The Ultimate Guide to Playa Hermosa Surf

by Joe

Playa Hermosa surf is pretty awesome. An official WSR, this one’s up there with Malibu and Ericeira, rated one of the best spots in Central America.

We might use affiliate links in this post. Basically, you click em’ and we get a little something from your booking or purchase. They help us keep offering more and more in-depth surf guides to awesome places all around the globe. So, thanks for that!

Playa Hermosa surf at a glance

The good

  • Consistency
  • Loads and loads of different peaks
  • Good power in the waves

The bad

  • Crocodiles!
  • Muddy water
  • Heavy close out days are relatively common

This guide is just one part of our complete guide to surfing in Costa Rica

What’s in this guide to Playa Hermosa surf ?

An introduction to Playa Hermosa surf

One of the newest Save the Waves World Surfing Reserves and one of the only surfing reserves in Central America, Playa Hermosa is what brings the quality to Jaco. It’s about 10-15 minute’s drive south of that resort, running for a couple of miles in a perfect diagonal line across the Pacific. You could say it’s tailor-made to pick up ANY SW swell that comes in here, and the reliability is off the charts.

Wave wise, you’re looking at all sorts of lippy wedges and points. Lefts, rights, and close outs abound up and down the shoreline. There is so much space that you rarely have to share a peak. Surf schools sometimes stray down, but the power means it’s mainly an intermediate+ break. Heavier days can turn the Playa Hermosa surf into a board-breaking festival. Ideal conditions are something in the 5-9 foot range with good easterly offshores and medium S-SW swells, usually in the wet season.

The hazards are just too much for some – Hermosa is a breeding ground for crocs and stingrays. Accidents have happened, too, so always be alert. Most surfers will choose to stay in the nearby resort of Jaco, which not only has plenty of hotels but also smaller waves on Playa Jaco and oodles of surf rentals and nightlife to boot.

Playa Hermosa surf

Where is Playa Hermosa?

Playa Hermosa is on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. It’s just under two hours’ drive from the capital at San Jose. The closest town is Jaco, another major surf destination, which is about 10-15 minute’ drive north. Most surfers heading here will choose to stay there and make trips to Playa Hermosa during the day.

A guide to the Playa Hermosa surf spots

Playa Hermosa runs for about 6.5 miles from end to end. There are countless peaks that don’t have names all down its length. Some have been named because they have the consistent barrels or lefts and rights. We’ve listed them here, along with some nearby spots worth knowing about.

Playa Jaco

Don’t aim for Hermosa if you’re heading to Costa Rica to learn to surf. Jaco is a WAY better bet. It’s only 10-15 minutes’ drive to the north and has a whole bay of slightly-smaller waves that are great for beginners. It’s also a town, packed with surf schools and surf shops.

We’ve got a complete guide to surfing in Jaco

Roca Loca & El Gato

Two reef breaks that work on the headland between Jaco town and Playa Hermosa itself. Roca Loca is a hard right hander on shallow reef that needs big, pushy south swells, so is basically rainy season only. El Gato is a left that can get shallow and sucky but can work on a single overhead.

Terrazas

Terrazas is probably the most-surfed of all the Playa Hermosa spots. That’s not because it’s great. It is great. But it’s because it sits right by the bulk of the hotels on Playa Hermosa. The wave is a hollow left that can be rippable for nice top turns. The main danger is the submerged reef, which has some jagged rocks that like to make a nuisance of themselves when the wave is working best on high tide. Keep your eyes on em’.

Backyards

Backyards works a charm in the peak of the rainy season and the dry season. It likes north or south swells with any element of W in them. The wave is pretty epic, too. You’re looking at classic Pacific-coast sandbank barrels that form very steep and strong when the water’s on the push. Don’t expect it to be empty, and don’t be tempted by low tide.

Almendros

Bigger days can see nice rippable shoulders at Almendros. It’s a very high quality wave that needs 5-9 foot to work at least. Then it’s a shortboarder’s dream, with big shoulders that can be cut up. Look for it right in the middle of Playa Hermosa.

La Curva

Another 800 meters or so along the Playa Hermosa dirt track from Almendros, La Curva is a hollow spot that goes both left and rights. We’d say the rights are generally of better quality, but there are small pits to be had on either. Needs decent SW swells to work and is a very relaxed option that also pulls in foamers.

Tulin

Tulin is towards the southernmost end of the beach and is among the punchiest of the Playa Hermosa surf . Barrels are common here, even in the quieter dry season. They form like a Frenchie on the sandbanks at low tide and peel beautifully right and left. When Tulin is working well the word will spread so we’d recommend early sessions if possible. Crocodiles can also come by, so be very, very careful.

Where to stay when surfing in Playa Hermosa

The way we see it, there are two choices when you come to pick that Playa Hermosa surf hotel. Either stay in Jaco town, for nightlife and shops and cafes. Or, stay on the way to Playa Hermosa, where the coast is fringed by more relaxed beach hotels that have better access to the waves. We’ve gone for a mix…

Sunny’s ($-$$)

Surf-hotel-top-pick

Get the tropical vibe right with a stay at Sunny’s. This timber-built beach house puts you within easy striking distance of Playa Hermosa’s northern end. Every room has a balcony. Prices aren’t outrageous. All round great pick for surfers.

Hotel Ibiza ($$-$$$)

If you’re willing to make the journey down to Playa Hermosa to surf each day then Hotel Ibiza can offer up the hedonism and gastronomy of Jaco town. More than that, it’s a gorgeous hotel with an inviting pool in a series of animal-filled gardens. Say hello to the macaws for us would ya?

Hotel Terraza del Pacifico ($$-$$$)

There are stunning views of the Pacific Ocean and the beach of Playa Hermosa from this hotel. They also offer a huge outdoor pool and pretty contemporary rooms with lots of mod cons.

When to surf in Playa Hermosa

Playa Hermosa waves

Playa Hermosa does best when there’s a southern element in the swell direction. That’s true of pretty much all of western Costa Rica. It means waiting for the rainy season, when most people depart the beaches. However, Hermosa has such reliability you can surf here pretty much all year round…

Rainy season (May-November)

The swell channels shift to the south for the rainy season in Costa Rica. That pushes some excellent surf into the whole Nicoya and Pacific coastline. It’s prime time for advanced surfers to hit the waves here, with heavy overheads and double overheads happening very often. Don’t be shy of calling it too big in Playa Hermosa. Where this surfing reserve suffers is in having TOO much energy. It’s not uncommon for close outs to run the length of the sand.

Dry season (December-April)

A gradual shift in the swell direction to the W and the N can cut some power from the waves on Playa Hermosa. It’s not the end of the action, because it also means there’s less of a chance of heavy close outs. In fact, dry-season days down here can be wonderful, with some great barrel options at the more consistent breaks – especially Tulin. Beginners should also like this season, mainly for the whitewash and surf camps that happen up in Jaco Bay.

Be sure to check out our gear guides:

Surf shops in Playa Hermosa

From ding repairs to new boards, the surf shops of Playa Hermosa and Jaco should have you covered for most things…

Carton Surfboards

Carton Surfboards is a depot like workshop of a surf outlet that’s neatly placed on the road between Jaco and Playa Hermosa. The owner – Carton – is a right hoot, and a maestro ding repairer to boot. There’s also some new and second-hand surfboard stock all shaped in house.

Where to eat and drink in Playa Hermosa

The Surfing Co.

We don’t know whether to list The Surfing Co. as a surf shop or a cafe. We went with cafe because it’s more of a hangout than a gear pickup point. They’ve channeled a bit of Bali with that polished concrete, serve great coffee, and even stock longboards, surfboards, and surf fashion.

Vida Hermosa Bar and Restaurant

Vida Hermosa Bar and Restaurant is a cool hangout spot with front-row views over the north end of Playa Hermosa. It’s built in the style of a classic beach eatery, with creaky timber decks and timber bars that look plucked from the Caribbean. Regular live music makes it fun, and so do the cocktails – the margaritas are something special for $3900 CRC ($6.50 USD).


We might use affiliate links in this post. Basically, you click em’ and we get a little something from your booking or purchase. They help us keep offering more and more in-depth surf guides to awesome places all around the globe. So, thanks for that!

This article is just one part of our complete guide to surfing in Costa Rica

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