Do a quick Google search for “best surf destinations,” and you’ll quickly notice a trend: Costa Rica almost always tops the list as an ideal location for catching waves. The warm waters, sandy shores, and easily-accessible surf spots for people of all abilities doesn’t hurt. Not to mention the relative affordability of traveling to and around the country, and the “cherry on top” of the warm and welcoming “Pura Vida” (pure life) lifestyle of the local Ticos. All-in-all, when you’re looking for a surf destination, Costa Rica pretty much guarantees an epic adventure that will provide you with memories to last a lifetime.
Of course, you could spend months surfing Costa Rica, and still, have spots left to discover, but if you’re like most people, you need a Costa Rica surf trip that allows you to hit the best spots in a relatively short period of time. If you can carve 10 days away from work and home, here’s how you should schedule your trip.
Day 1: Fly Into Daniel Oduber Quiros International Airport (LIR) and Rent a Car
There are two major airports in Costa Rica — the Daniel Oduber Quiros International Airport, located just outside of Liberia in the Guanacaste Province (the Liberia Airport), and the Juan Santamaria International Airport located just outside of San Jose in Alajuela (the San Jose Airport). Your best bet for a 10-day trip is to purchase two separate, one-way tickets. The first flying into the Liberia Airport, and the second flying out of the San Jose Airport.
There are a couple of reasons for this. First, major airlines fly in and out of both airports, so it’s easy to find and secure tickets through either destination. But more importantly, flying in and out of the two separate airports makes it easier to explore different surf spots while driving south along the coast from the Guanacaste Province to the Puntarenas Province. This enables you to see more of Costa Rica while still maximizing the time you spend in the water. Also, the Liberia Airport is small and easy to navigate, making it a nice option for anyone unfamiliar with international air travel. Flying into a smaller airport can help you ease into the experience as a whole.
When you book your tickets, go ahead and book a rental car, too. While there are lots of transportation options in Costa Rica, including private transfers, shared transfers, buses, and taxis, renting a car will give you the flexibility to make adjustments to your schedule as you see fit. And while some roads in Costa Rica can be a little rough, navigating with Waze or Google Maps is a breeze. A word to the wise, though: It’s best to rent an SUV based on some of the roads you’ll be driving on, and you should be prepared to pay for “third-party insurance” at the time of your rental — this is required in Costa Rica, isn’t covered by other insurance plans (like your own car insurance or insurance provided by your credit card), and typically doubles the total cost of the car rental.
Day 1, Continued: Drive to Tamarindo, Explore the Town
Many flights into the Liberia Airport land in the early to mid-afternoon, giving you plenty of time to pick up your car and get on the road with daylight to spare. Your first surf destination should be Tamarindo, a well-known tourist town heralded for its beginner-friendly waves and easy access to beaches with bigger, more challenging breaks. If you arrive around 4:00 or 5:00 in the afternoon, you’ll have plenty of time to check into your hotel before exploring your surroundings.
If you like the amenities of a resort, there are many throughout the town and right on the beach. This makes for easy access to restaurants, nightlife, and shopping. But if you’re a more budget-oriented traveler, look for surf hostels or the Iguana Surf hotel. The options are practically endless, and you can often find nice lodging ranging anywhere from $25 a night to well over $500 depending on how basic or luxurious an experience you’re after.
After dropping your bags at your hotel, you have decisions to make. If you’re a diehard surfer, you may still have enough daylight to grab a board (rentals are readily available at shops along the coast, including at Iguana Surf) and catch a few waves. If, however, you’re tired from a day of traveling, consider walking through town to check out the shops before stopping for a meal and a local beer or cocktail to watch the sunset. Tamarindo offers some of the best sunsets in the world, and any number of restaurants, including Ocho Bar, Chiringuito’s, Jolly Roger, and El Vaquero provide front-row seats to watch the magic.
Wrap up your evening by checking out some of the local nightlife. Sports bars like Sharky’s offer nightly events and specials, clubs like The Crazy Monkey and Lizard Lounge are perfect for people who love to dance, and on any given night you’re likely to find live music at restaurants around town. Keep an eye on The Swell Dealer to see what’s going on during your travel dates.
Day 2 & 3: Surf Playa Tamarindo
Playa Tamarindo is the perfect location to kick off your surf trip. If you’re new to the sport, or if it’s been a while since you’ve caught a wave, talk to the surf instructors at one of the local surf spots (Iguana Surf is always a good choice) to see when the best time is to hit the water. Then, schedule a lesson based on their feedback. Even if you’ve surfed before, these two-hour lessons (group, semi-private, or private) can provide you with critical reminders about water safety, basic surf skills, and how to time your pop-up to stick each wave. They’ll also enable you to open a dialogue with a local instructor who can give you feedback about which beaches and breaks are most appropriate for your level of ability if you plan on heading out alone.
After your lesson, rent a board and keep it on hand just in case you want to practice a little more on your own. Even if you decide you’re too tired, you’ll still want it on-hand for Day 3 & 4.
Day 4: Take a Day Trip to a Nearby Beach
The beauty of Tamarindo is its easy-accessibility to so many nearby surf spots. With your surfboard and rental car, you can choose to try more challenging breaks at Playa Grande, Playa Langosta, or Playa Avellanas, all of which are 30 minutes or less away. Playa Grande tends to deliver some of the more challenging waves, although depending on the day, Avellanas can be equally, if not more, difficult. Talk to your surf instructor to see which location they’d suggest (they may even suggest you walk to different breaks along Playa Tamarindo, like El Estero or Capitan Suiza), and when they think you should head out to surf. If you’re a little wary about hitting the waves alone, see if you can pay for a private surf lesson and have an instructor tag along. This is only your second official day of surfing, after all — a little extra feedback certainly can’t hurt.
Playa Avellanas is a great place to surf for beginners to intermediate. You can hop a ride with Iguana Surf or take a local taxi. The beach offers great reef and beach breaks and is home to the famous Lolas that offers great eats and views.
Day 5 & 6: Drive to Nosara, Get the Lay of the Land
Playa Nosara is about a two-hour drive from Tamarindo along a winding, mostly beautiful, two-lane highway. After grabbing a hearty breakfast at a Tamarindo favorite like Breakfast Grinds or Breaking Bread, head south to Nosara and the famed waves of Playa Guiones. Just keep in mind that the city of Nosara is about a 20-minute drive from the actual beach. If you want to stay along the coast (and why wouldn’t you?), make sure you book a hotel or AirBnb at Playa Nosara or Playa Guiones, not the city of Nosara.
If you arrive around noon or a little bit later, that’ll give you plenty of time to check into your hotel, walk on the beach, and locate a surf shop for board rentals, advice on peak surf times, and hiring an instructor if you think you’ll need a little extra help. If conditions are good, you may even want to take a board out for a couple of hours to get a feel for the waves. Wrap up the night with a meal from local restaurants like Burgers and Beer (pretty self-explanatory) or Pacifico Azul (great for seafood) before hitting the sheets early. You’re probably feeling a little tired at this point and you have a big day of surfing ahead of you.
Enjoy the next day surfing Nosara again or venture to Guiones if you are an intermediate to experienced surf and enjoy the popular surf spot.
Day 7 to 8: Drive to Mal Pais/Santa Teresa
About 4 hours from Nosara you will reach the funky surf town of Mal Pais and Santa Teresa. The towns spread down one long road and offer a variety of fo fantastic restaurants, local bars, hotels, Airbnbs, and great surf spots. Spend a few days surfing different local spots and asking locals the best places to try. While visiting in Santa Teresa try the famous Bakery for breakfast, lunch, and pastries! Its a must, especially after surfing.
Great surf spots in the area include – Playa Hermosa, Playa Carmen, Mar Azul and more. Check out a local surf shop for the best wave for you and tide charts.
Day 9: Drive to Playa Hermosa/Jaco
Jaco is one of the biggest, most bustling surf communities in Costa Rica, and it’s well-known for its beginner-friendly breaks along a long and wide white-sand beach. From Santa Teresa, it’s about a five-hour drive to get to Jaco, so go ahead and plan on taking the day off from hitting the waves. Rather than rushing your drive, take your time and consider stopping at little sodas (local Tico restaurants) along the way for casados and beers.
Day 10: Drive to Alajuela and Fly Out of Juan Santamaria International Airport
Sadly, it’s time to wrap up your surf vacation. It’s a roughly two-hour drive from Jaco to the San Jose airport and based on traffic and road conditions, it’s always wise to give yourself a little more time. Plus, you have to drop off your rental car and allow for the two to three hours required for check-in, customs, and security. All-in-all, you should hit the road about five to six hours before your flight.
Contact us for any additional tips & enjoy Costa Rica! Pura Vida.