanas can be challenging to some, but it’s easy if you know what you’re doing. If you’re flying into San Jose, then either get a private shuttle (they’ll take you straight to Avellanas), or hop on a bus to Santa Cruz or Tamarindo.
From Santa Cruz, you can connect to the Avellanas bus, or take the 5$ shuttle from Tamarindo to Avellanas. There’s a Santa Cruz-Avellanas bus early in the morning and one right before sunset. The Tamarindo-Avellanas shuttle leaves every 2 hours from 8am-6pm.
JW Marriott: This is a great option for families, or rich people, because you have all the amenities of a resort, but are located very close to an epic surf beach. This hotel is going to run 400+/night, but worth it if you have the funds.
Draco’s Surf Camp: This is without a doubt the best option for backpackers, families, or groups, because it has it all. 8+ bedrooms, a cooled pool, outdoor shower, lounge area, huge kitchen, air conditioning, basically everything you’d want when you’re in Costa Rica.
David, a great friend of mine happens to own and run this place. Tell him that Jason sent you and I guarantee he’ll give you a little discount.
Generally, dorm beds are 15$/night and private rooms with A/C and bathrooms are 40$/night. David runs this place like a bed and breakfast, so feel free to throw on your tunes, slice a mango, and lounge in one of the hammocks.
Hotel Mediterraneo: Cozy little hotel/hostel type accommodation. Fairly cheap, clean, and definitely safe.
Cabinas Las Olas: A tiny surf camp, located about a 5 minute walk from the beach. You’ll be able to meet a bunch of other surf travelers and hot yoga girls here, if you don’t stay at Draco’s this is the place to be. Dorm beds are between 10-20$/night.
Los Altos de Eros: A more luxurious and romantic option, probably not the best for surf bums. They say on their site, “We are hurricane proof and we don’t have drug wars. Good start!” They claim to be a 5-Star Costa Rica boutique hotel & spa resting on a 27 acre estate atop a small mountain with stunning views to the Pacific Ocean.
To Sum it Up
If you love surfing, hate line ups, and aren’t afraid to get frog house barreled, then a trip to Playa Avellanas is definitely a good choice. There’s a ton of surf able beaches in the vicinity, so if you want to switch things up, it’s more than possible.
For the past few weeks I had been staying in San Juan Del Sur at that little Swedish hostel at the top of the ridge surfing some shitty river mouth waiting for an automotive part to be shipped down from the States for my 4X4. I had left California a few months earlier with the intention of drive and surf though Costa Rica.
I had been chased, robbed, bribed, and conned along the way—all that was behind me now and what awaited me just across the border was worth all the suffering that I had endured to get to this point. Four months earlier I had quit my job working with the United States government. I sold all my worldly possessions and said goodbye to a version of me that was no longer. For the first time in my life I was choosing to live instead of being chosen. Living a dream instead of dreaming a dream.
It’s funny, looking back it seemed so easy to make that decision. Of course, everyone called me crazy:
My Dad even offered me money not to go. Now that I think about it I was being offered bribes on both side of the border. He kept doing that, offering me money to live a life that he felt was right for me. That’s what some inexperienced fathers do, try and protect their children anyway they can even though they are acting out of their own fear and insecurity. At some point I realized that I was the only person that was going to figure out what was ‘right’ for me and my life. And yes, most of the time I was wrong. But damn it, at least it was my wrong and not somebody else’s version of ‘right’.
Crossing the border between Nicaragua and Costa Rica took way longer than I anticipated. Not only did the Nicaraguans need to ‘let me go’ but the Costa Ricans had to ‘let me in’. And everyone gets greased along the way. My glass-off session was lost somewhere between processing my fumigation papers and paying the pestering, but essential, tout to help get the proper vehicle stamps in my passport. What do you mean ‘dame tu passaporte?’ Handing over my passport to some pimple faced kid at the border station took a leap of faith, but somehow it always came back. Being at that border with my vehicle packed with my favorite quiver was like standing in the void between heaven and hell. The commandments were very precarious and the situation could tip in either direction very quickly.
A few hours after I started the process I was finished and on my way.
Witches Rock was around the corner.
Costa Rica is fascinating and beautiful; there are tropical rain forests, active volcanoes, and white sand beaches that stretch as far as the imagination. The country is by far the most developed of all Central American countries. There are presently over hundreds of thousands North-Americans living in Costa Rica and the number is growing daily.
Both Caribbean and Pacific coasts offer beautiful beaches, national parks and festive environments. There have been recent increases in taxes and therefore it is more expensive to travel in Costa Rica than the other Central American countries. But compared to North American standards, food and accommodations are still a bargain.
Tourism is booming in Costa Rica, just walk into any bookstore and you will find an assortment of travel guides containing information on retiring, moving, investing, living, rafting, bungee jumping or whatever you want to do in the country. People are willing to pay to have fun and this has been well-displayed by the expanding list of activities that tourists may enjoy while visiting Costa Rica. Unfortunately, you won’t find the peace and solitude that was so attractive years ago when the spines of tourism had not yet scratched the skin of Costa Rica. Nevertheless, it’s still a wonderful country to visit and it is my favorite in all of Central America.
Currency: Costa Rican colón (¢)
Most Costa Rican businesses follow a fixed exchange rate of ¢500 per $1.
Way easier to remember and to make quick calculations in your head. For both parties involved, local community and us!
(For example, $8 = ¢4000, $9 = ¢4500, and so on).
Top-end: US$10 and upwards
Backpacker (hostels with private & dorm rooms): US$9-25
Top-end: US$200 and upward toward the sky
Car Rentals (in case you need to)
Around $50 a day (total, including insurance, etc)
Costa Rica isn’t as cheap as some of its neighbors, but it’s definitely a budget destination. If you’re traveling with someone, you should be able to scrape by on US$12 a day, but US$20 is probably more realistic. If you’re planning to have your own bathroom, eat decently and catch an occasional plane, US$25-50 should cover your needs. Travelers expecting to be very comfortable can easily spend US$50-150 per day, depending on their definition of comfort. The best tours cost upwards of US$200 per day, but these include flights and first-class accommodations and services.
If you want to change cash, stick to US dollars (but make sure they’re in decent condition and avoid US$100 bills—due to a counterfeiting scam, most Costa Ricans won’t touch them). US dollars are your best bet for traveler’s checks as well, as other currencies will rarely be accepted—any of the major brands will do. If you buy colones with your credit card, expect to get hit with a huge interest bill (high commissions). It’s increasingly easy to find ATMs, even in small towns, though some banks, like branches of Banco Nacional, accept cards held by their customers only.
You don’t usually need to bother with tipping at restaurants, as most add a 10% tip (plus 15% tax) to the bill. You should tip bellboys and room cleaners about US$0.50, tour guides US$1-5 a day per person. Of course, if the service is excellent or lousy you should use your own discretion.
Surfing, Water Sports & Stoke
Surfers, welcome to paradise! Costa Rica offers beach breaks, reef breaks and off shore islands with a plethora of waves. Eight hours from coast to coast—two separate oceans within one day’s drive—substantially increases your odds of locating surf. I have been to CR thirteen times in that last twenty years and it never ceases to amaze me—yes, it’s much different now but it still has a charm and character that is timeless, the people are fantastic and the beaches are boundless. Costa Rica is a paradise worth exploring and an experience worth having—however you get there, just do it!
Parque Nacional Volcán Arenal
At the center of a national park in the northwest of the country, the perfectly conical, 1633m (5356ft) Volcán Arenal is everyone’s image of a typical volcano. The volcano has been exceptionally active since 1968, when huge explosions triggered lava flows that killed several dozen people.
The degree of activity varies from week to week; sometimes there is a spectacular display of flowing red-hot lava and incandescent rocks flying through the air; at other times, the volcano is more placid and gently glows in the dark. Don’t even think about climbing Arenal. The best views at night (when the weather is clear) are from the western or northern side. The closest accessible views of the volcano are from the Arenal Observatory Lodge. Well worth a visit. There is a museum and restaurant up there, too. Great for bird watching and having close encounters with ‘pizotes’.
You must make time to visit Tabacón hot springs while you’re at Volcán Arenal. One-day passes are recommended. It’s not necessary to spend the night at the resort. You might as well stay at a hotel or hostel in the small town neighboring the volcano, La Fortuna, you’ll get a much better deal for your money. Plenty of shuttle services available from all major coast towns.
Parque Nacional Santa Rosa
This is the oldest and one of the best developed national parks in Costa Rica. It covers most of the Península Santa Elena which juts out into the Pacific in the far northwestern corner of the country (Guanacaste province). First park you’ll spot while driving down from the Peñas Blancas border. Santa Rosa protects the largest remaining stand of tropical dry forest in Central America and important nesting sites for endangered species of sea turtle. The park also has historical connections, and includes the hacienda where an amateur Costa Rican army took on William Walker in 1856.
World-renowned Witches Rock (Roca Bruja) on Playa Naranjo is found on the southern coastline of this national park. You can stay camping if you want to spend the night at Playa Naranjo. We recommend lots of water, mosquito repellent, canned food and keep rest of munchies inside the car (raccoons are unmerciful, they will rip up a hole on your tent if they smell food).
Monteverde, this small community in northwestern Costa Rica was founded by Quakers in 1951 and is now a popular and interesting destination for both local and international visitors. Its attractions include the breathtakingly vivid cloud forest, walking trails, horseback riding, bird watching (quetzals are abundant here), a cheese factory, a butterfly garden and a number of art galleries and restaurants.
The Caribbean has more cultural diversity than the Pacific coast. Half of this coastal area is protected by national parks and wildlife refuges, which has slowed development and the building of access roads, making it an especially verdant place to get away from it all. The main city is Puerto Limón, which has a tropical park teeming with flowers and sloths. Parque Nacional Tortuguero is the most important Caribbean breeding ground of the green sea turtle and has plenty of birds, monkeys and lizards. The Creole beach paradise of Cahuita has a nearby national park with attractive beaches, coral reef and coastal rain forest. Bribri culture can be experienced in the surfing mecca of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca. Handicrafts, reggae, home stays, cultural tours, and mellow vibe make Puerto Viejo an especially interesting destination.
Península de Nicoya
This area on the northwestern Pacific coast is difficult to traverse because of the lack of paved roads; however, it’s well worth the effort because it contains some of the country’s best and most remote beaches. There are also some small and rarely visited wildlife reserves and parks. Parque Nacional Marino las Baulas de Guanacaste, just north of Tamarindo, includes Playa Grande, an important nesting site for the Baula (Leatherback Turtle)—the world’s largest turtle, the size of a small car! Which can weigh over 500kg (1105lb). Playa del Coco is the most accessible beach on the peninsula, in an attractive setting and with a small village, which has some nightlife. Good surfing and windsurfing can be found at Playa Tamarindo.
Caving fans head for Parque Nacional Barra Honda, northeast of Nicoya, which protects some of Costa Rica’s most interesting caves. Wildlife teems in the coastal Refugio Nacional de Fauna Silvestre Ostional, midway between Sámara and Paraíso. The main attraction is the annual nesting of the olive ridley sea turtle, but you’ll also find iguanas, howler monkeys, coatimundis (pizotes) and flocks of numerous birds. One of the safest and prettiest beaches in the country is Playa Sámara, and Montezuma, near the tip of the peninsula, is a lovely, laid-back paradise for tired, young gringos.
Driving along the pacific coast of Mexico one will find never-ending stretches of uninhabited beach full of epic surf.
El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama all have popular, well-known breaks—it’s the unknown breaks that will fill your excite meter on this road trip.
Costa Rica already has quite a reputation among surfers, who are drawn there from near and far by the quality and consistency of its waves. Though the country gets plenty of the big waves that true surf fanatics live for, there are also days and spots that are perfect for people who have little experience with the sport, or who have been away from the ocean for a long time, and would like to try it again. This means that whether you’re a veteran wave ripper or a belly-boarding beginner, you can usually find the conditions you need to have a great time.
With 755 miles of coastline on two oceans, Costa Rica has more breaks than you can shake a stick at. The country’s selection of surf spots range from idyllic beach breaks to coral platforms where the water leaps up and tubes like a miniature Pipeline. Having coastline on two oceans is quite an advantage, since when one ocean is flat, there is usually something breaking on the other side of the country. Often enough, there is good surf pumping on both coasts.
And the country’s surf is complemented by its comfortable water temperatures — you can leave that wet suit at home — beautiful scenery, and the convenience of a variety of accommodations and restaurants near most breaks. Since it is five times longer than the Caribbean coast, the Pacific has considerably more surfing spots. Many of the country’s best breaks are found in the northwest province of Guanacaste, but there are also some excellent spots in the Central Pacific and Southern Zones. And the few breaks that are available in the Caribbean province of Limon are certainly nothing to complain about.
The following is a listing of the country’s best surf spots: Pacific Guanacaste Potrero Grande: Right point break in Santa Rosa National Park, only accessible by boat; no camping. Playa Naranjo: Great beach break by Witch’s Rock, in Santa Rosa National Park, accessible with four-wheel-drive vehicle or boat; camping permitted. Playa Grande: Very consistent beach break north of Tamarindo.
There are two main seasons in Costa Rica: Wet & Dry. The Dry season is mid December through April and it’s freaking hot and doesn’t rain. This is also when the crowds come out the the prices soar. The best surfing in the Dry season can be found along the northern peninsula (Nicoya) or on the Caribbean. In contrast the rainy season is wet and last from May to November. Towards the beginning of the rainy season it tends to rain less, usually in the afternoons and in September the real buckets start to drop and road sometimes become impassable. The best part about the rainy season is that there are fewer people and this is when the South swells fire.
Surf Camps Tamarindo has proven to be the perfect spot for those that love to surf and the Witch’s Rock Surf Camp is a great place to hang.
Here is a list of some of the main breaks in Costa Rica:
Costa Rica’s national parks offer a huge variety of hiking—the following are just two of the highlights. The Parque Nacional Rincón de la Vieja, northeast of Liberia in northwestern Costa Rica, is a volcanic wonderland of cones, craters, lagoons, boiling mud pools and sulphur springs. The park can be explored on foot or horseback, and visitors can bathe in the hot springs. There are long-distance hiking trails in the Parque Nacional Corcovado, which is in the southwestern corner of the Península de Osa in the south of the country. The trails offer visitors the chance to spend several days walking through lowland tropical rain forest. Make sure you visit in the dry season, and keep your eyes peeled for wildlife. There are shorter walks around Monteverde and in the coastal Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio, south of Quepos.
Bird watchers should head to the rain forests at La Selva (in the central north) and to the Parque Nacional Tapantí (southeast of Cartago), Parque Nacional Palo Verde (at the head of the Golfo de Nicoya), Refugio Nacional de Vida Silvestre Caño Negro (east of Upala) and the area around Tortuguero. Turtle watchers should visit Parque Nacional Tortuguero, where they can visit nesting sites and watch the turtles lay their eggs. There are also turtles at Parque Nacional Santa Rosa. Different species of turtle lay their eggs at different times of the year; check your biology textbooks for details.
Pavones on the Pacific Coast reportedly has some of the best surfing in Central America. There is also good surfing at Playa Naranjo in northwestern Costa Rica and at Puerto Viejo on the Caribbean coast. Windsurfers should check out the artificial Laguna de Arenal, near the spectacular volcano. There are snorkeling and diving possibilities at the Reserva Biologica Isla del Cano, 20km (12mi) west of Bahía Drake, off the northern part of the Península de Nicoya and in the Parque Nacional Isla del Coco—an isolated island 500km (310mi) southwest of Costa Rica in the eastern Pacific.
Golfito is a center for deep-sea fishing, and there are plenty of opportunities to charter boats for several days or more. Parsimina, a small village at the mouth of the Río Parsimina, 50km (31mi) northwest of Limón, has several excellent fishing lodges and good offshore reef fishing.
Río Reventazon, in central Costa Rica, is one of the most exciting and scenic rivers in Costa Rica and a favorite with river rafters and kayakers. The river is navigable year-round, but June and July are the best months. Río Pacure, the next major river valley east, is perhaps even more scenic and offers the best white-water rafting in the country through spectacular canyons clothed in virgin rain forest. Turrialba is the best base for these excursions.
Costa Rica Environment
Costa Rica is bordered to the north by Nicaragua and to the east by Panama. It has both a Caribbean and a Pacific coast. A series of volcanic mountain chains runs from the Nicaraguan border in the northwest to the Panamanian border in the southeast, splitting the country in two. In the center of these ranges is a high-altitude plain, with coastal lowlands on either side. Over half the population lives on this plain, which has fertile volcanic soils. The Caribbean coast is 212km (131mi) long and is characterized by mangroves, swamps and sandy beaches. The Pacific coast is much more rugged and rocky, and, thanks to a number of gulfs and peninsulas, is a tortuous 1016km (630mi) long.
The country’s biodiversity attracts nature lovers from all over the world. The primary attraction for many visitors is the 850 recorded bird species, which include the resplendent quetzal, indigo-capped hummingbirds, macaws and toucans. Costa Rica’s tropical forests have over 1400 tree species and provide a variety of habitats for the country’s fauna including four types of monkey, sloths, armadillos, jaguars and tapirs. There are also a number of dazzling butterflies. National parks cover almost 12% of the country, and forest reserves and Indian reservations boost the protected land area to 27%.
Costa Rica is a tropical country and experiences only two seasons: wet and dry. The dry season is generally between late December and April, and the wet season lasts the rest of the year. The Caribbean coast tends to be wet all year. Temperatures vary little between seasons; the main influence on temperature is altitude. San José at 1150m (3772ft) has a climate that the locals refer to as ‘eternal Spring’: lows average 15°C (60°F); highs average 26°C (79°F). The coasts are much hotter, with the Caribbean averaging 21°C (70°F) at night and over 30°C (86°F) during the day; the Pacific is a few degrees warmer still. The humidity at low altitudes can be oppressive.
Driving In Costa Rica
Watch your speed in Costa Rica, the police like to catch foreigners in radar traps. Also, there is a seat-belt law—so wear it! The roads are horrible but the signs are good. From the border you can make San Jose in 5 hours. From San Jose you can visit either coast in a couple of hours. Check out this very useful map to download for free.
One Entry Point
Peñas Blancas is the only entry point for Costa Rica. There are no vehicle entry points on the Caribbean side coming from Nicaragua. Therefore you must travel past Managua and south toward the Pacific coast into Costa Rica.
Your first stop is fumigation, a few $ US. Pay the fee and then drive your car through the fumigation station. If you are adamantly against having your car fumigated, you can offer the inspector some extra dinero and they will most likely give you passage without fumigation.
Migration & Aduana
The Costa Rican and Nicaraguan immigration offices are 4km apart. On the Costa Rican side the immigration office is next to the Restaurant La Frontera.
Your next stop is the Migration and Aduana, both in one building—what a concept! Park your vehicle and go to Migration for your entry stamp, a few more $ US. Next take your passport and title and give it to the official at the Aduana window.
You are required to purchase insurance for a minimum of one month. The official will give you four forms, computer generated: Certificado De Entrega De Vehiculos, No Comerciales Importacion Temporal, Instituto Nacional De Seguros, and Recibo De Dinero.
After you receive the forms you are free to go. There is an inspection station at the exit about 1k down the road, but it is very informal.
You will encounter several checkpoints on the road leading away from the border. The guards will ask for your passport and destination and then send you on your way with a smile. These stations are more for illegal immigrants from Nicaragua than for gringos.
This is by far the most efficient and trustworthy crossing you will encounter. If you have made it this far, congratulations!
Driving Time: 4 hours
Hwy: CA 1-CA 151-CA 21-CA 152
As mentioned above, you will come across several checkpoints traveling away from the Nicaraguan border. Show the officials the necessary paperwork and you should have no problems.
From Peñas Blancas follow the signs to Liberia. At Liberia you can fill your gas tank and stomach before continuing to Tamarindo. In the center of town turn right at the major intersection and follow the signs to Tamarindo. This same route will take you to Coco Beach, Playa Junquillal, Samara, Nicoya or any other location on the Nicoya Peninsula.
There are several exceptional National Parks in this region. If you see only one National Park while in Costa Rica, make it Santa Rosa National Park. The park is located between Peñas Blancas and Liberia about 45 minutes from the border and 35k north of Liberia. The beach is unimaginably beautiful, there is an abundance of wildlife in the park and there are camping facilities and cabanas for rent. There is also a cooking facility that provides meals for a small fee. There are three alternative routes leaving Tamarindo for locations further south. Depending on how far on to the Nicoya Peninsula you have traveled, you may either (1) work your way back to Liberia and continue south from the city, (2) take the short ferry at the northern Golfo de Nicoya, or (3) travel by ferry at the southern end of the Nicoya Peninsula to Puntarenas.
If you’re well on to the Nicoya Peninsula you may want to take the ferry. This can sometimes take much longer than anticipated. The ferry operator will wait until the ferry is full before leaving the port and there is frequently a long line of cars waiting to cross—ordinarily more than can fit on the ferry, so get there early.
The ferry that sails from the Nicoya Peninsula to Puntarenas departs from Playa Naranjo. There are three to five daily departures and the travel takes between 1 to 2 hours. The cost is between $8 and $10 for you and your wheels. Check departure times by calling Conatramar at +506 661-1069.
Driving Time: 5 hours
Hwy: CA 1
After finishing your entry requirements follow the signs on CA 1 to Liberia. From Liberia continue south 128k to Esparza. At Esparza head for San Mateo. San Mateo is the junction point for San Jose or the Pacific coast.
Follow the signs toward Alajuela and San Jose. This road leads you away from San Mateo and up into the highlands, the road is well-marked, but the ascent is steep. When you are close to San Jose you will pass the airport, about 15 minutes from town. Plan your drive into San Jose on a weekday and not during the rush hour, the traffic can be horrific. Like all Latin American capitals, driving in San Jose is not for the weak or impatient. The roads are congested and confusing, expect to pull over several times to ask for directions. Attendants at gas stations are always helpful, nonetheless, be prepared to take your time finding the way.
Hotel & Eats
If you have been driving for some time and want a great place to lay your tired bones, try Hotel Cacts. As you enter San Jose on Paseo Colon you will pass Pizza Hut. Turn right at the next corner and travel 4 blocks to Hotel Cacts. The cost is $25—$50 per night, it includes a hot shower and a light breakfast. They have 24 hour security for your car, a travel agency on-site and storage for your luggage. When you pass the Pizza Hut, turn left and drive 4 blocks.
Watch your personal items in the coastal towns and in San Jose. Never leave anything of value in your vehicle unattended. There are plenty of car parks in San Jose, but don’t trust them and never leave your keys with them. Read Helpful Hints & Other Topics for more information.
San Mateo is the junction point for San Jose or the Pacific coast.
San José, pronounced is the capital and largest city of Costa Rica. Located in the Central Valley, San José is the seat of national government, the focal point of political and economic activity, and the major transportation hub of this Central American nation. Founded in 1738 by order of Cabildo de León, San José is one of the youngest capital cities in Latin America by year of conception, though it was not named capital until 1823. Today it is a modern city with bustling commerce, brisk expressions of art and architecture, and spurred by the country’s improved tourism industry, it is a significant destination and stopover for foreign visitors.
The population of San José Canton is 365,799 though the metropolitan area stretches beyond the canton limits and comprises a third of the country’s population. San José exerts a strong influence on a wider range because of its proximity to minor cities (Alajuela, Heredia and Cartago) and the country’s demographic
assemblage in the Central Valley. The city lies at a mean elevation of 1,161 m above sea level, and enjoys a stable climate throughout the year, with an average temperature of 25oC (77oF) and annual precipitation of 1800 mm, more than 90% of it falling in the rainy season from May to November
From CR Border
Driving Time: 5 hours
Those traveling to the Pacific coast must turn right at the junction point of San Mateo and head for Jaco. The three main travel destinations on this route are Jaco, Quepos and Dominical. All three locations are worth a visit. You can also drive to the Panamanian border via this route, but the roads are worse.
The road from Jaco to Dominical takes a toll on your vehicle and spine. Jaco is your first coastal town within striking distance of San Jose. This is where all the Ticos go for vacation and weekend holidays, thus be prepared for crowds. Playa de Jaco is a great place to relax during the week, but on the weekends the ambiance changes to a festival of loud discos and, at times, a drunken calamity. This is a large coastal town with all the amenities of any resort location. Quepos is a much quieter town then Jaco. It is located about 1+ hours south of Jaco and it is the home of Manuel Antonio, a great National Park worth the entry fee ($10). Another 1-2 hours south is Dominical, a small coastal town with a great atmosphere. If you are a surfer you will definitely want to check out this place, even when there is no swell it’s thumping.
If you are looking to get away from the tourists and into the outskirts of Costa Rica keep heading south toward Golfito and the Panamanian border. From Dominical it’s another 6 hour drive. Head for San Isidro, and then south toward Golfito, 190K. Again for those surfing enthusiasts there is a great break at Pavones. If you’re in Dominical and a swell comes in, pack the camping gear and head for Pavones and some long left-handers, check out www.pavonescr.com for more information. The drive from Golfito is about 1.5 hours over a dirt road or you can fly from San Jose for $100 on flysansa.com
Traveling during the rainy season the road to the south of Dominical may not be passable, ask the local Ticos for road conditions before you make the long trek.
If your driving past Jaco make sure your car is 4×4 and your spare tire is in working order. These are some of the worst roads you will encounter in Costa Rica. The roads are passable, but they are muddy and filled with potholes during the rainy season.
After finishing your entry requirements follow the signs on CA 1 to Liberia. From Liberia continue south 128k to Esparza. At Esparza head for San Mateo. San Mateo is the junction point for San Jose or the Pacific coast.
Driving Around San Jose
One must be very patient driving in San Jose and around the city. There are radar traps on most roads and in many instances the police will pull you over and ask to see your papers, passport, and drivers license. In most cases, unless you were speeding, the police will simply check your documents and let you go on your way.
The city center is arranged on a grid, avenidas run east-west and calles north-south. Street numbers are rarely given in San Jose, instead, the nearest intersection is given. Thus you can assume that the directions to any particular local are not exact, but at least in the general vicinity.
The downtown area is dirty and congested, parking is difficult and vehicle break-ins are common. Find a safe place to park your vehicle and pay to have it watched.
There are plenty of places to stay, though the better B&Bs tend to be booked well in advance, thus if you have a particular place in mind it is wise to call ahead and reserve a room.
The population of the city itself is about a third of a million, the province ups the total to 1.2 million, approximately 40% of the countries population.
Driving Time: 4 hours
Miles: 83 Hwy: CA 1—CA 2
This is a beautiful drive through mountains (you actually go through a mountain), banana and mango plantations and lush tropical forests. The major problem is finding your way through San Jose and to the Caribbean route. You want to follow any sign you see for Limon. Travel north, up Avenida Central to the traffic circle in the center of town. At the traffic circle follow the road around to the left. This road takes you to the junction point where the road (Hwy 32) for Limon is located. Be prepared to ask for directions. Very helpful link, with specific directions to any destination.
Once you are in Limon—get out of Limon! This is not why you came to the Caribbean. There is a traffic signal, the third when you enter town, with a fruit stand on the corner. You want to turn right at the corner and travel south toward Cahuita and Puerto Viejo.
Cahuita National Park is located at the northern end of Cahuita. There is a trail that follows the cost for several kilometers and empties on to a deserted palm lined beach. Along the trail you may encounter monkeys, sloths and giant mosquitoes—don’t forget your repellent!
Cahuita is about one hour from Limon and Puerto Viejo is another 45 minutes south of Cahuita. Puerto Viejo offers great surfing (Salsa Brava) and festive night life at inexpensive prices. Those going to Puerto Viejo from Cahuita must travel back to the main road and turn left at the junction. Be prepared for a bumpy ride!
Take precaution while traveling these roads. Watch your speed and make sure your vehicle papers are in order. The police always set up checkpoints in this region. You are close to Panama and you will most likely be solicited by drug dealers in the coastal towns. Be cautious and don’t forget that you’re in a foreign country, drug offenders are not treated nicely by authorities.
Driving Time: 8 hours
Hwy: CA 2
This is a long drive over the mountains into the lowlands of Costa Rica. Leaving San Jose head for Cartago, CA 2. Once in Cartago, go through the town and the road will veer right. There are no signs, so you may have to stop and ask.
After you leave the city you will ascend into the mountains again. This is a demanding drive with twists, turns, and potholes.
Eventually you will reach San Isidro in 3 to 4 hours. From San Isidro you may visit Dominical on the coast or continue south toward Golfito and the Panamanian border. Leaving San Isidro, head for Palmar Norte and then continue on to Paso Canoas or Golfito.
Paso Canoas is the main border crossing between Panama and Costa Rica. The border is open from 6:00 a.m.-11:00 a.m. and from 1:00 p.m.-10:00 p.m. Check with the consulate in San Jose for current requirements for Panama visa requirements.
Travelers, note that the Interamerican Hwy changes from CA 1 to CA 2 past Cartago to the border with Panama.
If you’re driving into Panama with the intention of traveling to South America there is an obstacle called the Darien Gap. This mass of tropical jungle prevents anyone from driving between Central and South American. There is a ferry boat from Colon, Panama to Cartagena, Colombia.
Crossing the Darien Gap
You don’t actually cross the Darien Gap, you go around it by boat. The crossing is made on a small cruise ship that takes about 17 hours. See the special section in the last chapter for more info.
If you visit the south and you are returning to northern Costa Rica you may drive up the coast from Dominical or through the central route. From Dominical you may continue north to Quepos and Jaco and then on to San Jose. Check with the locals before you make the trip about the condition of the road.
No special permit is required if you haven’t overstayed the time allocated in your passport. If your time has expired, you will need an exit visa which you can pay for at the border. When you enter Panama from Costa Rica make sure that your papers indicate that you will be leaving Panama from Colon and not the border post in which you have entered. Incorrect papers can cause grief. Insurance for your vehicle is available near the border at $70 for 90 days.
Costa Rica & Nicaragua: Peñas Blancas is the main border post between Costa Rica and Nicaragua. The border is open from 8am until 8pm daily. The Costa Rican and Nicaraguan border stations are 4km apart.
Costa Rica & Panama: There are three main border crossings between Costa Rica and Panama. The most frequented crossing is at Paso Canoas; open from 6am until 9pm. Officials may require an onward ticket and proof of sufficient funds. The closest city of any size is David, about one hour from the border. From David, Panama City is another 6-7 hours travel. On the Caribbean side you may cross into Panama at Sixaola, open from 7am until 7pm. The last crossing point is at Rio Sereno, east from San Vito, this is a remote and rarely used route and the border officials are known to be sticklers on regulations and formalities.
The one major crossing between Costa Rica and Nicaragua is Peñas Blancas, on the Carretera Interamericana.
Costa Rica/Traffic Tickets
There is a good chance that you will be stopped at some point by the police in Costa Rica. Make sure that your paperwork is in order and that your visa and car insurance are current. If not you could lose your vehicle or vehicle plates to the police. If you get pulled over for speeding or some other infraction you will be issued a ticket. You must pay the fine at any Costa Rican bank before you depart the country. If you choose not to pay you may have problems leaving. Costa Rica is more advanced than the other Central American countries and the chance of them catching you is relatively high.
Shipping Your Car From or To Costa Rica
You have driven over 4000 miles and you don’t want to drive back. No problem, ship your car home! There are two main ports in Costa Rica. If you are shipping your car to the Pacific side of the US or Canada you must ship it out of Puerto Caldera. For shipments to the Atlantic coast the port is Puerto Limon. First you must find the Aduana office which is located in the main shipping building at each port. Go to the Aduana and tell them that you would like to ship your vehicle to the United States. The paperwork and the assistance of the Aduana official will cost between $300 and $400.
The official will file all the necessary paperwork and arrange to have your vehicle placed in a shipping container. The official will also do the leg work and contact the shipping agency for booking the container on to a ship. The actual cost of shipping is between $1500.00 and $2000.00. Once the paperwork is done you must go back to San Jose and sign the release forms at the shipping company’s office. You may pay for the shipment at the opposite end, when you return, but the Aduana fees must be paid in Costa Rica.
You also have the option of a non-container shipment. This means that your car is placed on to the deck of some ship and strapped down. The cost is cheaper, but the chances of damage and theft are much greater.
The procedures for shipping a car to Costa Rica are basically the same. However, when you ship a vehicle to Costa Rica you must get your car out of Customs, which is a total nightmare. Pick up a copy of the Tico Times for information about clearing Customs and hiring brokers to assist you with the legalities.
Consider the cost and formalities of shipping your vehicle. After paying shipping fees and purchasing your return ticket you will have paid close to double the cost of driving back—the decision is yours!
Costa Rica/Long Term Travel
You may drive in Costa Rica for six months without any type of “in-country” registration, however you most update your visa and car insurance accordingly. For most this means departing the country after 90 days for 72 hours and then returning. It is much easier to leave the country by bus to Nicaragua or Panama for a few days and then to return for your new entry stamp. Otherwise you will have to check your vehicle and person in and out of each country—remember, your entry by vehicle is not indicated in your passport and therefore you may go by other transportation to Nicaragua or Panama to extend your visa. If you didn’t get a chance to see San Juan del Sur in Nicaragua take care of your extension at the border and spend a few days in San Juan.
Costa Rica Living
By now, most people throughout the world are familiar with Costa Rica as a tourist destination. Ecologically sensitive, democratically stable, peaceful, Costa Rica enjoys the reputation as an almost ideal location to spend a few days, weeks, or months basking in a tropical paradise. Recently, Costa Rica has been “discovered” internationally as an attractive retirement destination as well.
Costa Rica is the only Central American country to enjoy complete democratization since 1948. Being incredibly far-sighted, the leadership at that time demilitarized the country, rejecting a standing army in favor of providing for its people the fundamentals of equality, justice, liberty and freedom. Even before the installation of a democratic constitution and the rejection of a standing military, Costa Rica’s leaders historically provided for the health and welfare of the people. Universal health care, agricultural reforms and housing programs were all in effect before the turn of the century, reflecting the country’s true heart and serving as a blueprint for other Latin American countries to follow.
As an affordable retirement destination, Costa Rica offers a variety of means to acquire legal residency. As a legal resident, the retiree enjoys the freedoms and most of the important rights of native Costa Ricans—health care, insurance, et cetera. While the Costa Rican government has recently passed several new tax laws, few will impact on the retiree. On a sour note, many of the “perks” which were associated with foreign retirees living in Costa Rica were repealed three years ago. These included duty-free importation of household goods and a duty-free car every five years. However, to off-set this, the duties on most of these items have decreased and will continue to decrease for the next several years.
Regulations concerning retirees and residency are covered under Costa Rican Law Number 4812, passed in July, 1971. The “Resident Annuitants and Resident Pensioners Law” allows for people with guaranteed incomes to become legal residents. The law’s two parts, the “Rentista” and the “Pensionado,” differ only in the amount of money required.
For the “Rentista” (someone living in Costa Rica but not “retired”), the dollar amount which must be available for conversion to colones each month is US$1,000.00 guaranteed, in a stable and permanent way, by a first rate bank and for a minimum period of five years. Any person over the age of 18 may apply for the status of “Rentista.” The “Pensionado” (someone actually retired), must have a guaranteed US$600.00 monthly generated through a verifiable pension fund such as Social Security, private company retirement plan, IRA, or other retirement fund, and available to the retiree for life.
Application for residency under this law requires a number of ancillary documents–ancillary, that is, to primary documentation of funds available from the appropriate source. These are:
Residency applications under this law are processed by the Costa Rican Tourist Board and usually take no more than six months. Neither Rentistas nor Pensionados can work as paid employees. However, work is permitted if the resident is a share-holder in a Costa Rican company and/or is a company’s legal representative. Also, a Rentista or Pensionado should plan on living in Costa Rica a minimum of four months a year although this provision may be waived under special circumstances.
Other than residency, there are many questions a person may have about retiring here—concerning transportation to and within the country, health care, banking and postal services, taxes—let’s consider a few of the most common. Transportation within the country is hampered only by poor roads and wildly enthusiastic drivers. Rental cars are plentiful and new and used cars are available for purchase-—at a premium. Buses and taxis run throughout the country and are an affordable, and scenic, way to travel on a budget.
For the retiree, health care is critical. Costa Rica has one of the finest health care systems in the world and it is available to all at affordable costs. Health insurance can be purchased through the national insurance company and premiums are roughly one fifth those of equal coverage in the States. Residents may join the national social security system (Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social—CCSS) for a minimal monthly cost and enjoy the universal health care Costa Rican citizens enjoy. Most doctors in Costa Rica have received training in the United States or Europe and are highly qualified. Firsts for many major operations in Latin America have been performed here. Costa Rica has both private and public health care systems. Both are manned by the same doctors and the overall quality is almost equal—a patient in a private clinic or hospital will receive more attention than one in a public hospital.
Costa Rica’s mail service does not have a good reputation. Theft of valuables is rampant, undeliverable mail is common, and service to the public is spotty, at best. Efforts are being made to improve the system, but so far little improvement is evident. Many private mail services exist and are serviceable. Connecting Costa Rica with the US Postal Service, these private carriers provide a relatively safe alternative to the Costa Rican Correo.
Death and Taxes are inevitable. However, retirees in Costa Rica are spared from the “taxes” part. Neither Rentistas nor Pensionados are taxed except for municipal services and real property, both at a very affordable level. Sales taxes have risen during the past year to the current 15% on most consumer goods. There is a canasta básica (basic basket) which contains more than 700 items exempt from sales tax, tremendously benefiting those on fixed incomes. Overall, the tax burden for those living in Costa Rica is small.
Housing options are many in Costa Rica from mansions of several thousand square feet to small, unassuming cottages. Prices are generally lower than those in the States or Europe, though in many highly desirable areas housing costs are way above the norms. Several retirement projects are in the works for Costa Rica and will fill a niche in the affordable housing market here. There are reliable real estate brokers who can help find the perfect retirement home.
If you’re not yet ready to retire, you may be able to take advantage of Costa Rican Law Number 7033 passed in August, 1986. The “General Law of Immigration and Foreigners” provides guidelines for residency as an “investor” in the Costa Rican economy. Under this law an applicant must be able to demonstrate, through a feasibility study or other verifiable documentation, that an investment of US$200,000 (minimum) has been made or will be made in one of these areas:
Documentation for application under this law is practically the same as for the law governing “rentistas” and “pensionados” except for the additional required documentation of the investment. Approval for application under the General Law of Immigration and Foreigners is through two separate agencies: the Center for Promotion of Exterior Commerce (PROCOMER) and the general immigration office. Final approval can take several months and is more uncertain and complicated than the law covering retirees.
Should a foreigner marry a Costa Rican citizen, the right to apply for residency accompanies the ceremony. Residency is not automatic; the non-Costa Rican spouse must apply to the Immigration and Naturalization office to become a resident. In this case, the necessary documents are: birth certificate (or certified copy), copy of passport, and an official copy of the marriage certificate. The wait for approval varies, but is usually quite short.
With somewhat more ambiguity, the case of documented blood ties, or consanguinity, to a Costa Rican citizen may entitle a foreigner to be considered for residency. The documentation required in this case is often complex and/or confusing and consultation with a qualified attorney is most important.
If a person is interested in obtaining his or her Costa Rican residency, regardless of under which law, the advice and assistance of an efficient and qualified attorney is strongly suggested. A list of such attorneys can be solicited from the American Embassy in Costa Rica.
Costa Rica/Selling Car
Good luck selling your car in Costa Rica! The laws on selling used vehicles seem to change daily in Costa Rica. Most likely you won’t make any money when you sell your vehicle.
If you do so, you need to place your vehicle into a Customs Storage Warehouse, find your buyer, and let your buyer handle the Customs duty and purchase Costa Rican license plates. The government adds a 30-50% sales tax that substantially decreases your profit and there are additional fees for registering vehicles. There are stories that registering a vehicle is more expensive than the actual value of the vehicle’s original purchase price. All that said, here is our updated information for selling a car in 2011.
While it is possible for you to sell your car after driving to Costa Rica, possibly even make some profit, it is certainly not without its difficulties. The average customs tax on cars in C.R. is close to 55% of what an American would consider to be the value. For example, if the car you drive here is worth $10,000 in the U.S.A., expect the customs tax to be at least $5,500.00. Also, Costa Rica has their own government “blue book” that is not at all similar to the Kelley’s in the U.S.A. If you have leather seats, air conditioning, automatic transmission, anything that Costa Rica considers a luxury the cost is even more. Additionally, the inspection process has become tedious: tires cannot be wider by even an inch then the side of the car, a chip in the windshield has to be fixed, and the exhaust is carefully analyzed. This being said, it is entirely possible to sell the car without ever paying any of these taxes or going through this inspection process at all.
Some things you’ll need to know before selling your vehicle:
Driving your vehicle to Costa Rica does have distinct advantages over shipping it. Any car that that is brought in by a tourist by driving, is given a 90 day grace period (similar to that of your personal passport) to leave the country or become registered in Costa Rica. Should you choose to ship your vehicle, something we can help with as well, you can expect to pay customs tax immediately upon arrival or risk the government putting the vehicle into storage and charging a daily charge against the value of the vehicle. Once the daily charge exceeds the value of the vehicle, the government auctions the car at a ridiculously low price and you are just out. The cost for driving your vehicle across the border into Costa Rica is very inexpensive. You are required to purchase liability insurance from the government, at a cost of about $35 dollars for your 90 day stay. There is the traditional, “oh no, it has a bug on the grill” spraying charge of a few dollars, but the rest of the procedure is relatively painless. Should you wish to keep your vehicle in Costa Rica after the 90 days, we strongly advise that you hire a company like ours to assist you in the import duty process as a personal representation with customs can save you a lot of money.
Bringing Vehicles to Costa Rica
If you are traveling to Costa Rica with your vehicle (cars, trucks, and/or motorcycles), either used or new, you must carry the original title of your vehicle at all times.
If you want to stay in Costa Rica for a few weeks to travel around or drive through, you will be issued a three month temporary vehicle use permit and you will not be required to pay your vehicle’s Customs duty.
Once your three month temporary vehicle use permit expires, you can only renew it one more time for three additional months at any Customs Office and pay no vehicle’s Customs duties.
Once your renew use permit expires, you either must leave the country or must store your vehicle in a Customs storage warehouse where your vehicle will remain until you pay the Customs duties and purchase Costa Rican license plates. If you are considering staying in Costa Rica with your vehicle for more than six months, importing your vehicle to Costa Rica, or selling your vehicle while in Costa Rica, please read the following:
In order to bring your motor vehicle (cars, trucks, and/or motorcycles) either used or new to Costa Rica, you will be required to provide the following documents:
a. Original title of your car
b. Bill of lading (if it is shipped)
c. Vehicle Emission Control Certificate (*) issued by an Emission Inspection Station (Garage Repair Shop, Gas Station, etc.) certified by the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) of your State or by the vehicle manufacturer (only if vehicle is new), translated into Spanish by an Official Translator, and authenticated by the Consulate of Costa Rica nearest to the Emission Inspection Station that issued your certificate
Costa Rica/Real Estate
Check the above link for a current listing of Real Estate for sale in Costa Rica. Additionally, there are several Real Estate companies representing sellers/buyers in the tourist areas with websites listings, such as Century 21 and Remax.
It is advisable that if you are truly interested in investing in real estate in CR you should visit the area and spend a good amount of time getting to know the pace of life in the particular region that you have chosen.
Most Real Estate prices listed by real estate companies in CR are extravagantly high. To get a DEAL one must travel outside the tourist areas and negotiate with the locals.
Top Five Google Search For ‘Costa Rica’