Puerto Viejo is a small but busy surf town on Costa Rica’s Caribbean Coastline. It is best known for black sand beaches, crystal clear waters, reggae music, and an overall, laid-back vibe.
The Puerto Viejo surf is notoriously gnarly, and hosts the infamous Salsa Brava, AKA the Costa Rican Pipeline, as well as a few other breaks.
There seem to be a lot of misconceptions going around about Puerto Viejo nowadays- those laid-back, reggae vibes? Maybe in the 90’s, but not as much today.
Anyways, I’m here to give you an honest guide to the Puerto Viejo surf, as well as what this beach town is really like nowadays- Let’s get after it!
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How to get to Puerto Viejo
Puerto Viejo is located all the way down on the southern Caribbean side of Costa Rica, only about 45 minutes from the Panama Border Crossing.
Even though it’s pretty far from other popular Costa Rica surf spots, it’s pretty easy to get to, even by public transportation.
- Travel to Puerto Viejo from San Jose by bus:
There is a direct bus that runs from San José to Puerto Viejo twice daily. It should cost $12 a person, and you can easily stow your surfboard under the bus.
About that- whatever you do, DO NOT be the first person in line to put your board under the bus, and don’t let the bus driver see your board right away either. If you do this, they will brutally manhandle your surfboard, and throw EVERYONE ELSE’S luggage on top of your precious boards. Seriously, I’m still traumatized from my experience- learn from my mistake and put your board under at the end, so it can go ON TOP of people’s luggage. RIP, Firewire.
**No hate to the bus drivers, I know they are just doing their job**
Anyways, check the bus schedule here, but keep in mind online schedules aren’t always accurate, and the best way to know accurate bus times in Costa Rica is at the terminal itself.
Oh, and online it says the bus ride takes 3.5 hours. It took us about 7 hours, so definitely expect it to take longer.
Planning a surf trip to Costa Rica? Check out the ultimate Costa Rica surf trip packing list!
An Overview of the Waves
If you google Puerto Viejo surf, 50% of the stuff out there will say it’s fun and gentle and a great place to learn to surf. The other 50% will talk about how insane and epic Salsa Brava is, and how it’s an experts only surf break.
The truth? Well, it lies somewhere in the middle.
Salsa Brava IS super gnarly and epic. For a little perspective…. If you wouldn’t surf Pipeline when it’s working, then you probably wouldn’t surf at Salsa Brava either.
There are some nearby surf spots that are a little more mellow, but I wouldn’t say Puerto Viejo is a “great place to learn to surf.” If you want to learn to surf in Costa Rica, head to Nosara, or Tamarindo.
An Overview of the Town
Puerto Viejo is a party town. Not quite like Tamarindo, with skyscraper resorts built right on the beach though.
Puerto Viejo is a little… rougher around the edges. It definitely has that distinct, reggae feel, but it also feels a little unsafe compared to other places in Costa Rica.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t visit- Puerto Viejo is HUGE on the Costa Rica backpacker’s circuit, and it is a truly beautiful place.
But just don’t expect crystal clear, calm waters 100% of the time and a totally mellow vibe- life is definitely a little more fast-paced in Puerto Viejo than some other surf towns in Costa Rica. And that’s totally okay, tons of people love it- it’s just not quite my cup of tea!
Best Season to Surf Puerto Viejo
The surf seasons in Puerto Viejo are distinct from the Pacific side, which has a pretty 50/50 split of wet/dry seasons.
In Puerto Viejo, there is a lot of rainfall from November-January, and then again from April-August. It is not unusual for there to be intermittent rains most of the time in Puerto Viejo, except for in September and October when it is quite dry in the region.
The waves in Puerto Viejo are biggest from November-April, so this is a good time for expert-level surfers to try their luck surfing in Puerto Viejo.
Outside of that window, you can try for some smaller waves in gentler waters.
Or, if you’re like me, and your surfing capabilities are not quite up to sending an overhead Salsa Brava cracking over a shallow reef… this is a sweet time to head over with a cup of coffee (or a Pilsen, I don’t judge) and watch the local chargers.
About the Puerto Viejo Surf Break
The beaches surrounding Puerto Viejo are primarily rocky reef breaks, with the exception of Playa Negra.
The surf here works best with a south-east swell and light winds. If it is overly windy and stormy, the surf in Puerto Viejo tends to be a mess.
The Different Puerto Viejo Surf Spots
There are a couple different surf spots in the Puerto Viejo area, the main ones being:
- Salsa Brava
This is the most popular wave in the area, and it’s located right in the heart of town. Salsa Brava is a big, barreling left, that breaks right over a sharp reef.
Salsa Brava performs at its finest with a south-east swell when it’s about head high to overhead.
- Playa Cocles
If you’re surfing skills aren’t quite up to par with surfing Salsa Brava, check out nearby Playa Cocles! Playa Cocles is a beach break located about 4km south of Puerto Viejo. The waves here are typically much more gentle than Salsa Brava, and more forgiving for intermediate level surfers.
Playa Cocles is a beach break, but it also has a left-breaking reef, so be weary of the bottom.
- Playa Negra
Playa Negra is a volcanic, black-sand beach located about a 5 minute walk north of Salsa Brava. You’ll know you’re there when you see the shipwreck and the black sand beach!
There’s usually a little right breaking near the shipwreck, and this is a decent wave for beginners to practice on.
If your surfing skills are above beginner level, you’ll probably be pretty bored here, although it is fun to watch the local kids surfing!
Where to stay for Puerto Viejo Surf
If you’re thinking about adding Puerto Viejo to your Costa Rica surf trip itinerary, here are the best places to stay:
Oasis Hostel in Puerto Viejo is one of the coolest hostels I have ever stayed in. The hostel is located ON the beach, and the entire kitchen/ common area is in the sand.
There are two outdoor bathrooms, one with hot water, and one in the open air so you can shower under the stars if you feel like it.
The overall vibe here is great, and it’s one of the most affordable hostels in Puerto Viejo.
Pagalu Hostel is another great option for Puerto Viejo. The hostel is clean, cozy, and located right in the heart of Puerto Viejo. Everything is within walking distance of the hostel, and both the dorms and private rooms here are affordable!
Casa Nara is a small, beachfront hotel with cozy private rooms. This hotel offers Wi-Fi, AC (in some units), free parking, and a lovely garden. Casa Nara offers pretty modest accommodations, but at a fair price-point for anyone looking for a private room.
If you’re looking for something a little nicer, consider staying at Casa Theia. This beautiful jungle hotel has all the amenities you could need on your trip, from a full kitchen, private bathrooms, and lovely garden views from each unit.
If you’re looking to stay somewhere luxurious on your Puerto Viejo surf trip, you can’t really go wrong with Hotel Banana Azul. It’s a luxury adults only beachfront hotel, with a wide variety of different room types.
Some highlights here include a pool, bar, on-site restaurant, and insanely gorgeous rooms.
Hazards of Puerto Viejo Surfing
- Strong Rip Currents + Powerful Waves
The ocean is no joke, and that’s especially true in Puerto Viejo! Be weary of rips, and powerful swells while surfing in Puerto Viejo. As always, don’t paddle out in surf above your personal capabilities.
- Sharp Reefs
Many, if not most of the breaks in Puerto Viejo are reef breaks. Cuts from coral reefs can cause infections, so you’ll want to be extra careful.
Where to eat after Puerto Viejo Surf
My favorite, most budget-friendly place to eat in Puerto VIejo is La Esquina Pizzeria. The pizza is good, the staff is friendly, and it won’t break your budget.
Puerto Viejo Surf Guide: Final Thoughts
That just about concludes my Puerto Viejo surf guide. If you’re a super experienced surfer hoping to try your luck at Salsa Brava, you’re probably going to have an awesome time.
If you’re a beginner-intermediate surfer, honestly, I’d look elsewhere in Costa Rica for surf.
There are so many incredible surf spots in Costa Rica, and especially if you only have time for a one week trip, I’d try your luck somewhere else!