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.
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.
Did you read In Search of Captain Zero? If you did then you know all about this place. If you didn’t read this book but plan on visiting this side of Costa Rica then you know which book to read next.
Puerto Viejo, also know as Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, has been home to some of Costa Rica’s most legendary surf competitions, parties, and cuisines for decades. As you walk around this Afro Caribbean little town, you soon realize why so many expats and Ticos have been calling this place home for so many years.
Dozens of beach cruisers line the beach, creating a homey atmosphere for vacationers and surfers alike. Though Salsa Brava has been famed as one of the biggest waves of the Caribbean side, Playa Cocles usually dishes out a super powerful beach braking wave as well.
Only the most experienced of surfers should hang around Salsa Brava, because this reef breaking wave has been known to rip inexperienced surfers apart with it’s notorious “cheese grater”.[box type=”info” size=”large” style=”rounded”]The last thing you want while surfing in Puerto Viejo is a trip to the hospital, so don’t test your limits at Salsa Brava unless you truly can handle a fast breaking left. [/box]
One of the most important things you need to remember as a foreigner is that though you may be a rad surfer, the locals in Costa Rica have been ripping these breaks since you were in diapers. Though the majority of Tico surfers are going to welcome you with open arms into the lineup, beware of dropping in on an old timer because they will put you in your place.
This video show the wave at Salsa Brava at it’s best . . .
As one of the biggest tourist destinations in the country, Puerto Viejo has a considerable amount of surf tourists. As long as you respect your elders and wait your turn, a day on the waves in Puerto Viejo can be an unforgettable experience.
From my experience in Puerto Viejo, you either want to party, surf and party, or surf and party, and party. The whole town comes alive at night, so don’t be surprised if you end up watching the sunrise with your crew.
Though I wouldn’t say the waves were exactly what I expected, I’d admit that they were fun. If you’re in Puerto Viejo when conditions are choppy, you best be in good shape because the current is typically pretty strong.
– Best Season: November-April
– Best Swell Direction: Northeast
Salsa Brava is considered to be the biggest break in all of Costa Rica, this Caribbean style wave works the best during the dry season (Nov-April).
Known for claiming an excessive amount of “sauce” each year, Salsa Brava takes a considerable amount of broken boards, bones, and gnarly cuts each day, so beware of the shallow beach break.
There are a few different take off points at Salsa Brava, but the North Peak is by far the most popular for surfers looking to get uber pitted. Though the reef at Salsa Brava broke a few years ago during one of the area’s earthquakes, you’ll still see huge days there, just not nearly as frequently.
Let’s check it right now . . .
And the forecast . . .
The wave holds its size under most conditions and is probably going to be best when the report is head high to overhead conditions. When a south-east swell is in and you’re getting western winds, chances are you’ll find yourself barrel hunting at Brava. Once again, beware of the shallow reef, which has been known to destroy surfers of all skill levels.
Playa Cocles is your best bet when Salsa Brava isn’t working. Cocles is only about a 10 minute walk from Salsa Brava, or 2 minute bike ride. Cocles hosts a ton of surf competitions each year, so if you can catch one of these events, they truly are a great time to be in Puerto Viejo. Lots of surfer after parties and late night shenanigans with the locals. Similar to Salsa Brava, Cocles best conditions come out when it receives a head high to overhead swell from the northeast.
But if the seas are choppy, Cocles doesn’t work very well. While I was surfing Cocles, we had shit north winds and gale warnings, so surf was iffy. If this happens, my best advice is to either wait it out, or head down to Panama.
Playa Negra is perfect for people who want to surf while they’re in Puerto Viejo, but don’t want to have a date with Salsa Brava’s cheese grater. While I wouldn’t recommend Negra for experienced surfers, if you’re just starting to learn to surf, taking a lesson in Negra is a wise decision. Snorkeling, swimming, and diving is popular over in Negra, but you’ll catch a few 2-3 footers if you’re there on the right day.
Puerto Viejo is a huge fan favorite for tourists, mainly because it has a very unique vibe that you simply cannot find anywhere else in Costa Rica. The town was originally called Old Harbor until the Costa Rican government institutionalized Spanish as the new local language and changed the names of the towns and landmarks in the area from English to Spanish.
Though the true barrel hunting surfers prefer to hang out on the Pacific Ocean, Puerto Viejo’s Afro-Caribbean vibe is rad. As you walk through the center of town, you’ll see Rastas shooting dice, playing checkers, and selling the best ganja in the country.
Everything in Puerto Viejo is going to cost significantly more money, but a lot of the time it’s worth it. There’s a ton of Jamaicans that migrated to Costa Rica’s eastern coast, so the food that’s served up is super authentic. If you see any chubby Jamaican ladies serving up Caribbean Jerk and Jamaican marinated chicken, I highly suggest you buy as much as you possibly can.
Puerto Viejo is set up to cater to tourists of all budgets, interests, and ages. So, obviously there’s going to be a lot to do while you visit Puerto Viejo.
You’ll find a variety of bars that cater to just about all styles of music, but if mainly you’re going to find super swanky Reggae clubs that have been dishing out Jamaican tunes for decades. One of the local favorites is a place called Lazy Mon, which hosts fire dancing shows and other live musical acts.
Tasty Waves Cantina is another great place to get your buzz on is this little surf bar. And of course there’s Johnny’s Place, which is the area’s long standing dance club/bar. A lot of fun ensues at Johnny’s place, from the shenanigans at the bar to the roots, rock, and reggae vibe of the dance floor—you’ll have a great night here guaranteed.
If you’re looking for a hostel type party with a bunk of beautiful surf babes, then head down to Rockin’ J’s and you’ll find a party, especially if it’s a full moon.
Everyone loves to ride beach cruisers here and it’s almost necessary if you want to truly feel the energy of this little beach town. The town has a lot, but isn’t too spread out, so you’re able to really see the entire thing quicker if you have a bike.[box type=”alert” size=”large” style=”rounded”]Remember to lock bikes there’s a ton of bike theft in Puerto Viejo. [/box]
It’s also super nice to just cruise around on a beach cruiser when you’re waiting for the tide. Puerto Viejo is without a doubt one of the most unique parts about Costa Rica, because the atmosphere is very Rastafari, praise Bob Marley, groove down to some late night Reggae.
The Lazy Mon: This is one of the areas most hopping bars when the sun goes down and I’m pretty sure you can get hostel style-dorm beds for around 11$ per night. You can also request a personal room, but I’m not sure how much they’d cost you. They have a good restaurant here, but if you want to sleep, you’d be better off finding a house rental or hotel.
Rocking J’s: Rockin’s J’s is without a doubt the largest and most expansive hostel I’ve ever seen. You can rent hammock for like 6$/night, or set up your own tent or hammock for something around 4$.
There are also dorm beds, private cabanas, honeymoon shacks, and bunch of other pretty awesome hostel accommodation. I would by no means say this place is the clean, petite, boutique style hostel though.
It smells like beer, people party until 5 a.m. every night, there are no quiet hours, and if you stay here, you’re going party super hard. There’s a restaurant and bar at the hostel, but obviously you can bring whatever you want into the hostel. Staff is super laid back. So, they known you’re probably just a bum surfer who wants to drink rum & cokes, meet babes, and get stoked out of your gourd.
La Ruka Hostel: Another great hostel in Puerto Viejo, but with a much more laid-back, relaxed vibe than a place like Rocking J’s. This hostel is more family-friendly, but there’s definitely a ton of backpackers here. It’s much smaller, cleaner, and less “touristy” than a lot of the other hostels of the area. It’s located just down the road from Salsa Brava and about a 15 minute walk from Playa Cocles, so you really have the best of both worlds at La Ruka. Bunks cost 10$/night and private rooms are 30$/night.
Hotel Banana Azul: Though there aren’t too many hotel options in Puerto Viejo, there are definitely a few available for travelers that want a bit more comfort during their vacation. Banana Azul is one of the places I’d recommend to surfers that have a little more budget to work with. A pretty cool guy from Vancouver owns this place with one of his buddy’s from Peru, good bunch and they offer a great place for surfers and vacationers to stay while they’re in Puerto Viejo.
More can be found here on Trip Advisor.
Puerto Viejo is a great surf destination if you like to party, or if you arrive during the right time of the year. There’s a ton to do here, from surfing gnarly reef breaks to watching spun-out fire dancers perform at local bars, I guarantee you’ll enjoy your time in Puerto Viejo.
One thing to remember is that this is a tourist town, so a lot of your expenses will be higher than if you were to vacation in a more remote destinations. The entire atmosphere of the town is surrounded by Rastafarianism and reggae, so if you are uncomfortable with either, you’ll hate it.
But, if you’re like 99% of the world, you’ll find your vibe in this little party-heavy town in the Caribbean mon—and don’t forget the words of Bob Marley, [quote]”Life is one big road with lots of signs. So when you riding through the ruts, don’t complicate your mind. Flee from hate, mischief and jealousy. Don’t bury your thoughts, put your vision to reality. Wake Up and Live!” (and surf).[/quote]
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):
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!
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.