The Known and Unknown: Surfing in Central and South America

09 November 2019

With tens of thousands of miles of coastline, it’s no surprise that surfers from all over the world head to Latin America. This area has so much to offer, and not just when it comes to surfing. Amazing food, authentic culture, and stunning natural scenery are just a few perks of booking a flight to Central or South America. 

But we’re here to focus on surfing, specifically the most epic surfing opportunities that the area has to offer. No matter if you’re a beginner feeling motivated to learn or a budding professional surfer, there are plenty of waves throughout Latin America calling your name.

Central and South America 101

With 13 South American countries and 7 in Central America (excluding Mexico), a lot is going on in this part of the world. There are so many unique cultures here, eye-catching landscapes, and yes, surfing opportunities that will keep your blood pumping and heart feeling full.

Itacoatiara, Niterói, Brazil

Traveling to a new part of the world can be daunting, especially when you don’t know what you’re getting yourself into. Here you can read a bit about the traditional customs of Latin America, how to stay safe, and what to expect in terms of travel costs. 

Latin American Culture & Customs

Since Latin America is such a big place, it’s impossible to generalize the entire continent as a whole. One country’s cultural practices could be completely different from its neighboring countries. But no matter where you go, you’ll have easy access to a rich culture that can be experienced simply by walking out of your accommodation’s front door. 

This cultural richness is thanks to the many influences that have made Latin America what it is today. You can expect to feel the presence of Spanish and Portuguese, Chinese and Indian, and African cultural practices during your time here. Latin Americans put a huge emphasis on art, music, literature, folklore, and dance, so just try to keep an open mind. 

Safety

Latin America gets a bad rep in terms of safety. Yes, there are dangerous parts of the area where you might not feel welcome as a tourist, but this is not the general vibe throughout the continent. Most places are safe, but you should still be aware of your surroundings. Most criminal activity here is drug-related, so just avoid that scene and you should be fine. 

Language & Currency

The predominant language spoken in Latin America is Spanish, but there are many unique dialects spoken here. In Brazil, you’ll here Portuguese, or maybe you’ll get a taste of Creole on a Carribean island. The rule of thumb anywhere you go is that as you speak English and travel to more touristic destinations, you’ll have no trouble communicating. 

Food, Accommodation & Getting Around

There’s no chance you’ll go hungry during your time here. Some people say that Central and South American cuisine is the best in the world. Of course, it depends on your taste preferences, but finding a good meal is possible just about anywhere. The best way to get the true taste of Latin American food is to eat at local establishments, not fancy “gringo” restaurants. 

Finding a place to stay is as easy as hopping on Booking.com or Hostelworld and choosing a place based on your preferences. Whether you’re hoping to stay at one of the best surf camps in Central America or head further down South, there are plenty of options available to fit every budget.

In terms of getting around, this is entirely dependent on the specific destination you’re visiting. In most places, you’ll have several options, including taxis, buses, and even Uber. There are plenty of budget airlines operating in the area, so finding a cheap flight domestic or international flight is doable.

 

Epic Surf Towns in Latin America

There’s no shortage of epic places to surf in Latin America, no matter your skill level. That’s exactly what you should focus on when choosing a place - your level of expertise - or else you might show up and be overwhelmed or disappointed with the waves as they roll into shore. Here we’ll cover a few great options for beginner surfers as well as some more challenging surf spots for intermediate/advanced skills. 

San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

SJDS on Nicaragua’s Pacific Coast has some of the best surfing in Central America. A huge reason for its popularity is the insane year-round party vibe, but you can expect to do more than just partake in the weekly Sunday Fundays. The surf is not impressively massive, which makes it an amazing beginner surfer destination. 

San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

Sayulita, Mexico

There is some debate on whether or not Mexico is considered a part of Central America, but for the sake of epic surf, we’ll set the record straight and say that it is. Mexico’s Sayulita is just north of Puerto Vallarta, and the sleepy laid-back vibes are what people love most here about this surfing Central America hotspot. This area is great for both beginner and advanced surfers who also want to chow down on endless tacos and partake in beachside yoga.

Image: Lunazul Surf School, Sayulita

Tamarindo, Costa Rica

Ahhhhh, Tamarindo. We have a lot to say about this Costa Rican surfing hotspot, but we’ll keep it brief. This is an amazing place for beginners and advanced surfers alike, and you’ll have no trouble finding a top-notch Central America surf camp here. This world-renowned surfer’s paradise has year-round surf, plus it’s a great place to explore Costa Rican wildlife. 

Nuqui, Colombia

It’s time to move even further down south to Colombia. Surfing in Colombia South America is becoming much more recognized than in the past, specifically in a small town on the Pacific Coast called Nuqui. Although you can surf at all times in Nuqui, the best time to visit is between June to October during the whale season.

Santa Catarina, Brazil

Brazil’s Santa Catarina is often referred to as a surfer’s playground, and you’ll understand why as soon as you arrive. It is one of the best places to learn surfing in South America, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find epic waves to cater to your advanced skills as well. Santa Catarina is technically a large state in southern Brazil, but where you should set your sights on is the small Santa Catarina island.

La Paloma, Uruguay

Many travelers choose Uraguay since it is one of the more developed South American countries. But it’s so much more than that - it also offers the much sought-after laidback atmosphere that most surfers love. This is especially true in the small fishing village of La Paloma, which is just a hop and a skip away from Buenos Aires. 

Keep in mind that the destinations listed above are just a handful of the top surfing options in Latin America, but the list could go on for days. Our suggestion is to set your sites on a place based on the culture, sights, and overall vibes you’re looking for. No matter where that is, you should have no trouble finding a wave to ride as long as you focus on the Pacific Coast.

Top Surfing Operators in Latin America

Wild Things Surf Camp, San Juan del Sur

The perfect location for beginners traveling to Central America for a surf vacation, the Wild Things surf camp in San Juan del Sur offers the experience of a lifetime. SJDS is all about the party lifestyle, but at Wild Things, you’ll get so much more than just a party. This is a yoga/surf retreat that combines peacefulness and party through surf and yoga. 

“Rapture Camps X Wild Things Retreats seeks to bring together a community of adventurers to find their flow both on and off the water.”

- Wild Things Yoga & Surf Retreat

Each Wild Things retreat takes place at the Rapture Surfcamps location in Nicaragua that is often referred to as the “surf sanctuary” of the area. There’s an infinity overlooking the jungle and a yoga deck overlooking the beach, so it quite literally is a sanctuary. Each yoga/surf retreat is a weeklong adventure that is the perfect opportunity to focus on mindfulness, catch a few waves, and of course, have a few drinks along the way. 

  • Language: English, Spanish
  • Location: San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua
  • Surf Level: Beginner, Intermediate
  • Cost: From $1811 USD

WildMex Surf & Adventure, Sayulita

WildMex in Sayulita, Mexico is another great beginner surfing operator in Central America. You’ll have access to everything under the sun when it comes to surfing. Sayulita is a quick drive north of Puerto Vallarta, so getting here is easy enough. The best part of all is that you can customize your surf adventure to your exact liking. You can even add on mountain biking if that’s your cup of tea. 

“Our continued dedication to sharing the lifestyle we love while improving our community and environment is something we are very proud of and something you can count on.”

- WildMex Surf & Adventure

Guests of WildMex have the option to add on accommodation, and this is highly recommended. Aside from accommodation, the surf camp includes all your lessons, equipment, and transport to all the best surf locations in the area. To top it all off, WildMex is all about sustainability and they do whatever they can to give back to the community through environmental philanthropy.

  • Language: English, Spanish
  • Location: Sayulita, Mexico
  • Surf Level: Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced
  • Cost: From $175 per Day

Iguana Surf, Tamarindo

Iguana Surf in Costa Rica’s Tamarindo has consistently ranked as one of the top surf camps in the area. It has been operating since 1989 with the main goal of instilling healthy respect and awareness of the ocean among visitors. Since its inception, Iguana has taught and trained over 125,000 surfers at their school. It doesn’t matter if you have zero experience whatsoever, the Iguana team will get you surfing in no time.

“We take pride and feel it is a privilege to teach others the art of surfing. Our fail-proof teaching methods have been helping people learn how to surf since 1989.”

- Iguana Surf

Surf, Stay, and Play is the saying at Iguana, and that’s exactly what you’ll be able to do. You can spend your days surfing while you stay in a beautiful beachside lodge. Iguana offers tons of add-ons too, everything from wellness activities to Spanish lessons. To get the best rate, try to find a group of people to travel with - Iguana offers discounts up to 40% if you bring along two or more buddies. 

  • Language: English, Spanish
  • Location: Tamarindo, Costa Rica
  • Surf Level: Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced
  • Cost: From $549 (5-Day Camp)

Surf Camp at Playa Terquito Hostel, Nuqui

Wondering what country has the best surfing in South America? There’s no definitive answer, but you can’t go wrong by setting your sights on Colombia. For anyone tired of crowded waves and the posh resort atmosphere, Nuqui will feel like a breath of fresh air. Taking a surf holiday in Nuqui is an amazing way to get away from the crowds while you enjoy beach breaks, point breaks, and everything that Colombian culture has to offer.

“If you are tired of surfing at crowded beaches, this surf holiday is perfect for you. You will have uncrowded world-class spots all to yourself and your group of friends.”

- Surf Instructor, Yeyo

There is a 6-day surf camp here in Nuqui that takes place at Playa Terquito Hostel catering to all surf levels. The camp includes accommodation, 5 90-minute surf lessons, a boat trip to reef breaks for more advanced surfers, guided waterfall tours, and all meals. These spots fill up fast, though, since there’s only room for 8 participants per retreat. 

  • Language: English, Spanish
  • Location: Nuqui, Colombia
  • Surf Level: Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced
  • Cost: From $950 USD

Brazil Surfing Adventure, Santa Catarina

It’s easy to find a surf camp in Brazil’s surfing mecca of Florianopolis, Santa Catarina. For those of you traveling alone looking for a fun social atmosphere, check out Brazil Surfing Adventure. This Florianopolis surf and kitesurf camp is the perfect getaway for anyone traveling to Santa Catarina on the hunt for world-class waves.  

“Whether you have never surfed before and always dreamed of learning or if you just want to improve your existing skills, we have the coaching that will enable you to reach your goals in a fun.”

- Brazil Surfing Adventure

Aside from the epic surf, the accommodation is what people seem to love most at BSA. The main housing is just steps from one of the most well-known surfing spots in Brazil, Meio da Joaquina Beach. Each housing option has a selection of private bedrooms and full kitchen facilities as well as a balcony and BBQ patio. 

If you want to surf every single day, you have that option. Almost every day of the year, the waves range from 2 to 10 feet thanks to swells coming from almost all directions. If you’re up for it, try to take advantage of the kitesurfing courses offered by BSA. Florianopolis has strong winds throughout the year, making it a kitesurfer’s paradise. 

  • Language: English, Portuguese, Spanish
  • Location: Santa Catarina, Brazil
  • Surf Level: Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced
  • Cost: From $580 (7 Days, Low Season)

Selina Surf Camp, Santa Teresa

Although we mentioned Uruguay as an amazing surf destination in South America, we’re heading back up north to Costa Rica for this last one. Some people might say that Costa Rica has been overrun by tourism, but in all honestly, there’s a reason for the high number of tourists traveling here. It’s easy to get around, find a comfy place to stay, and surf as much as your little heart desires. 

“With friendly, welcoming staff and a truly international community of digital nomads, backpackers, surfers, and wellness travelers, you’ll feel right at home.”

- Selina Surf Camp 

If you want to stay away from the messy crowds of Tamarindo, head to Santa Teresa instead. The Selina Surf Camp in Santa Teresa is an amazing choice if you want to learn the ropes of surfing and make lifelong friendships in the process. Most Selina locations around the world are geared towards the digital nomad lifestyle, and this one is no exception, but it keeps things spicy with the surf camp add-on. 

  • Language: English, Spanish
  • Location: Santa Teresa, Costa Rica
  • Surf Level: Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced
  • Cost: From $16 per Night (Dorm)