By: Mikael and Thrillism
20 minute read
Last updated June 5th, 2020
Over the past two decades, Costa Rica has experienced a massive tourism boom. Sure, amazing surfing opportunities have a lot to do with this, but there’s more to it than that. In-country travel is easy and safe, accommodations are affordable and comfortable. Not to mention Costa Rica is as beautiful as it gets.
The rugged coastline of Costa Rica makes this Central American country a surfer’s paradise. Costa Rica is surrounded by water on both sides, with massive Pacific breaks in the West and calmer Caribbean waves in the East. The locals here are all about living the Pura Vida, or the simple life. Aside from surfing in Costa Rica, the chill atmosphere is what surfers love most.
Like the rest of Central America. the majority of the best Costa Rica surfing happens along the Pacific Coast. By traveling to the best Pacific surf spots, surfing travelers can work on improving their board handling skills. They also get to enjoy all that Costa Rica has to offer – including the Pura Vida.
Surfing travelers tend to gravitate to the world-famous Costa Rica surf destinations, but you’ll be selling yourself short if you don’t explore the inland adventures as well. This Costa Rica surf guide provides you with all you need to know about planning a trip here. Keep reading to learn about the Costa Rica surf, plus everything else the country has to offer.
Since Costa Rica has become a popular tourist destination for North Americans, getting to the country is easy. From most major US cities, it takes between 3 to 7 hours to fly into Costa Rica. The main travel hub is the Juan Santamaría International Airport in San Jose. San Jose is a bit inland, so you’ll have to take a shuttle, bus, or taxi to the best places to surf in Costa Rica.
The other way to get to Costa Rica is to take a bus from neighboring Nicaragua to the North or Panama to the South. This is common for backpacking travelers embarking on an adventure through the entirely of Central America. Tica Bus is a popular transportation provider in Central America, but here are a few more reputable options for busing in:
Costa Rican tap water is safe to drink, but it’s important to practice self-awareness before filling up a glass with water from the tap. If you know yourself to have a sensitive stomach, it’s a good idea to refrain from drinking the water here. Play it safe and buy bottled water from a local supermarket, especially when staying in beach destinations.
For travelers sticking to the Pacific, you’ll mostly hear Spanish from the locals. This is the predominant language throughout all of Costa Rica, but the language changes drastically along the Caribbean coast. An interesting Creole-English language called Mekatelyu is spoken by Caribbean Costa Ricans.
Costa Rica is extremely developed compared to much of Central America. Not only does this mean travelers can remain comfortable, but it also means that an internet connection is almost always available. In populated areas, nearly all hotels, hostels, restaurants, and cafes offer free internet access to guests and customers.
If you’re traveling from North America, you won’t need a power converter for plugging in your electronics. Costa Rica 110V power sources, which is the same as the US and Canada. If you’re traveling from elsewhere, look for a power adapter/converter that comes with a surge protector.
Just like all countries, the requirements for entering Costa Rica depend on a traveler’s country of origin. Most citizens of the US, Canada, and EU nations do not a Visa to enter. If you’re a citizen of one of these countries, you just need a valid passport with at least 90 days of validity to receive a 90-day tourist visa upon arrival.
The currency of Costa Rica is the colón. One Costa Rican Colón (CRC) is equivalent to about 0.0017 USD. This means that 10 USD is equivalent to about 5,825 CRC, 20 USD is about 11,650 CRC, and 50 USD is about 29,128 CRC. Getting cash out is easy, there all over the place in the more developed areas of Costa Rica.
No matter how much you prepare for your upcoming Costa Rica surfing trip, it’s impossible to control everything. Things go wrong, especially in the health department. Luckily, Costa Rica has some of the best health services available in all of Central and South America.
Even the public government-run universal healthcare program, called Caja, is suitable for tourists in need of medical attention. If you have travel insurance – which you ALWAYS should invest in – you might consider a private medical provider instead. For major medical emergencies, there are 3 hospitals in the country:
There is a lot of confusion about whether or not traveling to Central America is safe. We can’t speak for Central America as a whole, but Costa Rica is the perfect backdrop for a safe travel experience. This even remains for solo female travelers.
Of course, there are still some threats to safety that every traveler to Costa Rica should stay aware of. This is considered a developing country, and like all developing countries, locals experiencing economic turmoil sometimes resort to crime. The rate of violent crime is extremely low in Costa compared to its Central American neighbors, but petty theft does happen.
There are tons of options for getting around in Costa Rica. Like most places in the world, the cheapest method is to take the public bus. And just like most places, this is also the least comfortable form of transportation. You can expect to pay less than $3 for short trips under 2 hours and about $10 for longer trips.
Choosing a private bus for longer journeys is way more comfortable while also being cost-efficient. Most private minibus rides can be organized with a hotel’s front desk or hostel reception. Private buses take a much more direct route than public buses, so most travelers feel that it’s worth the slightly higher cost.
If you feel comfortable enough navigating Costa Rican roads, the other option is to rent a car. Car rentals are shockingly affordable in Costa Rica, often costing less than $5 per day. Just keep in mind that the roads aren’t in perfect condition, so you’ll want to rent something durable.
Whatever you do, try to avoid air travel in Costa Rica. Flying from one side of the country to the other may be the fastest option, but it is not efficient – both in terms of budget and environment. Another reason to avoid air travel is that Nature Air, the online airline operating domestic flights, has a somewhat questionable safety record.
Costa Rica travel isn’t as cheap the travel costs typical of other Central American countries, but it is still extremely affordable. You can easily get by on a backpacker budget of $45 or $50 per day. Travelers with more luxurious taste should expect to spend $100 and $160 per day. Even if you plan on living like a king, you can do that for less than $200 daily.
Budgeting for accommodation in Costa Rica depends entirely on your personal preferences. Anyone on a shoestring budget can easily find a hostel between $10 and $15 per night. The mid-range option, such as a private room in a guesthouse or 2-star hotel, will cost more like $25 to $30 per night. For a luxury stay such as a private Airbnb, plan on spending at least $40 per night.
Similar to accommodation, the amount of money you spend on food depends on personal taste. You could easily get by on $10 to $15 per day in food costs if you really want to. This would require eating at local restaurants and paying the $1 to $3 that is typical per meal. Those with fancier can plan on spending about $15 per meal at a high-end touristy restaurant.
Aside from visiting the best Costa Rica surfing beaches, there are plenty of ways to fill your time. The country is well-known for its amazing ziplining excursion, hiking opportunities, and snorkeling tours. Expect to pay about $10 for entrance into a Costa Rican National Park. The cost of a full-day ziplining canopy tour will set you back about $40.
When it comes to surfing, the ultimate way to get the biggest bang for your buck is to find an all-inclusive camp or resort in one of the popular places to surf in Costa Rica. Surf lessons typically cost about $20 per hour, but the best surf resorts in Costa Rica will include this in the weekly rate.
The peak season for Costa Rica happens between December to April, which is the dryest time of year. This is an amazing time to visit thanks to the constant sunshine, but it’s not actually the best time to surf in Costa Rica. If you’re dreaming of powerful swells, you’ll want to visit during the wet season. The Costa Rica surf season happens between May and mid-November.
Like the rest of Central America, the majority of the best Costa Rica surfing happens along the Pacific Coast. This immediately becomes obvious just by glancing at a surf map of Costa Rica. There are, however, a few Caribbean surf beaches in Coast Rica.
Not only can surfing travelers work on improving their board handling skills, but they also get to enjoy the concept of Pura Vida. The best way to surf while enjoying the simple life is by visiting Costa Rica surfing towns in these areas throughout the country.
The Costa Rica surf seasons are different on each side of the country. The surf season in the Caribbean doesn’t last long, but if you come at the right time, you might catch some gnarly waves. Most of the waves are created by storms coming in from Mexico, which means that they’re not for the faint of heart.
The best Caribbean destination for riding massive waves is in Puerto Viejo. Some of the biggest waves in all of Costa Rica can be found here, mainly thanks to the coral reef located right off the coast. If you’re hoping to practice left and right breaks, Westfalia Beach offers consistently solid surfing conditions during the right time of year.
Now it’s time to focus on the Pacific Coast, where most of the best surfing beaches in Costa Rica reside. The North Pacific region is one of the least populated areas of the country. This is surprising since it is also home to some of the best water sport opportunities, including both surfing and diving.
The North Pacific’s Playa Naranjo is one of the best breaks in Central America. Many surfers know it as Witch’s Rock. The best time to surf the Witch’s Rock is when winds are strongest, between December and March. Aside from Naranjo, the northern Pacific Coast is also home to Playa Grande and Playa Negra.
The swells and breaks at Playa Grande are consistent, and it’s considered a safe spot for beginners. Travelers love the fact that this is a fairly quiet beach, especially when compared to surfing hotspots like Tamarindo. The powerful waves at Playa Negra are suited for experienced surfers only. If you’re not yet comfortable with your skills, steer away from the aggressive waves here.
Some travelers feel that the best surfing in Costa Rica can be found in the Central Pacific region of the country. The main reason is that Central Pacific beaches are the easiest to access. The surfing here is just a short drive from the international airport in San Jose. This also means that the region is the liveliest with much more going on than other coastal areas.
For surfing here, you’ll want to check out Boca Barranca. When the conditions are right, this left break gives surfers the chance to ride for nearly half a mile. Unfortunately, Barranca tends to get overly crowded, so the earlier you arrive, the better. Another option is Playa Escondido, but the most consistent swell in the area is found at Hermosa Beach.
If you’re looking for less nightlife and more rainforest, you’ll want to venture along the southern coast. This is where some of the best (and most remote) surfing beaches in Costa Rica are located. There is a long list of surfing destinations in the south, including popular names like Playa Dominical, Pavones, and Cabo Metapalo.
Witch’s Rock Surf Camp has been dubbed as one of the ultimate camps for solo travelers looking for the best surfing in Costa Rica. The camp is located in Tamarindo and can accommodate as many as 70 guests at a time. Staying at the Witch’s Rock beachfront hotel is a great way to meet people, plus it offers amazing views of Tamarindo.
“Our all-inclusive programs will get you riding Costa Rica’s epic waves regardless of your surfing level.”
– The Team at Witch’s Rock Surf Camp
Witch’s Rock offers surf camp vacations for every level. Whether you’re new to the water sport or you’ve been surfing for decades, your camp experience will be unique to you and only you. Every aspect of the camp can be customized to meet your surfing needs and experience level. Every package includes airport transfers, accommodation, surf lessons, board rental, classroom seminars, and daily breakfast.
Located in Playa Hermosa, a wide golden beach framed by warm rolling waves and towering palm trees, Shaka Costa Rica welcomes you to theor spacious private villas and rooms nestled in the lush jungle make for the perfect all-inclusive surf getaway.
“The Shaka family prides itself on making guests feel at home, and while all accommodations are private, there is a community atmosphere, as we all gather for meals together in the communal palm-roofed rancho.”
– Shaka Costa Rica
Another popular surf spot in Costa Rica’s Tamarindo is Iguana Surf Camp. Many travelers gravitate towards Tamarindo since it caters to all skill levels. It the perfect place to learn how to surf, hone in on your skills, or challenge yourself with heavy breaks. This is why so many people choose to stay at Iguana Surf Camp.
“Our Costa Rica surf camp accommodations are in our beautiful beachfront boutique hotel located directly in front of the most famous surf break of Tamarindo Beach!”
– The Team at Iguana Surf Camp
Iguana offers several options to surfing travelers, so you should have no trouble at all finding a camp that works with your skill level and timeframe. No matter the camp package you choose, every surf camp at Iguana includes unlimited board rental, daily breakfast, daily surf lessons, accommodations at the Iguana Surf Hotel, and free airport transfers.
Wonder where to surf in Costa Rica that doesn’t include a trip to busy Tamarindo? Check out the stunningly beautiful beach town of Montezuma. Montezuma is all about finding adventure in surfing as well as finding relaxation in yoga. This is what Anamaya, a popular retreat getaway in Montezuma, is all about.
“Anamaya’s Soul Surfing Yoga Retreat offers adventure, relaxation, and overall wellness set in a perfect tropical paradise.”
– The Team at Anamaya Soul Surfer Retreat
The soul-surfer yoga retreat is a perfect choice for travelers looking to relax, unwind, and connect with the Costa Rican waters. There are a few retreats at Anamaya that don’t include surfing at all, but the surf/yoga camp is the most popular choice by far. It includes 5 surf lessons, 10 yoga classes, a cooking class, a dance lesson, a waterfall hike and more. The base rate starts at $375, but this doesn’t include accommodation.
Compared to the other surf guides and operators mentioned so far, Surf Simply is relatively new to the Costa Rica surf scene. The company started in 2015, but a complete renovation of the accommodations happened in 2018. The concept behind this provider is “technical surfing, taught simply”. Visitors receive technical on-water experience with simple instructions on how to become a better surfer.
“We don’t teach you how to surf. We teach you how to teach yourself how to surf…”
– The Team at Surf Simply
Since Surf Simply was born, it has been featured in major publications like NY Times, Forbes, The Huffington Post, and CNN. The all-inclusive courses take place in Nosara, which is located along the country’s Central Pacific Coast. Guests have the option for a 1 or 2-week package with access to unlimited surfing. The downside to Surf Simply is the lofty weekly rate, but keep in mind that this rate includes everything.
La Point is a well-known surf camp provider with 7 locations around the world. Each of their surf camps is designated for a certain skill level, and the one in Costa Rica’s Santa Teresa is considered a Level 3. Level 3 surfers are considered to be at the intermediate level, so this is not a course meant for beginners to the sport.
“This laid-back destination is not only perfect for surfing but also to let go of everyday stress and hang loose.”
– The Team at La Point Surf Camp
There are a few options for signing up for La Point’s Level 3 camp. Guests can embark on a 1, 2, or 3-week surfing adventure, each one including accommodations and 2 meals per day. In addition to surf lessons and equipment rental, each package includes yoga classes, surf analysis, and transport to the best surfing spots in Santa Teresa.
Is Surf and Yoga your thing? Lucero offers three different packages for surfers and yogi’s of any level. Lucero has been located in Santa Teresa for over 12 years and have a distinct family feel where everyone is welcomed to their lush location.
Their small boutique hotel offers four private rooms, a private home and a jungle view apartment. All with access to a beautiful pool and a small restaurant and just a few minutes away from the beach and the sleepy town of Santa Teresa.
Costa Rica is the land of adventure. Surf in Costa Rica is a huge aspect of this adventure, but it’s not the only one. Visitors spend the majority of their time outdoors, doing whatever it takes to get their heart pumping and adrenaline flowing. Anyone planning on ziplining, canyoning, hiking, diving, snorkeling, rafting, and of course, surfing, be sure to pack with adventure in mind.
The main thing to remember is that Costa Rica is a rugged rainforest, so mosquito repellant is a must. If you plan on spending time in the heavily forested areas, bring long, lightweight clothing for extra protection from mosquitos. Pack a UV-protectant pair of sunshades, comfortable pair of hiking booting, and rain jacket between May and November.
Sure, it’s easy to find some of the world’s best surf beaches in Costa Rica. But what about finding delicious authentic food? Since Costa Rica officially became a popular tourist destination, tons of Western and international eateries have opened up in the more populated cities and towns. Fortunately, there are also plenty of local dining joints to choose from as well.
What to Eat
If you’re hoping to try something new and get a taste of the true Costa Rica, keep an eye open for these authentic Costa Rican dishes:
Gallo Pinto – Gallo Pinto is a pretty basic dish, but it’s one that serves as a staple to the Costa Rican people. In fact, this concoction of rice and beans is considered the national dish of Costa Rica.
Casado – Casado isn’t just one single recipe, but a full platter of unique foods typical of Costa Rica. Of course, it includes Gallo Pinto, but not traditional Casados also include green salad, plantains, and some sort of meat.
Olla de Carne – There’s nothing like a hearty bowl of beef stew after a long day out on the water. That’s exactly what Olla de Carne is. This savory dish is a celebration of all things Costa Rica. It typically includes cassava, corn, plantains, taro, an assortment of fresh veggies, and lean beef.
Sopa Negra – All you vegetarians out there will prefer Sopa Negra as an alternative to Olla de Carne. This delightful soup is filled to the brim with fresh veggies, black beans, and cilantro.
For trying on all these Costa Rican dishes and more, look for a local soda. A soda is a local eatery where you can find all the authentic cuisine of the country, usually for less than $3 per meal.
The list of things to see and do in Costa Rica is endless – we could literally go on for pages and pages about all the adventures here. To keep things simple, we’ve narrowed it down to a few top picks:
Located in a private rainforest reserve, the Tabacon Hot Springs is the most impressive network of hot springs in Costa. Visitors will have to purchase a day pass since the springs are technically a part of the Tabacon Thermal Resort, but it’s entirely worth it.
These caves were discovered completely by accident back in 1945 by a local farmer. Now, the 8 impressive cave chambers are visited by travelers from all over the world. Each room of the Venado Cave system is filled with stalagmites and stalactites, giving visitors an out-of-this-world experience.
Interested in taking a break from Costa Rica surf and experiencing the water in a whole new way? Try out SCUBA diving. There are plenty of places to dive along both coasts, but the best is in the Catalinas Islands. This northwestern island chain is a quick trip from top Costa Rica surf spots like Tamarindo and Playa Flamingo.
For taking in the natural wonders of Costa Rica in an all-in-one experience, check out Arenal Volcano National Park. At the center of the park is the Arenal Volcano. Surrounding the volcano there are lush forests, cascading waterfalls, hot springs, and even ziplining tours.
There’s a long list of waterfalls to explore while in Costa Rica, but La Fortuna should be at the very top. It’s possible to reach the cascading falls by hiking, but horseback riding is another (more adventurous) option.
During an initial search on “surfing in Costa Rica”, it seems as if the entire coastline is dotted with surf spots meant for advanced-level surfers. In a way, this is true, but try not to be discouraged if you’re brand new to the sport. There are plenty of amazing places for beginners to learn the ropes of surfing and become comfortable with their skills.
Some of the best surf spots in Costa Rica for beginners are located along the Northern Pacific Coast. Tamarindo is a popular choice but for newbie surfers looking for something more lowkey, check out Playa Santa Teresa or Playitas. Travelers hoping for easy access to and from the San Jose international airport might consider Central Pacific’s Playa Hermosa.
Once you’ve graduated from beginner surfing status, you can consider some of the best surf beaches in Costa Rica for advanced surfers. Playa Tamarindo caters to both beginners and experienced surfers, which is why there are so many Costa Rica surf schools here.
Witch’s Rock in Santa Rosa National Park throws perfect barrels for advanced surfers, but keep your eyes open for crocodiles at the nearby river mouth. Playa Dominical is an exposed beach that catches constant swells. There’s almost always a heavy-breaking wave to ride here, keeping advanced surfers entertained.