If there is only one thing you should know about Tamarindo, and Costa Rica in general, is that there are waves. There are waves up north, down south, and pretty much anywhere where salt water is touching sand.
But it’s just as important to know that not all waves are created equal. Even in Tamarindo, there are just some spots you may not want to venture out to if this is your first time surfing.
Luckily, the fine folks at Neptuno want to clear things up for any first time visitors that want to hit the waves. Here is an unofficial visitor’s guide to surf spots in Tamarindo. We’ll start with the most obvious one.
The Tamarindo Beach Break
Don’t worry; it’s usually not this big. If it is this big while you’re visiting, chances are you’ll hear some excited locals talking about it before you actually see it. As of this writing, it looks more like the picture below, which is great if you’ve never surfed before. That means there will be perfect conditions for you to take a surf lesson with our qualified instructors.
When you do have a lesson, the instructor will probably take you out to the main beach break. It’s easy enough to spot. It’s at the northern part of Tamarindo beach, which is also the most populated section. More than likely you’ll be able to spot it because it will have multiple groups of people wearing the same shirt, having lessons. This spot is great if you’re just starting out, but if you’re looking to do more than ride whitewater back to the beach, this may not be for you. This break works during mid to high tide.
The River Mouth (El Estero)
If you happen to be at the main beach break, just look to your right a little and you’ll see something similar to this picture. This is the river mouth break, or El Estero as the ticos refer to it. This is definitely one of the more advanced surf spots, because of its location. The rip current can be quite strong here depending on the tides, so you need to be aware of what time high tide is before you paddle out. It’s a deceptively fast wave, and it can get pretty crowded at times. This spot is usually good any time except high tide, although it can get pretty flat when there’s no swell.
Casitas is located on the north side of the Tamarindo river mouth, which is the beginning of Playa Grande. It’s named for the collection of small rental houses (casitas) that the break is in front of.
This particular break is one of my favorites. If you’re coming from Tamarindo, you’ll have to cross the river to get there, which means you’ll have to take one of the small ferry boats across for ¢500 colones (the equivalent to $1). Or, if you’re brave enough, you can just paddle across yourself. It doesn’t happen very often, but there is always the chance that a crocodile may show up so, there’s that.
Once you get across, walk a bit further and you’ll see a fairly clean mid sized break that goes both left and right.
The passage across the river means that this spot will be relatively less crowded than some of the others, and the waves can be small enough for beginners, and challenging enough for advanced surfers. This is a mid to high tide break.
Pico Grande / Pequeño
If you happen to be at the main beach break and you look to your left, you’ll see a cluster of surfers hanging around a rock formation.
Some will be closer to the shore, catching waves off the break near the beach. The break at the rock is called Pico Grande, while the one closer to shore is Pico Pequeño. Literally translated “big peak” and “small peak.” Grande is pictured above, while Pequeño is pictured below.
Both Pico Grande and Pico Pequeño are recommended for surfers with some experience, although newbies can definitely hang out on the shoulder of Pequeño and pick off some of the smaller waves.
If you’ve got some patience and some energy, you can paddle out to Pico Grande. Just to the right of the rock (left if you’re looking from the beach), there is a fairly sizeable break. You’ll have to wait for it, because it’s not very consistent, but if you catch the right one you can surf it all the way inside.
Pico Pequeño can be quite challenging for new surfers. For one, the wave never stays in one place, so you have to constantly paddle and adjust your position. Also, Pico Pequeño is known to be populated by a lot of local groms (young surfers) so it can be a bit competitive.
Both Pico Grande and Pico Pequeño are mid to high tide breaks.
If you’re not a beginning surfer and you want a little more challenge in your surfing life, you can check out the main break at Playa Langosta.
A short drive or a 20 walk will get you there on the only road from Tamarindo, and once you get to the beach you’ll have to walk down to the river mouth, but it can be worth it. Langosta has the waves you’re looking for if you’ve been surfing for a while.
There are multiple peaks, but the two I’ll describe here are Racetrack, and the Main Rivermouth Peak. Racetrack is on the right side of the river mouth (if you’re looking out from the shore) and is named so because of the immediate dilemma that surfers are faced with.
Racetrack is a wave that goes to the right, but just inside the spot where you would be dropping in, is a nice shiny jagged cluster of rocks. Once you drop in, you’ll have to “race” down the line to get past those rocks. Not as dangerous as it sounds, but there is always that present danger.
The main river mouth peak to the left is much safer, thankfully, but not less challenging. It’s a heavy peak that moves back and forth, and it does get pretty big from time to time. It can be a lot of fun, with both lefts and rights, but it can also get a bit competitive when there are a lot of surfers. Langosta works any time between mid and high tide.
Well folks, there you have it. You should now have all the knowledge you need to make an informed decision as to where you’re going to go surf. Have fun, be safe, and always remember to look both ways before you drop in on a wave. Happy surfing!