The Ultimate Guide to Tamarindo Surf

by Chris Smith

Tamarindo surf has become probably the most famous in Costa Rica. That’s not really don to the quality of the breaks but rather the atmosphere of the adjoining town. AKA – it’s fun!

Tamarindo surf

Tamarindo surf at a glance

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The good

  • Loads of different types of breaks within a single bay
  • All levels
  • Nightlife

The bad

  • Tamarindo is crowded like nowhere else in Costa Rica
  • Cold winds in December make neoprene a necessity

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

What’s in this guide to Tamarindo surf?

An introduction to Tamarindo surf

Tamarindo has established itself as the leading surf town in Costa Rica. We can see why. It’s got all sorts of breaks, many of them right on the doorstep of the town itself. Most beginners won’t need to stray more than 10 minutes from their hostel beds. All the whitewash they could want is a mere 20 meters’ walk through the palm trees. More advanced surfers might want to stray a little further, but there are A-frame wedges and rivermouth barrels even if you’re willing to go 20 minutes by foot.

Tamarindo also has a cracking surf infrastructure – we’d say the best in the country. That’s mainly down to the excellent surf camps but also due to the abundance of locally and internationally owned surf schools. On top of that, this is a party town. You can hit the waves and look forward to wild nights in tropical bars blaring out the reggae.

Downsides? Tamarindo surf – like much of the CR Pacific – is highly tide dependant. Be ready to spend half your day waiting for the water line to come in. The lineups have also been getting bigger year on year for like a decade. If you’re a lone shark then consider breaking away to somewhere like Santa Teresa instead.

Where is Tamarindo?

A Tamarindo surf spot

Tamarindo is a part of Guanacaste Province – hollowed territory when it comes to Costa Rican surfing! It’s on the Pacific coast some 4.5 hours’s driving from the capital in San Jose. The nearest airport is in the city of Liberia, which is just over an hour to the north-east. The south of the town marks the start of the Nicoya Peninsula coast, which hosts some of the most famous surf spots in the country, from Santa Teresa to Nosara.

A guide to the Tamarindo surf spots

Tamarindo

The main Tamarindo surf break sits right in front of the town. Seriously, it’s a short stroll from your hostel to the waves. It’s a consistent peak that’s got more relaxed conditions on account of a NW orientation (those hardcore SW swells have to wrap around to get in the bay). The result is a long stretch of really mellow breakers that are suited to beginners or loingboarders.

Estero rivermouth

A little further up the beach is the Estero rivermouth. That’s the highlight of Tamarindo’s main break. It shifts the sandbars around like anyone’s business. On the best days, you’re looking at very fast lefts and right that come of both sides of the channel. The rights are by far the best, though. When the stars (aka sands) align, you’re talking narrow barrel waves that’ll draw you over a very shallow shelf into a tiny green room before regurgitating you into a tapering shoulder that can last 50m or more. It’s a cracking wave for more advanced surfers when it’s on.

Pico Pequeno

A strictly high-tide spot with waves that form off the rocks that go under when the water comes deeper into Tamarindo bay, Pico Pequeno is a fine intermediate option. It can hold really well and loves a strong westerly swell, which it refracts off the stones underfoot to offer neat wedges with predominantly left shoulders. It can get rippable but is usually powerful because it’s a head-on break that sucks on the groundswells.

 Pico Grande

 Pico Grande is the big brother of Pico Pequeno forms of a similar stretch of rock reef that gets submerged by around mid tide in Tamarindo. It’s not surfable until well past that and excels on a push with the SW channels flaring up. It’s got good reliability because you only need some westerly groundswell here, so winter also offers something from the NW quadrant.

When things get overhead – as they often down in June and August here –  Pico Grande offers a extremely punchy wedge that’ll pull you in quickly with a lot of take-off force. If you can manage the steep drop in (shortboard only really) then you can ride a quick barrel out onto a short rippable shoulder that’s there for the carving. Experienced surfers only please.

 Playa Grande

Go surf with the sea turtles at Playa Grande. It only takes about 35 minutes to walk there from Tamarindo town. That helps to thin out the lineup and sorts the kooks from the kahunas if you catch our drift. It’s actually a great break for the more advanced surfers. With a dash of rock reef in the bay that helps to shape up the sets that come in the SW channels to form nice A-frames, you’re looking at fun rides on steep walls as they emerge onto the sandbanks. Most come here when you’re seeing strong Southern Ocean conditions with an easterly offshore and height of about 5-7 foot. That’s perfect for the hollower waves. Upper intermediates and up.

(Oh – and WATCH OUT FOR THE CROCODILES IF YOU’RE PLANNING TO WALK ACROSS THE WATER!)

Henry’s Right & Henry’s Left

Henry’s Left: A quick left on lava reef that can sometimes see just a few inches between fin and rock. It’s not for the beginners and rarely a great quality wave. Good for practicing reef surfing if you already know what you’re doing. Only at high tide.

Henry’s Right: With a tad more clearance than it’s compadre on the left, the right at Henry’s is a larger, wedgier wave that rises on the lava reed and quickly gets fat. There’s room for one or two turns before the water shallows out. Fun but rarely epic.

Capitan Suizo

Capitan Suizo is a beginner-level break at the top end of Playa Langosta. It gets the first hit of the wrap-in SW swells and takes a secondary swell that comes off the point of the island nearby. They aren’t powerful and offer nice flat surfaces to glide onto after a slow take-off. They can be long, too, with rides of over 200m on offer to those who know how to connect up the sections. All very fun. All very easy.

Where to stay when surfing in Tamarindo

Tamarindo probably has more surf camps and surf hostels than anywhere else in Costa Rica. Below, we outline some of the best of the bunch…

Playa Grande Surf Camp ($$)

Surf-hotel-top-pick

Playa Grande Surf Camp takes you just over the Estero rivermouth to the remoter part of Tamarindo bay. You won’t be able to get to the nightlife so easily, but you will have the lovely steep walls and tubes of Playa Grande on the doorstep. The camp itself is also a cracker, offering a swimming pool and tropical gardens filled with hammocks.

Coral Reef Surf Hostel and Camp ($)

Best for: Budget surf trips

Coral Reef Surf Hostel and Camp is the saviour for those who’ve realized that Tamarindo ain’t the cheapest of the CR surf towns anymore. It offers bargain-friendly dorm accommodation in the heart of the town. There’s also surfboard storage and the chance to organize lessons from the front desk.

La Oveja Tamarindo Hostel & Surf Camp ($-$$)

Best for: Stylish surf camp with hostel prices

La Oveja Tamarindo Hostel & Surf Camp is the best posh-tel in the town. It’s got its very own on-site surf school. That’s great, but there’s more: A games room with foosball and pool; a big communal space with cushy sofas; an outdoor bar that gets real lively in the evenings. It’s got all the bases covered!

When to surf in Tamarindo

To be honest, there’s ALWAYS surf in Tamarindo. NW and SW being the dominant swells, they work at different times of the year. We would say that May-October is generally more reliable. Meanwhile, Nov-April can get some of the town’s best surf breaks firing on all cylinders.

Palm tree in Tamarindo

Dry season (November-April)

The dry season isn’t the peak surf season in Tamarindo. However, things still work. It’s just that the SW swells turn off a little and there’s not so much refraction coming in onto the waves of Playa Grange and the Tamarindo reefs. There is a chance that NW swells will kick down, though, and they can work wonders for the rights that come off the rocks in Tamarindo Bay – especially that Estero rivermouth.

The seasonal phenomenon of upwelling that occurs from around December onwards can cause some pretty cold onshore winds on many of the Tamarindo surf spots. For that reason, we’d recommend bringing a thin wetty or a neoprene top that covers the shoulders, particularly if you want to do longer sessions.

Green Season (May-October)

This is the top time to hit the Tamarindo surf. There are consistent SW swells that originate far away around NZ and the South Pacific. As they creep up to Central America, they gather force before hitting the outer reefs of Tamarindo to bend into the bay. Viola – you have your lovely wedges and A-frames. Morning sessions are always better at this time because afternoons can see the easterlies drop away and the onshore begin.

There’s more rain in the Green Season, but temperatures in the water are steady and balmy. You’ll probably only be surfing in a rash vest and swimwear, which is nice.

Costa Rica is blessed with plenty of sunny days each year. The top surf season might be the rainy time, but don’t be fooled by the clouds – there’s lots of UV beating down. We’ve got just the thing: A guide to the best surfer sunscreens on the market right now…

Surf shops in Tamarindo

Tamarindo ain’t short on surf shops. This is arguably the surf capital of the Costa Rican Pacific, after all!

Kelly’s Surf Shop

One of the highest-rated surf rental spots in town. These guys can offer all lengths of board for great prices ($200 for the full week last time we checked). They always serve with smile and run approachable lessons for total beginner if that’s what you’re after.

Surf Culture Surf Shop

We simply had to mention Surf Culture Surf Shop because we’re Rusty hounds. They’ve got one of the best quivers of that classic Preisendorfer shape. There are also tail pads, bags, waxes – you name it.

When to surf Tamarindo?

You can surf all year round in Tamarindo. The Green Season is the peak time with the biggest waves. That runs from Arpil to October and sees the largest south-west swells. There are NW swells in the dry season between November and March which also work well with the Tamarindo breaks, but you might need a thin wetsuit to keep off the cold upswell winds.

Where to surf Tamarindo?

Tamarindo is blessed with loads of amazing surf breaks. Playa Tamarindo itself hosts beginner waves like the beach break and more advanced reefs like Henry’s Right and Henry’s Left. Further north is the intermediate and expert mecca of Playa Grande. In fact, there’s around 10 designated spots within reach of the town.


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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