Let’s get this out of the way: I’ve surfed a total of about 20 times. Which is nothing. Can I stand up and ride (on mostly white water)? Yes. Can I read the ocean or get myself out to the place where waves are breaking? Not so much.
With that disclaimer out of the way, I can say that Costa Rica is one of the world’s best surfing destinations. Whether you’re a novice like me, or a dominator of waves, this country has a beach for you, and probably several beaches not far to the north and south that are also a fit.
Narrowing down these playas was extremely difficult, and there are quite a few beloved spots but didn’t make my list. In the end, I chose a mix of beginner, intermediate and advanced beaches where I’ve had the most fun, either on the board or watching the pros.
It’s no accident that surf schools abound in Guiones. The consistent, rolling waves tend to drop down easy, which is ideal for beginners and intermediates. At the same time, Guiones is popular with advanced surfers aiming to attempt cutbacks and other advanced tricks. Although the swell and tides vary, it’s a rare day when surfers of all levels aren’t seen dotting the shoreline.
Pavones is the stuff of legend: a secluded jungle beach where only the most serious surfers tend to congregate. It’s famous left point break offers one of the longest rides in the world, requiring some very meaty calf muscles and considerable skill (the bottom is rocky). The best time to surf here is May though October.
On the Caribbean Coast in Puerto Viejo, Salsa Brava offers some of the most badass surfing in the country. The waves break extremely large and powerful over a floor of sharp coral reef. This is a place where I take a seat at a restaurant, drink a beer, and watch other people ride.
Playa Hermosa (near Jacó)
Five minutes from the beginner spot Playa Jacó—where I’ve surfed plenty—is Playa Hermosa, where I’ve surfed once (never again). The swells here can be reasonable or massive depending on conditions, and things can change quickly. Still, this beach offers some of the hollow, fast, and powerful waves around, which I now enjoy watching from the sand.