Costa Rica’s waves are no secret. In fact, it’s been drawing surfers for decades and is firmly established as one of the world’s best surf destinations. The nation boasts tropical sunshine, bathtub-warm water, and enough waves to keep you occupied for a lifetime–no matter your ability. Spots such as Santa Teresa, Playa Hermosa, and Dominical are among some of the best surf spots in Costa Rica. But while these Pacific hotspots are well known, Puerto Viejo hosts a powerful hollow slab and a beginner-friendly beach break …Yep, pumping waves in Caribbean Costa Rica. Who’d of guessed? But so you don’t head to this fickle gem and get skunked (spoiler – you still might), here’s everything you need to know about surfing in Puerto Viejo.
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Puerto Viejo Surf Season
The best time to surf in Puerto Viejo is between January and March. A somewhat short window in terms of surf seasons, but this is when the biggest storms generate just enough swell to wake up the Caribbean coast. Puerto Viejo works at the same time of year as Bocas Del Toro, just over the border in Panama. Check what the surf is doing on Surfline (Puerto Viejo) right now.
Best Surf Spots in Puerto Viejo
There are a handful of surf spots in Puerto Viejo, and where you surf will depend on your ability.
If you’re an advanced surfer, the best spot for surfing in Puerto Viejo is Salsa Brava. You may have heard whispers of this mystical beast on the coconut wireless—a powerful slab with a throaty righthand barrel. The wave is shallow, has two sections, and humbles even the best surfers on its day.
(If you want to read a wicked account of what Puerto Viejo and Salsa Brava were like in the early days and other spots around Latin America, check out the book “In Search of Captain Zero”; it’s a fascinating read. Despite this, Salsa is fickle and only comes alive a few times per year. See below for the best season to score Salsa.
Playa Cocles is the best beginner surf spot in Puerto Viejo. If you’re coming to town to party (the nightlife is excellent) and just want a fun foamy session or to learn how to surf, Playa Cocles is your spot. A long forgiving beach break with mushy fun waves most of the time.
For intermediates looking to progress from the whitewater to peeling waves, you have Playa Negra–a small right point peeling off a shipwreck close to Salsa. You won’t miss it! The wave peels nicely but is pretty weak–super fun on a log or mal.
Where is Puerto Viejo?
Puerto Viejo de Talamanca sits on the Costa Rica and Panama border and can be accessed from San Jose.
How to get to Puerto Viejo?
There are many ways to reach Puerto Viejo, but like any travel in the country, expect delays and the journey to take longer than anticipated. Although the roads are decent in CR, some road sections are poor. However, you have a few options for getting to Puerto Viejo.
By Local Bus
Local buses In Costa Rica are frequent, but getting to Puerto Viejo from San Jose takes a long time. For local buses in Costa Rica, I search the exact route on Google (e.g., get from San Jose to Puerto Viejo), write down the bus names, schedule time, where I need to be, and go from there). Check out local bus routes here. This is the slowest but cheapest way to get to Puerto Viejo; perfect if you’re on a budget surf trip.
The best and most convenient way to get around, particularly over longer distances in Costa Rica, was by shuttle bus. Caribe Shuttle was the company I used, and they offer packages that take you between major tourist towns. They also cross the border into Bocas Del Toro in Panama and San Juan Del Sur in Nicaragua. Check out Caribe:San Jose to Puerto Viejo here. You share a minivan with other travelers, costing around $50-80usd.
Puerto Viejo Surf Spot Map
What’s Puerto Viejo Town Like?
Puerto Viejo is a thriving backpacker town. And while not the most consistent surf spot in Costa Rica, the place has many activities outside of surfing, most notably, the nightlife. Puerto Viejo has one of the best nights out in Costa Rica and is a wicked spot to meet other travelers.
There are many bars, clubs, and restaurants to sink a few beers or get stuck into some Gallo Pinto (CR’s national dish). Yep, it’s super tasty, and you’ll eat loads of it!
Where to Stay?
No matter what your bank balance is saying, Puerto Viejo has many accommodation options. If you’re traveling on a budget, there are some wicked hostels in Puerto Viejo, or if you prefer surf trip comfort, there are plenty more upmarket establishments.
While Costa Rica isn’t Central America’s most affordable surf destination, Pagalu Hostel makes a stay in Puerto Viejo affordable. Located in the heart of town, you can walk to the surf spots and everything you need from here. Dorms start at $17usd per night.
Kalunai is another excellent place to stay for surfing in Puerto Viejo. While a bit further back from the action in town, you can still walk to Salsa and cycle to other breaks from here! Dorms start at $17usd. The best budget surf accommodation in Puerto Viejo!
Selina Puerto Viejo
Selina is everywhere in Latin America, and the chain of hostels has everything you need from a surfing digital nomad perspective. With dorms and privates, good wifi, location, and staff on hand 24/7, Selina is usually my go-to hostel, no matter where I travel. Learn more about Selina Puerto Viejo here.
Playa 506 Beachfront Hostel
If you want to stay close to the beach break at Playa Cocles (the best beginner spot in Puerto Viejo), Playa 506 Beachfront Hostel is a wicked spot to stay. Nestled in the jungle just behind the beach, this is a fantastic place to relax and unwind between surfs. Oh, and escape the bustle of town.
If you like staying in comfort, just minutes from the beach at Playa Negra, the best intermediate surf spot in town, Umami could be perfect. A beautiful property with a pool, garden, and all the trappings of home. Restaurant on-site and close to the beach! Win-win.
Tips for Surfing in Puerto Viejo
It’s no secret that Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast is inconsistent regarding swell. In fact, scoring the best waves is pretty rare, but had there in the right season, you’ll get waves!
While not typically associated with waves of consequence, The slice of the reef at Salsa Brava provides super heavy and even intimidating barrels on its day. Don’t be fooled by the Caribbean’s so-called lack of juice!
Digital Nomad Scene
Puerto Viejo can be a great place for surfing digital nomads, with plenty of cafes and hotels with decent wifi. The best hostel/coworking spot in Puerto Viejo is Selina.
Puerto Viejo is an excellent spot to relax on the beach, surf fun waves and meet other travelers. But no trip to town is complete without a great night out, two, three, or five. With so many backpackers, hostels, and bars, the nightlife is super fun and a must-do when visiting.
While fickle, Puerto Viejo is a fantastic town, and under the right conditions, Salsa Brava is one of the best waves in Costa Rica! If you’re on a Central American surf trip and looking to score other waves nearby, such as Bocas Del Toro in Panama, Puerto Viejo is a great stopping point. Time it with a Salsa swell; you’re killing it. Alternatively, if you’re looking for somewhere to surf mellow waves in the topics, meet travelers, and have a beer or two, PV is an exquisite palace to do it.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this post, and please ask any questions below! Check out my guides to other places in Latin America, such as the complete guide to surfing in Costa Rica, Central America, or other Costa Rican destinations like Santa Teresa, Playa Hermosa, and Dominical.
Surfing in Puerto Viejo - FAQs
Playa Cocles is the best beginner surf spot in Puerto Viejo—a mellow beach break with mushy, forgiving waves. Playa Negra is also a great spot for beginners/intermediates.
The best surf beach at Puerto Viejo will depend on your ability. Playa Cocles if you’re a beginner. Playa Negra as an intermediate and Salsa Brava as an advanced surfer.