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!
Rio is one of those places on the earth that you always hear about and that you dream of going to one day—at least, that was one of my dreams for a long time.
My first trip to Brazil was back in the early 2000s and I fell in love with Brazil on first site (or first visit).
I think I have been back about a dozen times since that first trip and each time I go I discover something new about this diverse country.
In 2010 I moved to Rio and gave living there a go—I got to know the city well and I surfed every imaginable wave in and around the city.
Rio is crowded, polluted, dangerous and yet seductively attractive. it’s one of those places you fall in love with and never stop dreaming about your love affair—it’s like falling in love with a prostitute, you know it’s not good for you but it sure does seem like the right thing to do in the moment.
It’s going to cost you about a g-note to get to Rio, that is $1000 for you non-native speakers. It’s a long ass flight, like 18 hours from LAX and you usually have to stop in DC our Houston—there are no direct flights from Los Angeles.
If you go through DC give yourself a few hours between flights, I almost had a heart attack running to make my connection in DC—note to self, start running pre-trip to Brazil.
Once you land in Rio—and see the sprawl from the plane—don’t worry cause where you are staying is nothing like the area around the airport. It will take 45 minutes to one hour to get to your hotel from the airport. Watch you stuff on the freeway, smash and grab is a real thing.
There are a lot of neighborhoods to stay in but I suggest that you stay in the north (which is actually east but always feels like going north to me) near Leblon or in Barra de Tijuca. There is always a wave in Leblon and when it get’s big it will maintain shape off the rock point jetty.
Staying in Leblon will give you access to the fun areas of Rio, just hop on the boardwalk and walk towards the tall buildings or follow the local talent along the beach. If you stay in Barra de Tijuca it is way more laid back, the water is cleaner and the waves are spread out. The perfect trip is to stay a few days In Leblon and then move over to Barra de Tijuca.[box type=”alert” size=”large” style=”rounded”]Please read my article of getting a gun shoved in my face to help you mitigate the danger factor in Rio and my tips for staying safe.[/box]
You got two options for housing in Rio, private or hotel. If you got the cash stay at the Radisson Hotel in Barra, it’s right on the water and surrounded by great restaurants and shopping. There is a good sandbar right out front, grab your gear and get out there and check it from the window of your hotel.
If you decide you want to be closer to Rio then the Sheraton sits just a few minute walk from the main beach at Leblon. It is really in a beautiful location overlooking the ocean, though not really surf-able out front.
Just behind the Sheraton is a Favela, it’s a trip cause you are sitting in your hotel room (costs like $200 a night) and from the balcony of the room you can see the Brazilian slums—it’s sounds worse than it is, yet this is the contrast of Rio and something that you’ll have to get used too.
If you aren’t into the hotel chains then check out all the awesome locations on Air B&B, I stayed at this place in Barra a few years ago and had a nice time. It’s super safe and you can see the break from the patio—though a bit noisy during the day as the traffic can get heavy on the main drag.
If you are down for a more authentic experience I like what these cats are doing at Rio Surf & Stay. I almost stayed there on my last trip but didn’t pull the trigger—the reviews are good and I did exchange a few emails with them and they were super cool.
* For the touristy stuff to see check this online guide or the one at the end of the article has some good tips.
In Zona Sul, the southern part of Rio and the place you’ll want to hang, there are some great waves that are a walk or a short bike ride away, and for the others, there are buses that can get you there.
You might want to consider renting a car—though it is a pain to park and to secure all your surf goodies. I recommend taking taxis or find a surf guide that can cart you back-and-forth to the far-way surf breaks.
You’ll want to stay in the southern area, my personal pick is Leblon or Barra like I mentioned above, the swell always seems to be a bit bigger there and the crowds are friendlier than at Arpoador. However, if the swell is macking you definitely want to paddle out at Arpoador, that left gets sick when the conditions are right . . . here is a photo of an excellent day.
Prainha is the spot of Rio, powerful lefts and rights with an amazing backdrop. Prainha can hold up to 12-15ft, show respect to the locals as in any other situation. On a big day paddle out next to the rocks on the south end of the beach, really fun left. Prainha is a 45 minute drive from downtown Rio and worth the trek. There is a fun wave in the middle section when the tide is right. Don’t miss this wave!
Arpoador is beside the big rock at the northern end of Ipanema has one of the best lefts around, but also one of the biggest and most aggressive crowds. f you want to fight for position you got to paddle in at the base of the rock while the sets roll in, it can be daunting as you navigate the take-off zone. If you can get one up top it’s a blast—get down the line fast. Super fun wave.
Leblon is at the south end of the Leblon/Ipanema beach has a wicked right hander off the canal outlet and also a nice bowl in the same area on smaller days. It has the best vibe in Rio. Even when it’s small you can catch some decent waves here. Right next to a sewage treatment plant, can get very dirty.
Barra is an 18 km long beach with many different breaks, there are tons of sand bars and many good waves to be had along this stretch. Barra also tends to be protected from some of the nastier winds that plague the city and it is usually blowing off shore at the north end of the beach—which is where you kite boarders want to go. If you want to escape the crowds you’ll find some deserted beach break here, its about a 30 minute drive from Ipanema. It’s one of the cleanest beaches in Rio.
Grumari is where scenes from Cidade de Deus were filmed. It is a nice beach with a sandy bottom and easy left and rights. It’s about one hour from the city center and it wild and rustic. I had one of my best all time days here on a big swell. It is a beautiful spot and worth checking out.
Copacabana or Leme are a few breaks along this stretch. In front of Posto 5 and 6 have the better breaks. Takes a bigger swell to get in here but when it does it can be really going off. I’ve also seen some really good waves along the fort at the north end of the beach, there are several takeoff points as the swell get bigger, better for a longer board.
Ipanema has various breaks scattered along its stretch, it is also a hive of activity and a great place to hang. Arpoador is at the north end of the beach and Leblon is at the south end—you could walk the distance in about 30 minutes and you won’t be disappointed by the view.
Macumba is one of the more pleasant beaches of Rio, various left and right peaks with an offshore bank that works on the bigger swells.
Praia do Diabo is on the other side of the big rock is this little break, easy rights and sharper lefts. Good fun and better suited for a bodyboard.
Praia do Pepe is at one end of Barra de Tijuca, for wind-surfers and kite-surfers (possible to hire).
Recreio is over the hill from Macumba, good on the large south west swells.
Sao Conrado break is at the bottom of the favela Roçinha. Conrado is an intense, short wave, but be aware here due to the proximity of Roçinha, cleanliness of water is also an issue.[box type=”download” size=”large” style=”rounded”]Download this free tourist guide for doing those non-surf related activities around Rio which you should put some time aside to check out.[/box]
Let’s check the swell forecast . . .
Join us for Feathers Fur Surf Yoga Mexico Retreat! One week of intentional and playful immersion into the worlds of surf and yoga, with Yours Truly! We have booked out Tailwinds Jungle Lodge for one week; just us, mother nature, the wild ocean, and our intentions to be fully present. Perhaps the odd turtle, scorpion, bat, snake, whale — WILD, NATURAL and FREE! Join us for Feathers and Fur Surf & Yoga Mexico Retreat!
For more information on Feathers and Fur Surf & Yoga Mexico Retreat:
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):
Want to learn to surf in a rad exotic location?
Surfline Morocco based near Agadir, is a surf school situated within the prime area of surf spots that Morocco has to offer. They offer the finest surfing experience, beginning with one-to-one or group surf lessons for the beginner all the way to surf guiding for the accomplished surfer who wants to get off the beaten track.
Due to their local knowledge we can show customers a unique and personal service.
They offer the complete package from accommodation to lessons and cultural excursions.
Surline offers a luxury accommodation in a Riad.[box type=”info” size=”large” style=”rounded”]a riad is a traditional Moroccan house or palace with an interior garden or courtyard.[/box]
Relax with access to the Internet with Wi-Fi, in the pool and garden, or enjoying the views of the beach and Atlantic Ocean from the terrace & the beach is in 7 minutes walking distance .
On your surf holiday, we will ensure that you learn to surf from the best qualified, most experienced and respected surf instructors in Morocco. Their surf coaches are all ASI & BSA trained and from Morocco. No other surf camp in Taghazout, or Morocco can boast that!.
At Surfline Morocco they have very strict rules about how many people we will take to a point break—not interested in dumping 40 people on one spot and watching all of the locals get disgruntled as their surf session is ruined. They prefer to break the groups up and help you learn to surf under the close guidance of your groups surf instructor.
They limit groups to eight guests to one surf coach so you can be sure of some fantastic instruction.
At Surfline Morocco Camp they strive to teach surfers of all levels,we provide surf coaching for those that want to learn how to step onto the water, surfers that want to improve in order to start having more speed when racing with the green waves, or advanced surfers that want to be able to surf more vertically.
Surf instructors speak French and English.
All their lessons are provided on one of the best playgrounds in the world for all levels, the Moroccan waves—lessons are divided in groups of different levels:
10km of surfing perfection with something to offer for everyone from soft to the more advanced wave.Rolling fun beach breaks (Perfect for beginners and the intermediate skilled to develop perfect their skills to perfection.To the long famous point breaks such as anchor point and killers point!
Don’t be put off by the names though, with so much accessible coastline there is an almost perfect condition for every level every day!!!When the waves don’t suit you or you just need a rest there are plenty of other days out!Morocco is the perfect blend of surf and culture
SURF SCHOOL PACKAGE 1 week 400 € per person Included :
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!
It’s 2am I am sitting at a little over 5000 feet dangling my legs into the darkness below, watching a lunar eclipse in Joshua tree National Park.
The rock releases the heat from daytime exposure to the sun, it’s warm to the touch. It’s taken me a lot of energy and time to get here, but it started with dreaming of surfing.
“There’s been a schedule change check your email”, the principals voice cuts through a moment of calm before students arrive and before I start a day of teaching.
Well, if I have to get on the computer I’m going to check the surf! So I do, it’s flat.
One of the ads on the site catches my eye, it’s for a wilderness and outdoor education company. I click on it.
I had already decided I was going to leave teaching in it’s most traditional definition. The question was really how to continue teaching and do my best work without the restrictions set by office dwellers that never step foot in a classroom or interact on deep levels with students.
While working in schools I had started programs to meet the needs of a diverse population (in every way you can imagine) of students. These programs created smaller classes for teachers to teach and for students to learn.
The classes were created for the specific needs of specific students. These were not lessons or programs copied out of a book or cut and pasted from the internet. These were programs for the students that would be right in front of the teacher.
They worked, suspension rates dropped student achievement went up, teachers and students were happier. Then came budget cuts, programs started to get cut and mine was one of them. “We don’t have a title for these programs in the budget codes, how can we justify them?” was a comment I heard.
How do we justify them?!
Talk to the teachers, students and school communities that are benefiting from them.
Justifying sounds like making up something, just look to the truth of what’s going on. It works.
So, I checked the surf report and I found an advertisement for The National Center for Outdoor Adventure Education. That simple surf check has helped me travel the world as an educator.
Get bored, go surf change your life, yes it was that simple for me.
What was the first thing that you saw this morning, heard, tasted or smelled?
How do these seemingly tiny moment shape our days and add up to a life experience?
It’s five a.m my students are all still asleep in their tents, I sit on the trail in the village of Pothana looking towards the horizon. A local villager named Chimay is blowing incense my direction, to bring me luck, he says.
What looks to me like clouds at first starts to organize and reveal what it truly is, snow fields and rock.
I follow the snow fields up, up through the clouds, to what seems like an absurd height, finally the summit shows itself.
Machapuchare, “the Fish Tail” as it is known in English, is a sacred mountain honoring Shiva.
The mountain is off limits to climbers and only one attempt was ever made to climb it. The climbers stopped a few hundred feet from the summit, not because they couldn’t go on, they stopped out of respect for culture and peoples beliefs.
The view of Machapuchare is how I kick off my first day on the trail in Nepal. A holy mountain that is pristine, respected and turns back explorers out of respect and sensitivity, not fear.
The information about the mountain was given to me by a local woman, guide, named Sita. She saw I was drawing a picture of the mountain in my journal and shared it’s history with me.
I am in Nepal, teaching students to be leaders, problem solvers, and self sufficient explorers. We have come to Nepal for the beauty and the culture. We are here to remind the students that within each of them is a leader, thinker, explorer, world changer.
The students are carrying everything they need. They have packed deliberately to ensure accessibility, balance and that the gear is compressed and comfortable (ABC’s of packing) .The weight feels daunting the first day but as the body and mind adjust to the task and pace of trail life the burden lightens each day.
As I write in my journal I smell milk tea being brewed, and my mind relaxes. My bag is packed I am always up ready before the students. If they need help I can guide them and remind them that they have the knowledge and skill to break camp and lead another day.
As of now most Nepales trekking companies help tourists carry their gear up into the mountains. I should clarify this, the porters carry unheard of weights on their back while tourists wear light daypacks or carry nothing at all.
There is an industry surrounding trekking, it is a job opportunity, provides a service and allows access to many, that could not carry even the lightest of packs, into a beautiful mountain landscape.
Three sisters Trekking company sent out two guides with my group so that they could observe our teaching techniques, outdoor skills, sight management skills and other aspects they want to bring to trekking in Nepal..
We are show stoppers, guides, porters and trekkers alike stop and watch as we carry all our gear on our backs. On an island the “coconut telegraph” is the term used to describe how information can travel by word rather than cell phones, news or other modern day gadgets.
We got to experience just how fast word traveled along the trail.
The clouds have parted and the summits let us get a peek and their beauty briefly, again.
My students were sitting doing quite reflection in their journals when a Nepalese guide pulled me aside. “Are you leading the group of students who are learning to be leaders”?
“I have been hearing about you for days from other guides and trekkers.” was his reply
He went on to tell me he had never seen a group taking classes while trekking along these trails or any other he had guided on in Nepal. He thought it was amazing, I thought the exact same thing.
I have brought with me a pack of handmade journals that I have given out to people in Nepal.
I have given a journal to both Sita and Kiran to scribble, write or draw in. By the trips completion both have given me back the journals with beautiful writing, reflections and drawings. I explain the journals are a gift, theirs to keep, but they insist I take them back.
No it is I that is receiving a gift, a custom crafted artistic memory in words and pictures from the minds and hands of the people that shape this land, culture and beliefs.
On the last two days the students are guiding the trip alone, I am well behind them and a guide is well ahead.
We meet them nightly at camp, for our education groups and reflection time but they are on their own. They didn’t make the summit they had planned to but each of us has our own summit and it is the experiences, encounters, opportunities triumphs and obstacles that shape those summits and who we are.
At the Kathmandu airport we say our goodbyes, I head back to the states, my students to Korea, Sita and Kiran home to sleep.
I order a milk tea, close my eyes and see summits, relax my brain and remember the smell of incense and luck. We are all healthy, happy, renewed and ready to go “Search and Enjoy” everywhere and anywhere.
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.