By Norm Schriever, hi@NormSchriever.com
While we may be facing another long, cold winter here in the United States and Canada, the surfs up just a short trip away in tropical Central and South America. If you want to get away to catch some rays and waves, whether for a long weekend or to ride out the whole winter, here are our top 20 surf destinations (in no particular order):
1. Playa Hermosa, Costa Rica
While Jacó is Costa Rica’s hotspot for holidays and sunbathers, it also offers great surfing, as it hosted the 2016 International World Surf Championship last August. Just a few kilometers south you’ll find some great waves in Playa Hermosa, home of the 2009 Surf Championship.
2. San Juan del Sur and Popoyo, Nicaragua
Nicaragua is no longer a best kept secret, with thousands of North American surfers hitting the white sand and thick jungle of Popoyo every winter, usually passing through charming San Juan del Sur its surrounding beaches. You’ll find everything from gentle swells for beginners to a dozen huge breaks a short boat ride away.
According to Johnny G., owner of San Juan Surf, “With friendly locals, offshore 300 days a year, and uncrowded spots all along the coast, your chance of scoring here is much higher then anywhere else in the Western Hemisphere.”
3. Pavones, Costa Rica.
Good news travels fast among surfers, and Pavones, located on a small peninsula near the Panamanian border, is now a must-surf destination when you visit Costa Rica, with one of the best left point breaks on the entire planet.
4. Bocas Del Toro, Panama
This cluster of islands off of Panama’s Caribbean coast includes some of the best reef breaks and hidden beaches in Central America, all accessible by water taxis. “The Mouth of the Bull” is truly a unique and beautiful place for those that make the trek, and when the surf is on, it’s on!
5. Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica
Don’t forget about Costa Rica’s Caribbean side, with amazing surf from December until May in this charming coastal town, including the heaviest waves around.
6. Ollie’s Point, Costa Rica
Head north along the western Costa Rican coastline and you’ll find Ollie’s Point near the Nicaraguan border, named for the disgraced U.S. military figure Ollie North. You can only get to this epic right point break by boat, but the waves can still get crowded since this is on every surfer’s Bucket List.
7. Mal País & Santa Teresa, Costa Rica
Mal País & Santa Teresa in the southwestern corner of Península de Nicoya are great options to catch some amazing waves along side some of the best natural beauty in Costa Rica.
8. Santa Catalina, Panama
Thirty years ago, an intrepid surfer hacked his way through the jungle in search of this pristine and untouched surf beach (or so the legend goes). These days, Santa Catalina is still one of the best places to surf in all of Central America, with consistent right and left breaks for more than 200 yards over lava reef – and it’s a lot easier to get there.
9. Nuqui, Colombia
Nuqui on the Pacific coast of Colombia offers that country’s best surf, with Playa Olímpica and Guachalito nearby. You’ll miss the whale-sighting season unless you go from June to October, but you can also check out Barranquila on the Caribbean coast, which offers smaller waves but the most famous carnival in Colombia.
10. Puerto Escondido, Mexico
The most beautiful and powerful barrels in the world are produced by the sandbars off Playa Zicatella in Mexico. They’re definitely for experienced surfers, so get ready to break a few boards - and possibly a few bones if you drop in on the aggressive locals.
11. Playa Tamarindo
Tamarindo (or “TamaGringo” because of the hordes of North Americans that vacation and live there) is Costa Rica’s most popular surf destination. It’s managed to hold on to its beachy village vibe (just barely), even as modern resorts, luxury condos and high-end restaurants pop up. But the long expanse of beach - and great surfing near the estuary and other spots – has never ceased. There’s plenty of room and smaller waves for beginners to get their chops, but also a handful of great surf beaches not far out of town.
12. Playa Avellanas, Costa Rica
Speaking of Tamarindo, when you’re there, go check out nearby Playa Avellanas, where the big, hollow, and fast waves create some dream tubes near the river mouth.
13. Witch’s Rock, Costa Rica
Or take a day trip to the legendary Witch’s Rock, made famous in the iconic surf movie, Endless Summer II, where you can enjoy perfect lefts and rights on either side of the offshore rock formation.
14. Punta Roca, El Salvador
The crown jewel of the El Salvadorian coastline, Punta Roca is a perfect right point break for experienced surfers who don’t mind some rocks. The waves are powerful, the weather is perfect and it’s not crowded – just be careful to make nice with the locals.
15. Santa Catarina, Brazil
Surfing has become plenty popular in Brazil since it was first imported to the country in 1928, and there’s no better place to ride a wave than Santa Catarina, where swells that come down from the North Atlantic and up from Antarctica produce consistent waves. Santa Catarina hosts the ASP World Championship each April, and we encourage you to check out the beautiful capital, Florianópolis, too.
16. Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
Cabo is best known for sunbathing and beachside nightlife, but there’s actually some great surf there, too. There are plenty of breaks in the area suitable for beginners, and experienced surfers can rise to the challenge at the Monuments, Zippers, or Santa Lucia de los Cerritos. Flights in and out of Cabo San Lucas are easy and you can usually find inexpensive accommodations because there are so many to choose from.
17. Mancora, Peru
Sitting on the pacific coastline of Peru near the border, Manorca is a great place for experienced surfers. It might be hard to find room in the lineup so it’s not the best place for beginners, but Manorca is also a great spot for tourists to chill out and enjoy some nightlife after hiking Machu Picchu.
18. Montañita, Ecuador
Ecuador is an emerging favorite for travelers and backpackers, but surfers have enjoyed the country’s 2,200 miles of coastline for a long time. Along the legendary Ruta del Sol – route of the sun – sits the town of Montañita, popular for its many beaches and Carnival celebration each February. But it also offers consistent surf from November to April, with two-meter waves from January to March. But bring your wetsuit because the water temps can be lot colder than in Central America.
19. Southern California, USA
Don’t feel “wave envy” if you can’t get enough time off of work to head further south, because along the 350 KM coast from Santa Barbara to San Diego, California offers great waves only a short (and cheap) flight from most U.S. and Canadian cities. Touch down in Los Angeles and hit the mecca of Huntington Beach, where there’s plenty of room on either side of the pier, chill in Malibu Beach, or beginners and long boarders will dig El Porto. From the Wedge to Rincon, Scripps Beach to Black’s Beach in San Diego County, SoCal is truly a surfer’s paradise.
Surfing in Cuba? You got it, as the communist island nation governed by the recently passed Fidel Castro has a very small, but resourceful and dedicated, surf crowd. In and around Havana, the best waves are from November through January while on the southeastern part of the island you’ll find the best surfing during hurricane season from August to early November. You won’t find any crowds but you will have to bring your own board, as there are no surf shops in Cuba since the government frowns on this American pastime. In fact, the first Cuban surfers had to make their own boards out of refrigerator foam covered with boat resin and used candles to wax them! While Cuba is changing and attracting more tourists by the day, you may want to go surf there now while it’s still truly a unique adventure.
Need some more help setting up your tropical surf escape? Feel free to email me at hi@NormSchriever.com.