Surfing Costa Rica
Both sides of Costa Rican coasts are packed with possibilities for travelers interested in a surf-filled vacay. Along the Pacific coast, you'll find mellow spots offering classes for beginners, while the southern Caribbean offers big barrels and risky reefs suitable only for experts. And you won't necessarily have to travel far—options on the Central Pacific coastline and Guanacaste Province make quick trips from San José for visitors without much time.
To ensure a safe and enjoyable experience, plan ahead—book a lesson, check local surf reports, inquire about the difficulty and conditions, and, if you're an amateur, don’t paddle out alone. Wondering which beach is best for you? Check out these tips before you book your surf holiday.
And if you'd like to pair some yoga with your surf holiday, see our 10-day surf & yoga itinerary on the Nicoya Peninsula.
Best for Beginner and Intermediate Surfers: Tamarindo, Guiones, and Samara
Located about 1.5 hours from Liberia, on Costa Rica's northern Pacific coast, is one of the most popular surf beaches for all skill levels. This is particularly true in December and January when the waves are larger, attracting surfers from around the globe. The long, soft-sand beach and abundance of surf schools in the area make it an enticing option for beginners, while the variety of nearby hotels and restaurants ensure a comfortable stay. Keep in mind that Tamarindo’s increasing popularity over the years means that you’ll likely be sharing the water with a crowd of visitors and locals with a range of experience. So if you’re heading here, do learn a bit about local surf etiquette before entering the water.
Offering over 300 days of surfable waves each year, Playa Guiones is two hours down the coast from Tamarindo. The sheer amount of space means surfers of any ability can cruise along at their own pace, with beginners sticking closer to the beach and advanced surfers paddling further out to catch more challenging waves (beginners and intermediate surfers should always consult a local or specialist about conditions prior to paddling out). You’ll work up quite the appetite surfing, and Playa Guiones has your cravings covered with an assortment of eateries in the area, including gluten-free and vegan options in the nearby health-conscious haven of Nosara.
Small waves and short paddles make for a gentle introduction to surfing at Playa Samara,also located on the Nicoya Peninsula. If you’re just starting out, this sleepy surf town is ideal. Playa Samara is a quiet beach on a protected bay where big waves are rare and the laid-back vibe is a way of life. The surf instructors are patient, the scenery is stunning, and since this is a less crowded spot than other popular beaches on the Pacific coast, you are free to learn at a slower pace. You won't need to worry about bumping your board into other surfers.
Best for Experts: Salsa Brava, Avellanas, and Pavones
For highly advanced surfers in search of a challenge, they’ll find it at Salsa Brava, in the town of Puerto Viejo, located on Costa Rica’s southern Caribbean coast. There's a world-famous coral reef here nicknamed the “cheese grater” for its ability to shred surfers’ bodies and boards. That means the reef-breaking waves at Salsa Brava are not for the inexperienced. If you’re planning to take it on, you’ll want to spend some time exploring more of the area. Find some inspiration in our Puerto Viejo: Costa Rica’s Caribbean Coast article.
The beloved surf breaks at Playa Avellanas, located about 40 minutes south of Tamarindo, have earned it the nickname “Little Hawaii.” Waves here can reach up to 18 feet, so this is another experts-only spot. It's also home to a beach bar (and its resident pig) named Lola's, so beginner surfers and beach-goers can come for a cocktail and enjoy Little Hawaii safely from the shore.
The eight-hour drive from San José prevents many travelers from ever visiting Playa Pavones on the southern Pacific coast. But for those that make the trek, the reward is great—and long. This remote surf spot is home to one of the longest lefts (a wave that breaks to the left) in the world. When the waters are rolling, you can ride more than three-quarters of a mile. Your best chance to catch one of these waves is from April to November.
Best for a Short Stay: Hermosa, Boca Barranca, and Guanacaste
If you’re making a quick trip to the Rich Coast, your best bet is to choose a beach within a couple of hours of an international airport so you can spend more time in the water and less time in the car.
For those arriving at Juan Santamaria International Airport in San José, the Central Pacific beaches—such as Boca Barranca and Playa Hermosa—are a short 1.5-hour jaunt. Longboarders will love Boca Barranca, where you can catch a left-breaking wave in front of the mouth of the river and, with the right conditions, ride it for more than a half-mile. Reliable year-round waves and close proximity to Costa Rica’s capital make Playa Hermosa another favorite. There’s plenty of space on this long, grey, sandy beach—several miles, in fact. Head here if you’re looking to escape the crowds of nearby Jacó. Also, take a tip from the locals and look for the large almond tree if you’d like to find some bigger waves. “El Almendro,” as the tree is called, serves as a landmark for one of the best breaks.
Gold Coast of Guanacaste Province
If you’re landing at Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport in Liberia, get thee to the “Gold Coast.” This is a coastal stretch of Guanacaste Province where plenty of surf beaches, such as Playa Tamarindo, Little Hawaii and Playa Grandé, are all reachable within 1.5 hours. If you are traveling with surfers of mixed ability levels, opt for Playa Grandé. Beginners can catch smaller waves at low tide while more advanced surfers will enjoy the consistent south swell, particularly between March and November when there’s a stronger possibility of bigger waves. Everyone will appreciate the serene setting, spectacular sunsets, and the chance to glimpse leatherback turtles nesting at night (October through March).