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Surfing Costa Rica

For the average tourist, Costa Rica triggers images of slithering iguanas, swaying hammocks, smoldering volcanoes and waves that curl like the peel of an apple. Ever since the film Endless Summer put Costa Rica on the map in 1966, surfers have considered it the " Hawaii of Latin-American." Thousands of beach and reef breaks, on both the Pacific and Caribbean sides, make it Central America’s most wave-packed surf destination.

Unlike many surf spots around the world, Costa Rican waters are relatively uncrowded, invitingly warm, manageable in size and consistent year-round. The proximity of the breaks allow for easy access and the ability to switch locations without all the hassle.

Although surfing is possible anytime of year, the Pacific Northwest picks up the biggest swells year round. The winter is relatively dry while the summer tends to see the most amount of rain, making many of the dirt roads impassable. It is recommended that beginners enroll in a course to educate them about the dangers of surfing.

One surf trip to Costa Rica and it’s clear to understand why the national greeting is “Pura Vida!” (pure life). Below is a list of some of Costa Rica’s best surf destinations:

Nicoya Peninsula
Surfers can easily access several world-class spots on the Nicoya Peninsula by using Samara as a base. This laidback village offers a refreshing alternative to crowded beach towns. Samara can be reached via the paved road from Nicoya or by taking one of the daily busses from San José. There are also flights leaving to and from Carrillo’s small airstrip, located eight kilometers south of Samara.

Playa Samara
Known as one of the safest and most appealing beaches in the country, Samara Half Moon Bay is dotted with coconut palms and welcoming faces. Protected by a coral reef, the wide beaches and shallow waters make it an ideal playground for children. For guided tours to areas within Nicoya Peninsula, contact Samara’s C & C Surf School. Located directly on Playa Samara, C & C offers board rental, daily tours, accommodations, bilingual instructors and lessons for all levels.

Playa Carillo
Just south of Samara is Playa Carrillo. In the mouth of the bay lies a reef that pitches seven to eight foot waves during a good swell. These fast and snappy rights line up decent barrels for the experienced surfer with the added bonus of a beach break for those who like to stay close to shore.

Playa Camaronal
Further south is the secluded beach of Playa Camaronal, accessible by four-wheel drive. Here, epic waves can only be reached during the dry season by crossing the River Ora. Once past the river, one must follow the dirt road to a cow pasture, which overlooks the water. Building up the biggest and most consistent waves in the area, Camaronal peels from both sides and can peak up to twenty feet during the season. Seldom crowded, these clean lines hold their shape and never close out, no matter how big the size.

Punta Islita
South of Camaronal is Punta Islita, where smaller waves break to the right just inside a cove. The best time to surf Punta Islita is during a south swell when the rights are peeling off the reef. During September and October, the waves are best at high tide when they average six feet and break off to the left.

Playa San Miguel
Nearly thirty kilometers from Samara is the desolate Playa San Miguel. This long stretch of un-crowded beach break offers a punchy wave, peaking at eight feet during a swell. Playa San Miguel can be located by looking for the endless rows of trees lining the shore.

Playa Izquierda
North of Samara is the left reef break of Izquierda. Only accessible by boat, the peaking wave can be spotted by heading forty minutes along the coast from Samara. This powerful reef break has a reputation for injury. The few surfers who brave the left break claim the unpredictable, wild wave is worth the hit.

Playa Buena Vista
Twenty minutes north of Samara are the secluded waves of Buena Vista. After driving along a dirt road, one must paddle across a river to reach the pink sandy shores. Ideal for beginners or advanced surfers, the wave breaks in three staggered levels, one right after the other. Here one must be alert for crocodiles and monkeys that frequent the area.

Mal Pais
Located on the southern tip of Nicoya Peninsula, Mal Pias has three good left reef breaks and remains relatively untouched. The surrounding surf areas are more for experienced surfers. Among them are Playa Santa Teresa, Manzanillo, Playa Carmen, Los Suecos and Punta Barrigona.

Popular with beginners and tourists, Tamarindo has become the McDonald’s of surfing, leaving remnants of plastic boards, drive-thru sessions and crowded waters. It is however centrally located, making it a good spot for side trips to nearby river mouths, Witches Rock, Ollie’s Point. To escape the packed beach break of Tamarindo, head to Isla Capitan where perfect offshore reef barrels offer seconds of paradise.

Puerto Viejo
Located four hours from San Jose, Puerto Viejo is visited by the experienced surfer only. The famed “Salsa Brava” breaks directly in front of Standford’s Restaurant, and is known for it’s think wave that pounds directly onto a sharp shallow reef.

Playa Cocles
Just south of Puerto Viejo is Playa Cocles, offering consistent lefts and rights that break close to the beach. The strong currents and high afternoon winds make the spot more popular in the early morning or during low tide.

Playa Hermosa and Jaco
Playa Hermosa is more challenging than nearby Jaco, but both serve up decent waves. The surf in Jaco is fun and close to San Jose, which also makes it somewhat crowded. The town itself has long beach with lefts and rights, ideal for the novice surfer. In the town of Jaco is School of the World ( which offers accommodations and courses in surfing, Spanish, yoga and art. Playa Hermosa itself is a very small town with restaurants and hotels located directly on the beach. Nearby breaks include Boca Barranca, Caldera, Playa Valor, Loca Roca, Playa Escondiada, and Esterillos.

Considered one of Costa Rica's best breaks, Pavones has one of the world's longest lefts, which can last up to 3 minutes. There are many spots between Pavones and the end of the Punta Burica including Punta Banco and Punta Burica. Waves here are great for carving, but the town itself doesn’t offer too much. There is a surf shop nearby called Evergreen for those who need supplies.

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