For surfers, hitting the central Pacific coast of Costa Rica is an opportunity to ride the most consistent waves in the country, all year round. Every kind of beach and reef break imaginable begins a short two-and-a-half-hour drive from San José, in Jacó, the unofficial welcoming committee for the miles of bliss to follow.
Jacó is a busy place featuring a bay of fun breaks – not the most challenging in the region – that can get a little crowded. This town is the springboard of the central Pacific surf world.
The place has a diverse mix of Tico and foreign residents, and tourists frequent all the businesses – which range from momand- pop shops to big commercial centers – at an astonishing rate.
From Jacó, it’s easy to reach a plethora of alternative activities when the waves don’t move, such as sportfishing, zipline tours, spas, eco-tours, horseback riding, yoga, golf, shopping and more.
To the north, toward Puntarenas, a trio of breaks concludes at the extremely long left of Boca Barranca.
To the south, a few minutes down the road from Jacó, is Playa Hermosa, a quiet town that’s the antithesis of Jacó.Here, people surf – really surf. Continuing south, one finds a water lover’s dream: beach break, beach break, some reef, beach break, beach break, some reef, beach break, river mouth, etc. all the way to Quepos and Manuel Antonio.
Along the way, serious surfers, both native, transplants and tourists, and many national champions, have the gorgeous Pacific with excellent exposure to swells from every direction.
At the south end of the central Pacific coast is Quepos, the bookend to Jacó, again flush with people and commerce, followed by Manuel Antonio National Park and its quiet, small waves.
While the central Pacific region experiences its best surfing conditions April through November, there’s really no down time here. Finding your wave becomes a simple matter of checking the swells, because somewhere along the coast there’s a fun surf session to be had.
Spots to Surf on the Central Pacific Coast
The most traditional wave in Costa Rica is found at this beach. It’s a river mouth break that’s perfect for longboarders; shortboarders have their fun, too, because the wave is great for practicing maneuvers.
With a southern swell, these full lefts can offer rides up to 500 yards. Watch out, as the water is not always clean, but don’t be scared; it’s runoff, not pollution, usually worse after rains.
There is no surfer support to speak of, so if you ding your board or need wax, you’ll just have to ask around.
Tivives and Valor
Mind the strong current in this area and you’ll find a variety of waves, from the beach breaks of Tivives to the rocky point of Valor, with good-quality rights and lefts. At the mouth of the river you can find an excellent left tube, but watch for crocodiles (as in any river).
To get to Valor you have to paddle across the river and walk through the trails. Once again, a south swell works best here. This surf spot is a challenge to find, so don’t think you’ll find a surf shop anywhere nearby. Come prepared with repair kits, extra leashes, water, fruit, etc.
Access to this “hidden beach” is private; it can only be reached by boat from Playa Herradura. On good swell, this spot can get rather crowded, with locals dominating the horseshoe, A-frame reef break with a powerful hollow left and a calmer right. Beware of low tides!
Jacó is a surfing mecca in Costa Rica for many reasons. The town is only two and a half hours’ drive from the capital, making it fast and easy for San José residents and tourists flying into Juan Santamaría International Airport to hit the water.
The beach is long, and everyone is warned about the currents, which can be very strong and dangerous for surfers and swimmers. In general, the bay gets intermediate waves at the northern end near the Best Western and Copacabana, and the smaller sets toward the south are reserved for beginners. However, with too much swell, the whole area tends to close out.
The landside community boasts great, fully equipped surf shops, ding repair facilities, hotels, cabinas, campgrounds and restaurants for all surfers’ budgets. In addition, Jacó features a dynamic party atmosphere that contributes to its reputation as one of Costa Rica’s most visited surf towns.
This “crazy rock” is at the southern tip of Playa Jacó, just off the cliff from the coastal highway. To get there you must climb down a deep cliff and paddle out across a rocky strait. This tricky wave breaks right over submerged, shallow rocks, and is best during large, west swells.
Deep water off the coast and exposure to different swells have built up a variety of sand bars in Hermosa, making it the most consistent and sought-after beach break on the Pacific coast.
One favorite break is in front of hotel Terraza del Pacífico, with others in front of The Backyard Hotel and all down the line –the Almendro, Corners, La Curva and Tulin. At low and high tide, when weather conditions are nice, you may see some amazing tubular waves. Explore up and down the beach for a perfect A-frame peak of your own.
Hermosa is a wave for experienced surfers. It breaks close to the beach and is very heavy. This water is not to be played with.
Esterillos is actually three different spots in a long community, but you want to travel south of Hermosa about 20 minutes and enter at Esterillos Oeste for the first opportunity.
These waves break on a reef outside and then reform to break inside on a sandbar, but it’s gentle enough for beginners. With a south swell, however, it can get challenging.
As the name implies, this beach sits next to the mouth of Damas River, on the drive toward Quepos. It offers good size and powerful waves, fun lefts and rights. It’s easy to get to by walking out from the beach at Quepos
Quepos and Manuel Antonio
About an hour south of Jacó, this tourist center is not primarily a surfing area, though it’s one of Costa Rica’s top destinations. With Manuel Antonio National Park and its white-sand beaches, abundant hotels, restaurants and tourist attractions, this area is perfect for those who come with family members who don’t want to surf. There’s plenty to do for non-surfers – or surfers when it’s flat, which is quite often.
When there is a swell, surfers can find a small left at the mouth of the estuary just facing the town of Quepos. The water here is a bit dirty as the waves break left, and it’s mostly only locals with a diehard desire to surf who spend time here doing the Costa Rican board pump, trying to get a ride.
Up the hill and then down into Manuel Antonio, at the northern end of the public beach, is Playitas, the best place to surf in the immediate area. Situated between natural rock formations, the spot is fun when it’s big.