7 Best Surf Towns in Costa Rica

Costa Rica has some of the best surfing in the world. You’ve got warm water, delicious food, constant swells from both the Pacific and Caribbean sides, and friendly locals. It’s truly paradise. 

When it comes to surf towns- Costa Rica is full of them. There are mellow, family friendly surf towns. There are backpacker havens with crazy nightlife. And just about everything in between. 

If you’re looking for the best surf spots in Costa Rica- that’s a bit of a different question, and you should head on over to my Costa Rica surf guide for that. However, if you’re looking for a list of the best surf towns in Costa Rica, you’ve come to the right place! 

I’ve personally surfed in and spent time in every single one of these surf towns, and made this list off of my own personal experiences to help you sort your way through each of Costa Rica’s best surf towns.

All of these surf towns are special in their own right. However, if you’re planning your trip to Costa Rica and can only pick one or two surf towns to visit, that’s a big decision! So, I’ve gone ahead and factored in prices, waves, atmosphere, and the overall safety of each surf town, so you can pick the perfect one(s) to visit when you come to Costa Rica. 

In a hurry? Here’s a quick rundown of the 7 best surf towns in Costa Rica:

1. Tamarindo– Best surf town in Costa Rica for first-timers

2. Santa Teresa– Best surf town in Costa Rica for backpackers

3. Nosara– Best surf town in Costa Rica for consistent waves

4. Jaco– Best for a local vibe

5. Dominical– Best for big wave surfing

6. Puerto Viejo– Best Caribbean surf town in Costa Rica

7. Pavones- Best for goofy surfers

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7 best surf towns in Costa Rica

1. Tamarindo– Best surf town in Costa Rica for first timers

Tamarindo is a bustling, beautiful surf town on the Nicoya Peninsula. It’s popular with families and backpackers alike, and it’s an excellent surf town for first-timers to Costa Rica. Here’s why:

  • It’s very easy to get to
  • It has good infrastructure 
  • Tons of accommodation options
  • Lush green jungle meets the beach
  • Consistent waves for different levels
  • It’s very walkable

Costa Rica doesn’t have any true resort towns, like in Mexico. However, Tamarindo is probably the closest thing to a resort town that Costa Rica has. There are large, oceanfront hotels and resorts with pools, and several restaurants with live music and shows. 

In terms of surf, Tamarindo definitely delivers. You’ve got the main beach, Playa Tamarindo, where you’ll find waves suitable for beginners, intermediates, and advanced all in one place. You’re also only a short drive from more exciting surf breaks like Playa Avellanas, Playa Grande, and Playa Negra. 

Tamarindo also has a pretty strong nightlife/party scene. 

Personally, I started off my 3 month Costa Rica backpacking/surf trip in Tamarindo, and it was really easy to meet people, walk to the beach to surf, and walk to the grocery store. 

Tamarindo is very built-up, and if you’re looking for a more peaceful, green, and relaxing experience, I’d recommend another surf town like Dominical. 

  • Prices: $$

Accommodations aren’t too expensive in Tamarindo, but there are no local restaurants. Dining out is very expensive here. 

  • Waves: 

The surf in Tamarindo is great for absolute beginners, and can be good for intermediates-advanced. To get to really good surf for higher levels, you may want to drive to nearby beaches, like Playa Grande, Playa Negra, or Playa Avellanas.

  • Atmosphere: Touristy

Tamarindo has a party atmosphere, but you can escape that if you book your accommodations accordingly. In terms of surf towns in Costa Rica, Tamarindo is by far the most westernized. 

  • Safety: 3.5/5 

Overall, Tamarindo is pretty safe. But, there have been some crocodile attacks, and phone snatching/pickpocketing is bad here. On my last trip to Playa Grande, which borders Tamarindo to the north, we saw a bull shark in the surf!

And, when I was staying at a hostel, I met three people who had their phones stolen at the same nightclub, in the same night! I recommend bringing along a little safety bag that locks up your valuables to help avoid this.

With all that said, I’ve never personally had any safety incidents in Tamarindo, and I know plenty of people who haven’t had any issues either. Just don’t drink too much, never walk on the beach alone at night in Tamarindo, and exercise the same travel precautions you would in most bigger towns.

Where to stay in Tamarindo


Tamarindo Backpackers

This boutique surf hostel has a pool, hammocks for lounging, and clean, air-conditioned dorms.

Coral Reef Surf Hostel

Coral Reef is a fun, laid-back surf hostel with hammocks, a skate ramp, and air-conditioned dorms. It’s located just across the street from Playa Tamarindo.

2. Santa Teresa– Best surf town in Costa Rica for backpackers

santa teresa surf town

Santa Teresa is located all the way down at the tip of the Nicoya Peninsula. It’s not easy to get to, but it’s worth the journey for the great surf beaches, vibes, and food. 

Santa Teresa is a great surf town in Costa Rica for backpackers because there are a TON of restaurants, hostels, and bars. However, Santa Teresa isn’t just for backpackers- there are plenty of nicer restaurants and accomodation options that will suit any type of traveler! 

In terms of surfing, Santa Teresa really delivers.

You’ve got miles of beaches to surf at, and fun, clean peeling waves. There are great waves for beginners, intermediate surfers, and expert surfers alike. It’s also very easy to book accommodations to where you can walk to the beach to surf. 

There are plenty of rental shops, and you can rent anything from beginner boards to high performance shortboards. I think Santa Teresa had some of the best options for surfboard rentals in Costa Rica, besides maybe Nosara.

If you’re looking for an isolated surf town with great waves, nightlife, and a fun atmosphere, you’ll enjoy Santa Teresa. 

  • Prices: $$-$$$$
  • Waves: The surf in Santa Teresa is great for all levels
  • Atmosphere: Chill
  • Safety: 4/5 

Santa Teresa is definitely safer than Tamarindo and Jaco, but you still don’t want to leave valuables unattended in your car, or walk on the beach alone at night.

Are you planning a surf trip to Costa Rica and wondering where to go? I’d love to help you plan your trip with my custom surf trip planning services.

My specialty? Helping surfers narrow down the options to find the perfect surf spot for their budget and skill level and plan an unforgettable surf trip.

3. Nosara– Best Costa Rica surf town for consistent waves

Nosara Surfing

Nosara is a beautiful surf town on the Nicoya Peninsula. It’s best known for its main beach, Playa Guiones, which features several miles of surf breaks. 

There are two main things that make Nosara so special. The first is that its beaches are protected in the Ostional Wildlife Preserve, so nobody can build within a certain distance of the beach. This preserve keeps Nosara from resembling a resort town like Tamarindo or Jaco, and keeps the beaches clean and unspoiled. 

The second is that Nosara gets some of the most consistent surf in Costa Rica. When other beaches in the country are flat, you can almost always still surf in Nosara. 

Nosara is not cheap, so if you’re traveling on a budget, I recommend booking accommodations early, or visiting a less expensive surf town in Costa Rica. It’s also not the most walkable surf town- accommodations are pretty spread out, and the main road doesn’t have much of a shoulder to walk along if you’re not staying right in the Guiones area. 

Nosara is also a big wellness destination, so if you’re looking to practice yoga and meditation in addition to surfing, you’ll love this Costa Rica surf town. 

  • Prices: $$$-$$$
  • Waves: Consistent

There is plenty of white water for absolute beginners to learn on, and very nice wave shape for intermediate and advanced surfers. The paddle-out can be very long and tough here, and the crowds can make the lineup a bit hectic at times. 

The waves are a little soft, and typically best for longer boards and higher volume fish/ funboard shapes, but I do usually surf on a performance shortboard or a fish here, so you really can do it all.

  • Atmosphere: Peaceful
  • Safety: 4.5/5

I wish I could rate Nosara a 5 in terms of safety, but sadly there have been some incidents as of late. While Nosara is overall one of the safest places in Costa Rica, there is a huge wealth disparity here, which has resulted in some crimes of opportunity. Take care not to walk along on the beach paths, especially at night. Always lock up your valuables, and never leave anything of value unattended in your car.

September 2023 update: Sadly, there has been more and more violent crime in the last year. I spent the first 6 months of this year living in Nosara, and there have been several fatal shootings now, along with violent muggings on the beach in broad daylight.

I still love this place, but I would not recommend walking alone on the more remote parts of the beach (far north in Guiones, and far north in Playa Pelada are especially bad) or on any of the jungle paths.

4. Jaco– Best for a local vibe

For a Costa Rica surf town that has a truly authentic local feel, check out Jaco, located in the Puntarenas Province. 

Jaco is the closest beach town to San Jose, Costa Rica’s capital, so it’s flooded with Costa Rican tourists from the city! This authenticity makes for great local food, vibes, and prices. 

However, it’s also very crowded, and less of a surf town, and more of a surf city. 

Jaco really has a lot going on, including high rises going right up to the beach, department stores, pollution, and nightclubs.

In the southern part of Jaco, you’ll find more surf shops- including the best place to buy a surfboard in Costa Rica, from the surfboard shaper Carton! Rowan has had two surfboards shaped by Carton, and loved them. Having ridden both of those surfboards myself, I love them too and can equally back up the claim that Carton makes AMAZING surfboards.

The surf in Jaco is good for beginners, and the best surf on the beach is found on the far southern end. Playa Jaco doesn’t hold much swell though, and once it’s over 5-6 feet it starts to close out. 

The real surfing gem in Jaco for more advanced surfers, is the neighboring Playa Hermosa, complete with world-class barrels.

  • Prices: $-$$
  • Waves: Fun for beginners at Playa Jaco, and world-class waves can be found at the neighboring Playa Hermosa
  • Atmosphere: Authentic
  • Safety: 3/5

5. Dominical– Best for big wave surfing

Dominical surf

Playa Dominical is famous for having massive, barreling waves. When there’s a swell in town, big wave surfers from all over flock to Dominical ready to conquer the surf. 

However, the surf in Dominical isn’t always that intense. In the dry season, there are plenty of small days with fun, peeling waves to be had at Playa Dominical.

 I mean, look at that photo of me surfing in Dominical above. The waves are TINY! It’s not always like that though, I promise.

If you’re looking for a truly quiet, serene surf town, Playa Dominical is for you. It’s by far the least touristed surf town out of any on this list, and the vibe is very laid back. 

On small days in the dry season, the surf in Dominical is good for all levels, and if it’s too big at Playa Dominical, beginners can always head over to neighboring Playa Dominicalito. 

Dominical is one of my favorite surf towns in Costa Rica for its lack of tourists, fun waves, and lush surrounding jungle. 

  • Prices: $$
  • Waves: The surf can get very large, but the dry season offers some fun, clean surf
  • Atmosphere: Tranquil
  • Safety: 5/5

6. Puerto Viejo– Best Caribbean surf town in Costa Rica

Puerto Viejo Surf

Puerto Viejo boasts delicious Caribbean food,reggae music, heavy surf, and very lively nightlife. The most famous break in the area is Salsa Brava, a very heavy reefbreak. There are other surf breaks in the area that are more suitable to beginners and intermediate surfers, but they’re not quite as soft as other surf breaks in Costa Rica, and if you’re learning to surf, I recommend checking out some of the best beginner surf spots in Costa Rica.

If you’re looking for fun nightlife, big waves, and experiencing Caribbean culture, Puerto Viejo is a great surf town to visit in Costa Rica.

  • Prices: $-$$
  • Waves: Heavy
  • Atmosphere: Busy
  • Safety: 2.5/5

7. Pavones- Best for goofy surfers

Pavones is located all the way down on the Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica, and it’s very remote and difficult to reach. 

However, when you arrive, you’ll be rewarded with lush jungles, very few tourists, and the second longest left in the world! A true paradise for goofy surfers.

There isn’t much to do in Pavones besides surfing, and the closest ATM is over an hour away. This makes Pavones an ideal surfing paradise, but if you’re looking for a surf town with a bit more going on, you might want to go somewhere else. 

  • Prices: $-$$
  • Waves: 2nd longest left in the world
  • Atmosphere: Quiet
  • Safety: 5/5

How to get around in Costa Rica

By car

The easiest way to get around in Costa Rica is by car. Driving in Costa Rica is fairly safe and easy- I’ve driven all the way from Puerto Viejo to Nosara in a single day! If you’re traveling in a group and splitting the cost of the rental car, it’s often cheaper to rent a car than to take public transportation. Plus, if you’re traveling with surfboards, having your own car makes things much simpler.

If you’re planning a surf trip to Costa Rica, I recommend renting a car. Then, you have the freedom to check out all the different surf spots nearby, and not be tethered to the surf breaks within walking distance. Book your rental car here.

By public bus or shuttle

Another way to get around in Costa Rica is by public bus, or booking shuttles. You can typically find bus routes on Rome to Rio, but they’re not always accurate. The most accurate bus schedules are going to be the ones you find right at the bus terminal. Typically, bus tickets range from anywhere from $1-$15, depending on how far you’re going.

Private and shared shuttles are the easiest and fastest way to get around, although one-way trips usually cost $60-$120 per person. If you’re traveling in a large group, this adds up quickly, and it might just be worth it to rent a car. I recommend checking out Tropical Tours for shuttles in Costa Rica.

By plane

Another way to get around in Costa Rica is by plane. Sansa, the national airline of Costa Rica offers puddle hopper flights all over the country. However, they charge pretty steep fees for traveling with surfboards, so if you opt to bring your boards along, I don’t recommend traveling within the country by plane.

Wrapping up the 7 best surf towns in Costa Rica

That concludes my list of the best Costa Rica surfing towns! In all honesty, each of these surf towns is absolutely incredible, and you’ll have a great time wherever you decide to go. Personally, my favorite Costa Rica surf towns are Nosara, then Dominical, then Santa Teresa- but everyone is different, and different types of surfers, travelelrs, and personalities will all have different opinions and perspectives on the best Costa Rica surf towns. 

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