About a year ago, I decided to move to Costa Rica. The two coasts, the abundance of surf spots, and the warm ocean water were among a few reasons I chose to make Costa Rica my new home. Once here, I decided to make a surf trip to find out which side of Costa Rica has the best surf spots.
Both coasts offer quality waves, and their surf seasons don’t overlap. Therefore you can surf all year round in Costa Rica. However, the Pacific coast offers more choices, is easier to reach, and has a wider variety for all levels of surfing. Therefore, the Pacific side of Costa Rica is best suited for surfing.
Knowing which side of Costa Rica is best for surfing saves you a lot of time on the road! Although the distance between the two coasts doesn’t seem that long, the reality is much different. So keep reading to find out which coast is the best bang for your buck.
Both sides have their pros and cons, making it hard to say that one is better than the other. The Pacific coast is the first choice for many surfers due to the long season, easy accessibility, the number of accommodations, and the variety for all skill levels. The Caribbean, however, also has lots to offer.
For starters, I’d like to say that both sides offer quality surf, and each surfer has their own idea about which spot is better or worse for surfing.
Therefore I feel like answering the question about which coast is better for surfing is best done by explaining a bit about both coasts.
This coast is the most developed and easiest to reach. Costa Rica is home to two airports, one in San Jose and one in Liberia.
Liberia is situated in the North West of Costa Rica, in a province called Guanacaste.
Following the Pacific coast down from this area, you’ll be able to reach all the surf spots that the Pacific coast of Costa Rica has to offer.
The Pacific coast is due to its easy access and developed area’s the most famous coast of Costa Rica.
The surf season on the Pacific coast goes from May through November. That said, also during the off-season, the Pacific coast can offer quality waves!
The most popular areas on the Pacific coast are (from the northwest, down to the southwest):
Witches rock (surf spot only reachable by boat), Tamarindo, and Nosara.
Santa Teresa, Samara and Mal Pais.
Playa Jaco, Playa Hermosa, Dominical, and Golfo Dulce (with one of the world’s longest left-hand waves called Pavones).
Most of these towns have a variety of beginner and advanced waves. Therefore the Pacific coast has an abundance of surf schools and lots of surf tourism.
Contrary to the Pacific coast, the Caribbean coast is not yet as developed and harder to reach.
The easiest way is to fly to San Jose and continue by land. The busses are very cheap, but also very slow.
Since the Caribbean coast is not yet as developed as the Pacific coast, you can still experience the authentic Caribbean laidback vibe, beautiful nature, and an enormous amount of wildlife.
There are many white beaches, coconut trees, and colorful reefs.
The surf season on this side is between December and March.
You might be able to find some waves during the off-season, but the chance is low compared to the Pacific side.
The most popular areas on the Caribbean coast are:
El Barco, Playa Cocles, Salsa Brava (world-famous experts only wave).
Playa Negra, Playa Bonita, Los Tumbos.
Amazing left-hand wave.
Although some of the surf spots are suitable for beginners, most of the spots on the Caribbean side are intermediate, advanced, or expert-level waves.
The sharp reef also tends to make the wipeouts more dangerous.
|Pacific coast:||Caribbean coast:|
|Easy accessible||More difficult to access|
|Very developed||Less developed|
|Surf season May - November||Surf season December - March|
|Mainly beach and point breaks||Mainly beach and reef breaks|
|Waves for all levels||Mostly intermediate+ waves|
|Many different spots||A couple of different spots|
In my opinion, your best choice is to go to the Pacific coast when you have a limited amount of time and want to be sure to catch some waves. There are lots of accommodations, restaurants and surf schools.
However, if you have enough time to see the Caribbean coast, you should! It’s beautiful, quiet and offers some fantastic surf too!
The Pacific coast can be divided by Guanacaste, Nicoya peninsula, and Puntarenas. These three areas are home to lots of fantastic surf spots and the main areas for surfing on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. While some spots are near the towns, others might be in national parks.
The amount of surf spots on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica is enormous.
While some of these spots are very popular, crowded, and easy to reach, others might be hidden away in a national park or on an island of the Pacific coast.
Some of the more popular surf spots are:
|Witch’s rock:||Intermediate level, beach break, located in a national park.|
|Playa Grande:||All levels, beach break, located near to Tamarindo.|
|Playa Negra:||Intermediate+ levels, reef break, located near to Tamarindo.|
|Playa Tamarindo:||Beginner and intermediate levels, beach break, main beach from Tamarindo.|
|Playa Avellanas:||Beginner/intermediate and advanced levels, reef break, located near Tamarindo.|
|Playa Guiones:||Intermediate level, beach and reef break, located at Nosara.|
|Santa Teresa:||All levels, beach break, located at Santa Teresa.|
|Mal Pais:||Intermediate+ levels, beach and reef break, located near Cobano.|
|Boca Barranca:||Intermediate, river mouth, located at Boca Barranca.|
|Playa Jaco:||All levels, beach break, located at Jaco.|
|Playa Hermosa:||Intermediate+ levels, beach break, located near Playa Jaco.|
|Esterillos Oeste:||All levels, beach, and reef, located at Esterillos Oeste.|
|Playa Dominical:||Intermediate+ levels, beach break, located at Dominical.|
|Pavones:||Intermediate+ levels, point break, located at Pavones.|
Although these are some of the most popular surf spots on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, there are many more less-known surf spots.
So when you go on a surf trip down this coast, the best thing to do is download the MSW app. This shows you all the different spots with a 7-day surf forecast.
That way, you’ll know when and where to be for the perfect surf session.
The Caribbean coast of Costa Rica is home to some fantastic surf spots. Puerto Viejo, Limon, and Cahuita offer a variety of world-class waves, beautiful reefs, and a laidback vibe. This coast of Costa Rica works best from December till March.
Although most tourists flock to the Pacific coast, the Caribbean coast should not get neglected.
The lineups are less crowded because this coast is harder to reach, less developed (fewer hotels and other forms of accommodation), and has fewer surf spots.
However, this coast is a beautiful part of Costa Rica, where flora and fauna thrive. The people here have a more Caribbean/Jamaican style of life.
Make sure that you plan your surf trip here during the surf season since the waves are very inconsistent during the off-season.
You should also be aware that most spots on this side of Costa Rica are for more advanced surfers. There won’t be as many surf schools and beginner spots as on the Pacific coast.
That said, if you’re an intermediate+ surfer, you’ll be able to ride some gnarly, fast, big, and hollow waves here!
While both coasts offer incredible surf opportunities, the Pacific coast is often the number one choice for a surf trip.
This is due to multiple reasons, but definitely not because the Caribbean coast doesn’t have good surfing.
I personally preferred the general vibe on the Caribbean coast. Still, I enjoyed the larger amount of surf spots on the Pacific coast.
I would recommend you decide for yourself which coast you want to surf and take your time to do so.
Traveling in Costa Rica takes more time than you’ll expect, and driving up and down from one coast to the other will result in many hours on the road.