Costa Rica has become a popular surf destination for good reason. There’s consistent year-round surf, the water temperature averages in the low 80s, and there’s an ever-present relaxed vibe with magical powers to chillax your every last ounce of stress.
From world-class breaks to beginner-friendly bumps and everything in-between, Costa Rica offers a whole lot of waves for all levels of surfers. And whether you’re looking for a low-budget adventure, all-inclusive surf camp, or luxury surf villa, you’ll find that Costa Rica has lots of options to suit all types of travelers.
Because of Costa Rica’s reputation for being the most stable and safest country in Central America, there has been a surge in tourism and development over the past 20 years. The upside is that the country is quite safe and easy to travel in, and there are lots of awesome restaurants and places to stay.
The slight downside is that there are more travelers than ever (and higher prices), but many smaller surf towns are growing in a respectful and sustainable way and there are definitely still opportunities to get off the beaten path if you go exploring. As with any destination, you just have to know where to go. Do some research to find the areas (and waves) that best match your style and what you’re looking for.
When you’re planning any surf trip there’s a lot to consider – your level of surfing, travel logistics, the time of year you’re most likely to score waves, and of course, your budget.
In this Guide to Surfing Costa Rica, we’ll break down when and where to go, transportation, where to stay, surf trip costs, and everything else you need to know to make your trip a raging success! Vamos!
Surfing Costa Rica
Costa Rica is home to some really incredible breaks. Witch’s Rock and Ollie’s Point in the northern region are two of the most famous because of Endless Summer II. They’re also the kind of waves that surfers spend a lifetime daydreaming about.
Pavones in the far south region is another world-class wave that rivals Chicama in Peru as one of the world’s longest lefts. It can take you about 10 hours to drive from the Tamarindo area to Pavones so if you’re only staying for several days, you probably won’t want to spend an entire day on the road.
You’ll find the most consistent year-round surf in the northern region – between Tamarindo and Santa Teresa. It’s also fairly easy to get around depending on the weather and road conditions so you can explore a lot of different breaks. This area loves a south swell so some of the biggest swells tend to fall in the April to October time frame.
The greater Tamarindo area is a good hub for arranging boat trips to places like Witch’s Rock, which is farther north and best accessed by boat. From Tamarindo, Playa Langosta is only 10 minutes south, Playa Grande is about 25 minutes north (or right across the estuary). Playa Avellanas is about 25 minutes south, and Playa Negra another 15 minutes past there. Nosara is around 2 hours south, and Mal País and Playa Santa Teresa are about a 3.5 hour drive south down the Nicoya Peninsula.
The northern region is probably one of your best bets when visiting Costa Rica for the first time. There are waves to excite and entertain any level of surfer. You’ll find multiple world class beach breaks offering rights and lefts, rocky reef point breaks, and plenty of awesome lesser known breaks that you’ll learn about once you’re there. For more detailed info on the surf regions and seasons, check out this regional overview on the surf in Costa Rica.
The Playa Avellanas and Playa Negra area is a special little wave-rich stretch of bumpy dirt roads with less development and boutique hotels and eateries spread out. Join us for our very own 7-night all-inclusive surf and yoga retreat at an oceanfront villa in Playa Negra where you can surf, explore, make new friends, and relax at one of our favorite surf hubs in Costa Rica.
As with any destination, there’s a high and low season, and the price gap between the two can vary considerably. High season in Costa Rica is December to April, peak season is Christmas and Easter, and the low season is the rainy season (or green season, as the tourism industry calls it *wink*), between May to mid-November.
LOW SEASON, AKA RAINY SEASON (MAY – mid NOV)
As the name suggests, the low season in Costa Rica (often called their “winter”) is the rainiest time of year. While rainfall is more frequent, many surfers claim that the storms and swells in the Pacific produce the best surfing conditions. The other upsides are that prices for accommodations can be significantly reduced, there are fewer travelers, and a lot of times it will just rain in the afternoon.
The downsides are that rural roads can become completely impassable due to flooding and river crossings, and there’s always a chance that it could rain for a week straight. The rainiest months are September and October.
SHOULDER (MAY – JUL, NOV)
The shoulder season is a great time to visit Costa Rica – you can sometimes get reduced rates, there are fewer people, and you can generally count on good weather. May to mid-November is all considered the rainy season, but the rain in early summer will often just happen at night, and it’s a welcome relief, as the dry season will leave the roads extremely dusty.
HIGH SEASON, AKA DRY SEASON (mid NOV – APR)
As with all high seasons, prices are higher, attractions are more crowded, and accommodations should be booked well in advance. It’s also good to know that some places require five to seven-night minimum stays. The busiest holidays in Costa Rica are Christmas, New Year’s, and Easter- all of which are celebrated for several days. Holy Week (Easter week) is the biggest holiday in Costa Rica, and many local families head for the beach.
Where To Stay
Over the past 20 years, Costa Rica has experienced quite a bit of development and become a very popular destination — which has been accompanied by a major increase in prices. When it comes to hotels, rentals, and restaurants, the prices at many coastal towns in Costa Rica are now similar to California prices.
In the mid-range budget, you’ll find plenty of decent hotels and vacation rentals in Costa Rica. If you’re traveling with a group or family, a vacation rental can be a great route because there are lots of great places to stay and you can get a lot of space compared to a hotel for the same price range (or even less expensive in some cases, especially if you’re splitting the cost with a group).
If you’re looking for luxury, Costa Rica delivers the goods. From five-star hotels with all the amenities to modern beachfront surf villas and all-inclusive surf and yoga retreats, your only challenge will be choosing between the many options.
It’s good to know that certain times of the year can book up very early, especially for the Christmas and New Year holidays – so if you want to travel during that time we highly recommend booking as early as possible to have the most options and availability. It’s also good to know that travel during the peak holiday seasons will also come with a 30% – 50% increase in pricing.
Below are a few of our top recommendations for where to stay in Costa Rica for surfing, and this will also give you an idea of the type of accommodations you can expect at different price ranges. These properties were all hand-picked based on design, amenities, reviews, and proximity to surf breaks.
BUDGET • up to $100 per night
MIDRANGE • $100 – $350 per night
LUXURY • $350+ per night
Eat & Drink
Costa Rica has some really fantastic restaurants to be enjoyed. There are a lot of expats in Costa Rica and they’ve brought their traditional recipes with them. Expect a range of options from Italian to vegan to amazing sushi. For all you foodies out there – you won’t be disappointed. That said, don’t be surprised to see California prices at all the hip eateries catering to travelers.
As with anything else, the cost of food in Costa Rica varies greatly, but it’s definitely the most expensive in Central America. As with most destinations, if you eat like a local, you’ll get the best prices.
If you eat at sodas (local inexpensive restaurants), shop at markets, and cook, you could spend as little as $15 a day on food, but I’d budget around $20 to be on the safe side (for the most bare-bones food budget). Standard Costa Rican fare like gallo pinto (mixed beans and rice with eggs) and casados (a dish with rice, black beans, plantains, salad, a tortilla, and option of protein) will run you $3 – $7, and they’re pretty darn hardy and tasty.
You can find gallo pinto in pretty much every soda in Costa Rica, and it will run you about $4 – $8. This version with the added plantains and avocado is an extra dollar or so because it’s a souped-up version.
For a mid to high budget, there are cafes and restaurants galore – with prices ranging from $12 for a sandwich, to $70+ per person for a fresh sushi dinner. So if you eat out for every meal and buy some drinks along the way, let’s say at least $50 per day on a mid-budget, and of course, you could spend twice as much and up depending on your restaurants of choice.
As one of the most traveler-friendly places in Central America, Costa Rica has many transportation options on offer. Buses, shuttles, domestic flights and more are easily accessible and cater to travelers, whether you’re heading to a major tourist hub or a tiny beach town. The best mode of transportation for your trip will depend on how many different locations you plan on visiting, how many breaks you want to explore, as well as your budget.
WHERE TO FLY INTO COSTA RICA
Costa Rica has two international airports: Juan Santamaria Airport in the capital of San Jose (SJO), and Daniel Oduber Quirós Airport, also known as Liberia International Airport (LIR), in the Guanacaste region.
If you’re heading to the northwest coast (or anywhere north), or you’re thinking to swing on over to Nicaragua, you’ll want to fly into the Liberia Airport. If you’re headed anywhere on the central coast, south, or Carribean side, you’ll want to fly into Juan Santamaria Airport in San Jose.
If you’re staying in Costa Rica for an extended trip of a month or more and you’ll be traveling around the whole country, you could fly into either airport, but we’d recommend the airport in San Jose because it’s so central.
The cost of flights into Liberia versus San Jose are very similar, so fly into the airport that is the most convenient to your final destination(s).
Below are a few examples of flight costs to Costa Rica. All flight prices are roundtrip including taxes and shown in US dollars.
Surfboard fees: Unless you fly on one of the few airlines that don’t charge for surfboard bags, tack on an additional $75- $200 each way if you want to bring some boards. Check out our Guide to Surfboard Bag Fees to see the best and worst airlines for board bag fees.
LAX > San Jose
- good deal: $400
- high: $700+
NYC > San Jose:
- good deal: $400
- high: $550+
Miami > San Jose:
- good deal: $300
- high: $400+
London > San Jose:
- good deal: $900
- high: $1,200+
Sydney > San Jose:
- good deal: $1,400
- high: $1,600+
If you want to have total flexibility to go where you please, renting a car is the best option. The main roads in Costa Rica are paved and well taken care of, and car rentals are reasonably priced. That being said, if you go off the beaten track you’re bound to encounter plenty of unpaved and badly maintained roads. In the rainy season, you should definitely get a 4-wheel drive vehicle (as roads can get very muddy), but even if it isn’t rainy season, a 4×4 will come in handy and give you more flexibility.
- We highly recommend SIXT Car Rentals (read more below for reasons why).
- Cost: $40 – $160 a day, and rental companies require you to get minimum insurance coverage that will run you $25 – $35 additional per day. One more additional cost for renting a car is a $1,000 refundable credit card security deposit.
Tips for Renting a Car in Costa Rica
For the most freedom and flexibility on your trip (especially to explore surf breaks), we recommend renting a car. For car rentals in Costa Rica, we highly recommend SIXT.
Here’s why in a nutshell: In Costa Rica, there is mandatory third-party liability insurance for rental cars. Unfortunately, many companies and websites do NOT include this insurance cost in their quote you reserve online, so you could book a great-looking price online (like $5 a day) and end up having to pay an additional $12 – $27+ per day when you pick up your car, which can literally double or quadruple the cost of your rental car. (This is why most car rental companies in Costa Rica have terrible reviews.)
On our last trip to Costa Rica, we spent hours researching to try and figure out the accurate and best pricing for car rentals, and SIXT came out the winner. SIXT has clear pricing that includes the mandatory insurance (so there are no surprises), they have the best prices we found, and we ended up renting with them multiple times and had great experiences.
If you will be going to one or two main locations and you don’t want to deal with a rental car, there are many shuttle buses to and from the airports, as well as between popular destinations. Many popular beach towns are very walkable (depending on the place you’re staying) and many travelers on a lower budget get around fine without renting a car.
That said, not having transportation of course limits the surf breaks you’ll have access to, but you could always rent an ATV some days, or hire a local taxi when you want to explore farther out of town.
- Cost: $45 – $100 per person with discounts for larger groups. Add $10 if you have a surfboard bag in tow.
ATVs aren’t an option for getting you to and from the airport of course, but they’re a fun way to zip around and explore at your destination. You can find daily, weekly, and monthly rentals in many beach towns.
- Cost: $65 – $85+ per day
If you’re traveling in a group or don’t have a tight budget, private transfers are a great option. Private transfers can be less expensive than taxis, and the convenience of a professional driver isn’t bad either.
- Cost: The cost greatly varies depending on how many people you’re traveling with. For example, the price for a trip from the airport in San Jose to Playa Hermosa can be as low as $150. If you’re traveling with a party of 6, that’s about $25 per person, and for 2 passengers it would be about $75 per person. The price from Liberia to Santa Teresa is $250 for a private bus, and from SJO to Santa Teresa closer to $350.
If you’re on a tight budget, your best option is the bus. Costa Rica has excellent public transportation, so you can take buses for your longer treks, and then walk, bike, or hitchhike around the local area once you arrive at your home base. It goes without saying to of course always exercise caution with hitchhiking.
The downsides to public transportation are that buses can be time-consuming, and they can also lead to quite an adventure figuring out your route and where you should be when. But they’re very cheap and you can also kick back and enjoy the scenery! There’s a great lowdown on Costa Rica’s public transportation here.
- Cost: Less than $20 to ride anywhere in the country
Traveling by car or bus is a great way to see the country, but if you’re short on time or just want to get to the breaks faster, a domestic flight is a good option. The main airline for domestic flights is SANSA airlines.
- Cost: One-way from $55 – $120; round-trip from $100 – $240
To help put things into perspective, here’s a list of destinations you can fly to from San Jose with the drive time versus fly time:
*A note about getting around: There are some destinations with very similar or exact same names in Costa Rica, so always double-check that you’re headed to the right place. There are at least three beaches named “Playa Hermosa.”
And while it’s awesome that everyone wants to name their beach beautiful beach because every beach is so beautiful, you don’t want to show up at the one that’s five hours away from the Playa Hermosa where your hotel is.
Also, it’s good to know that locals in Costa Rica are very friendly, so if you get lost, don’t despair! Just ask a friendly Tico and you’ll be right on your way.
Surf Lessons & Surfboard Rentals
Surfboard rentals in Costa Rica can range from $10 – $25 per day and a lot of surf shops are pretty laid back and negotiable on pricing. If you rent the board for an extended period of time you will most likely get a better rate. If you bring boards, then you just have to pay for extra baggage fees, which can range significantly and cost you anywhere from $50 – $150+ each way. Check out our breakdown on surfboard bag fees to get an idea of the best and worst airlines for surf travel.
If you’re a beginner surfer, you’re in good hands, or rather, waters! Costa Rica is a great place for beginners because the water is warm, there are small sand-bottom breaks all over the place, and surf schools on just about every corner. Most surf schools include board rental in a package, so you’re covered. Rates for surf lessons will vary depending on how many people are in your group.
Cost of a group lesson: $45 – $60 per 2-hour session (including board rental)
Surf Charters in Costa Rica
For more intermediate to advanced surfers, there are a few options to hop on some surf charters for the day and check out some legendary spots like Witch’s Rock. The prices can be more expensive than surf charters in places like Indonesia, but like with most surf destinations, you might be able to find some less expensive options when you get there.
Cost: Prices vary big time, but you can find boats starting at around $100 per person. Here’s some example pricing for trips to Witch’s Rock and Ollie’s point:
- $500 (for 4 people) + $15 p/p for Santa Rosa National Park entrance fee for a day trip with Boo’s Adventures
- $1,600 (for 4 people) for a day trip with Single Fin Surf Charters
- $2,100 for 2 days and 1 night (up to 4 guests) on a private yacht with Serendipity Charters
While we’d all rather not think about getting injured, there are too many cases of people who didn’t think about insurance and get nailed with crazy medical bills after the matter.
That being the case, many hotels and surf properties actually require that you have approved travel insurance in case of a serious inquiry or trip cancellation, especially in the wake of COVID.
You know the deal—better safe than sorry. We recommend battleface or World Nomads Insurance. Both companies offer very comprehensive travel insurance and cover heaps of activities, including surfing and ocean sports. You can easily check them out and get a fast quote below.
The moral of the story is that Costa Rica is one of the best places to surf, and you’ll have an awesome time no matter what your budget is. Costa Rica is developed enough to be easy and have great options, but still undeveloped enough to find yourself alone on a 5-mile stretch of beach if you go exploring.
And if you encounter days when the surf isn’t cooperating, you can enjoy the beautiful Costa Rica beaches, hike to waterfalls, ATV, go fishing, or any other of the many activities on offer.
Last but not least, be sure to check out our ultimate Surf Trip Packing List for a full breakdown of everything you might want to take on your trip.