The Basics of Playa Grande Costa Rica Surfing
If you’re not familiar with Costa Rica, then you most likely will not have heard of the little beach town named Playa Grande. A place which I called home for 6 months was none other than the remote beach area of Playa Grande, a place that simply cannot be matched.
You’ll receive all the benefits of the Costa Rican, Pura Vida lifestyle, but without the overpopulation of tourists. Playa Grande is unique in the sense that it is located so incredibly close to nearby tourist trap Playa Tamarindo, yet seems to fly under the radar when it comes to crowdedness.[box type=”info” size=”large” style=”rounded”]I surfed this beach every single day for 6 months and the biggest lineup I saw was during Christmas, though there were still only about 15 people in the water. [/box]
The reason Playa Grande avoids all the tourists is because it’s pretty hard to reach if you don’t know what you’re doing. Separated from Tamarindo by a crocodile infested estuary, many tourists and locals choose to stay and surf in Tamarindo, while the true surfers head over to Playa Grande.
Playa Grande is made up of two different areas.
The main stretch of Playa Grande and the hidden reserve of the Palm Beach Estates. They both have incredibly great waves, though I tend to prefer to hang around the Palm Beach break known as Casitas.
If you want a relaxing spot to surf for your next vacation, or simply want to avoid the nasty lineups of Tamarindo, then I highly recommend you check out this spot. I could wake up and surf Playa Grande 356 days a year and you’d never hear me complain about anything.
If you want to know what Pura Vida actually feels like, then head on down to Playa Grande and see what you’ve been missing.
The Town Playa Grande
Playa Grande is without a doubt the only place in Costa Rica that has its town set up in such a strange fashion. Though it’s only located 1 km from Tamarindo, it’s a 30 minute drive, because there’s no bridge connecting the two towns.
This allows Grande to remain more remote and ultimately brings in significant less surfers. If you’re coming from Tamarindo, you’ll have to detour through Huacas, then continue through Matapalo, and eventually you’ll land in the main stretch of Playa Grande.
Like any surf town, Grande has surf shops, restaurants, a convenience store, a tiny school, and a ton of hostels and hotels.
The beauty of Grande is the fact that it’s located in a National Forest, so there are no buildings over 2 stories. This is insane considering how many hotels have tried to be developed in the area. Due to Costa Rica’s strict laws against building on National Forest, the hotels have turned from the five-star resorts you see in Mexico to the surf vibe hostels of Bali, Indonesia.
Your bed will be soft, the windows will be open, and monkeys will dance outside your cabina doorway and the Ticos are just downright welcoming.
While living in Playa Grande, I met a variety of different people, all of whom were incredibly helpful and friendly. To put things in perspective, I had my surfboard stolen in Tamarindo and my neighbor went out of his way to track it down. I figured I’d never see it again, but after 2 days, Oscar showed up on my doorstep with my surfboard and a fresh bar of wax.[box type=”info” size=”large” style=”rounded”]That’s how small of a community Guanacaste is. You lose something, someone helps you find it.[/box]
As far as accommodation, it won’t be hard to find a place to rest your head, the only difficulty will be finding a place that isn’t expensive. Due to its remoteness and tranquility, the majority of the hotels and hostels try to charge a lot of money.
This can easily be avoided if you find the right place, or rent a house with a bunch of your mates. I rented a pool house in Palm Beach for 400$/month, but it could sleep 2-3 people.
Otherwise you can fit 10-12 surfers in one of the beach homes, or you can stay at one of the hostels. Depending on your budget and length of stay, a rental home could be your best option. Then, you’ll be able to cook all your own food, do what you want, and not have to worry about quiet hour of a hostel.
If you want incredible cuisine, then Playa Grande isn’t the best place to find it. Although there’s a few really good Sodas (Tico restaurant), the best ones are over in Tamarindo.
The best place to get a meal in Grande is either at Bar Seven or Kiki’s on the main strip. One thing to remember is that if you stay in Palm Beach you will need a car! Palm Beach is located a 20 minute drive from the mains trip of Grande, so walking from place to place takes a long time.
One good part about Palm Beach is that you can take a 1$, 2 minute boat ride across the estuary and eat in Tamarindo whenever you want. The only problem about the boat is that it only operates between 6/7 am and 530 pm. This presents a problem, because you can’t party in Tamarindo and expect the boat guys to be working. You either have to pay a taxi (20-40$), find a place to crash in Tamarindo, or swim the estuary.[box type=”alert” size=”large” style=”rounded”]Do not swim the estuary, you will get eaten by the crocodiles.[/box]
Playa Grande has a ton to offer any type of surfer and there’s a ton of wildlife surrounding the entire town. After reading this guide, you should be comfortable enough with the town of Grande that you can find a place to stay, eat, and surf without having to deal with Gringo prices.
Playa Grande Costa Rica Surfing
If you only have a short time in Costa Rica, then a place like Playa Grande is a great way to have guaranteed incredible surfing, while also being able to check out a few other close spots.
Due to its close proximity to Tamarindo, Avellanas, Langosta, Marbella, Nosara, and Witch’s Rock—Playa Grande serves as an ideal spot for surfers who want to get a heavy dosage of Costa Rican surfing.
One thing about Playa Grande that sticks out the most is the consistency of the waves. I lived there for 6 months and only could remember a few days that were really choppy. Though a 20 foot swell won’t work at Playa Grande, anything between 6-12 is going to be epic. The paddle out is extremely easy, the waves hold well, and there’s never anyone surfing Playa Grande.
Playa Grande is a beach-breaking wave, offering rights and lefts to surfers of all shapes and sizes. There are two main breaks in Playa Grande, Casitas being the one located right next to the river mouth and main grande being located right next to main town.
Casitas is located right next to a huge rock formation, so there will definitely be a few rocks below you, but during high tide you’ll be far enough above water to not have to worry. The daredevils that are looking for a hollow low tide wave are welcome to rip Grande, but as a Playa Grande veteran, I’d go high tide coming in 9 times out of 10.
Depending on the time of day you surf Playa Grande will determine what type of board you should use, or at least from my experience. Though a dedicated short boarder, I found that surfing sunrise in Playa Grande was much more enjoyable with a longboard.
I’m not sure whether it was the waves, the crowd, or the fact I was just tired at 5 a.m., but early mornings in Playa Grande was always better with a 10 footer.
But, there’s no use in wasting your time on a long boy if the waves came out to play. For this reason, I’d recommend a short board for most afternoon sessions. I ride anything as short as a 5’ 4”, and anything as long as a 6’6”, though it doesn’t really matter because it’s all personal preference.
My go-to in Playa Grande was my 6’2” Rusty Joker, but it’s really up to you >
Depending on your style of play, Playa Grande can be a phenomenal place to spend your surf trip. The waves won’t be the barrels of Tahiti, nor the length of Pavones, but they’ll be better than Tamarindo 10 times out of 10.
You’ll get to rip a few of those cutbacks you’ve been dreaming about and on top of it, you won’t be wearing that 3/2 Cali wetsuit because you’ll be in Costa Rica baby!
Okay, let’s do that surf check . . .
Where to Stay in Playa Grande Costa Rica
Like I mentioned before, renting a house with your buddies is probably the most affordable and luxurious option, but obviously there are a few additional options.
RipJack Inn Playa Grande
Yoga, surf, fish, enough said. The RipJack offers a ton of different styles of rooms. From singles to family suites, you’ll most likely find something that satisfies your need here for sure.
The beds are comfortable, the staff is super cool, and you’ll be located about 100 feet from the main Grande beach break. You can’t really beat that, but rooms will be priced much higher than a hostel.
Standard rooms are 80$/night, Suites are about 200$, and private bungalows are around 150$.
Hotel Las Tortugas Playa Grande
This boutique style hotel is located right on Playa Grande National Park beach, allowing guests to enjoy the National Park and the untouched beach during their Tico vacation.
Also, the sea turtle population in this area is out of control, especially between Oct-Dec. There will be a ton of tours every single day, so if the waves decide to take a dump, at least you’ll be able to see some cool wildlife.
Playa Grande Surf Camp
This is the best option for backpackers and surfers, because rooms are cheap and you get the luxury of staying in the Palm Beach Estates. This means that there will be 24/7 security, complimentary golf cart rides, and a whole lot of rich people on vacation. In addition, you’ll be a 10 minute walk from Casitas surf break and have the convenience of everything that Palm Beach has to offer.
Hotel Bula Bula Playa Grande
This is the best place to stay if you’re vacationing with your family, because it’s quite luxurious and is located just steps from the best break of the area.
Located in the Palm Beach Estates, you’ll receive 24 hour security in the gated community and have the comfort of a five star resort.
The pools always cold, the food is delicious, and the staff is helpful and friendly. Also, if there are a few non-surfers in your party, the hotel offers several tours for them to enjoy.
To Sum it Up
Simply states, there ain’t no place like Playa Grande. You have constant waves, a quaint surf town, safety, and one of the emptiest lineups in the entire country.
Though it’s a little hard to reach, Grande offers a tranquility that simply cannot be found anywhere else in the country. You won’t have to deal with hundreds of people crowding up your lineup, neither will you have to worry about walking on an unsafe beach late at night.
Everything in Playa Grande is very much Pura Vida, so feel free to kick off the sandals, rub some wax on the board and surf some of the slow breaking wavs of Playa Grande, Costa Rica.