What do you think of when you hear “surf trip”? For me, it’s perfect waves, breaking in tropical waters, sun out, great people around me, safe in the knowledge my bank balance isn’t dropping too drastically. But the perfect surf trip means different things to different people…
You may like heavy death slabs, cold big wave destinations such as Ireland or Portugal, or if you prefer long peeling log waves, you may head to Mexico or Australia, but whatever you like to surf and wherever you like to do it, there are countless awesome surf destinations in every corner of the globe.
But what makes a top surf locations in the world? Where captures the perfect blend of great waves, culture, safety, climate, and things to do? Here’s a breakdown of the best surf destinations on the planet.
Table of Contents
What Makes a Top Surf Destination?
While defining the best surf destinations will depend on the waves you want to surf, your ability, and your travel preferences, some important criteria go into the perfect surf trip.
Great waves are vital for a good surf trip, duh? But how do you define good waves? It’s all down to want you like to surf! The list you’re about to read includes specific areas offering a perfect combination of big waves, playful points, beach breaks, and the odd beginner-friendly beachie.
It’s one of the best things about surf travel; scoring waves AND taking in the unique culture around you. The type of culture you want to tap into and how locals interact with foreigners are integral, with some places more friendly and welcoming than others.
Ease of Travel
While exploration and off-the-beaten-track adventures are epic and create good memories, ease of travel can be an important surf trip factor. Thankfully, many of the most well-known surf trip destinations are super easy to travel around.
Traveling with a family or solo, safety plays a major factor in surf trip enjoyment and how you’ll be able to travel and behave when chasing waves.
The Best Surf Destinations in The World
Best Surf Destinations in Europe
Ahh, France one of Europe’s top surfing destinations. A country with hundreds of miles of coastline which, on the right day, its sandbanks produce some of the finest (and hollowest) waves in Europe. The nation has produced some of Europe’s top surfing talent, from long-time CT veteran Jeremy Flores to young guns Justin Becret and Marco Mignot.
For landlocked European surfers, France has long been a safe bet for consistent waves and good times. France has a culture unlike anywhere, and you can jump into the cliches as much as you like… fine wine, good cheese, and sitting by lakes between surfers. Ooh, la la! So, where are the waves?
In the north, the rugged coastline of Brittany has some amazing waves on its day and is great during winter. The rugged coastline provides shelter from the large Atlantic swells. Further south, things only get better, with the world-famous Hossegor and Capbreton being France’s best places to surf. Hossegor has hosted the WCT for decades, and when the sand aligns, it produces thumping barrels and incredibly fun walls for turns.
While not as firmly on the European surfing map as France and Portugal, Spain has some fantastic waves in the right conditions. Drive south over the border into San Sebastien, and you’ll be soaking up beautiful Spanish culture, riding fun beach breaks, and, if you don’t mind eating at 10 pm, tucking into some excellent cuisine.
Spain’s north coast is where the waves happen, and you have countless options for good waves. From big waves and bombie rights to the hidden beach break coves and point breaks. Mundaka, the left point that needs to introduction is the area’s main draw; a sometimes flawless sand bottom left, with thick dredging tubes.
Arguably the best surf destination in Europe. Portugal’s long coastline faces directly into the Atlantic and is perfectly positioned to receive the long period swells whenever they arrive. The coastline shapes swell into all sorts of wave-riding opportunities in all shapes and sizes. From world-famous big wave spots to slabs, point breaks, and hollow beach breaks, Portugal has it all. The nation is also a fantastic spot for surfing digital nomads as the country offers a specific digital nomad visa!
There are countless towns to set up a base for surfing in Portugal. With Peniche and Ericiera battling it out for the countries’ surf capital title. Both have an abundance of spots and host annual WSL contests. Peniche is famed for Supertubos, regarded as one of Europe’s best waves, and throws hollow throaty barrels under the right conditions. Whereas Ericeira is known for the mellow Ribeira D’llhas and Coxos, which are world-class when on!
Just off the coast of Morocco, the Canary Islands are perfectly positioned for the large NW swells marching in from the Atlantic each winter. The islands comprised of Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria, Tenerife, and Lanzarote, get a ton of swell. And while each island has its own characteristics, the waves are mostly large, powerful, and heavy, breaking over sharp volcanic rock.
For user-friendly options, Fuerteventura may be your best bet, famed for the long right walls of Los Lobos and other fun waves along the north track. Whereas Lanzarote also has its share of fun breaks, the island is well known for the infamous left slab El Quemao. Over on Gran Canaria is the same deal. If you want to charge and get amongst it with the local bodyboarders, head to El Fronton. A seriously hollow monstrosity of a wave.
If you can brave the often sub-zero temps, weeks of onshores, and, let’s face it, terrible weather, Ireland offers world-class surf. A rugged coastline exposed to the rath of the North Atlantic, there’s infinite potential for waves.
From long left points, a frame to beaches, and slabs to big wave spots, there’s something for everyone here. However, to score waves in Ireland, you’ve got to be onto it; with ever-changing conditions and specific tides bringing each spot to life, you might have a thousand almost type surfs, but when you do get it right, oh boy, will you be rewarded.
Bundoran is often considered the nation’s surfing capital, with a fun A-frame peak in town, a handful of point breaks, hollow freight training lefts, and even a beachie. Oh, and plenty of cosy establishments to knock back a Guinness or two post-surf. Just outside of town lies Mullaghmore, which, if you’re looking to charge or catch a glimpse of the infamous big waves spot, is just a short drive away.
Further south, you’ve got Lahinch, another small town with a lot to offer. Famous for the Cliffs of Moher and frightening surf spots such as Aileens and Rileys. Thankfully, there’s more to the place than death slabs and big cliffs… Cornish left is a fun, long left in the middle of town and several other points along the coast.
Ahh, blighty. While not known for its surfing prowess or world-class waves, the coast, the British coastline, particularly around Cornwall, certainly gets some swell and even pumps on the right day! Typically you’ll surf beach breaks in the UK, with the reefs and pointbreaks only coming to life in the largest of storms.
Cornwall is the most notable and consistent place for surfing in the UK and is where most surfers choose to live. The area has a rugged (and beautiful) coastline with hundreds of potential surf spots. Check out Newquay, St Ives, Porthleven, and Sennen Cove.
While Newquay draws most of the attention for surfing in Cornwall, there’s an abundance of other waves, from the exposed beach breaks of Sennen cove to the reefs at Portheleven. And countless spots I won’t mention! There’s a lot to offer if you know where to look. Alternatively, you could check out Yorkshire, Wales, and Scotland, which, although less consistent, can produce world-class waves.
Best Surf Destinations in North America
Surfing has been around in California since forever, and for a good reason. The coastline is home to some of the world’s most famous surf breaks, which on their day, transform into some of the best waves on earth. While the traffic on the 405 highway and the sheer amount of people in California are hard to ignore, there are plenty of places to escape the crowds and score pumping waves.
California can be split into two zones, North and South. Southern California is better in summer when south swells are frequent, whereas NorCal turns on during winter. Southern California is home to surf towns such as Encinitas, San Clemente, and Malibu. Whereas the North is famed for the point breaks of Ventura and Santa Cruz.
East Coast USA
If you can brave the frigid temperatures, we’re talking sub-zeros here; the east coast USA can pump! You’ve seen the videos, right? Thumping brown barrels in dark brown water on a snowy beach. Yep, that’s New Jersey. While New York has some fun waves close to the city at Long Beach, New Jersey is home to some of the best waves, with the outer banks taking the cake for wave quality. Check out Brett Barley’s vlog to see for yourself.
If you prefer warmer climates and fun small waves, you can head further south. Florida has produced countless professional surfers, including 11x world champion Kelly Slater. The waves here are generally small, weak, and sharky.
Canada may have everything you’re looking for for a true surf adventure under a spectacular natural setting. Not known for its surfing, Canada has two coastlines with hundreds of kilometres of surf potential. Most of which is untapped. However, you’ll need a boat and a local guide to access much of it.
The most famous and well know surf zone in Canada is Tofino, a small town on Vancouver Island. Start here if you want to soak in Canada’s unique surf culture. A small town surrounded by greenery and fun beach breaks waves; there are even barrels to be had if you’re willing to explore. Alternatively, you can check out the east coast, Nova Scotia, where temperatures get even colder, and you’ll need to do even more exploring.
It needs no introduction. The Hawaiian islands are famous worldwide for surfing, ad it’s where it all began. While the islands are known for world-class breaks, such as Pipeline and Waimea, there are countless other epic waves throughout the island chain.
Oahu, the most populous island, is home to Waikiki and the famed North Shore. Over on Maui is where Honalua bay is and the big wave spot, Jaws. While Kauai also has its share of waves, no footage or photos ever come out because filming is banned. No matter your surfing ability, Hawaii is a must-do trip for any surfer. A right of passage and a place to expose yourself to the scariest waves on the planet or just to say you’ve surfed Waikiki!
Best Surf Destinations in Central America
Costa Rica is renowned as one of the best surf destinations in the world and has been on traveling surfers’ radars since the 70s. The tropical climate and abundance of fun and waves create a paradisical surf trip mere hours from North America. While now overrun with American ex-pats and a cost of living equal to that of the US or Europe, the country still has its beautiful beaches, incredible wildlife, and epic waves.
There are countless surf towns on the Pacific and Caribbean coasts of Costa Rica. Head to the pristine white-sand beaches of Santa Teresa, a cool hangout with fun, forgivable waves, vegan restaurants, bars, and luxury accommodations. To learn more, check out the full breakdown of surfing in Santa Teresa.
Alternatively, head to Jaco, and sample the hollow black sand beach break of Playa Hermosa, home to Costa Rican pro Carlos Munoz. Further south, you can check out Dominical, a laid-back surf town and exposed beach break with numerous punchy peaks. Further south, you’ve another world-class left point in Pavones. A sick left, with sections for turns and tubes. Check out my full breakdown of surfing in Pavones here.
Over on the Caribbean side, things get even for interesting, where Puerto Viejo hosts one of the country’s most intimidating waves, Salsa Brava. Check out the full breakdown of surfing in Costa Rica, for everything you need to know!
Nicaragua is another surfing paradise with an incredibly wave-rich Pacific coastline. The unique geography of southern Nicaragua means the wind is permanently offshore! Popoyo is the country’s surfing capital and has a wide variety of surf setups. From the peak, outer reef, and the sort after Playa Colorado, a hollow beach break with lush sand-bottomed wedges. Read more about surfing in Popoyo here.
North from Popoyo, you have a range of potential surf setups, with Aposentillio being the most notable. A small town of dusty streets with a few shops and accommodations sprinkled throughout it. While there are several great waves in the vicinity, The Boom is the main attraction, a thumping A-frame beachie offering some of the best waves in Nicaragua.
While surfing in El Salvador has been on the cards for decades, the region has become increasingly popular to the government’s marketing drive–establishing the country as a go-to Central American surf destination. Famous for its long tropical right-handers and affordable cost of living, the country is a surfer’s dream.
While there are many different surf zones throughout El Salvador, El Tunco is the go-to. A cool backpacker surf town with everything you could want from a surf trip destination. El Sunzal and La Bocana ate the two waves right in town, which will keep you occupied most of the time.
Otherwise, the world-class rights of Punta Roca are just a chicken bus away. When it’s on, the wave is flawless. Picture a warm water JBay, and a wave that every surfer should experience at least once; just watch the rocks; they’re fricking slippery. For the full breakdown of surfing in El Salvador, check out the full guide.
If El Salvador and Costa Rica are the capitals of surfing in Central America, then Panama would be a close contender. Another Central American surf paradise with an abundance of world-class waves. Like Costa Rica, you have two options for surfing in Panama, the Pacific, or the Caribbean.
The small beachside surf town of Santa Catalina is the capital of Panamanian surfing and is the most consistent region for surf in the country. There’s heaps of variety in the waves here and something for everyone! Check out my full guide to surfing in Santa Catalina here.
The best surf in Panama is often found in Bocas Del Toro, a tropical island with a Caribbean backpacker vibe and several great waves. While not the most consistent surf spot in the world, the sand-bottom tubes of the Bluff are world-class, and the harrowing slab, Silverbacks, is a seriously dangerous wave. For more info on the place, check out the full breakdown of surfing in Bocas Del Toro.
Guatemala doesn’t get the hype about its neighboring Central American surfing meccas because it doesn’t have the same world-class potential. But that’s not to say you should overlook the place. El Paredon is a tiny surf town comprising of a few sandy streets and a handful of cool hotels, two shops, and a miles-long black sand beach.
One of the world’s best surfing destinations that needs no introduction. If you’ve been surfing for a few years, you’ve seen the photos, that dreamy right-hand point break caressing the sand, those thumping A-frame beachies, and Corona ads. Turns out, they all paint a pretty good picture of surfing in Mexico.
With thousands of kilometres of coastline open to the wrath of the large Pacific swells, Mexico has hundreds of epic waves. I could write an entire article about surfing in Mexico, but for now, here are some notable surf towns.
Selina Cruz is a series of pointbreaks, unfortunately, privatised by the surf camps that operate in the area. But if you’re happy to fork out the cash, you’ll be rewarded with some of the best waves of your life.
Further North, you have the famous Barra De La Cruz and its dreamy right-hand point, then to the thumping beach breaks of Puerto Escondido. Both are epic surf towns. Further north, many other wicked spots to check out, including Nexpa, Sayulita, and Baja.
Best Surf Destinations in South America
Ecuador is a more equatorial nation, which pails in size compared to its neighbours. But don’t let Ecuador’s size put you off; the nation has great waves to rival even the best surfing destinations in South America on its day.
With warm, user-friendly surf setups and one of South America’s most affordable living costs, Ecuador is a great surf nation. Montanita is the most prominent surf town, just a few hours from Guayaquil. The town is a long stretch of beach break, great for learning how to surf, and for advanced surfers, there is a super fun, wally right-hand point at the beach’s northern end.
Around the coast are countless surf spots, all with the potential for excellent waves. As a rule of thumb, visit Ecuador in summer, as the winter often sees colder waters, rain, and poor surfing conditions. While I won’t name them here, several beach breaks offer hollow, Hossegor-style tubes in the area; you just gotta find them.
If you truly want to enjoy surfing in Ecuador and want a true surf adventure, head to the Galapagos islands. Surfing in the Galapagos is something out of a dream. You’ll share its turquoise waters with sea lions, turtles, Galapagos sharks (they don’t bite), and all sorts of land-based birds and fish. A tropical paradise and once-in-a-lifetime destination. The waves also have serious potential, with many volcanic reef break setups around the islands.
Peru! A backpacking favourite and a nation boasting some of the longest left-handers in the world. While the barren landscape is the last place, you’d expect to find world-class waves, turn your attention seaward, and things get interesting.
Peru has a coastline thousands of kilometres long and enough surf spots you couldn’t explore it for 100 years, let alone in one trip. Some of Peru’s best places to surf include Mancora, Lobitos, Chicama, and Lima. With countless other towns that host fun left points. Lobitos is a tiny town with a handful of fun point breaks and a true Peruvian surfing experience, while Chicama is the country’s jewel in the crown. Read the full breakdown of surfing in Peru here.
There is so much potential for epic surf in Chile; you’re issue will always remain where to surf rather than if you’ll get waves. A true surf trip adventure destination and one that will reward you with stunning natural scenery, pumping left points, and, best of all, minimal crowds.
The country is massive; thousands upon thousands of Ks of largely untapped coastline means infinite potential for scoring great waves. With each twist and turn in the coast comes the chance to score pumping left points, and while you do plenty of driving, you’ll be rewarded!
There are many notable towns that could be considered the best place to surf in Chile. However, this depends on the type of waves you’re looking for. If you’re looking for heaving death slabs, check out Arica and surf the infamous El Gringo, or head south to Iquique for similar slab-based options.
If that’s not your thing, try Pichelumu, a thriving surf town famous for its big wave spot, Punta De Lobos. Within a few hours of town lie hundreds of potentially world-class waves. Base in Pichilemu, hire a car, and head off on some proper surf adventures. Read the full breakdown on surfing in southern Chile to learn more.
The amount of top surf talent to come out of Brazil is ridiculous. The nation has produced world champions like Gabriel Medina and Italo Ferriera. However, despite the country’s competitive prowess, Brazil remains overlooked for the travelling surfer. While the country has a reputation for weak backwashy beach breaks, the reality is far from that.
Brazil is comparable in size to Australia and has thousands of waves. The culture and beach vibes of the place are also something to soak in while you surf great waves. Check out Florianopolis for the nation’s most consistent waves, or Ubatuba, Maresias, Rio De Janerio, or Saquarema.
Best Surf Destinations in Asia
The Archipelago needs no introduction. It is the holy grail of surfing and is only rivalled by Australia or Hawaii. Indonesia is a huge chain of islands and has been on travelling surfers’ radar for decades, and for good reason. The island chain showcases amazing waves, and nowhere on earth rivals the perfection and consistency of surfing in Indonesia.
You could spend a lifetime chartering the thousands of islands. Add that with a tropical climate and year-round affordable cost of living, and you have an awesome recipe for the perfect surf trip.
Most travelling surfers head to Bali and sample the famous line-ups of Uluwatu and Keramas and Canggu. But while Bali may have become overrun with tourists, with many considering the island as paradise lost, Bali remains a great place to be a surfer. Kuta beach holds its name as one of the best beginner surf destinations on earth.
If you get sick of the crowds in Bali, there are countless alternatives. There are thousands of islands in Indonesia with incredible waves. Check out Lombok and Desert Point, Lakey Peak in Sumbawa, and the Mentawaiis for some seriously world-class setups. Further north, head to the wave-rich islands of Nias and Simeulue.
While not as famous for its waves as Indonesia, the Philippines have some incredible waves, with affordability and climate to match. Unfortunately, the country’s most well-known surfing area, Siargao Island, was devastated by a cyclone recently and is in the process of a rebuild.
But once the place is rebuilt, Sigauara islands’ main attraction is Cloud 9, a perfect slabbing A-frame with perfect tube potential that will likely attract surfers from around the globe. There are also some user-friendly options in the area. Great vibe, fun waves, and awesome people.
Sri Lanka may be one of the best beginner surf destinations on earth and also one of the most budget-friendly surf trips you’ll do. With a low cost of living, tropical climate, and playful waves, Sri Lanka is fantastic if you want to have fun in the Ocean and prefer playful peaks rather than scaring yourself to death at a reef pass in the middle of nowhere.
The combination of friendly locals and locals and easy public transport makes Sri Lanka an awesome surf destination. However, it’s crucial to choose the right area for the right time of year. As the country experiences two different surf seasons depending on the coast.
If you’re visiting in April – October, head to the east coast and enjoy the sand-bottomed spoils of Arugam Bay, the wave that put Sri Lankan surfing on the map. The wave is world-class when the swell is up, and although it’s super crowded, nowadays, you’ll be surfing warm, perfect peeling rights and living for next to nothing.
Between October – April, this is the rainy season on the east coast, so you’ll need to head West. Thankfully, Hikkaduwa is another excellent surf town with an abundance of waves. From fun reef break a-frames to hollow closeout beach breaks, the place is like a super mellow Canggu. There are plentiful accommodation options, a laid-back party vibe and everything you need or a low-cost, easy surf trip.
If Hikkaduwa gets too much, head to Midigama, which is more of a long street than a town. Working in the same conditions, this little slice of the Sri Lankan coast has an abundance of waves. In just a few kilometres, the area has one of the best beginner surf spots in the world, in Weligama, a hollow slab, and a peaky A-frame.
Surfing has become incredibly popular in Japan, with the nation drawing attention worldwide after hosting surfing’s first-ever Olympic appearance. Although it’s recognition and the crop of surfing talent coming out of Japan, the wave quality is generally not the highest here. That said, go in the right season and time your trip with a tropical season, and Japan can provide the best waves of your life. I mean, have you seen Dear Suburbia?
Chiba is known for having relatively reliable surf, close to Tokoyo, while the country’s best waves are down south in Miyazaki. Japan is an awesome place to visit and the perfect place to mix non-surfing activities, cultural exposure, and fun waves.
Best Surf Destinations in Oceania
The lucky country! Australia enjoys every climate and showcases every type of wave you could want to surf, from the perfect right-hand points of Queensland to the beach breaks of northern NSW, the slabs of Sout Aus and everything in between. And let’s not even start on West Aus.
Australia is massive in every sense of the word, and you’d be hard-pushed to explore most of its coastline in one lifetime. The quality of living is high; you can pick your climate and enjoy heaps of outdoor activities between surfs. As a first-timer, I’d recommend Coolangatta for super fun beach breaks and some of the best points in the world in Snapper and Kirra.
Then embark on a road trip down to Sydney, where you’ll pass countless surf spots on the way. With countless beach breaks to fill your boots around the city, Sydney is one of the world’s best cities to be a surfer!
To take your Aus road trip to the next level, head into the desert across the Nullabor, where you’ll encounter some of the country’s most harrowing slabs; just watch the sharks. 4000km, you’ll then reach West Aus, where you can sample the wonders of Margaret River. Some of the best places to surf in Australia are the Gold Coast, Noosa, Lennox Head, Sydney Northern Beaches, Ulladulla, Bells Beach, and Margaret River.
Aotearoa, the land of the long white cloud, is a haven for surfers. The two islands of New Zealand are beautiful natural landscapes, scarcely populated, made for camping/road tripping and have abundant world-class waves.
It’s as if New Zealand has been designed for the travelling surfer, and it provides the perfect opportunity to camp, drive around, and score wave sunder a stunning natural setting. We’re talking deep Crayola greens, black sand beaches, snow-capped mountains and volcanoes. There’s a ton to do here, and the waves rival anywhere on the right day. And if you’re willing to drive in New Zealand, you’ll always get waves.
After landing in Auckland and grabbing your hire car/campervan, you have countless options for surfing. Piha is an exposed black sand beach and is a reliable option for waves straight out of Auckland.
Then head to Raglan, a series of three world-class lefts and a cool town, a must-visit and one of the best surf spots in New Zealand. Elsewhere on the North Island, you’ve got the Coromandel peninsula, Taranaki, Gisborne, Mount Maunganui, one of the best beginner surf spots in the country, and one of NZ’s best waves in Matakana. On the South Island, check out Kaikoura and Dunedin.
Learn more about surfing in New Zealand with this guide to NZ’s best surf spots.
Comparable to Indo or Tahiti, Fiji is a surfing paradise. A tropical island chain with perfect blue waves and hollow barrels. But don’t be fooled; the waves in Fiji are serious business when the swells up. Shallow, powerful and long, breaking over live coral. While Fiji isn’t the most affordable surf trip you’ll do, you’ll surf some of the best reef passes in the world. The most popular area (Mamanuca islands) is where Cloudbreak, Restaurants, and Wilkes are is by far the best place for surfing in Fiji.
Best Surf Destinations in Africa
Imagine it. Pulling up cliffside and staring down at perfect, long right-handers with no one out. In Morocco, wet dreams like this are often a reality. While you’ll need to explore to score waves on your own, there’s a ton of potential with such a long coastline. The country also boasts a unique cultural mix and a combination of French and Arabic languages. There are some main towns to use as bases when surfing in Morocco; check out Tagazhout or Immusouane, then explore from there.
Jbay, sharks, Cape Town, danger, wildlife… That’s what comes to mind when you think of South Africa, right? However, there’s more to surfing in South Africa than meets the eye. The country is huge, with a long rugged coastline and infinite potential to shape the large swells coming from the roaring 40s.
If you’re after punchy beach break barrels, head to Durban on the east coast, then 12 hours south to JBay, which needs no introduction and is unrivalled by any other surf spot on earth. Cape Town is also a beautiful city, with great options in and out of the water. The Cape peninsular provides several options in various conditions, and although the waters are baltic here (we’re talking 5mm and hood), the waves pump!
While this list is extensive, it covers all bases and gives you a reference to read up on every specific spot in the world. There are so many places to explore, and I can’t wait to keep travelling to the best surf destinations in the world! If you’ve been lucky enough to visit any of these places, let me know of your experience in the comments.