By: Mikael and Thrillism
11 minute read
Last updated June 5th, 2020
Surfing in Costa Rica is one of our favorite topics here at Thrillism – do we really need to explain why? When you consider the beautiful landscapes (and even more stunning seascapes) and pair it with the Pura Vida way of life, it all makes sense.
But the question isn’t whether or not Costa Rica is worth your time. The more challenging question to answer is where to go in this surfer’s paradise. Well, if your main priority is to have a legendary surf adventure, the answer is simple: Pavones.
Words like epic and exhilarating don’t even do Pavones surf justice. This is the prime spot for intermediate and advanced surfers, and even if you’re looking to learn it’s easy to find some gentle beginner-friendly waves.
Pavones is located in Costa’s province of Puntarenas, right next to the Panama border. Like most popular Costa Rican surfing destinations, there are a few ways to get here.
The easiest and most convenient is to fly into the Golfito Airport, and then from there, it’s a 1.5-hour drive to Pavones. You can either rent a car and drive yourself or take a public bus (there are 2 that run from the airport to Pavones daily).
You can also fly into the Puerto Jimenes Airport; it takes a bit longer, but this option lets you see more of the Osa Peninsula. Of course, bussing from San Jose is another option, but this is about an 8-hour trip at the very least.
Aside from being home to one of the most impeccable left-hand waves in the world, there’s more to this town than just surfing. Sure, Pavones Costa Rica surf is the main attraction, but try to keep an open mind about experiencing all aspects of the area.
To give you an idea of what’s in store for you, this is a place of adventure. Sportfishing is a popular activity for those who want to spend their time on the water, but it’s also a great place for a canopy tour or horseback ride.
Located about 40 miles from Pavones you’ll find the Golfito National Wildlife Refuge, a protected area that’s home to a variety of sea and land species and tons of hiking trails. If you are willing to spend a day out of the water, definitely check out GNWR.
It’s common knowledge that Costa Rica isn’t the most budget-friendly destination, but the good news is that Pavones is considered way more affordable than popular spots like Jaco and Santa Teresa. You should have no trouble finding a good deal on a weeklong surf camp.
Pavones is a very small town, so you definitely won’t find an ATM on every corner. You can pay for all of your major expenses, like hotel or surf camp costs, with a credit card, but arrive with enough cash to get you by for all of your smaller purchases.
Pavones is the most famous wave in the country, but if you want to experience it when it’s working at its best, then the key is timing. Every Pavones surf report will tell you the same thing – the best time to visit this area is between April and November.
This is when the southern swells are the biggest and most consistent. The heart of peak season is when the waves are working most, but it’s also when the lineups are longest (but don’t worry, they’ll never be as crowded as Jaco, Tamarindo, or Santa Teresa). If this is something you want to avoid, try to visit during a shoulder season, like early April or late November.
The reason Pavones gets so much attention is the fact that this is one of the longest lefts in the entire world. Some surfers argue that it’s actually the longest, but the real lefty winner is in northwestern Peru’s Puerto Chicama.
Regardless, the wave at Playa Pavones is still insanely epic if you’re in the mood for a long left ride in warm tropical water. When it’s working, it can break for up to 700 meters, giving you an epic ride for as long as 2 minutes.
It’s not the easiest wave to access, but this makes it even better since it keeps away the crowds and attracts only the true surfing fanatics.
If you’re looking for a bigger variety of waves, there are about 10 miles of surfable beaches in the area, so just take your pick. Aside from the long left, the Punta Banco surf spot is one of the best-kept secrets in the area, and it’s located just south of Pavones. This is the ideal place if you want to mix it up with lefts and rights.
Remember, even though Pavones has one of the best waves in the world, it’s still considered an under-the-radar destination of Costa. This means you won’t find a long list of surf camps in the area like you will in Jaco or Tamarindo, but nonetheless, there are still a few good ones.
Una Ola offers an all-inclusive Pavones surf camp for all surfing levels. The beginner level camp is perfect for anyone who’s brand new to the water, but the real attraction is the Una Ola Surf & Bliss Yoga Surf Camp. It’s a bit more expensive since it adds yoga and SUP into the mix, but you’ll get to enjoy natural hot yoga every day before you head out to the water.
“Our beachfront accommodations, on the Golfo Dulce, sits directly in front of the waves in Pavones, Costa Rica, can house up to six guests at a time.”
If you’re not into the idea of an all-inclusive package, Una Ola has got your back. You can sign up for beginner or intermediate lessons, and even professional surf coaching as you go. For advanced surfers who don’t need lessons, sign up for boat tours that will take you out on all-day surfing adventures.
CR Surf Travel Company has been organizing trips to CR for over 2 decades, and one of their most popular options is their surf camp in Pavones. CRST knows better than anyone that Pavones is a surfing mecca, not just when it comes to Costa, but the entire world. Their camp doesn’t just focus on Pavones, though, but also neighboring Punta Banco and Punta Burica.
“Surfing tours can be customized to your liking, for shorter or longer stays, and we can also recommend excursions for the non-surfer to enjoy when not on the beach.”
CRST partners with Una Ola for some of their camps, so you might be staying in the Una Ola accommodations with your fellow surfers. Keep in mind there are plenty more locations that this travel company serves, like Tamarindo, Jaco/Playa Hermosa, Santa Teresa, and Nosara. But the Pavones Dream Trip (that’s the package you want to look for) is the most popular.
The homepage of the Surf House Pavones website greets visitors with the word “Swellcome!”, which should give you an idea of just how adorable this surf provider is. Although this isn’t considered a full-on surf camp, it is an amazing place for surfing travelers to gather, hang out, and catch some waves.
“You’ll love Surf House Pavones because of the waves (of course), the people, the ambiance, the nature around you, and the great vibes.”
Compared to other hotels/hostels in the area, Surf House is often rated as the coolest, trendiest, and most social. There are private rooms, but the overall vibe is very hostel-y, so most guests here choose to stay in a dorm bed. Since this isn’t technically a camp, Surf House Pavones is more suited towards intermediate and advanced surfers.
*This is a completely vegan surf house! So if you’re not keen on the idea of giving up meat during your Pavones adventure, you may want to look elsewhere.
Pura Vista is an idyllic resort in the heart of Pavones. It’s located in the heart of the jungle, about 200 meters to the beach with the main Pavones break less than a mile away and Punta Banco about 1.5 miles away. Most guests choose the 4-day/3-night package but don’t be surprised if the luxury accommodations tempt you to stay longer.
“Experience a wonderful vacation of surfing in the waters of Pavones with your friends or family (children are welcomed) and witness the beauty of the coastal town that is dear to us.”
There are lessons offered onsite, but Pura Vista caters most to advanced surfers (you can rent a board through the resort at an affordable rate). Compared to the other camps we’ve mentioned so far, this is a more luxurious option for travelers who aren’t interested in roughin’ it.
If you’re willing to splurge and break the bank with your next CR surf trip, you’ll probably fancy this next one most. The nightly rate at Bosque del Cabo Surf Venue isn’t cheap, but it’s completely all-inclusive, so you won’t have to worry about spending any additional cash.
“Our 750+ acre forest reserve features private, spacious bungalows and gorgeous houses perched atop the cliffs of Cabo Matapalo, each with beautiful ocean views, tropical breezes and the rainforest at your doorstep.”
BDCSV isn’t actually located in Pavones, but it’s right across the way on the tip of the Osa Peninsula. Since it’s so close, this provider makes regular trips to Pavones as well as Punta Banco. They also regularly visit other popular surfing spots in the area, like Matapalo, Backwash, and Pan Dulce.
If you consider yourself a die-hard surfer and you’re just here for the waves, maybe you’re OK with sleeping in a tent or renting a van and staying on the road. But it’s safe to say that some travelers prefer a more luxurious experience, or at the very least a comfy bed to sleep in.
Aside from the surf camps mentioned above, one of the best-rated places to stay here is La Ponderosa Beach & Jungle Resort. It’s the perfect combination of jungle, beach, and comfort, and the homey cabins make for the perfect getaway.
Another solid option is Sol y Luna Guesthouse, especially if you’re on a tighter budget. It’s not the fanciest place, but it’s in a great location for surfing and the staff is super accommodating. Here are a few more top picks for staying in Pavones:
One of the most-loved things about Pavones is its simplicity. This is not a town that’s focused on hipster vibes and trendy bars. Instead, Pavones is authentic, real, and gives you a true taste of Costa Rica. This is especially true when it comes to food.
There are international options here that serve things like sushi and pizza, but the real winners are the local establishments. Check out Tico Mex, a place that serves both Costa Rican and Mexican dishes, and then head to Soda Doña Dora.
Doña Dora is the perfect spot for a traditional Costa Rican breakfast of gallo pinto, eggs, and plantain pancakes, but the casados with fresh seafood at lunch is highly recommended.
La Bruschetta is probably the most popular place to eat in Pavones, but don’t expect to find much in terms of local food here. It’s all Italian, so if you’re in the mood for a wood-fired pizza or homemade pasta, this is the place to go.
The list of attractions in the area is a long one, so try not to spend all of your time riding that left-hander (although it may be tempting). For chilling out on the beach, Playa Pavones and Punta Banco are the best options, but for complete isolation, Playa Zancudo to the north is a solid choice.
Costa Rica has no shortage of waterfalls, so if going on a jungle adventure to see cascading falls is something you’re into, check out Punta Banco Waterfall. It’s small, but it’s worth seeing for the dip you’ll be able to take in the swimming hole.
Tiskita Waterfall is more impressive, and it’s just a quick hike from the Tiskita Biological Reserve. To see monkeys playing around – or should we say monkeying around – in their natural habitat, spend some time on the banks of Rio Claro, a river that’s perfect for swimming.
What’s the best beginner-friendly wave in Pavones?
To be completely honest, there are better destinations in Costa Rica for beginner surfers, like Tamarindo. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible for new surfers to learn the ropes in Pavones, or at least near it.
Playa Pilon is located just to the north of Playa Pavones, and the waves here tend to be smaller and gentler. Keep going further north and you’ll hit Playa Zancudo, which is another contender for the most easy-going beginner-friendly waves in the area.
Which destination in Costa Rica is better for surfing, Pavones, or Tamarindo?
There’s no straight answer to this question, it really depends on how you prefer to travel as well as your surfing level. A lot of surfers prefer the more laid-back vibe of Pavones and love the fact that it never gets too crowded, but in terms of beginner-friendly waves and surf camps, Tamarindo is the winner.
Ready to surf Pavones? Hopefully, this complete guide to the most epic surfing destination in Costa has answered all of your questions, giving you the confidence to go ahead and book an unforgettable surf adventure.