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.
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.