Northern Pacific Coast
This right hand point break works best on low to mid tides. At high tide breaks really close to the beach, but it is still fun with southwest swells. Rides can go on for 400 meters and throw barrels. It is only accessible by boat, and you must pay an entry fee to the Santa Rosa National Park, $15 per person. Only a limited number of boats are allowed in the park so there will not be over 50 people, but that is a lot since there is only three sections to sit on. Without a swell the waves are only longboardable. Make sure your boat captain has permission to enter the park or you could lose the $400-500 you paid for the trip.
Witchs Rock, or Roca Bruja, is inside the Santa Rosa National Park. The wave is accessible by a 4wd vehicle for most of the year, with sparse camping - bring your own water and bug repellent. Lots of boats come in, make sure they are licensed to enter the park (cost $400-500 per boat + $15 per person entrance fee). The waves are clean, with lots of offshore winds especially from December to April. Sometimes gusts can reach 25-35 mph causing upwelling, that makes the water cold enough to want to bring a spring suit or 2 mm top. It picks up swells from the SSW and SW and can throw barrels. Best wave size is chest high to two feet overhead, any bigger and it tends to close out. Best tide to surf it is mid to high tide. It is most crowded by the rock and rivermouth, but the whole beach has waves. Beware of crocs and a few sharks during turtle nesting season.
3. The Labyrinth
A sketchy right hander that breaks at lower tides when the rocks are exposed. Can throw a mean barrel and produce a workable shoulder for about 60 yards before it pounds shut on the rocks. Boat access only, make sure your captain is permitted to enter the Santa Rosa National Park.
4. Playa Grande
A beachbreak that works best from chest high to 3 feet overhead. When it's big it tends to break way outside and then reform about 100 yards off the beach. Lots of barrels and fun sections to smack. Best tide is mid tide coming in. At dead high there's some backwash, low tide has mostly closeouts. The break can get most crowded from June-August and December to April, but there are empty peaks up and down the beach. Do not leave stuff in your car as there is a lot of theft. Best place to stay is Hotel Las Tortugas, right on the break with secure parking, great food, and a pool.
5. Tamarindo Rivermouth
The rivermouth breaks better on lower tides, and the size can look smaller from the beach than what it really is. Dominated by longboarders and locals, the wave can shack up and give surfers 100 yard rights.
6. Playa Tamarindo
Right in front of Witchs Rock Surf Camp is the main beach in Tamarindo where the beginners learn to surf. It is usually small, knee to chest high, and when it is bigger closes out. It is best from mid to high tide.
7. Pico Pequeño
Right behind the Tamarindo Diria the beach is thinner and there are a string of rocks that go out about 150 yards. Depending on the swell size and tide, a wave breaks off both sides of the rocks, producing lefts that go for about 200 meters or longer and rights about 10 meters. Watch out for rocks at lower tides and beginners at high tides. This spot is also localized, so respect the order in the lineup. Breaks best at head high to 2 feet overhead.
8. Playa Langosta
The waves break over a rocky shelf, with more sandy stretches to the south of the rivermouth. Watch for the boils at lower tides to find a hollow peak. Best size is chest high to 3 feet overhead, when it's bigger can close out. The main break is behind the Barcelo Langosta, but they have made it nearly impossible to park near there. You'll find a few spots to park about 200 meters north. The rights during a swell with a lot of west in it can go for over 200 meters. The crowds are a bit lighter here due to the poor access, but the Barcelo guests think they own the peak, and the locals don't give up many waves.
9. Avellanas - Little Hawaii
At the northern end of Playa Avellanas, well past the rivermouth, are a series of rock outcroppings that at the right tide produce some great lefthanders. It's best when many other spots are closing out because it is too big. Very remote so do not get injured, and don't leave your stuff unattended.
10. Avellanas - Beachbreak
When you pull up to the beach you may see a giant hog - Lulu. She has been there for years greeting visitors and lying in the shade under the mangroves. There is semi-secure parking, but don't leave stuff in your car. To the south are a bunch of rock shelves, so be careful during all lower tides. To the north is the beachbreak, which works best at waist high to a foot overhead. Waves are easy to catch, have some fun sections, and sometimes throw a thin lip to duck under. When it is any bigger it usually closes out. The crowds thin out the farther north you walk, and the best tide to surf are higher tides. There is only one hotel here on the beach, Cabinas Las Olas, which has trails through the mangroves leading to the shore leaving the view unspoiled by development. Other small hotels are across from the the road, about 1/2 kilometer from the beach.
11. Playa Negra
Negra is a mostly right breaking wave and my favorite tube ride on the Pacific. The water is a deep blue, and the barrels are formed perfectly when the tide and swell are right. It works best from head high to double overhead, any bigger and it closes out. A few lefts come through if it's smaller, but you end up in the rocks which at low tide is sketchy. Speaking of sketchy, don't leave stuff in your vehicle as theft is rampant. Best tide to surf for many is lower to mid tides, but at high tide can also be fun if there is some size.
12. Playa Junquillal
A remote stretch of salt and pepper sand and empty waves south of Playa Negra and north of Marbella. It is not surfed a lot since the peaks come at different tides and disappear when the tide gets too high or too low. At lower tides you can see the rock ledges that make the waves break farther outside.
This beach has two main breaks. A beachbreak to the north that works best at mid to high tides and can break bigger when other spots are small. It also gets hollow and can provide some quick rights. The second break to the south is a left point break off a rock shelf that works best at lower tides. Waves can go for about 200 yards with a big shoulder for cutbacks, but not tuberides. The crowd is usually heavier at the beachbreak and there a lot of locals that surf it so give them respect.
14. Nosara - Olga's
This break in Nosara is called Olga's since you can see it breaking from the restaurant. It needs a big swell to work with a lot of West in it. The left goes for about 150 meters and it is rarely crowded, since it does not break that often. There is also a right that breaks only at high tide over a rock shelf.
15. Nosara - Guiones
Playa Guiones beach is beginner friendly on the inside, but when it is at its best can be double to triple overhead on the outside. It gets deep here and the bottom is sand so it is easy to get under the big ones. Best size is waist high peelers for long-boarders to double overhead barrels for short-boards. Only the biggest sets close out and rides can go for 200 meters to the beach. The crowds seem to be worst between January and March, and in July. But this is only on the main peak, and there are empty peaks up and down the coast. Best tide is mid to high tide.
16. Playa Garza
Playa Garza is never crowded because there never seems to be a wave here, but at high tide there is a spot 100 yards north of the lot across from the supermarket that works when it is chest high or bigger. The rumor is that the north and south ends of the bay will fire when the swell is two feet overhead or better. It is about a 1/2 km. paddle out and it is guessed that low to mid tide works best. A couple of locals run boat tours, too.
17. Playa Sámara
Playa Samara is a great place for beginner surfers. The waves are small and break gently, with the swell mostly blocked by offshore rocks. At higher tide is best for the beachbreak, offering decent longboard waves when there is any swell. Waves form at the edges of the bay during lower tides, but the 1/2 km. paddle keeps most everyone away. It also needs a lot of south swell to break.
18. Playa Camaronal
This beach is hard to access by car since many roads flood in the rainy season. The remote sandy beachbreak has a defined right hander by the rivermouth that can break bigger than neighboring breaks. You need a little swell though, or you’ll be disappointed by flatness. It works best at mid tide coming in to high tide and throw some meaty barrels so bring an extra board.
Central Pacific Coast
Playa Carmen is at the center of Mal Pais, a block to the beach from Franks Place and a few new hotels. If you go straight out the bottom is sand, but at lower tides there are a few boils and rock outcroppings to the north and south so be careful. The wave is best from head high to three feet overhead. It does not usually barrel on the outside sets, just provides a big slopey wall for huge carves. It can break way on the outside so watch for sneaker sets. Best tide is mid going to high tide. Crowds are the worst right in front, but the drift will spread out the pack and you can get fun waves on the inside sections, too.
About a kilometer north of Playa Carmen is Santa Teresa, a stretch of beach mixed with sand and lava rock outcroppings that extend out 100 meters or more into the ocean. So at the right tide these ledges make for some heavy barreling rights and lefts. There is even a peak called Suck Rock because that is what it does. Ask the locals which tide works best or just sit on it and watch from a hammock at one of the many beachside villas. Crowds are light, but the locals will hit it if there is enough swell to make these peaks work. Best size is overhead to two feet overhead.
21. Mal Pais
At the south end of Mal Pais there are a couple of left hand point breaks that only work when it is overhead or bigger. Midtide is the best time to check it. You will have to park on the road and walk to find the break. Just drive slowly and keep one eye peeled for a set. If it is big, the wave can break for 200 meters.
22. Boca Barranca - Jetty
When Boca Barranca is big, this peak is overhead too. It breaks past an old pier and a boulder sized rock jetty which has built up the sand to the south of it. To the north the wave jacks on the takeoff and then has a mushy wall for up to 100 meters. The water is dirty, the local bodyboarders on it, and there is only one peak to sit on.
23. Boca Barranca
Boca Barranca is one of the longest lefts in the world. It needs a good double overhead Southwest swell to get up in the Gulf of Nicoya and make it work. The walk over the crusty cobblestones and paddling through San Jose's runoff is irritating, but worth it when it is big. It can be packed with locals, longboarders, and day trippers from Jaco. Or if you catch it early when the swell is not too massive, the drift will spread 10-20 people out nicely. Major drift factor, waves can break all the way to the pier, and then you walk back. There is parking with a security guard and showers, but how secure is unknown.
Caldera has wedging barrels and pounding closeout sections. The rights are short and tubes dark with dirty water and sand dredged up from the swell. Breaks best at head high to two feet overhead. Lots of bodyboarders and mostly all locals so give respect.
This left hand point breaks off of big rocks that are exposed at lower tides. Long walls up to 200 meters can be found. The best angle is SSW, to much West and it closes out fast. The water here can be polluted, so disinfect after surfing. The road here is hard to follow so leave well before dark.
26. Little Fiji
Little Fiji is a left, accessible only by boat, that breaks off an rock ledge offering a 100 meter ride with a nice barrel on the takeoff. The inside is sketchy, especially at lower tides when it works better. Never a crowd since not many surfers want to take the risk if it is better at Playa Escondida. When the tide fills in, it goes flat.
27. Playa Escondida
Escondida is a true A-frame with a short barreling right and a longer left that also throws out when it is big. Only access is my boat or through Los Suenos Resort. There is only 2 peaks, inside and outside, so it can be crowded with six people on it. Imagine 30 people trying to surf it when it's double overhead. The rock shelf sticks out at lower tides, so be careful.
28. Playa Jaco
Playa Jaco is a beachbreak that breaks smaller during southern swells since it is sheltered in a more west facing bay. Best size is chest high to a foot overhead, any bigger and it closes out. Best tides are two hours before high tide. There are a lot of peaks along the 3 kilometer beach, but a few better ones get crowded with tourists and locals on the weekend. The low tide whitewater reform is a great place for beginners to learn and lessons are usually given here.
29. Roca Loca
Roca Loca (Crazy Rock) is a right that breaks off a big rock at the far south end of Jaco bay, and just north of Playa Hermosa. It starts working at overhead and will hold surf up to triple overhead, but often closes out at that size. Lots of theft so leave nothing in your car, and the hike down from the parking area to the narrow take off spot is tricky. It is rarely crowded and works best at midtide.
30. Playa Hermosa - Terrazas
Hotel Terraza del Pacifico sits in front of this beachbreak at the north end of Playa Hermosa. It works best 1-2 hours before high tide, at dead high breaks right on the shore (good for skimboarding) There are a couple of rocks that boil up at lower tides and provide a nice takeoff spot. Waves break both left and right. Crowds can be bad, but other peaks are located farther south that break the same.
31. Playa Hermosa - El Almendro
The Tree is a massive almond tree that sits on the dirt road running parallel to the beach in Playa Hermosa, about 400 meters south of the Backyard Hotel. Even though it is notorious for theft, many people park here and surf right out back where the drift tends to spread apart the crowds. Best best from head high to double overhead. Bigger surf closes out and at low tide it closes out. So get there between midtide and high tide. If you keep driving south down the dirt road, you may find other empty peaks.
32. Esterillos Oeste
Esterillos has three beaches, Oeste (West), Central, and Este (East). This one is the most popular with surfers since besides the beachbreak there is a rock shelf that extends several hundred meters off the beach. There is a big mermaid statue that sits above the water, marking where the shelf lies. At lower tides the waves can break waaaay far out, with big mushy walls for longboarders and funshapes. The inside wave is more hollow, offering a few barrels at the higher tides. Surfers arrive in mass from Jaco and Hermosa from June to August, and from January to March.
33. Esterillos Central
A 2 km. stretch of beachbreaks, with a rivermouth at both ends. It breaks best at higher tides with a South southwest swell to give it some angle. Best size is chest high to a foot overhead, when it is bigger it will close out.
34. Esterillos Este
This beach is the farthest east in Esterillos, and the most remote. Surfers rarely come here, since the beachbreak only works towards high tide and then others spots will break better. Works best from chest to overhead and a south southwest swell. The Xandari Resort and Spa is located here, great for a secluded honeymoon surf trip.
35. Playa Bejuco
Bejuco is a dark sand south facing beachbreak like most others, but for some reason breaks a little harder and more hollow than other beaches. A rivermouth at the eastern end may be building up the sandbars, so come here if you empty lineups and the chance to get barreled. Be wary of the strong rips as there have been drownings here and no lifeguards on duty.
36. Palo Seco
Palo Seco (Dry Branch) is a wide empty stretch of beach with lots of waves and nobody on them. It works best around high tide, and at all other times closes out. The water is a little dirty at times from Parrita pollution, and two big estuaries provide feeding grounds for crocs and sharks.
37. Isla Damas
Isla Damas, or Island of Women, does not have any women on it, but offshore has a long right that breaks across the Damas rivermouth. The wave is only accessible by boat, and can break for over 300 meters when the swell is overhead. However, the rip pulling you out to sea is very strong, and the chance of seeing a shark is high.
38. Quepos Rivermouth
You see the wave driving in from the north to Quepos. It breaks along the jetty and then into the rivermouth, which is very polluted. The left breaks very fast and rides can be 100-200 meters long. It is better at lower tides and it needs a solid swell to work. Best size is chest to head high, but it can hold double overhead surf.
39. Manuel Antonio - Playitas
Playitas, or Little Beach, is located about a 1 km. walk north from the National Park, just past a 50 foot rock formation offshore. Watch out for rocks sticking out at lower tide. Best time to surf it is around high tide. Best size is chest high to one foot overhead. The biggest sets tend to close out, and are overrun with bodyboarders and local surf aficionados.
40. Manuel Antonio
The beach just to the north of Manuel Antonio Park entrance is a great spot for beginners. An offshore island blocks most of the swell, and it is usually waist high or smaller. The best tide to surf it is around high tide. You'll see lots of surf lessons being given on this stretch of beach, so watch out flying NSPs and softtops.
41. Playa El Rey
Playa El Rey is just to the south of Manuel Antonio, but you have to drive all the way around Quepos and then south about 5 kilometers to get there (taking the route to Dominical). It is almost always empty, and has very clean surf. As a beachbreak, when it's too big it will close out, the best size being chest to 1 foot overhead, better around high tide. It is a favorite for longboarders who want to get away from the crowds.
South Pacific Coast
Not to be confused with the Matapalo on the Osa Peninsula, this is just an average beachbreak with no one around surfing it for miles in either direction. Perfect for seclusion and riding chest to overhead high surf, any bigger and the sets close out. The best tide is an hour before high tide. At low tide the beach is very wide and fun for just playing around or bodysurfing.
Playa Dominical is known as the most consistent surf spot in Costa Rica. There is almost always a wave worth riding. It is also known as a powerful break. I've been on much bigger waves at other breaks, but I've never been hammered quite as hard as by a big, mid-tide wave at Dominical. It is almost impossible to surf at dead low tide as the waves close out into very shallow water. I recently broke my back at a lower tide by doing a head butt into the sand. The mid-tides are great for more advanced surfers. The waves at mid-tide are faster and hollower and always less crowded. The high tide wave is the most popular but on smaller days is too mushy and frustrates short boarders. This is a good condition to pull out the long board and frustrate the short boarders even more. The bigger the wave, the more you should focus on high tide. On big wave days the current can be strong. It is usually best to walk to the end of the beach at the foot of the current and let it push you up or down as the case may be.
Dominicalito is about 2 km. south of Dominical. It is a beachbreak with rocks offshore so at low will close out and can be trickly getting past the rocks. At high tide it can hold waves up to head high, any bigger and it closes out. Best tide is around high tide. Good for beginners since is usually small, knee to waist high for most swells.
45. Dominicalito - The Point
This left hand point break is about 3 km. south of Dominical. You can see it break from the road, but parking here is not always safe. It needs a big southwest or SSW swell to break, and can hold waves up to triple overhead with rides 300 meters or more, no barrels just big lined up walls. Breaks over a shallow rock ledge, best tides are low to mid tides. At high tide it mushes out
46. Punta Achiote
Punta Achiote is at the north end of Playa Hermosa (not the one by Jaco but near Uvita). It breaks best from chest high to overhead, most bigger sets close out. At the right tide, there is a nice right that goes about 100 meters and a left that heads into a shallow cove. Never really crowded.
47. Playa Hermosa de Uvita
Playa Hermosa is a 2 km. stretch of beach that breaks best at higher tides. It is good for beginner to intermediate level surfers since it is usually smaller and less powerful than Dominical. It is very remote, with no development, and is never crowded.
48. Playa Ventanas
Playa Ventanas 'Windows' is named for the two caves at the northern end of the beach. At low tide you can walk through them to see waves breaking inside the cave. (At high tide during big surf it will shoot spray out of the mouth of the cave) There is access to parking on the property of the only landowner there, but don't leave any valuables in the car. The beach is protected by offshore rock outcroppings, so most of the time the surf is knee to waist. Good for beginners when it's small, at all tides. When it is any bigger than chest high it closes out, with only a few makeable waves at higher tides.
49. Rio Terraba Rivermouth
The Terraba river is one of the largest in Costa Rica, so the rivermouth has a lot of rip currents and a few crocs and sharks to worry about as well. The wave breaks about 500 meters out and can hold any size surf. Hardly anyone ever surfs here since the best access is by boat.
50. Cabo Matapalo
Matapalo has three breaks, this one is the furthest out on the tip of the Osa Peninsula. The slim beach has lots of white washed cobblestones and larger boulders and ledges out in the lineup. There needs to be swell or it will go flat. Waves can get up to triple overhead and break for 300 meters with a solid West Southwest swell. Best tides are low to mid tide, it can mush out at high tide. Blue water, scarlet macaws, monkeys in the rainforest - it is a paradise to surf. Too bad when it's good there are 20+ surfers on the peak.
51. Matapalo - Backwash
At the tip of the Osa Peninsula, this peak is marked by a giant rock sticking up in the lineup. The waves need to be head high or bigger for this place to work. Best tides to surf it are low to mid tides. It is very remote, and never too crowded since it takes about 1.5 hours to get here from Puerto Jimenez by 4wd. Many take boats from Pavones.
52. Pan Dulce
Pan Dulce 'sweet bread' is the third break at the tip of the Osa Peninsula. It needs a really big south swell to break, but when it does the right can go on for 300+ meters. The wave breaks best just before or after low tide. At dead low is it just too rocky, at high tide it will mush out. The best access is by boat from Pavones or Puerto Jimenez.
53. Playa Zancudo
Playa Zancudo 'mosquito' is about an hour drive from Golfito. It is a beachbreak with a huge rivermouth at the north end, building up nice sandbars for whatever swell squeezes up into the Golfo Dulce. Best tides to surf it are higher tides. It needs a big south or SSW swell to work. And it's more a fishing village than a surf spot, so it is rarely crowded.
One of the longest lefts in the world. With a double overhead southwest swell it can break for 600-700 meters, two minute rides. When there is no swell, it can go flat, with surf maybe waist high with a rising tide. Best tide is around high tide so the wave breaks in deeper water and one can make more sections. At low tide there are lots of slippery barnacled cobblestones to walk over to get to the wave. Can get very crowded with over 100 surfers on it when it is good. And many of them are locals so give respect and wait for the right peak to take off on. The drift also helps to spread out the lineup.
55. Punto Banco
Punta Banco is about 4 km. south of Pavones. It is a point that breaks about 200 meters from shore and even though you walk out over sand, there are lots of ledges and boils in the lineup. It doesn't get crowded because the waves jack up and then mush out, making it difficult to paddle into. It's a good place to check if Pavones is too small or too crowded. To find it, look for the tiny airstrip in front of the Tiskita Lodge. Don't leave stuff in your vehicle!
56. Punta Burica
The Burica are the local indigenous people of the region and this break is at the southern tip of Costa Rica,and the waves are as wild as the landscape. The best access is by boat, although during the dry season it can be accessed by 4wd. The beaches and rock ledges pick up swell from the South and Southwest and certain peaks light up depending on the tide and wave size.
This pretty beach is where the Limon locals go on the weekend to enjoy the waves. The beachbreak out front can get big and closes out on almost every wave over chest high. There is a reef on the left that breaks very far off and is very shallow with fast, hollow sections. Needs a big swell to work. The beach is better at high tide, the reef at midtide.
Los Tumbos 'Tombstones' is on the far south side of Playa Bonita. It gets its name from the large rocks that the wave smashes into on every set. It is a short, powerful, hollow right that is mostly surfed by bodyboarders with no fear. It breaks better at lower tides. Not recommend for surfing except by the pros, who have plenty of boards to break.
59. Isla Uvita
Isla Uvita "Island of Small Grapes" was the first place that Columbus landed on in 1506. He did not come to surf, but if he had he would have enjoyed seeing the lefts that peel off the island when there is a strong East swell. Waves can get over triple overhead and not close out, but there is no room for mistakes as the mainland is a 40 minute boat ride away. It breaks over shallow reef. The island is totally undeveloped.
The entire stretch of the coast from Limon to Cahuita CAN be surfed, but should it? Lots of rivermouths running from the banana plantations mean polluted water and plenty of crocs. The beachbreak is best at higher tides, and anything over head high tends to close out. Best bet is to keep driving south to Cahuita and Puerto Viejo.
61. Cahuita - Black Beach
Cahuita's Playa Negra is a small, dark sand beach about an hour drive south of Limon. There is parking along the beach, but be careful not to leave anything in the car. The waves break on sand, and generally are small and easy for beginners. When there is swell it can get hollow and break far outside. There is also a rock ledge that starts throwing out lefts when it is overhead or bigger. The best tide is around high tide. Watch out for sea urchins and sharp reef at the south end of the beach.
62. Cahuita - Playa Blanca
Playa Blanca is next to the entrance of the Cahuita National Park. The wave starts to break at chest high or bigger off a shallow reef and into a tiny bay, closing out after a short fun left. The best tide is midtide coming in. A lot of locals like this spot and it will get crowded with surfers and bodyboarders sharing the two main peaks. The beachbreak to the south tends to close out when it's big.
63. Playa Vargas
Playa Vargas is about a kilometer walk inside the Cahuita National Park. When the rest of the Caribbean is tiny, this spot tends to be a foot or two bigger. Its remoteness keeps the crowds away. Be careful of the reef at lower tides.
64. Puerto Viejo - Salsa Brava
The Terraba river is one of the largest in Costa Rica, so the rivermouth has a lot of rip currents and a few crocs and sharks to worry about as well. The wave breaks about 500 meters out and can hold any size surf. Hardly anyone ever surfs here since the best access is by boat.
65. Puerto Viejo - El Barco
Around the bend from Salsa Brava there is an old barge that ran ashore some time ago. Right next to it a small peak will come in, perfect for groms and beginners. Farther to the north, the stretch of beach is also better for beginners when it is small and at higher tides. Anything bigger than waist high will make the wave close out.
66. Playa Cocles
Playa Cocles is a kilometer past Puerto Viejo and even more laid back. The beach is beautiful and the waves are most fun when it's chest to head high. Any bigger surf gets really hollow, but closes out. It breaks better at high tide. There is a strong current so it is not for beginners when it's big. It can get crowded on the best peaks, but there are plenty of others to choose from. On the north end is an island about 300 meters offshore. When the swell is huge, a nice left forms off the island and breaks almost all the way through to the beach.
67. Punta Uva
Punta Uva is a reef break that takes a big East swell to make it work. It breaks best when it's headhigh to overhead. Bigger sets shut down. The reef is sharp and beware of sea urchins. Since it is remote and doesn't break often, there is rarely anyone surfing here.
68. Playa Manzanillo
Manzanillo is a beach better suited for snorkeling since most of the time it is flat and there is live reef less than 30 meters from the sand. When there are waves here they are diminished by the reef, making this a good spot for beginners. However, there are reef breaks to the north and south of this spot that light up when it's double overhead or bigger. Some are accessible only by boat.