12 Best Surf Towns in Costa Rica to Catch a Wave

Costa Rica is known for being a mecca for surfers from around the world. While this small Central American country has attracted expats and foreign travelers from all walks of life for a long time, surfing culture has been the most influential import by far.

Even in San Jos茅, the landlocked capital, you’d be surprised how many people I saw hauling their boards around on a warm day (which is about eight days of the week here)!

Despite being a country about half the size of Tennessee, Costa Rica offers a dizzying amount of surf spots, both for beginners and pros and everyone in between.

For veteran surfers, this might sound like a godsend – but for many others, it presents an overwhelming degree of choice. That’s why I decided to write this guide on the best surf towns in Costa Rica!

Read on below for the full take on all the diverse oceanside treasures this little gem of a country has to offer!

Surfers getting back to beach in Santa Teresa at Costa Rica

A basic guide on surfing in Costa Rica

Before we get to the meat of this guide and look at the best surf spots in Costa Rica one by one, it’d be good to establish some key pointers that you’ll need to take into account if you’re looking for the best possible surfing experience.

Climate of Costa Rica

In many places of the world, surf season can come and go within the blink of an eye. Thankfully, Costa Rica is not really like that.

Because of the country’s proximity to the equator, seasonal changes are rather subtle, and you experience mostly the same temperatures and wave patterns throughout the whole year.

Surfers in Costa Rica

However, it is important to understand that Costa Rica, like many other places in Central America and the Caribbean, does have two major and distinct seasons that can affect your surf.

The wet season generally starts around May and lasts till November. It’s all in the name: during this time, Costa Rica experiences the majority of its yearly rainfall, bringing the jungle to life.

The sudden bloom of the local flora is also why some people call this the green season. Rains usually come around sundown in the late afternoons or evenings, and may stretch into the mornings sometimes. It’s rare for heavy rain to come around noon, but it does happen sometimes.

There’s no doubt that being in Costa Rica during this time of year can be picturesque. But if you’re looking for the constant sunshine and clear skies you might identify with this part of the world through postcards, then it’d be a better idea to come during the dry season.

Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica - paradise tropical beach

Here, roughly from December to April, the rain calms down and becomes next to nonexistent in some parts of the country. The skies clear up, the forests go into a state of rest, and the sun comes out much more often.

Be aware though that this mostly has an effect on relative humidity, not so much on temperatures. Those routinely hover between about 25 and 30 degrees celsius.

Most tourists come visit during the dry season, essentially during peak winter in Northern hemisphere terms, because the issue of precipitation is generally a lot less trouble to deal with.

But if you don’t mind those afternoon showers, the wet season can be incredible value for money! In some parts of the country, peak wet season also brings with it taller, denser waves – another consideration to make when narrowing down your travel plans.

However, don’t underestimate the power of the local storms. They’re rare, and mostly occur during the peak of the season around October, but when they do happen, they can overwhelm rural areas and flood some poorly-paved roads.

Regions and provinces

Map of the Republic of Costa Rica with the provinces colored in bright colors and the main cities

Costa Rica can broadly be divided into a handful of geographic regions depending on the local weather, culture, and quality of life.

In addition, the country is officially sectioned into distinct provinces that are handy to know about if you’re planning a trip there, especially if you’re staying for longer than a few days.

The Center of the country is the most populated and urbanized, but also for surfers the least interesting part of Costa Rica.

Many expats use this area as a home base because some parts of the coast can still be relatively affordable and easy to reach from here, but if you can’t stand the thought of spending too much time in Costa Rica away from the shores, then this region is obviously not for you.

The Center contains the provinces of San Jos茅 (the capital and its outlying satellite cities), Cartago, Alajuela, and Heredia. Most of the Center is located in a deep valley which gives it a unique, much milder climate compared to the rest of the country.

The West of Costa Rica is defined by the Pacific Coast. Here, smaller towns, villages, and tiny communities dotted around the shoreline dominate. There are vast stretches of jungle and many national parks.

Most of the West, especially the Northwest bordering Nicaragua, is relatively dry and doesn’t see as much humidity or rainfall as the rest of the country. On the flip side, temperatures here are also higher.

The Pacific waves are known for their great variety and rhythmical consistency. While each particular beach will likely have a pattern of surf that hardly ever changes throughout the whole year, different beaches within the same province can be night and day, from calm and beginner-friendly to absolutely ferocious.

The West contains the provinces of Guanacaste and Puntarenas. The former especially is known for its very widespread expat culture and luxurious beach towns full of excellent surf spots.

Finally, the East of Costa Rica comprises more uncharted territory. Mostly taken up by the province of Lim贸n, with a sliver of Puntarenas filling out the rest, this part of the country is much less developed, mostly covered in rainforest, and heeds to the currents of the Caribbean, not the Pacific.

There are a few major towns here that are frequented by surfer-travelers, especially during the dry season (rainfall can get particularly crazy, if not dangerous, in this region).

But apart from that, large parts of Costa Rica’s East remain sparsely populated and aren’t considered as safe for travel as the rest.

Getting around

View of buses at Gran Terminal del Caribe bus station in the capital San Jose.
Editorial credit: Matyas Rehak / Shutterstock.com

Whether entering, leaving, or moving within the country, Costa Rica gives you three basic options: going by bus, by private car, or by plane.

As you might expect, each comes with its advantages and disadvantages.

The bus network in Costa Rica covers the whole country and is generally very cheap and reliable. However, it is extremely tough to figure out, to the point where some connections are best achieved by downright guessing where you’re going.

Unlike what you might be used to from other countries, the bus lines in Costa Rica are not numbered; instead, a little plaque stuck to the front windshield tells you the route of the bus. This is fine if you are planning to ride all the way to the terminus, but what about all the stops in between?

Well, tough luck. You’re just supposed to know. The fact that countless places in Costa Rica share the same name despite being nowhere close to one another doesn’t make this any easier.

Having your own car definitely simplifies the process of getting from A to B. Unfortunately, car ownership in Costa Rica is quite expensive. On the other hand, rentals are much better, and most foreigners I know use a mix of rental cars and Uber to get just about anywhere they need to go.

Especially if you’re going to be heading to the Lim贸n or Guanacaste provinces, it would make sense to go for a 4×4 vehicle, as the roads and terrain can be sometimes challenging.

The final option are flights. There are a surprising number of small domestic and even international airports in this diminutive country, so most of the really popular cities and the capital San Jos茅 are all interconnected.

Still, you will likely need to hitch a ride once arriving at your destination anyway, as there is no airport that’s directly on the coast. To top it off, flying domestically is not very cost-effective at all, especially over shorter distances.

This makes flights mainly useful for entering and leaving the country or getting from one coast to the other.

Finding accommodation, classes, and gear in Costa Rica

Surfing shop with Surf lessons sign made on white old surfing board on the beac

Assuming you go for one of the top places listed in the following section of this guide (and you really should!), finding a place to stay, as well as surfing classes, gear rentals, and a local community to help you out and socialize with should be the least of your worries.

Most of coastal Costa Rica these days is brimming with hotels, BnBs, hostels, guesthouses, the list goes on…

Since the surfing community is old and really well-established, particularly on the Pacific coast, you should also have no trouble making friends or finding a good coach wherever you go.

The best surf towns in Costa Rica

And now, for the real meat of this guide, let’s take a look at some of my absolute favorite surfing towns in Costa Rica, one by one!

Being a resident of this beautiful country myself, of course this ranking ended up being a bit personal for me. However, I really made sure to select those surf destinations that already have a more-than-solid reputation to back them up while also making sure there was plenty of variety.

This way, I hope anyone – from those who’ve never seen a wave in person to those who surf religiously – can take something from this guide!

Without further ado, let’s get right to it!

1. Jac贸

Jaco Beach, sunset on the beach. Costa Rica, tourist paradise

I’ll kick off this list with arguably the most popular and largest of all the amazing surf towns in Costa Rica.

Jac贸 is a medium-size city (by Costa Rican standards) located in Puntarenas with excellent connections to the Central Valley.

While that is the major reason why Jac贸’s beaches have been frequented so much by Costa Ricans and foreigners for decades, it’s not the only one.

Jac贸 represents one of the best surf spots for beginners in Costa Rica because the waves are plentiful yet gentle, and because its location means it’s one of the most well-developed places on the coast within the whole country.

Here you have access to luxury hotels, malls, gyms, large department stores – anything you might need or expect to find in an average North American city will be here!

Once you’ve gotten your feet wet and wish to explore something more challenging, Jac贸 also offers plenty of connections to some of the other nearby surf spots on this list. This makes it an excellent home base!

2. Nosara

A male running toward the waves with his surfboard under his arm to go surf during the sunset on a beach in Nosara, Costa Rica

Nosara is located in Guanacaste on Nicoya, the peninsula that occupies most of Costa Rica’s extreme West.

It’s a small town, originally a fishing village, but there is a loyal and decades-old expatriate surfing community living here. These days, there are also plenty of shops, a large wellness and yoga scene, as well as modern luxury homes all around.

Within and near Nosara, you will find about half a dozen different beaches, each with its own character and most within walking distance from the town proper.

Nosara’s surf is known as calm, yet tricky to master. It’s not perfectly beginner-friendly, though none of the waves here tend to become very aggressive by any means. Again, this will differ from beach to beach.

My personal favorite is Playa Guiones, which is not much of a walk from Nosara’s center. It’s one of the least developed beaches in this area thanks to its proximity to a wildlife refuge and a national park.

The waves are calm but during high tide can grow surprisingly tall, and there’s always a healthy mix of surfers and sunbathers around on any average day.

3. Playa Tamarindo

Aerial beach view from Tamarindo Costa Rica

One of the most popular surf spots in Costa Rica is Tamarindo, and it’s easy to see why. One of the major settlements within Guanacaste, it has the character of a large resort town with lots of amenities, a sizable expat population, and many miles’ worth of surf to tackle.

Even for Guanacaste standards, Playa Tamarindo’s waves are remarkably consistent and mostly very hollow. Known as one of the most beginner-friendly beaches in this area, Tamarindo is also home to Costa Rica’s oldest and most beloved surf school, the Witch’s Rock Surf Camp.

4. Playa Hermosa, Puntarenas

Hermosa Beach, Puntarenas. Costa Rica, surfing paradise

Literally called “Beautiful Beach”, Playa Hermosa offers way more than some of Latin America’s most beautiful scenery.

It’s also a real haven for surfers, being the yearly host of the Quiksilver International Surf Championships, usually taking place in August.

As you can imagine, the waves here tend to challenge even the most experienced, and Playa Hermosa gets frequented mainly by pros looking to hone their skills.

Getting to Playa Hermosa is fairly straightforward since the beach is located just a short drive south of Jac贸.

5. Playa Hermosa, Guanacaste

Riding the waves at Playa Hermosa. Costa Rica, surf paradise

What did I tell you about Costa Rica’s affinity for giving different towns the same name? It gets even worse when both of them are well-known and loved travel destinations in their own right!

Compared to Puntarenas’ Playa Hermosa, its opposite in Guanacaste is a much more upscale, expat-friendly town with a laidback vibe and calmer, shallower waves that are more beginner-friendly.

The surfing scene is not as huge here comparatively speaking. Most people visit this Playa Hermosa for the scenery, the sun, and the many spas, gyms, and activities around.

These range from boating or guided tours through the nearby national parks to scuba diving, yoga classes, and more.

6. Puerto Viejo de Talamanca

Wild caribbean beach of Manzanillo at Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

Located in Lim贸n on the Caribbean coast, Puerto Viejo offers some of the most challenging waves anywhere in Central America, but there are more laidback options as well in the area.

The biggest surf break here is called Salsa Brava, and this is where most people go when the weather allows for it (which is more often than not, as you might imagine).

Salsa Brava harbors some of the tallest and most aggressive waves in Costa Rica, making it primarily suitable for those with a lot of experience under their belt.

However, Puerto Viejo offers many other surf spots that are not nearly as crowded and more suitable for beginners.

If you’ve been wanting to explore Costa Rica’s famously bohemian, rustic Caribbean side for a while, this would be a great place to start while catching some top-grade waves.

7. Quepos

Aerial view of Manuel Antonio National Park in Costa Rica.

Part of a string of coastal surf towns in Puntarenas, Quepos sits right at the edge of the Manuel Antonio National Park.

A major expat haven and tourist destination, expect ample accommodation options, plenty of nightlife, and busy surf breaks throughout the whole Quepos-Manuel Antonio area, which covers many miles.

Quepos is also important to the local boating scene, with a really pretty marina that overlooks the shore.

Of course, everyone has their personal favorite between the two towns, but it is generally agreed upon that Quepos offers more variety when it comes to the waves.

Both pros and beginners will meet their match here, though sometimes Quepos can be a bit unpredictable, and it is very possible to have an unlucky day or two.

8. Manuel Antonio

Road leading to the gate of National Park Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica Quepos
Editorial credit: Matyas Rehak / Shutterstock.com

Quepos’ busier neighbor is more popular and more urbanized, but it also offers more consistent and predictable surf patterns.

None of the breaks rise as tall here as they might on a lucky day in Quepos, but then again, you don’t have to be lucky to catch a good one here, either.

Given that the bus ride between Manuel Antonio and Quepos is literally a couple dozen cents each way, I invite anyone staying in this area to give both of them a chance.

9. Uvita

Uvita Beach, National park Costa Rica

Not far from the Manuel Antonio area lies the tiny island town of Uvita, whose beaches have been frequented by foreign surfers for decades.

The island of Uvita mostly features light and gentle waves that are perfect for beginners – there are also plenty of surf schools and lessons offered all over.

10. Playa Dominical

Coast at Punta Dominical, Costa Rica

Further down south along the coast of Puntarenas, Playa Dominical is among the most popular and well-developed surf destinations in the whole country.

Despite that, it’s not a very touristy place compared to some others, allowing you to take a breath and enjoy nature without all the crowds.

The beach proper stretches on for two and a half miles, and along that distance you’ll find some of the tallest and most challenging waves in Costa Rica.

Because of this, Dominical mostly caters to surfers of an advanced skill level, though you’ll find plenty of schools and resources for beginners in this area as well.

11. Samara

Beautiful sandy beach (playa Samara) with lush vegetation in Guanacaste, Costa Rica

Not far from Nosara on the edge of the Nicoya peninsula, Samara is another one of those more luxurious little surf towns that strikes a balance between “wealthy expat haven” and “barebones surf village”.

The waves are some of the most consistent within the whole country, but they don’t tend to grow very tall and don’t crash very hard either.

Given that, adrenaline junkies and real pros should probably look somewhere else in the area. However, Samara remains an excellent place to live, and it’s a really great option for beginners as well as those wanting to learn how to surf in a calm, laidback tropical environment.

12. Pavones

Beauty beach, palm trees and rocks

Pavones is notable for a few reasons.

First, it is one of the very few major beaches to surf in Costa Rica that doesn’t face the open ocean, but instead a small gulf called El Golfo Dulce, right by the very southern tip of Puntarenas bordering Panama.

Secondly, the unique water dynamics in this little corner give Pavones extremely unique and world-famous left-breaking waves, among the longest in the whole world.

If you’re skilled enough, it’s very doable to stay on your board here for over a mile! Despite that, the surf in Pavones isn’t as challenging or dangerous as some of the breakneck waves around Puerto Viejo, for example.

The trickiest thing about surfing in Pavones isn’t being there, but getting there. Being a fairly remote and tiny town with little to no tourist presence, my best advice would be to rent a reliable 4×4 vehicle and turn the hours-long trek through the jungle into an adventure of its own.

Once you’re there, you definitely won’t regret it!

Leave a Comment