You'll travel to three of the best places in Costa Rica to ride the waves on this 11-day trip.  Start in Jacó, one of the most renowned surf spots in Costa Rica. Then, head to Playa Santa Teresa, home to major surf competitions and some of the most consistent waves in the country. End the adventure in Playa Tamarindo for surf days that end with glorious Pacific Coast sunsets. You'll also have time to relax on the beach and explore the country's vast wildlife.


  • Experience the history and Culture of San Jose
  • Relax on the pristine beaches of Costa Rica's Pacific Coast
  • Surf world class waves
  • Enjoy a sunset catamaran cruise off the coast of Tamarindo

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Costa Rica - Experience San José's Culture and History San Jose
Day 2 San Jose Drive to Jacó Jacó
Day 3 Day trip to Tortuga Island Jacó
Day 4 Boat from Jacó to Playa Tambor & Santa Teresa Santa Teresa
Day 5 Free Afternoon and Evening Bioluminescent Bay Tour Santa Teresa
Day 6 Surfing Lesson at Playa Santa Teresa Santa Teresa
Day 7 Santa Teresa to Playa Tamarindo Tamarindo
Day 8 Stand up Paddle Board in Tamarindo Tamarindo
Day 9 Private Surf Lesson at Playa Tamarindo Tamarindo
Day 10 Sunset Catamaran Adventure Tamarindo
Day 11 Depart Costa Rica from Liberia  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Costa Rica - Experience San José's Culture and History

The Edificio Correos (Post Office) in the city center.
The Edificio Correos (Post Office) in the city center.

Welcome to Costa Rica, the land of pura vida! After arriving at Juan Santamaría International Airport in San José, a local representative will meet you and escort you to your hotel. The rest of the day you'll have free to explore the city at your leisure.

Perhaps take a stroll through Mercado Central (Central Market), which features over 200 shops, food stalls, and sodas (traditional restaurants). Then visit the Catedral Metropolitana (Metropolitan Church), whose interior combines Greek Orthodox, neoclassical, and Baroque styles, and features wood carvings and stained-glass windows. There's also a pair of popular museums in San José: Museo del Oro Precolumbino (Pre-Columbian Gold Museum), and Museo del Jade, which houses the world's largest collection of pre-Columbian jade artifacts.

Be sure to explore Barrio Amón, a bohemian neighborhood home to historic cafetalero (coffee grower) mansions built during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. For dinner, opt for a restaurant in the hills of Escazú. This elevated region on the western edge of the city offers panoramic views of the valley below. That said, San José is filled with great restaurants serving everything from traditional Costa Rican fare to forward-thinking fusion cuisine.

Day 2: San Jose Drive to Jacó

Destination: Manuel Antonio
Destination: Manuel Antonio

After breakfast, you will meet your shuttle transfer towards the Pacific Coast. Today's destination is Jacó, located about 2 hours south of the capital.

Along the way, you will pass by the "crocodile bridge." Located right before you reach the Pacific coast on Route 34, this bridge over the Río Tárcoles is a favorite spot of congregating crocodiles.

Further down from Tárcoles, you will arrive at the surf town of Jacó. After checking into your hotel you'll have the rest of the day to yourself. You can opt to visit Bijagual Waterfall, located about 20 minutes north of Jacó. This roaring monster plunges 600 feet into an expansive pool below, making it the largest waterfall in all of Costa Rica. So pull off the highway and experience the majesty firsthand.

Day 3: Day trip to Tortuga Island

View of Isla Tortuga from the top of the hill
View of Isla Tortuga from the top of the hill

This morning, you will be picked up early from your hotel to head to Isla Tortuga.  

First, board a catamaran, and cruise across the Gulf of Nicoya.   During the day, you can enjoy the snorkeling in the crystal clear turquoise waters that Tortuga Island is famous for, or go on a banana boat ride.  

After lunch, enjoy the beach or a game of volleyball, or just enjoy a nap in the hammock.

Day 4: Boat from Jacó to Playa Tambor & Santa Teresa

Playa Tambor
Playa Tambor

This morning you'll transfer to the Nicoya Peninsula and on to Santa Teresa, renowned for its excellent surf, beautiful beaches, and friendly, laid-back atmosphere. But this won't be an ordinary transfer as you will do it on a boat crossing the Gulf of Nicoya! On the way, you will have the time to relax, spot dolphins and maybe even rays and sea turtles.

After arriving at the peninsula, you'll continue by land to Santa Teresa. After checking in to your hotel, the rest of the day is yours to surf or explore.  One idea for the afternoon is Playa Tambor set on Bahía Ballena, renowned for its beautiful beaches and marine life. Or, rent a kayak or standup paddle board at the nearby fishing village of Pochote for a paddle through the mangroves where you'll spot water birds like egrets, herons, and ibises. 

Here are a few restaurant recommendations for your stay in Santa Teresa

  • Enjoy a meal with your feet in the sand at Banana Beach, which offers breakfast, lunch, and dinner (as well as potent tropical cocktails) overlooking the water. Note: it's cash only.
  • Burger Rancho serves up a long list of patties (including veggie options) as well as salads, seafood, and and smoothies in an airy, wood-filled space that includes TVs for watching the game.
  • Zuma Restaurant is a favorite for Israeli fare like hummus, shish kababs, and falafel, as well as Costa Rican dishes. They also mix a lengthy menu of smoothies that hit the spot for breakfast or a healthy post-surf snack.
  • Soda Tiquicia is an easy stop for casados (traditional Costa Rican meals with rice, meat, beans, and salad) in a casual, family-friendly space. 
Plan your trip to Costa Rica
Customize your trip with help from a local travel specialist.

Day 5: Free Afternoon and Evening Bioluminescent Bay Tour

Bioluminescence at dusk
Bioluminescence at dusk

Make your way to Playa Tambor, where you'll have the morning and afternoon free to explore as you like. 

Some recommended options include:

  • Nature Hiking in the Curú Wildlife Refuge: Located in Paquera, this private refuge is considered one of the best places in the Nicoya Peninsula for nature and wildlife lovers. Here you'll find lots of different ecosystems with a wide variety of species, such as monkeys, iguanas, and macaws, on this 90-minute guided hike. You'll also learn about organic agriculture, sustainable use of the land, animal behavior, and how the locals use various plants as natural remedies and medicines.
  • Curú Wildlife Refuge and Isla Tortuga: Combine a trip to Curú with a stopover at the neighboring Isla Tortuga, one of the region's best snorkeling spots. Take a boat from Curú to the snorkeling spot, about 15 minutes away. When you've had enough snorkeling for the time being, head toward the island for some fresh fruit and play time on the beach. After a two-hour break, sail back to the beach at Curú on a different route that will take you by the majestic Rainbow Rock formation jutting out of the sea.
  • Horseback riding: Explore the beautiful Nicoya Peninsula from a different vantage point and go horseback riding on the beach, through the jungle, inside the Curú Wildlife Refuge, or in the hills above the bay. 
  • Fishing: Try your hand at fishing informally or ask your guide about booking a half-day deep sea fishing trip, where you can catch Marlin, Tuna, Mahi Mahi, and more.
  • Simply relax on the golden beaches of Tambor, where the waves are placid and the sand is flat at low tide — perfect for soccer or beach volleyball. Or maybe go for a peaceful walk along the 2.5-mile-long (4km) beach path around the bay.

In the evening, set out on a bioluminescent tour of the bay. This three-hour interactive trip starts with a short sea kayaking excursion from the beach at the Curú Wildlife Refuge to Quesera Beach, about a 20-minute paddle away. Take a break on the fine white sands of Quesera and watch the sunset as you snack on fresh fruit and sip on refreshing drinks.

Feel free to take a dip in the crystal clear waters as your guide explains the phenomenon of bioluminescence emitted by the surrounding flora and fauna. Then don your snorkeling mask and follow your guide to the best spots to observe the natural neon blue light in the water around you. 

Day 6: Surfing Lesson at Playa Santa Teresa

Time to hit the waves
Time to hit the waves

Today you'll take a private, two-hour surf lesson in the waves of Playa Santa Teresa, some of the best and most consistent in all of Costa Rica. Beginners will gain confidence under the tutelage of expert teachers, while more advanced surfers can expect to hone their technique. 

After your lesson, you can hike along the coastline towards nearby Playa Carmen, another star of Costa Rica's Pacific beaches. Go for a dip in the tidal pools here, or head back into town. Santa Teresa attracts expats from around the world, and everyone seems to be clutching a surfboard or yoga mat. The long gravel road that runs along the beach is great for people watching and people meeting. You could even rent a vintage Land Rover or hop on an ATV and cruise the coast yourself.

Day 7: Santa Teresa to Playa Tamarindo

Visit Las Baulas National Marine Park to see nesting leatherback turtles
Visit Las Baulas National Marine Park to see nesting leatherback turtles

This morning you'll be driven north to Playa Tamarindo in the Guanacaste region which is notable for its dry tropical forest. Once you arrive, you can rest at your hotel or spend the afternoon exploring offshore on a kayak and snorkeling tour. As you row through the deep blue waters of Tamarindo Beach towards the white sand Capitán Island, you'll be able to observe underwater coral reef and exotic fish.

If you happen to visit between October and March, head to Las Baulas National Marine Park to see Leatherback turtles come ashore for a truly memorable experience. Every night during high tide in the nesting season, female leatherback turtles make their way up the beach to lay eggs. Watch the turtles come and go before the hatchlings follow suit into the water, a once-in-a-lifetime sight. 

You'll find that the laid-back surf town of Playa Tamarindo has excellent food options. A few options include:

  • For breakfast, head to charming La Bodega and order one of their fantastic egg sandwiches (like the Kristina, served with tomato, local organic goat chevre, red onion and local smoked trout on a buttered and toasted homemade bread). Homemade banana bread and fresh juices are other standouts.
  • Pull up a stool at the Green Papaya, which serves some of the best tacos and burritos in town with vegetarian options in a casual atmosphere.
  • Steps from the beach, Surf Shack serves up topnotch patties, onion rings, and milkshakes in an aluminum-sided hut decorated with surfboards.
  • Nogi's is a perfect pick for sunset dining thanks to its beachfront location. They serve a varied menu of seafood and grilled meat; be sure to save room for a slice of their Coconut Cream Pie.

Day 8: Stand up Paddle Board in Tamarindo

Spend the day paddle-boarding
Spend the day paddle-boarding

If you'd like to spend a more mellow day on the water while still being active, stand-up paddle-boarding is the excursion for you. Rent a board and hit Tamarindo Bay. Not only will you enjoy the scenery from out on the water, but you'll get a full-body workout, too. If you've never paddle-boarded before that isn't a problem—individual and group classes are readily available in Tamarindo.

If you have the energy and want to make a day of it, consider an optional surfing excursion. There are plenty of private classes available for newbies, and for seasoned pros, there are some great breaks in the area. One must-visit surf spot near Tamarindo is Playa Naranjo, which locals have nicknamed "Witch’s Rock." It's located in a national park and accessible only by boat. Made famous by the film "The Endless Summer II," Naranjo features big surf with both left and right-breaking waves, meaning it is ideal for any surf style. A few miles beyond here is Ollie’s Point, which has right-breaking waves only. This is a big area, so it won’t feel quite as crowded as Witch’s Rock.

Day 9: Private Surf Lesson at Playa Tamarindo

Meet your professional surf instructor for a day of catching waves
Meet your professional surf instructor for a day of catching waves

In the morning, enjoy a private surf lesson on Playa Tamarindo. Take the rest of the day to practice riding the waves on your own, or enjoy some well-deserved relaxation on the beach. 

A must-visit spot near Tamarindo for more experienced surfers is Playa Naranjo, which locals have nicknamed "Witch’s Rock." It's located in a national park, is accessible only by boat, and features big surf with both left and right breaking waves. A few miles beyond, you'll reach Ollie’s Point, another great surf locale.

You can also take a yoga class at one of Tamarindo's studios, stroll through town, and/or enjoy a meal at a local café.

Day 10: Sunset Catamaran Adventure

Keep an eye out for dolphins on the tour
Keep an eye out for dolphins on the tour

Spend the morning relaxing on the beaches of Tamarindo. In the afternoon, you'll embark on a sailing trip. The boat will stop in a tranquil bay, drop anchor, and you'll be free to swim and snorkel. It's not uncommon to see schools of tropical fish, sea turtles, and even dolphins frolicking in the surf. Admire the sunset from the water, with a tropical beverage in hand.

Day 11: Depart Costa Rica from Liberia

Liberia, Costa Rica
Liberia, Costa Rica

It's time to say adiós to Costa Rica! After breakfast, you'll transfer to the airport in Liberia for your return flight home.


Map of Nicoya Peninsula Surf Adventure - 11 Days
Map of Nicoya Peninsula Surf Adventure - 11 Days
Written by Emily Strauss, updated Feb 18, 2021