20 Nov When is the best time to go surfing in Central America?
When is the best time to go surfing in Central America?
Looking to get barrelled or travelling to surf your first waves? Some may say that the best time to go surfing is actually when you decide to make time for it (or when you psychologically need it…!).
It’s always a good time when you can make the time, but here’s some info based on weather patterns of the Pacific coast of Central America (from the south of Mexico (Oaxaca), through El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama Pacific and Caribbean coast (Bocas del Toro), and the north of Peru (Mancora) to help you score the best surf.
How do you know when is the best time to travel to Central America?
This article will help you understand Central America surf season depending on your surf level and the experience you are looking for.
Here is Central America surf seasons overview by coastline:
- Central America surf season on the Pacific Coast is best for beginner to intermediate surfers from December to Mid-April and most consistent from mid-April to November, although the months of September and November receive a lot of rain, which means no crowd but debris in the water and risk of ear infection.
- Central America surf season on the Caribbean coast is from December to March (Bocas del Toro, Isla Grande in Panama; Puerto Viejo in Costa Rica) and this region also receives a few swells in July. For the rest of the year, the spots might be either flat or very small.
(Pacific Coast | Graph from Magicseaweed.com)
(Our guest Alexis, January 29, 2020. We can see waves are knee to shoulder-high at our typical beginner spot in Costa Rica)
Central America surf season from December to April
The “dry season” (sunshine & smaller fun waves), is considered to have the best surfing for beginner surfers to learn, practice and progress.
The water can be quite cool in southern Nicaragua (between San Juan del Sur and Pochomil) and northern Costa Rica (between Witches Rock, Tamarindo, Playa Grande, Nosara, Samara, Santa Teresa, Malpais Jaco, Playa Hermosa) in January, February and March, so bring a wetsuit top of 1 or 2mm. You won’t need a 3-4mm wetsuit to surf like on the US East Coast – much easier to paddle!
Wearing a top 1-2mm will also help your ribs and skin if you are just starting or haven’t surfed for a while.
Otherwise, the friction with the board can make your belly have rash and irritation if you’re not used to it.
The good news is that during this period there is a phenomenon of offshore winds which makes the waves glassy!
The wind can be strong sometimes but usually calms down towards the end of March, after which you can leave your wetsuit at home.
Until the end of April, the water is warm (with the exception of North Nicaragua and South Costa Rica) and the weather is nice!
So, if this is your first time surfing and you’re looking for good weather first, opt for a trip between January and April.
Since most of the spots are firing from April to October around the world, Bocas del Toro and Puerto Viejo (Salsa Brava-expert surfers only) are an excellent option for surfing good waves if you want to avoid Hawaii.
Not too fancy about wearing a wetsuit?
If the idea of wearing neoprene during your vacations gives you the chills, don’t worry because the southern part of Costa Rica, where our surf camp is located, the water temperature is always tropical warm.
You will be able to surf in bikini or board short during your holidays, even if you are coming between December and March, unlike the North of Costa Rica (Nosara, Tamarindo) and the south of Nicaragua (San Juan del Sur, Popoyo).
(Note for girls: we recommend bringing a pair of leggings to prevent irritation to knees and inner thighs and it will protect the back of your legs from the sun- oily sunscreen on the back of your knees won’t be your best friend, it will make the rails of your board slippery.)
Surfing Costa Rica Summary
Long point breaks and wide stretches of beach breaks characterize most of Costa Rica.
The Caribbean side is more dangerous, with coral reefs, but it also has the best and biggest surf in the country from December to March.
The Pacific side is usually offshore in the mornings, which is the best time to surf because it’s the least crowded and hot.
The northern part of the country – From the border of Nicaragua to Jaco is dryer than the southern part. In the dry season, the southern part is still very lush and green while the northern part is dry and dusty.
Surf is reasonably consistent year-round, perhaps larger in the rainy season (especially Puntarenas), but many of the best surf spots are inaccessible during the rainy season (August-November) because the dirt roads become impassable.
The dry season is preferred because offshores are more frequent, roads are better and there are good swells on the Caribbean side and the northern part of the country. Plan your surf trip accordingly!
Sharks are present, but no shark attacks have been recorded in the last 10 years. A few rare crocodile attacks recorded in the north part of Costa Rica in the river mouth between Tamarindo and Playa Grande due to crocodiles’ sightseeing tour companies feeding them to attract them for profit.
Best time to surf Costa Rica :
Caribbean Coast, December to February, July
North Pacific Coast (Guanacaste), November to March (offshores during the dry season only).
Central Pacific (Puntarenas, Jaco, Quepos), May to October (rainy season).
South Coast (Osa Peninsula, Pavones), December to April for beginner surfers. May to October for intermediate surfers.
(Our guest Isabelle, April 2018. We can see waves generally shoulder to head-high at the same beginner spot in Costa Rica)
Central America surf season from mid-April to the end of August
Called the “green season”- it’s the best time for consistent swells (waves), and ideal for all levels of surfers
“The green season” This is Central America’s best surf season to “score” big waves with sunny days and occasional rain.
This season is called the “green season” because the trees and vegetation become lush, which creates breathtaking photos! The rain usually begins to be more present around the end of June, throwing occasional rain at nights and from time to time, during the day.
During these months, the waves are more regular and the winds usually calmer. The water is warm everywhere so no need for a wetsuit.
If your priorities are to get steady waves and more probabilities for big swells, this is the best time to travel. It is between the last week of April and the first week of May that the Pacific coast usually receives the first large S-SW swells.
So if you are an experienced surfer, keep an eye on the surf forecast via magicseaweed.com and surfline.com and start training! After the first big swell, the conditions become regular for all levels to enjoy. There will be about ten other big swells during the May-November period.
(Here is the kind of waves that we get at one of our beginner surf spots during a medium swell in Costa Rica. This student had never surfed before joining the surf coaching retreat)
Long, slow and smooth waves.. perfect to adjust your position on the board and practice taking a direction on an unbroken wave, to learn to generate speed to eventually start making turns up and down the face…
We think it’s the best surf spot for beginners in Costa Rica and in Central America to start surfing (this is why we chose this location for our surf camp).
But if you’re an intermediate or advanced surfer, make sure to put Pavones on your bucket list because it’s definitely one of the best waves in Central America. Located only a few minutes away from our surf camp, Pavones is considered to be the 2nd longest left in the world (and the 1st in warm water!). We’ve caught the best rides of our lives at this wave.
(Our guest Jeff, during a personalized surf lesson with Jack, July 26, 2019 – boat trip at the end of the week of the surf camp in Costa Rica. Waves are typically much bigger as we’re fully in the rainy season.)
Central America Surf Season: from September to November
“The true rainy season” – ideal for uncrowded sessions in big surf
“The real rainy season’’ (aka the most intense period of the rainy season). Either avoid it or take full advantage of it!
(We are not in operation during these months of the year because the waves and the weather are not optimal to give surf lessons.)
It’s often during this time of the year that the best surfers travel to Central America. The waves are more powerful and there is hardly anyone in the water.
Advanced surfers usually prefer to sacrifice their tan for an intense surf session with less crowd in the water. But 3 weeks without the sun can be a bit intense. And this is why September and November are usually not the most popular months to travel in Central America.
Also, a little advice: bring your earplugs because heavy rain will make the rivers in the agricultural areas spills a lot of dirt in the water and an ear infection is never pleasant. We recommend 2 brands: Mack’s * earplugs (disposable and affordable – it’s a silicone that moulds to your ear) and Surf Ears “(several sizes available, expensive, but good for the pros- let the sound pass but blocks the water) So be warned!
(Sebastien | Surf Expedition Founder, September 2011 – Nicaragua)
Anyone you will meet that has spent some time in Central America will have an opinion on when and where to go.
It’s almost impossible to perfectly predict the weather with climate changes nowadays. For example, we received a big swell (like we would normally get in July) in February each year for the last 2 years in the south of Costa Rica.
There is also more swell in March than before. The patterns are changing a bit…
So, another good advice some may give you is to choose a region or a spot that offers multiple options for waves. Depending on the swell, wind directions & wave size you will have a better chance of finding the desired conditions for your comfort level and objectives.
It’s fair to say that it’s difficult to predict what mother nature is going to bring when booking a surf trip.
There is one thing for sure though; surfing is always a good time.
If you feel like joining one of our surf expeditions to have a good surf technique foundation, knowledge & safe practice, you can check our surf travel calendar.
See you in the water!
* We have no compensation agreement with these companies. These are just brands that we like to use!