Rio is one of those places on the earth that you always hear about and that you dream of going to one day—at least, that was one of my dreams for a long time.
My first trip to Brazil was back in the early 2000s and I fell in love with Brazil on first site (or first visit).
I think I have been back about a dozen times since that first trip and each time I go I discover something new about this diverse country.
In 2010 I moved to Rio and gave living there a go—I got to know the city well and I surfed every imaginable wave in and around the city.
Rio is crowded, polluted, dangerous and yet seductively attractive. it’s one of those places you fall in love with and never stop dreaming about your love affair—it’s like falling in love with a prostitute, you know it’s not good for you but it sure does seem like the right thing to do in the moment.
It’s going to cost you about a g-note to get to Rio, that is $1000 for you non-native speakers. It’s a long ass flight, like 18 hours from LAX and you usually have to stop in DC our Houston—there are no direct flights from Los Angeles.
If you go through DC give yourself a few hours between flights, I almost had a heart attack running to make my connection in DC—note to self, start running pre-trip to Brazil.
Once you land in Rio—and see the sprawl from the plane—don’t worry cause where you are staying is nothing like the area around the airport. It will take 45 minutes to one hour to get to your hotel from the airport. Watch you stuff on the freeway, smash and grab is a real thing.
There are a lot of neighborhoods to stay in but I suggest that you stay in the north (which is actually east but always feels like going north to me) near Leblon or in Barra de Tijuca. There is always a wave in Leblon and when it get’s big it will maintain shape off the rock point jetty.
Staying in Leblon will give you access to the fun areas of Rio, just hop on the boardwalk and walk towards the tall buildings or follow the local talent along the beach. If you stay in Barra de Tijuca it is way more laid back, the water is cleaner and the waves are spread out. The perfect trip is to stay a few days In Leblon and then move over to Barra de Tijuca.[box type=”alert” size=”large” style=”rounded”]Please read my article of getting a gun shoved in my face to help you mitigate the danger factor in Rio and my tips for staying safe.[/box]
You got two options for housing in Rio, private or hotel. If you got the cash stay at the Radisson Hotel in Barra, it’s right on the water and surrounded by great restaurants and shopping. There is a good sandbar right out front, grab your gear and get out there and check it from the window of your hotel.
If you decide you want to be closer to Rio then the Sheraton sits just a few minute walk from the main beach at Leblon. It is really in a beautiful location overlooking the ocean, though not really surf-able out front.
Just behind the Sheraton is a Favela, it’s a trip cause you are sitting in your hotel room (costs like $200 a night) and from the balcony of the room you can see the Brazilian slums—it’s sounds worse than it is, yet this is the contrast of Rio and something that you’ll have to get used too.
If you aren’t into the hotel chains then check out all the awesome locations on Air B&B, I stayed at this place in Barra a few years ago and had a nice time. It’s super safe and you can see the break from the patio—though a bit noisy during the day as the traffic can get heavy on the main drag.
If you are down for a more authentic experience I like what these cats are doing at Rio Surf & Stay. I almost stayed there on my last trip but didn’t pull the trigger—the reviews are good and I did exchange a few emails with them and they were super cool.
* For the touristy stuff to see check this online guide or the one at the end of the article has some good tips.
In Zona Sul, the southern part of Rio and the place you’ll want to hang, there are some great waves that are a walk or a short bike ride away, and for the others, there are buses that can get you there.
You might want to consider renting a car—though it is a pain to park and to secure all your surf goodies. I recommend taking taxis or find a surf guide that can cart you back-and-forth to the far-way surf breaks.
You’ll want to stay in the southern area, my personal pick is Leblon or Barra like I mentioned above, the swell always seems to be a bit bigger there and the crowds are friendlier than at Arpoador. However, if the swell is macking you definitely want to paddle out at Arpoador, that left gets sick when the conditions are right . . . here is a photo of an excellent day.
Prainha is the spot of Rio, powerful lefts and rights with an amazing backdrop. Prainha can hold up to 12-15ft, show respect to the locals as in any other situation. On a big day paddle out next to the rocks on the south end of the beach, really fun left. Prainha is a 45 minute drive from downtown Rio and worth the trek. There is a fun wave in the middle section when the tide is right. Don’t miss this wave!
Arpoador is beside the big rock at the northern end of Ipanema has one of the best lefts around, but also one of the biggest and most aggressive crowds. f you want to fight for position you got to paddle in at the base of the rock while the sets roll in, it can be daunting as you navigate the take-off zone. If you can get one up top it’s a blast—get down the line fast. Super fun wave.
Leblon is at the south end of the Leblon/Ipanema beach has a wicked right hander off the canal outlet and also a nice bowl in the same area on smaller days. It has the best vibe in Rio. Even when it’s small you can catch some decent waves here. Right next to a sewage treatment plant, can get very dirty.
Barra is an 18 km long beach with many different breaks, there are tons of sand bars and many good waves to be had along this stretch. Barra also tends to be protected from some of the nastier winds that plague the city and it is usually blowing off shore at the north end of the beach—which is where you kite boarders want to go. If you want to escape the crowds you’ll find some deserted beach break here, its about a 30 minute drive from Ipanema. It’s one of the cleanest beaches in Rio.
Grumari is where scenes from Cidade de Deus were filmed. It is a nice beach with a sandy bottom and easy left and rights. It’s about one hour from the city center and it wild and rustic. I had one of my best all time days here on a big swell. It is a beautiful spot and worth checking out.
Copacabana or Leme are a few breaks along this stretch. In front of Posto 5 and 6 have the better breaks. Takes a bigger swell to get in here but when it does it can be really going off. I’ve also seen some really good waves along the fort at the north end of the beach, there are several takeoff points as the swell get bigger, better for a longer board.
Ipanema has various breaks scattered along its stretch, it is also a hive of activity and a great place to hang. Arpoador is at the north end of the beach and Leblon is at the south end—you could walk the distance in about 30 minutes and you won’t be disappointed by the view.
Macumba is one of the more pleasant beaches of Rio, various left and right peaks with an offshore bank that works on the bigger swells.
Praia do Diabo is on the other side of the big rock is this little break, easy rights and sharper lefts. Good fun and better suited for a bodyboard.
Praia do Pepe is at one end of Barra de Tijuca, for wind-surfers and kite-surfers (possible to hire).
Recreio is over the hill from Macumba, good on the large south west swells.
Sao Conrado break is at the bottom of the favela Roçinha. Conrado is an intense, short wave, but be aware here due to the proximity of Roçinha, cleanliness of water is also an issue.[box type=”download” size=”large” style=”rounded”]Download this free tourist guide for doing those non-surf related activities around Rio which you should put some time aside to check out.[/box]
Let’s check the swell forecast . . .
I was blown away by this country and truly believe it to be one of the most untouched countries in the world as far as natural beauty. I mean, Chile is home to the legendary “Patagonia”, where though you cannot surf, you’re able to see a part of nature that only a handful of people have seen.
When you look at the length of the coastline it seems like Chile should have the longest coast in the world—actually, not even close. Chile ranks 19th in the world for coastal length and the top three countries with the most coastline are: Canada, Indonesia and Greenland (USA is 8th).
Ok, let’s get back to Chile.
The water is an electric bluish gray, barely any life can sustain existence, and the air is so clean it almost brings backpackers to tears. Chile has a special place in my heart. From the heavy lefts I surfed in Pichilemu to the fresh vegetable markets of Valparaiso, Chile will forever be one of my favorite places to visit.
As far as authentic Chilean culture is concerned Pichilemu and Punta de Lobos are two of the best surf towns to visit. You’ll catch a view of how this part of South America does business; hot dogs with mayo, chilly water, Pisco sours, and some of the tastiest lefts in the entire continent.
The people of Chile rarely sport anything but a smile, making surfers feel right at home as they travel around with their clanky board bags and salty hair. I spent 3 weeks traveling around Chile and saw the good, the bad, and the just straight up bizarre.[box type=”info” size=”large” style=”rounded”]I partied in Valparaiso for New Years, took a chick to the ER on New Years, and surfed into 2015 in some of the chilliest water I’ve every come across. [/box]
The entire country of Chile is a pretty gritty place, but as long as you don’t mind authentic Spanish culture and bit of poverty, you’ll feel right at home in this mountainous country.
Chileans have a very unique style and charisma, it’s a very positive vibe that they’re transcending to visitors, which is what made my experience so amazing. While you’re in Chile it’s nearly impossible not to see some of the most incredible landscapes in the world. You can drive four hours and find yourself in deserts, mountains, beaches, cities, snow, sunshine, caves, and just about everything in between.
Alright, the waves of Pichilemu are going to be more geared towards the more beginners, while Punta de Lobo is the hotspot for intermediate and advance surfers. Both towns are going to be giving you a solid left and the wave is pretty heavy.
Anyone who has every surfed Punta de Lobo will tell you how incredible of a wave it is. It’s a consistent left that can push you a few hundred yards and when it’s really working, barrel you to the third dimension.
There are a few different points at Punta de Lobo, so if you aren’t entirely comfortable with a barreling left, don’t be worried. You must be aware that Punta de Lobo is home to Quicksilver’s Big Wave Invitational, so the wave can reach over 20-30 feet without warning. Also, you won’t be surfing above a soft pillow, there’s a ton of rocks at Punta de Lobo, but there are by no means dangerous if you have quality surf experience.
Let’s check the surf right now . . .
Regardless of your surf level, the glassy waves of Pichilemu and Punta de Lobo will surely have you shredding daily and having a great surf adventure in Chile.
Most surfer fly into Santiago, Chile and move forward from there. You can either rent a car, or travel by bus. I found several flights with one stop for under $1000—which is damn good considering that it cost me $750 to fly to El Salvador a few weeks ago and the flight to Chile is 13 hours versus 5 to El Salvador.
The bus system is incredible in Chile and you can get just about anywhere on public transit (and the public buses are super nice), so I recommend busing around the country.
From Santiago you’ll be able to find several buses heading to Pichilemu, probably 4-5 per day. The bus ride is about 3 hours and it’ll take you about a mile from the hostels and cabanas of the town. However, if you have a car, traveling around will become much, much easier and you’ll be able to hit a ton more beaches.
Also, if you find that the wave isn’t working in the area, it’s super easy to just pack up the car and head further north or south.
Though they speak Spanish in Chile, beware that the tongue and dialect they use here is nearly impossible to understand if you don’t have some serious Spanish background.
As a fluent Spanish speaker, even I found it hard to understand a lot of the Chileans I came across. But luckily Chileans are just about the raddest South Americans in the game, so as long as you sport a smile and know how to properly share your space in the lineup, life is easy.
Pichilemu Surf Hostal: This is where I stayed, it’s a small little surf friendly hostel, located right on the beach. You get your own room, great for couples and people that just want to chill, not as good for surfers who just want to drink Pisco sours and rip overhead waves.
It’s about a 10 minute drive from the main Punta de Lobo surf break, so barrel hunters should find a cabana closer to Punta de Lobo. You get free breakfast and the safety of clean hostel at an affordable price, but the overall atmosphere of the hostel is pretty laid back. There’s an amazing
Cabanas Buena Vista: This is where I’ll stay if I ever return back to Pichilemu. It’s pretty close to the Punta de Lobo surf break, it has a hot tub (it’s so cold in Chile, trust me, you want a hot tub), spacious cabanas, and from what I remember, was fairly cheap. You really want to be able to speak some Spanish if you want to reserve one of these cabins, because the lady who owns them is 100% Chilean and knows very little English.
Hotel Rocas del Pacifico: This is going to be your standard hotel in the Pichlemu area, not what I’d recommend, but if you need a hotel, this is an option. You have to remember that you’re in a desolate Chilean town and there isn’t going to a Ritz or Four Seasons. That’s why it’s best to just splurge on your own cabana. Buy your own bottle of rum, eat your own food, which in the end will save you a ton of money.
My best advice is to look for accommodation in Pichilemu, because Punta de Lobos is strictly for surfing, accommodation is nearly non existent here.[box type=”info” size=”large” style=”rounded”]Pichilemu is where everything is happening anyways, so finding a nice little cabana here is your best bet for a great surf trip.[/box]
Pichilemu is a pretty small town and is fairly easy to access, so don’t worry about renting a car while you’re in Chile, unless you want to hit numerous beaches on the coast. Pichilemu, like the majority of other Chileans cities is going to be super gritty, dusty, and authentic. Horse drawn carriages and Chileans smoking the peace pipe are not uncommon sights here, the vibe in Pichilemu could be described as hippie/surf/dirt bag, but that’s how I’d describe half of my surfer friends, so I’m not sure how much that’ll help.
One thing that you really should remember about Pichilemu and Chile in general is that it can be fairly expensive. Obviously if all you eat is empanadas, you’ll be able to live very cheaply, but from my experience in Valparaiso and Pichilemu, meals were very expensive. The best thing you can do for your wallet and stomach is prepare a few meals of your own each week.
There’s a ton of hotel/hostel/cabana accommodations in the surrounding areas, so choose a place that you think will fit your crew’s needs. Also, depending where you’re coming from, the water is super cold.
I’d been surfing Central America for eight months before I went to Chile and the water was unbearable for the first day or so. Honestly, the more neoprene you have the better; I rode with a 3/2 full suit, booties, and gloves.
But, there ain’t nothing wrong with a few hard nipples if Punta de Lobo is going to send you barreling 200 yards left!
My bro always dreamed of going to Peru, he is a goofy-footer and he mainly surfs rights in California. I myself loves rights but once I ventured down to Peru my vision of going left changed and once I left that country I had a new fondness for the going backside.
If you are going to Peru on a surf trip I’d recommend taking a few days to head into the mountains to visit Machu Picchu—now look I am a lover of the ocean, but I highly recommend that you take some time and visit this magical place.
Machu Picchu is one of those places but you’ll never forget, you’ll be transported to a different time, and the feelings that you’ll have while walking to the ruins we’ll remind you of the history of humanity.
Peru has mainly three surfing areas, the points in beaches to the south, the waves around Trujillo (this includes Chicama, sump report to be the longest left in the world, which I would agree with), and the third area is to the far north and include the beaches of Mancora.
Here is a quick map of Peru from Lonely Planet to get a view of the country.
I personally like the beaches around Trujillo, which offer a nice selection of beach break and point break. Trujillo is a short flight from Lima, that you should book as part of your original trip. Once you get to Trujillo, you need to take a taxi to Huanchaco—a town full of plenty of great places to eat and inexpensive accommodation right in front of the surf break.
There are several breaks to the north including Chicama and Pacasmayo, which serve up excellent waves and plenty of cultural distractions. The jewel of Peru is Chicama and any surf trip to Peru should be focused on this excellent wave.
We got very lucky on our trip because a major south swell slammed into the Peruvian coast and Chicama lit up like a Catholic Easter service and a Latin country. See the picture below.
Surfing is a very popular activity in Peru especially after the emergence of the Peruvian Surf Champions. It has produced world wide champions such as Sofía Mulánovich, 2004 female world champion, Luis Miguel “Magoo” De La Rosa ISA World Masters Surfing Championship 2007 leader, and Cristobal de Col, 2011 World Junior Champion.
All south and south West spots have very reliable swell from April to October. And from October to march north swell hit the coast. This means that during the south swell season you’ll be surfing around Lima or Trujillo and during the north window you’ll want to head to the northern region.
During spring and fall, short sleeves are fine, although long sleeves will work for the early or late sessions.
During winter time a 3/2mm rubber is OK. Booties are a great help to keep feet warm and protect them from rocks and shelves. Water temperature is not as cold as northern California but cold enough.
From Trujillo down you’ll want a 3/2 and if you get up north to Lobitos or Mancora you can shed the suit and surf in your shorties.
Going north or south? There’re tons of waves around Lima, but I wouldn’t hang too long in that city, it’s kind of a shit hole. No offense to any Peruvians that might be reading this, because you have so many beautiful places in that country, but Lima isn’t one of them.
If you do get stuck in Lima, There are some waves in the city, but the water is nasty and the crowds are horrific. Now once you get out of the city and drive to the south you’ll find yourself in an entirely different situation with tons of surf along beautiful shoreline scattered amongst the small villages of the countryside.
My advice it to get the fuck out of Lima as quick as possible. You should always be prepared to charge large waves if you are going south of Lima, but if you do not surf this size, still there are many breaks with fun waves. South of Lima is a perfect party place during summer and weekends are really busy.
If you wake up early, you can go surf while everyone is going back home after the nightlong party. Your main decision when visiting Peru, is to either go north or south.
Well actually, the decision is to either go south to the southern part of the north section or to the extreme North.
If you’ve read this article you know that I favor the beaches around Trujillo, but if you decide that you want a different kind of trip (and one not including Peru’s best wave) then you can decide to go South of Lima or to the beaches around Lobitos.
Side Trip To Machu Picchu If I were you, I would try and plan my trip for a 3 to 4 week window and leave a few days to fly back to Lima and up to Cusco which will put you at the doorsteps of Machu Picchu.
It’ll cost you a couple hundred dollars to get to Cusco from anywhere in the country by plane.
Once you’re in Cusco, Machu Picchu his a few hours away. You could do the whole trip in a few days and get back to the coast if you see a swell coming. For a complete breakdown of the specific waves in Peru:
North of Peru is one of the best places on earth to surf, many of locals from Lima have moved to the North for this purpose. In the North there are plenty of warm water waves, excellent seafood and not as many crowds as around the big cities. However, there are few beaches were crowd can be extreme like Cabo Blanco, and Máncora.
If you avoid the high seasons, you will be surfing great waves with only a hand-full of surfers. If you happen to be surfing during a very well publicized swell during the hight of the surf season then you will have lots of company including gangs of Brazilians—not something you want to see when you and your bro are surfing solo on that middle peak at Pacasmaya.
Chicama has good waves whenever a big south shows up. Some people swear that the extreme north of Peru is pure magic, but I love the waves around Trujillo.
Peru enjoys a privileged location in the heart of South America, turning International Airport Jorge Chavez in Lima into an international hub for tourism and several airlines that reach many destinations in South America.
There are several domestic flights connecting the local destinations. There are direct and stop-over flights to Lima from the main capitals of the world. From LAX I’d get a direct flight to Lima and connect to Trujillo, not even stepping foot in Lima.
When you decide to visit Cusco you can book your flight online when the swell drops, no need to lock everything in before your trip—leave some flexibility for swell conditions. The entry points by land are:
Peru has accommodations to suit every budget, especially in tourist hubs and cities.
There are several hostels at affordable price and on shared basis. But when it comes to surfing, you would always want to stay in close proximity to beach that offers good waves and are less crowded and in such cases it is best suited to go look for surf camps who will better understand your surf needs.