Do you want to go on a surf trip to Central America? Are you looking for great surf spots in Costa Rica and Nicaragua? Then this is exactly what you need. After my 6 weeks travel through those two beautiful countries I’ve put together a little guide for you, with all necessary information about the best surf spots. This is the ultimate surf guide for surfing Central America: Beginners to advanced.
Before we start with the surf spots, here are some facts about my trip, so it is easier for you to judge whether this information is valuable for you or not.
Time of traveling: March and April
Duration of trip: 6 weeks (4 in Costa Rica, 2 in Nicaragua)
Years of surfing experience: 7 years on and off; 2 years properly
Surf countries visited in total (worldwide): 5 (Australia, France, Spain, Bali, Hawaii)
If you want to read the whole story about my time there, visit my travel diary for Central America.
All right, now that we have all fundamental details, we can get into surfing Central America.
I will start with Costa Rica, then Nicaragua and in the end, I will slightly compare both and tell you where and why I liked it most.
In Costa Rica, I have been surfing (or falling) on three main spots. Tamarindo, Santa Theresa and Puetro Vjeio.
Main breaks: 3 (Playa Tamarindo, Playa Grande, Playa Langosta)
Waves: Lefts and rights
Crowd factor: High
I have just been to Tamarindo Beach, so I’m just going to talk about that one. You may wonder now, why I haven’t been to the other beaches. The access to other beaches is very hard, if you live in Tamarindo town and don’t have a car or bicycle. Note 2020: this might have changed by now. You need a car or motorcycle to get to both other beaches but from what I’ve heard, those are the beaches to be at, if you’re not a beginner anymore. Sadly, I didn’t get the chance to check them out.
Tamarindo beach is easy to get to, if you’re living in town. You just go down to the beach and you’re basically there. According to locals it is the north end of the beach where there is the best surf. Also, it is working almost the whole time, no matter what tide. Usually there aren’t that many big swells hitting that beach. At least not during that time of the year. The waves are mostly between 1 to 3 feet. It is a smooth wave breaking on sand, even though there are a few rocks in the ocean. Don’t be scared, they are not dangerous at all.
For me, that was not the best beach, as I am more advanced already but for beginners, this is perfect! Unfortunately it is very busy most of the time, even if there are hardly any waves there are at least 10 people out there. So, I recommend, if you are already surfing for a bit, don’t go there.
Main Breaks: 6 (Mal Pais, Mar a Zul, Playa Carmen, Banana Beach, Playa Santa Theresa, Playa Hermosa)
Waves: Lefts and rights (depending on the swell direction)
Crowd factor: High (but it spreads wide)
Level: Intermediate to advanced
This area consists of three beaches and one point. You will have Playa Carmen and Playa Hermosa for beginners, because the waves there are always a lot smaller than everywhere else and the waves are breaking not that fast and shallow. It’s more calm and slower. Therefore, a wave liked by a lot of long boarders. Also, most of the surf lessons are held on either one of those beaches.
Then you have Mar a Zul, which is a left point. It is a more or less easy point break, as far as I can tell. The paddle out was very quick and not exhausting at all, compared to all the other beaches. Also, the wave isn’t breaking to fast and shallow. More than at Carmen or Hermosa but still not too bad. The only pity is, it is so crowded, once it is good there. It’s hard to catch any waves. Reason for that are mostly the long-borders and intermediates on bigger boards, who will catch the wave way father outside.
Finally, there is Playa Santa Theresa. This is, like all the beaches, a very big one and you will find several spots. I liked the south end of the beach better because the waves are easier to get into and not breaking that fast. Still fast though compared to waves in Europe.
Also, I found it was the perfect amount of speed. And there was never a lake of size. Most of the time we had decent shoulder to head height but there were also some days where it could get over head of even more. The good thing with Santa Theresa and all the other beaches nearby is, it works 24/7 365 days a year. You can surf at any tide. Low tide is a lot more steep and fast and sometimes closing out but it still works and especially, if you’re looking for some waves to improve speed, this is the time you should go. Best is also early mornings or at sunset, because the wind is less strong. Although most of the time it isn’t that strong during the day either. I enjoyed high to mid and mid to high the most, because the waves where a bit bigger, not that fast and had a nice shoulder about 95% of the time. Also, the current was less strong during that time compared to mid to low and low to mid tide. The crowd factor is pretty high especially between 7 and 10 AM and at sunset. As though the beach is so big, you will find a less crowded peak somewhere father down. A very huge benefit with that area is as well, that all beaches are easy to access, even without car. It can be helpful to have a bicycle or ATV if you have the money but it is not necessary. It is a 20 minutes’ walk from Santa Theresa to Carmen and a cab to Mar a Zul, which is on the south end of Playa Carmen will cost 2-4$ depending on how many you will share it with. All in all, this is the place to be when surfing Central America and you are intermediate or advanced. Also beginners can have fun but it is a lot more challenging especially when it gets bigger.
Main Breaks: 2 (Playa Cogles, Salsa Brava)
Waves: Lefts and rights
Crowd factor: Low
Well, what shell I say. That was a whole number by itself. Caribbean cost for sure, is not the best place to go surf in Costa Rica. The wind just destroys everything and swells are a rare occurrence. But hey, the good thing is, there are hardly any people in the water. The waves themselves are very narly. It is shallow, steep and fast. Closing out 99% of the time. Also, it is so choppy you won’t see any peak anywhere. All you see is white water everywhere. Another aspect pro Puerto Vjeio is though, it is not too hard to get to both spots, no matter where you are in town, all you need is a bicycle or motivation to walk for a bit. But let me tell you, it is not worth it. I believe, there can be good waves otherwise there wouldn’t be one of the best spots in Central America there (Salsa Brava) but I also believe, this one is just working a couple times a year and you have to be at the right point during the right time otherwise you won’t get much out of it. So, my conclusion is, Caribbean coast is not a place to be at when surfing Central America. It is nice to chill and experience the culture but you won’t find any good surf there.
As I just have been to two spots in Nicaragua I will talk about it in general.
Area I have been to:
Breaks I have been to: 2 (Mandiras, Manzanillo)
Waves: Lefts and rights (Manzanillo is a left point)
Crowd factor: High
Break: Beach (with rocks)
Nicaragua is definitely a whole new level but a wonderful country to go to when surfing Central America. There is literally off shore all day long and the waves are breaking very fast, very steep, very narly. The water is also very shallow and a lot of the waves at beach breaks are close outs, when the swell gets too big. Mandiras is just accusable by car, like any other spot close to San Juan, which made it a bit difficult and very expensive to go surfing. The beach itself was nice, very tiny and therefore crowded. The waves, as I said above are not good for beginners at all. You have to be very fast and able to do a step and quick pop up otherwise, you will just get smashed. But I can imagine for more advanced surfer this is very fun because even at beach breaks there are a ton of barrels and amazing waves, if you want to work on your speed and quick pop up. Unfortunately, the crowd level is pretty high at those “known sports” and it can get a bit aggressive in the water if you don’t know the rules. Also, be prepared of cold water. Cold compared to Costa Rica, you are still able to surf in a spring suit. Even board shorts are fine, if you don’t get cold quickly.
So, in general you can say, Nicaragua is for sure very nice for more advanced surfers because you can surf the whole day and get very different conditions depending on the swell size and tide. When there is, a big swell I would recommend going to a point break or any break father out in the ocean and you will still get a nicely peeling wave. On smaller days, the beach breaks a perfect to practice your barrel riding skills. Also, I guess intermediates who want to work on their speed and take off can give those beaches a shot at high tide and a small swell.
Learning in Nicaragua is not recommended, also because there is a lake on surfboard rentals or places to buy a board.
Alright, to sum it up, I had a great time surfing Central America. My favourite spot, as you probably can already guess was Santa Teresa, just because it was perfect for me and my skills and I had such good waves there. Nevertheless, every place was a good exercise and I improved a lot. If I had to give a recommendation, I would say beginners go to Tamarindo and advanced go to either Santa Teresa or Nicaragua, if you like a challenge. But one thing is for said sure, everyone will find something good in Central America, you just need to look close enough and keep trying.
I hope your now pumped and prepared to go surfing in Central America. If you liked this format please share it with your friends and family and let me know if you want similar posts on other countries as well.
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