Planning a surf trip to Costa Rica
If you are anything like me you are probably sick to death of winter by now and it’s highly likely that you have major cabin fever. Last winter I had the right idea by planning a surf trip to Costa Rica to trade in the cold dark days and my 5:3 wetsuit for sunshine and bikinis.
Costa Rica is a place I had been dreaming about for many years. Every time the place came to mind I would think about the beautiful warm weather and the perfect mellow waves it had to offer…so as you can imagine it was an easy choice to make for a winter get away.
Normally when visiting a new place I try and pack in as much as possible, even if this does mean joining the crowds at big tourist attractions. However on this trip I had one thing on my mind and that was Surfing!!!
After chasing various surf spots around the world, I have always known that the warm waters of Costa Rica would be perfect for me in winter. It is almost guaranteed that from November to March there are 2ft to 3ft waves, with light offshore winds.
The Nicoya Peninsula
On this particular trip we explored the beaches on the Nicoya Peninsula, traveling down from Tamarindo to Mal Pais. On the map this doesn’t look like very far, however if you have ever experienced the roads in Central America you already know that what looks like a stones throw away, can actually take you hours. The condition of the roads are pretty terrible, we are talking massive pot holes, dirt tracks and river crossings.
Tip – To travel around I would highly recommend getting your own vehicle; a 4×4 is a must. Getting a small car that may get damaged from the bad roads really isn’t worth the stress and worry.
For the first part of the trip we stayed near Junquillal. Unfortunately from Tamarindo to Playa Negra there wasn’t a lot of swell so we spent most days traveling down to a beach called Marbella. It was a great surf spot, where at low tide it was more hollow and punchy = perfect for my husband. Then as the tide pushed in it was much more mellow = perfect for me. The break did get crowded some days and one day we even witnessed a fight between some local guys, which was a little off putting to say the least…especially as it was two men trying to kill each other over 2ft waves.
Tip – There wasn’t much around this beach, just one small beach resort. Take some money if you want to eat at the restaurant after a surf, and remember don’t leave anything in the car!
In Junquillal we stayed at a really nice place owned by a Swiss couple called Guacamaya Lodge, and the price was really reasonable for Costa Rica. The lodge had a beautiful pool to relax by and the restaurant served great traditional Costa Rican food.
Tip – When eating out in Costa Rica always look for the restaurants that are owned by locals. They are normally half the price and much more authentic…just don’t wait until you are totally famished to order, the concept of time and service can be a little different to what you are normally used to at home.
Junquillal to Nosara
On some of the days we managed to travel as far down as Nosara and surfed some spots around there. The journey down was incredible and we stopped at a break called Ostional which was pretty epic, in the wet season turtles come to this beach to lay their eggs…sadly we didn’t see this.
Nosara wasn’t the best place to get to from Junquillal, it took about 1 1/2 hours. If you want to surf around there I would recommend staying in the Nosara area. My favourite surf spot in this area has to be Playa Guiones. I hired a really nice single fin longboard and it was absolutely perfect. The waves weren’t too steep and they felt like they went on forever, long peeling left and rights. It was a really nice beach with lots more restaurants and shops in the area.
Tip – Go for a dawny surf to beat the crowds before heading to a local cafe for a breakfast burrito or treat yourself to a fresh coconut to sip in the sun!
Mal Pais and Santa Teresa
After Junquillal we travelled about 3 hours south to spend some time in Mal Pais. Mal Pais is a bit more touristy with a lively surf scene. In the area there are loads of restaurants, niche cafes, surf shops, spas and yoga camps. If you are into Acai bowls, smoothies and fresh salads you have hit the right spot.
Other than surfing, eating and sleeping, it is definitely worth exploring Mal Pais beach. The area is incredibly beautiful and some people say it has a ‘magnetic energy’ that draws people back. I feel that there are no words to describe how outstanding the place is…I will try…The long white sandy beach, fringed with coconut palms with the crystal clear ocean lapping at the shore. The sounds of the wildlife, the colours of the sunrises and sunsets and the sweet smell from the tropical flowers. Nature doing it’s own thing with waterfalls, giant rock pools and the beached driftwood. I really felt that you couldn’t get any closer to paradise at Mal Pais beach.
In Santa Teresa we stayed at a place we booked through air bnb ran by a lady called Ari. I really loved her place and could have stayed there forever. Two of the walls in the bedroom were built with shutters and when they were open you could see above tree tops out to the ocean. It was a little climb away from the main road, however well worth it. Ari’s breakfasts were incredible too.
Tip: If you are a yoga lover, go to one of Horizon’s sunset yoga classes. The studio is nestled in the rain forest above Santa Teresa and the practice takes place in an open planned room overlooking Santa Teresa and Mal Pais beach…the class was really special and stands out as one of my favourites.
Mal Pais to Montezuma
We were pretty unlucky in Mal Pais because the swell had picked up to 5ft at one point and the beach was maxing out. One day we decided to head over to Montezuma, stupidly only by a motorbike…remember my tips about the roads being terrible…well they certainly aren’t suitable for a motorbike. Along the way we came across a few perfect right point breaks which seemed to handle the swell. So if I was ever in Mal Pais with this problem again, I would definitely hire a car and head over there. Once in Montezuma we checked out a few beaches then went for lunch before heading over to Montezuma waterfalls.
The waterfalls were pretty beautiful, however personally I felt they were ruined by the amount of tourists there. From the main car park it took about 30 minutes of hiking before reaching the first waterfall. I really enjoyed cooling off and taking a dip in the pool at the bottom of the waterfall. The second waterfall is another 20 minutes of hiking, however I wouldn’t recommend you take this track if you don’t have a head for heights. The path was pretty uneven at times, and occasionally you needed to pull yourself up and down large steps with rope.
Tip – If you want to get around the Mal Pais area or visit Montezuma I highly recommend you hire a quad bike. However you still need to be careful, again the roads are pretty terrible.
Planning a surf trip in Costa Rica has to be the best thing I did last winter. It completely lived up to my expectations and I will certainly return one day for more exploring. I have been on many surf trips in the past, however I have to say the waves were the most consistent in Costa Rica. Other than having to battle against the crowds some days, I couldn’t believe how easy it was to surf there. Warm water, long peeling mellow waves…………I will leave the rest to your imagination.