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!
(by Lucas Godfrey. May 2011) Costa Rica is probably the coolest place I have ever been to. This trip we stayed on the Osa peninsula called Cabo Matapalo—which is across the bay from Pavones. We are lucky enough to know a friend who lives right in front of Backwash Bay—which is where we surfed most frequently. Between morning and afternoon surf sessions there was a lot of down time, this was usually filled by looking for snakes, monkeys, birds, or sitting back and reading a book. The Costa Rica wildlife is amazing, the rainforest is so alive, even coming from Hawaii it is awesome being in a place that is so untouched by man. This is the type of place that I am sure inspired the Wave Tribe founder to create his company and I am stoked to be part of it to help protect these pristine places.
We went on the most breathtaking hikes with animals running everywhere through the jungle. I would say one of the highlights of the trip was going zip-lining—it consisted of traversing across twelve platforms, flying down these cables in-between trees and at times over a hundred feet off the ground! The whole time we were there my Dad and I were using Wave Tribe recyclable leashes which couldn’t of worked better—the velcro holds tight and the comfortable ankle strap brings it all together, they are strong, durable, and long lasting. I also used Wave Tribe cork deck pads on this trip which had great traction, I even met a guy down there using Wave Tribe’s cork deck pad and leash I told him “right on for supporting a earth oriented company” and he agreed.
Although we didn’t get swell much over a couple feet overhead—and never got Pan Dulce—it was an amazing experience just to be there and I got some shreddable waves in the process and tested my Wave Tribe gear, check the link below for some great pics of the trip.
Pura Vida – see pics of trip here!
Understanding Southern California Wave Direction
How does the wind influence our waves?
Here are some basic facts about the wind and waves: the 1) harder the wind blows, 2) over a longer period of time, 3) over a greeters distance on ocean (fetch) 4) the more wind energy will be transferred into the ocean, resulting in larger waves and longer swell periods.
Wind + Wind Strength + Wind Distance = Longer Swell Periods
Swell period is related to how deep the swell energy extends below the surface of the ocean.
The longer the swell period the deeper the swell energy, the more the waves will be influenced by underwater bathymetry (the shape of the bottom of the break) and shallow offshore banks.
Hurricane swell direction begins out of the Southeast as the storms move from underneath Baja, Mexico (from warm water), the swell shifts more South and Southwest as is moves further West.
Hurricanes need warm water (about 80 degrees) to fuel the storm (and thrive)—this is why El Nino years are good for swell, these years have warmer water and thus spin off more hurricanes with longer vector (closer proximity to California).
Read the complete article on surfline. explaining the surf mechanics of Malibu and other great information about wave mechanics and historical photos.