Caliche surfing playa Escondida, Costa Rica

Costa Rica Surf Camp Tips: Local Surf Breaks of the Central Pacific Coast

Costa Rica is famous for it’s variety of great surf all over the country. For those considering a Costa Rica surf camp it is important to know what kind of waves to expect in the area you plan to visit.  You want to make sure that the waves match your skill level and are consistent enough to increase your odds of catching great surf in Costa Rica. Generally speaking, the Southern Pacific region has a ideal swell season of June- November, and the Northern Pacific (Guanacaste) has a wave season of Jan-May (which matches the same swells that California gets in their winter and the seasonal off-shore winds called Papagayo winds).  In Jaco and the surrounding area, which is in the central Pacific region, we are blessed to benefit from both seasons. The bigger swells in our area definitely come during May-November, but our variety of breaks facing different directions and breaking on different tides allow us to surf just about every day of the year. We have a multitude of  breaks that offer something for everyone, from beginner to the most advanced surfer. It is one of the most consistent stretches of surf smacked coastline on the planet.  The world’s top pro surfers are often spotted at the “Indo style” reef break of Playa Escondida or the punchy barreling beach break Playa Hermosa. With all of these world class waves you would think it would be crowded, but there seems to be enough peaks and different options for surfers to spread out. Let’s take a look at our favorite local Costa Rica surf breaks of the Jaco/ Central Pacific area:

Playa Jaco  Playa Jaco, approximately 2 hours from San Jose (140 km) is the closest major beach from the Juan Santa Maria International airport. One of the focal points of Jaco has always been surfing with many other great breaks in the area.   The surf in this region is some of the most consistent in the country and the various breaks offer something for all surfers from beginner to advanced.  Jaco is a  sandy bottom beach break that works best on northwest and southwest swells and offers surfers both rights and lefts.  The ideal time for surfing is when the tide is rising from mid to high.  Jaco can handle swell size up to about head high (6-7 feet) and then it starts to close out.  The north end of the beach breaks closer to shore and generally has bigger waves while the south end is more protected by the point and a more gradually rising sand floor Several small river mouths form sand bars in the rainy season which form great A-frame peaks.

playa hermosa costa rica surf campPlaya Hermosa   Playa Hermosa, just south of Jaco is where the big boys play.  If you are staying in Jaco it is about a 10 minute drive by taxi, costing around $10.  Hermosa is a very strong,  sandy bottom beach break that has a reputation as a board breaker.  The wave is fast and hollow and works best with northwest, west and southwest swells. Generally speaking Hermosa breaks best on a mid-tide. Some of the spots south of “The Tree” can be surfed on lower tides as well (from “Corners” to the turtle park just before the Tulin river). High tide tends to be too full to break properly.  This is a very consistent break and all I can say is that you better have your big boy or big girl pants on when paddling out here.  Check with locals for a little inside knowledge on particular spots along the beach.

Roca Loca   This is definitely a break for experienced surfers and is located 1.5 km south of Playa Jaco (between Jaco and Playa Hermosa).  Roca Loca is a  rocky point with rights that break over submerged rocks. To get the break, you will have to descend from the overlook pullout from the highway.  You paddle out through a narrow channel between sets. Like Hermosa it also works best on northwest, west and southwest swells although Roca Loca doesn’t start working until the swell is 5-6 feet.  It can get massive here with waves double overhead and larger, so this is a popular spot for the brave on big swells when all the beach breaks are too big and closing out.  You want to paddle out here at mid to high tide and hope for winds from the northeast, east or southeast direction.  The wave is a right so the goofy footed surfers will have to work a little harder.

Surfing Playa Escondida Costa Rica

Playa Escondida Playa Escondida is a point break that peaks up and makes a really good left and a workable “backdoor” right.  It is definitely a wave for experienced surfers as you are surfing over reef and it is a hollow, fast and powerful wave.  Access to the beach by land is through a private gated community, so if you don’t have a connection to get you in your only option is to get there by taxi boat from either Jaco or Playa Herradura.  The wave works best on a southwest swell with wind direction from the northeast, east or southeast.  It works best around mid-tide.  This wave will work as small as 3-5 feet and is one spectacular wave when it jacks up to 10+ feet.  If you go play nice because this is the playground of some of the best local surfers in the area.

Esterillos Oeste  14 Km south of Playa Hermosa is Esterillos Oeste.  This is a really mellow beach break with both rights and lefts.  It has a sandy bottom mostly but you do have to deal with a few patches of rocky reef and it can be tricky finding the consistent peaks.  This is a fun wave that is suitable for all surfers.  You can surf it on all tides but it is slightly better on an incoming tide.  The waves may not be epic but this is a really nice beach to hang out at for the day.  Be sure and check out the mermaid statue built over the reef and at low tide the tide pools are a lot of fun to explore.

Esterillos Centro  This long desolate stretch of beach is a hidden gem. Esterillos Centro is a beach break with a mostly sandy bottom mixed with some rocks.  The wave works best on southwest and south swells.  It is really surfable at any stage of the tide but is slightly better during the mid upcoming tide.  It is a fun wave that can hold up to about 12 feet.  Even with some size to it, it is not a terribly powerful wave so it can be fun to surf a good size wave without getting crushed as has been known to happen in Hermosa. The break is farther out so the size can be deceiving, and be ready for a longer paddle out than most beaches. Take a moment to scope it out first from the beach to avoid getting caught in a riptide or you will wear yourself out before you reach the lineup. My favorite time to surf here is Jan-April, when you can catch days of fat, slow breaking head high waves and rides that seem to last forever.

La Isla  This break is about 6 Km to the north of Jaco in Playa Herradura.  The  beach is not good for surfing in general but there is a left point-reef break out towards Isla Herradura on the south end of the beach.  It doesn’t work very often as it takes a big west-southwest swell of at least 5-6 feet to get it pumping.  But when it is good many describe it as a sort of mellow Pipeline.  The waves are very fast and hollow!  Goofy footed surfers will especially love this wave as it is a left.  You can get there by foot but it is quite a trek and very rocky.  It is best to get there by boat.  If you get a chance to surf here when the conditions are right you definitely won’t be disappointed.

In addition to these Costa Rica surf breaks there are some unknown local spots that you might be lucky enough to discover if you make friends in the area.  We chose this area for our Costa Rica surf camp because we operate year round and the consistency and quality of waves are amazing.  Advanced surfers will love the variety of breaks that they can choose from and beginners can rest assured that they will have a safe place to learn. Surfing in Costa Rica is something you will remember for a lifetime!


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