By: Mikael and Thrillism
11 minute read
Last updated June 5th, 2020
Planning a Costa Rica surf trip? Don’t even think about missing out on Puerto Viejo. Whether you’re a pro or amateur, Puerto Viejo surfing is some of the best in the country.
Unlike most other surfing destinations in Costa, this one is on the Caribbean coast, which offers a completely different culture from the Pacific side. The town’s famed Salsa Bravo wave is as good as it gets, and just about all traveling surfers have added this break to their bucket lists.
The vibe in this Afro Caribbean town is unlike anywhere else in Costa Rica. It doesn’t matter your budget, interests, or age, Puerto Viejo is set up to make every type of tourist feel at home. The area comes alive at night, so after a day of shredding on Bravo’s pounding surf, there will be plenty of chances to grab a few drinks with your travel buddies.
If you’re ready to come to see for yourself, check out this guide to surfing Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica before embarking on this next adventure.
Puerto Viejo is located on the southern end of Costa Rica’s Caribbean Coast. Getting here is pretty easy since this is a heavily traveled town, and you’ve got several different transportation options. As always, flying is definitely the easiest.
The closest airport to PV is Limon, which you can easily fly to from San Jose. The 40-ish minute flight is followed by a drive from Limon to Puerto Viejo, which takes about 1.5 hours.
Travelers on a budget often opt to take a bus from San Jose or another starting destination instead. Multiple buses leave from the capital every day, and although this journey takes between 5 and 6 hours, it’s a lot cheaper than flying.
Renting a car is of course another option, and it’s about a 4-hour drive if you’re coming from San Jose. The quickest way is by route 32 through Braulio Carrillo National Park, not to mention it’s a great way to see some of inland Costa Rica on your time.
To be completely honest, Puerto Viejo isn’t for everyone. The area isn’t saturated with luxury resorts and poolside bars, so if that’s what you’re into, you might want to look elsewhere. It’s way more laid back than that, which is one of the reasons why so many surfers love it here.
This will give you an idea of what a typical day in PV looks like. After your epic surf session, you head to the beach to sip on a fresh coconut while sitting under a palm tree and listening to reggaeton music from a nearby bar. Maybe instead of a coconut, you’re drinking a cold Imperial (the favorite beer of Costa), but you get the overall gist.
In the past, crime was one thing that kept travelers away from PV and other Caribbean towns. Although the streets of Limón, the province’s capital, can be rough, you’ve got nothing to worry about in Puerto Viejo. Just have common sense when it comes to how you behave (both in and out of the water).
It’s easy to spend a lot of money here, but you have complete control over your budget. If you don’t want your bank account to take a major beating, it doesn’t have to. Ultimately, your budget determines where you’ll be staying, what you’ll be eating, and how you spend each day.
Backpackers can find dorm room accommodation for around $15 per night, mid-range hotels go for about $30-$50 per night, and luxury accommodations won’t be less than $100. If you’re on a tight budget, it’s possible to get by on about $50 per day, but this means you’ll be limited on where you can stay, what you can eat, and how many beers you can have at the end of the day.
On a middle-of-the-road budget, you’re more likely to spend about $100 per day. If you want to go all out and don’t care about vacation costs, you can easily spend $300 every day during your time in Puerto Viejo. Keep in mind these factors in the cost of activities/attractions, which is where you’re likely to spend the most money.
All year long, Puerto Viejo is hot and humid, the water is warm, and the rasta-mentality is strong. But for the best, most consistent waves, you’ll want to visit between January and April.
The rainiest month is January, so if you want to avoid this, try to visit near the end of the surfing season. The good news about visiting in January, though, is that the prices are cheaper on average since most tourists want to stay dry.
We’ve already mentioned Salsa Bravo, but let’s focus on this epic Puerto Viejo wave for a little bit longer. This right-hand break is known for producing big, barrelling waves, especially between January and March.
When Salsa Bravo is working, you can expect it to be crowded with long lineups. Remember that the locals have first priority here, and they can be very territorial when it comes to this break, so try not to get in their way.
This is definitely only for more advanced surfers – it breaks a lot bigger than it looks from the beach. The only thing that’s not ideal about Salsa Bravo is its inconsistency. One day you might be paddling out to double-overhead waves, but the next day the waves could be small and choppy.
Playa Bonita is another great nearby surf spot with waves that are consistently over chest-high. On the left side, there’s a reef break that has fast, hollow sections perfect for more advanced surfers looking for a challenge. It’s not super consistent, but when the time is right, this beach is 100% worth checking out.
We’ve only mentioned 2 so far, but there are tons of surf spots in this area to keep you entertained. A few more worth mentioning include Isla Uvita, Westfalia, Playa Negra, Playa Vargas, Punta Uva, and El Barco.
Anyone looking for the best surf camp Puerto Viejo has to offer should consider Surf the Jungle before any other provider. The main reason for that is because Surf the Jungle isn’t just geared towards exploring Puerto Viejo’s waters, but exploring the land. They offer several “get to know the area” tours to expose you to the local culture and lush rainforests.
“Here at Surf the Jungle, we take care of all the details from the moment you land in Costa Rica so that you can focus on what’s important.”
At Surf the Junge, pretty much everything is included when you sign up for the 7-night surf camp. On top of 1 week of accommodations, you’ll get airport transfers, a total of 12 hours of surf classes, meals, 2 yoga classes, tours, and surf spot transportation for 1 all-inclusive price.
Soul Rider has camps all over the world with a few in Costa Rica, including one in Tamarindo, Santa Teresa, and Puerto Viejo. They offer a package that’s similar to Surf the Jungle, only this one is way more affordable. It includes a week of accommodation, most meals, 6 days of surf school for 2 hours each day (or 6 days of surf guiding for more advanced surfers), transportation, and a few extra activities.
“Stay in our surf camp of Puerto Viejo, right on the edge of white beaches, and venture on the beaten paths in the wild jungle. This is the Costa Rican caribe.”
The motto of “relax, party, surf, repeat…” should give you a pretty solid idea of what Soul Rider is all about. But you’ll find time to do more than just relax, party, and surf here. They believe that you should be able to enjoy the waves of the Caribbean while also having time to visit cocoa farms, head out on an exotic bird watching adventure or swing in a beachside hammock.
We’ve recommended a lot of Selina locations in our surf camp guides, so let’s go ahead and add the Selina in Puerto Viejo to the list. Unfortunately, there’s not an all-inclusive surfer’s package at this Selina, but they do offer surf lessons/guiding onsite to interested guests.
“Unlike other hotels in the region, our unique accommodation includes teepees built with hand-made materials from neighboring indigenous communities, guaranteeing an authentic, eco-friendly stay.”
Every Selina features trendy, colorful rooms and a fun social atmosphere, but this one is special. This might be your only chance to stay in a teepee, wake up in the morning, and embark on a waterfall adventure or a Caribbean snorkeling tour. Similar to the surf lessons/guiding, most of their adventure tours are offered onsite, so just ask the front desk.
There are a lot of good options for surf retreats, like the 8-Day Surfing & Yoga Retreat in Puerto Viejo organized by Oshii’s Surf. This adventure-packed retreat welcomes all skill levels for both surfing and yoga with a maximum group size of 5 people, so you know you’ll be getting an intimate experience no matter what.
“Imagine taking a trip to Central America and having all the local hookups when you arrive, a truly authentic holiday. Oshii’s Surf is more than your typical surf and yoga retreat, we offer an adventurers lifestyle experience.”
This 8-day, a 7-night retreat might seem expensive at first glance, but you need to keep in mind that it’s completely all-inclusive. The price you pay includes 7 full days of adventures, comfy accommodations, 1 or 2 yoga classes every day (it’s up to you), daily guided meditation, 2-hours of surf guiding/lessons every day, and all meals.
The place you choose to stay can ultimately make or break your Puerto Viejo Costa Rica surfing trip. There are plenty of choices, but the key to finding the right one is to read reviews. Based on the star rating and the number of reviews from previous guests, here are a few places you might considering booking:
You’ll see that we listed Selina as a budget option since they offer dorm beds, but it’s actually suitable for any budget and type of traveler. The vibe is young a more party-centric here, but they’ve also got private suites, studio apartments, and 2-bedroom apartments.
Puerto Viejo is considered a party town, so you’re not short on options for bars and nightlife. One of the best spots to grab a sunset beer or cocktail is Koki Beach Restaurant Bar Lounge. It’s only open in the evenings starting from 5 pm, but it has still managed to gain a reputation as one of the best places in PV for both food and alcohol.
Soul surfer is another popular eatery, and just as the name suggests, it definitely has a surfer vibe. They describe themselves as a “soul food restaurant” for surfers, but of, all are welcome. It’s all about the burgers here – be sure to try the Swell Burger (and ask for extra homemade BBQ sauce).
For more of a local dining experience, check out Soda Elizabeth. In Costa, the word soda means a small, open-air restaurant that specializes in local food only. This is exactly what you’ll find at Soda Elizabeth, which serves Caribbean-style Costa Rican dishes that won’t cost you much.
Wherever you choose to eat, make sure to try an authentic Costa Rican Rondon. You won’t find this on most menus since it takes a lot of time to prepare, but you’ve still gotta try this Caribbean fish stew made with coconut milk, plantains, spices, local veggies and the fresh catch of the day.
Most people come to Puerto Viejo to party, surf, or both. Whether that applies to you or not, try to find time to explore the completely unspoiled beaches of the area. But even once you’ve done that, there’s way more to you can do to stay busy.
One of the most popular activities here is renting a bike and heading to Manzanillo. Manzanillo is a peninsula that juts out into the Caribbean, and it’s only about 8 miles from PV and a quick bike ride from town. This is a perfect place for a photo op, plus you’ll get some exercise in the process.
Another fun activity is to visit the Bribri Waterfall. It’s definitely not the most impressive waterfall in Central America, or even in Costa Rica, but it’s worth checking out. Be sure to bring some cash with you – there is a small entrance fee to visit Bribri.
Here are a few more ways to kill some time and see all that Puerto Viejo has to offer:
I’m new to surfing, where should I go to Puerto Viejo for beginner-friendly waves?
Definitely, not, Salsa Bravo, this spot is only for surfers who are confident with their skills since there are lots of rocks and reef here. Many beginners head to Playa Cocles instead, which is only about a 15-minute walk from the center of town.
Just be mindful that there are strong waves here and spots along the beach that are only for intermediate/advanced surfers, but Cocles is also home to some beginner-friendly waves. Your best bet is to hire an instructor/coach to help out.
Now that you’re all caught up on surfing Puerto Viejo de Talamanca waves, you can fully enjoy the Caribbean surfing mecca of Costa Rica. So what are you waiting for?!