Surfing off Playa Dominical on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast. Photo by Haru Master.
A world-class surf hotspot, Costa Rica’s two coasts both offers terrific point breaks, beach breaks and perfect lefts and rights. The Caribbean side’s surf season is short and limited mainly to after-effects of tropical storms between August and December, but swells can be huge. The Pacific side, however, offers more consistent waves with the big stuff appearing April-October and smaller but cleaner waves for the rest of the year.
Costa Rica’s top surf beaches are (arguably)
Hermosa Beach, Playa Grande, Playa Dominical, Pavones, Witches Rock, Salsa Brava, Santa Teresa, Mal Pais, Negra Beach, Junquillal Beach and Avellana Beach.
Surf board transport
Some domestic airlines do not accept boards as baggage due to weight or size so check beforehand. Many surfers hire cars (tough ones as some roads are in seriously bad shape! ) instead but bring their own soft racks and straps as these are not supplied.
Boards are usually rentable in towns adjacent to good surf, though many visitors bring their own.
Playa Tamarindo, on the Pacific side of the country. Photo by tamarindowiki.
Costa Rica’s Best Beaches
The playas most visitors want to hang out on, north to south, start with the Pacific side on the Nicoya Peninsula about 4 hours from San José (*= good surf)
Playa Grande, North Pacific, big and clean, due to conservationists rather than caring locals as leatherback turtles nest here. Roads are poor in this area so access can be hard work, but there are some interesting wildlife parks around.
Playa del Coco is a bit short of spectacular sand but is relatively easy to get to at 5 hours from San José and has a lively village nearby.
*Tamarindo Beach, North Pacific, one of the best surf and windsurfing spots, with good town facilities.
Flamingo Beach, North Pacific, a big stretch of white sand with good accommodation possibilities nearby and unusually trash-conscious local people.
*Samara Beach, North Pacific, is very pretty, user-friendly and also offers jungle walks, reef snorkelling, horse rentals, sport fishing and flying fox (zipline) canopy tours.
Ostional sports a massive beach where 500, 000 turtles lay their eggs from August to November.
*Santa Teresa Beach, one of Costa Rica’s top surf spots where swells peak from May to December. Surf can be too big for amateurs but the large white/grey sandy beach is pleasant and varied activities are available, including horse riding, jungle hiking, sport fishing, Spanish classes and canopy tours.
*Mal Pais, on the SE tip of the Nicoya peninsula and 150km west of San José has a pretty, quiet, rock and sand beach, with few visitors some good bars and places to stay as well as plenty of activity possibilities – Sports fishing, scuba and snorkelling, kite surfing, walking, horse riding and biking trails for a start.
Montezuma, on the end of the Nicoya Peninsula, is something of a neo-hippie destination, with attractive beaches tho’ deeply unattractive rips, and lots of partying in the evening among dozens of bars and clubs.
Manuel Antonio, Central Pacific, is a convenient mix of nature reserve and beaches and not too far from San José.
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Costa Rica has upmarket holiday resorts too!
*Jaco Beach, Central Pacific, overdeveloped but relaxed, with plenty of accommodation, activities, a clean tho’ black sand beach 3km long; facilities are excellent and moderate surf is generally up but beware rips (strong currents).
*Playa Hermosa (NOT the other Hermosa Beach in Guancaste! ) is 5km south of Jaco and offers superb surfing, but not for amateurs or regular swimmers, with waves up to 4m (best April-November). August in Playa Hermosa means The Quicksilver International Surf Championship. There is little accommodation in Hermosa so many surfers stay in Jaco.
Golfito, near Corcovado NP is a great base for sport fishing (best November-May, the dry season), Eco Lodges and gateway to less developed, back-packer type paradise beaches in the southwest such as black sand Playa Zancudo (Mosquito Beach! ) and Pavones.
*Pavones Beach, South Pacific, black sand, tropical forest and some of the world’s longest wave rides (3 minutes on a good day in the best season from April-October! ) but a very small community offering basic accommodation, a rocky beach and not much else. Pavones is a long way south, 400kms from san José.