Our complete guide to surf camps is essential reading for anyone thinking of booking one this year. From Sayulita to Lombok, Peniche to Peru, you’ll discover the best camps in the world right now, and get an idea of what to expect from your trip.
Surf camps are a special experience.
Imagine surfing the best waves in a destination every morning you wake. You’ll have the local know-how to find the spots. You’ll have transport to the breaks. All your surf gear is taken care off. And there’s a ready-made group of mates to do it all with.
Pretty awesome, eh?
It’s hardly a surprise to us that the surf camp industry has gone from zero to 60 bazillion in the last 15 years or so. There was a time when you could count the number of camps in Europe on two hands. One in Peniche. One in Hossegor.
Fast forward to 2023 and it’s a whole different story. There’s a crazzzzy array of options. Big camps, small camps, pro camps, luxury camps, camps for students and stag dos – you name it, it exists.
What’s more, the things you get from a surf camp have improved a lot, too. At the very least you’ll multiple surf lessons and guided surfs. Most places also throw in yoga classes, massages, evening events, and guided tours.
Oh yea, and the price of surf camps isn’t astronomical. We often find that the cost of going it alone, renting your own car and accommodation and surf gear, comes in at about the same as a midrange surf camp, only you don’t get the added social element and you still gotta’ deal with all the stresses of booking everything yourself.
Anyway, you can probably tell that we’re BIG fans of surf camps. We’ve touched on a few reasons why, but this complete guide will run through them all in more detail, all while offering in-depth guides to some of the best places to do surf camps around the world and the best specific surf camps in key destinations. YEWWWW…
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What’s in this guide to surf camps…
Search and book surf camps right now
Search. Book. Surf – easy, peasy.
We’ve partnered up with Book Surf Camps. They’ve got listings of thousands of surf camps around the globe, and you can usually find the top-rated camps in each destination on their site.
You’ll notice we link out to them in our articles direct to recommended packages in each surf camp we feature. If you book through that link or after searching below, we’ll make some $$ and it won’t cost you any extra. We’d really appreciate if you do that because that’s how we can keep writing and surfing and testing all these camps in the first place (hard job, eh?).
When we can’t find a specific surf camp on their portal, we’ll link you direct to their site or another booking provider, which we might not earn from but that’s okay because we get good karma from giving you a badass surf trip!
Anyway, the point here is that Book Surf Camps usually have the bases covered. 95% of the best camps in key destinations are available on their site. Some offer multiple packages, others just one or two. You can browse the lot by searching below…
A note on why we partner with BookSurfCamps.com: Book Surf Camps are probably the biggest online aggregator of surf camps and surf-yoga packages in the world. We sounded out a quite a few potential partners before we affiliated with them. But, in the end, the abundance of choice for beginners, intermediates, and female-only surfing sealed it. We also love the simplicity of their booking system and the trusted brand name, along with the focus on connecting with homegrown local businesses on the ground.
What is a surf camp?
A surf camp isn’t actually a camp. Don’t worry – you won’t be forced to sleep under canvas and cook beans on a stove (unless you want to, of course, because there are some cool ass packages in camping surf camps!).
Basically, the term is used to refer to any sort of planned trip that focuses on surfing. Look at it as the package holiday version of surf travel.
That’s the bare bones. Now, camps can come in all different forms. There are some that are very hands-off, just offering accommodation and access to rentals or lesson booking when you want it. Most, though, do something more comprehensive, including surf lessons, gear, video instruction, and a whole load more that we’ll talk about later in a single quoted price.
Why do a surf camp?
At the most basic level, we’d say this: Surf camps do exist for the express purpose of getting surfers to amazing breaks, having an amazing time. If they succeed then everyone’s happy, right? Right.
That’s hardly convincing though, eh? That’s like someone going – “Oh, mate, do this cos it’s good like.”
Let’s dig a little deeper and unearth a few of the key reasons why recommend picking a surf camp over a DIY trip…
The major pluses of doing a surf camp…
Extra frills you might get from some surf camps
What’s included in a surf camp?
That all depends on the surf camp you choose. Some are basic affairs for budget travelers, others are bespoke camp packages with tours and meditation sessions and massages included in the price.
That said, 99% of camps include a set of basic elements:
As we said, that’s the basics. The bare bones. The very minimum you can expect. The vast majority of camps will throw in a lot more than that, from yoga sessions to nightly events. However, we usually say to consider these three key aspects first and foremost, since they’ll have the biggest impact on your trip overall.
What surfers are surf camps for?
Beginners up to intermediate surfers will probably enjoy surf camps more than advanced folks. The reason? These packages are often aimed at teaching you how to surf and then improving your technique or broadening your knowledge of breaks.
First off, they are absolutely fantastic for total beginners who’ve never even seen a surfboard in their life. If you’re at that level (can we call that a level, yet?), then a good camp will ease you right into it with out-of-water training, training in surf etiquette, and proper warm ups. Only then will you enter the water, specifically at a spot that’s primed for beginners (a beach break with nice, small, mushy waves), like a nursery slope when you ski.
Most camps split groups into two these days. One will be for the beginners, who will go to the easy breaks mentioned above. The other will be for better surfers who are already confident in the line up and are looking to explore different breaks and wave shapes. They’ll tend to travel further afield, to surf reef breaks and points. There’s that, and the fact that intermediate surfers will get technical pointers through video analysis and in-water training as they go.
There are also a couple of surf camps specifically tailored towards experts and advanced surfers. They mainly exist in certain destinations that are really primed for that – the likes of the Mentawais and Sumbawa in Indo, for example.
Surf camps for beginners
The truth is that surf camps are probably best for beginners. They’re for everyone – all the way to pros. But they are probably best for beginners.
We say that because many have lesson structures that are specifically designed to take you from never having surfed a wave to smashing the whitewash and then up to catching green waves.
We’ve been to camps and watched complete surf novices finish the week with trimming top to bottom, even rail turns. Consider it a sort of intense driving course, a ticket to being proficient in surfing.
On top of that, surf camps have all those extras that can help demystify surfing for someone who’s never done it.
You’ll get lessons in surf etiquette so you know what to do when you’re in busy line ups. You’ll get transport to and from the waves, so there’s no navigating unknown areas. And – most importantly – you’ll be in a group of people who are just like you, learning to surf having a good time.
We’ve tried to pick out beginner surf camps that focus heavily on those things and make taking your first steps in this sport a true joy…
Yoga surf retreats
Surf camps aren’t just surf camps any more. There are now oodles that combine wave riding and pop up practice with yoga. It’s hardly a secret that proper posture and strong core muscle groups will help with your surf. And that’s really the thinking behind these packages.
They really are packages specifically designed for people who want to do yoga and to surf EVERY SINGLE DAY OF THEIR VACATION.
Most of them come with at least an equal number of yoga classes to surf classes, though some offer literally unlimited yoga! The stays themselves also tend to have dedicated yoga shalas (a space for doing your yoga), often in gorgeous locations – think monkey-filled Costa Rican jungles and between the medinas of old Moroccan fishing towns.
Sound like your kinda’ thing?
Summer surf camps
Look, everyone prefers surfing without 8mil of rubber on their back and the sun blazing down from above. That, you can be sure of.
The answer? Summer surf camps.
But wait, we hear you say, the swell ain’t as good in summer no matter where you are. Not so. Not even close
There are some destinations out there that are tailored for summer surfing.
Interested? Of course you are! Check our guide to the top summer surf camps to discover options in Portugal, in Sri Lanka, and beyond…
Where can I do a surf camp?
Here we go. The fun part! Let’s stoke that wanderlust; poke those travel valves. In the 2020s surf camps are now all around the globe. From Mexico to the Maldives, Sri Lanka to South America, they’re on offer east to west, north to south.
But there are definitely some key surf destinations that really stand out from the crowd. Yep, about 15-20 destinations have emerged as leaders in the field.
The real reason for that is that they’re really well suited to the sort of beginner-friendly, multi-level groups that surf camps need. They have a variety of breaks that nurture progression, goo beach breaks for starting out on, plus a friendly vibe without too much localism in the line up.
The good news is that those leaders in the surf-camp world cover a good spread. Some are bargain-friendly tropical spots for escaping the European and North American winter, others are EU gems that are fantastic for learners in the summer months.
In this part of the guide, we’ll home in on all of the very best destinations to do surf camps, outline a little about why they’re so great, reveal the best time to visit them, and dig down to highlight the finest surf camps in each place. We’ll start at country level and then dig into the specific towns that really shine for surf campers in each.
If you don’t want intros and whatnot, get straight to the meat with these quick links to our destination surf camp guides…
Surf camps in Costa Rica
- Best time to go: Dry season (May-August)
Costa Rica is the surf camp capital of Central America. It caters to a huge US market – hey, the flight’s are only 2-3 hours from some American cities! – and caters to it well. Expect very chic, eco-friendly resorts tucked into the jungles, where howler monkeys and sloths will keep you company, all with a hint of Latin pizzazz.
The Pacific region reigns supreme. It’s ridiculously consistent, with 90% surfable days in the summer and 80% surfable days in the winter. And it has those long, sweeping beach breaks that the beginner and learner crowd crave so much. The most famous part of that is the Nicoya Peninsula, which hosts the legendary surf town of Tamarindo and upcoming Santa Teresa. To be honest, you can’t really go wrong with either of those!
There aren’t many downsides to a surf camp in Costa Rica. At a push we’d say they are probably pricier than their Asian compadres. That’s really it, though. Learning to surf here is a pure joy.
Surf camps in Tamarindo
If in doubt, go to Tamarindo. That’s the general rule with surf campers in Costa Rica.
Yes, the town – known to some of the OG crew from back in the 60s as Tamagringo – is now always busy. But it’s also still friendly and welcoming, without much bad blood in even ever-growing line ups.
The waves really lend themselves to learners here. Playa Tamarindo’s southern end gets good shelter from the strongest SW swells, helping it work for learner groups in dry season and in wet.
Mostly, though, it’s just the vibe in Tama that we love. The camps here do things right: Half surfing, half chilling, some partying in there for good measure. There’s hardly a better town for young guns looking to score their first waves and hit the apres all night long.
Surf camps in Santa Teresa
Some of the best learner waves in Costa Rica hit the coast at the end of the Nicoya Peninsula. Santa Teresa – probably the most upcoming surf town in the country – sits right there, so it’s easy to see why there’s been such an explosion in the number of surf-camp options.
Okay, so the transfer from the airport in San Jose is likely to take you a long five hours, but it takes you to a wild corner of the Pacific Coast, to surf camps that keep the company of howler monkeys and sloths.
The waves here are punchy and fun basically all year round. There’s also always loads of whitewash for complete beginners. Lodges are typically eco friendly and have backpacker vibes.
Surf camps in Nosara
Nosara is the surf-yoga capital of Costa Rica. It’s the place to go surf camping if you want to pull downward dogs on perfect Pacific beaches as the sunsets, but want days of riding very consistent waves.
The angle of the coastline means that the swells on the surf beach at Nosara (Playa Guiones) tend to be less daunting than elsewhere. For that reason, this is a great option for learners (or, again, yogis who want a bit of surfing thrown into the mix).
Surf camps in Nicaragua
- Best time to go: Wet season (June-August) for bigger waves, dry season for smaller waves
Three hundred and something days with steady offshores make Nicaragua a proper surf mecca. Popoyo has graced more surf movies than we can remember. It’s barreling reefs offering ample fodder for in-water photo shooters. But, go south, and there are bigger horseshoe bays protected by higher headlands, which help to temper the swell and chop down the footage.
The most southerly region of the country on its Pacific side is Rivas. That’s the home of San Juan del Sur, the hub of the surf camp industry in Nica, but also bays like Playa Maderas – a gorgeous inlet with smatterings of rock reef that produce waves for all levels.
The camps here tend to be cheap, but also offer at taste of a real tropical surf adventure. Many are eco lodges surrounded by jungles, with open-air bathrooms and whatnot. Cool stuff.
- Best time to go: All year but summer (May-August) has bigger waves
Mexico is a great place to do a surf camp. It’s a short hop from the USA, linked to Europe by multiple big airlines, and gets swell for pretty much the whole year, though the summer (May-August) is better for advanced surfers.
One or two towns really stand out from the crowd on the surf-camp front here. Sayulita is king to be frank. Set on the tail end of the lovely Riviera Nayarit, it’s home to two main breaks that are meccas for longboarders and beginners. Book that, enjoy the tacos, have the time of your life.
Surf camps in Sayulita
- Best time to go: For beginners, all year. For intermediates+, summer months (May-Sept)
Sayulita can’t really be beaten on the surf camp front in Mexico. There’s nowhere – not even Puerto Escondido – that can match the sheer array of options. But camps themselves aside for just a moment, the real thing here is the fact that the town has two uber-beginner-friendly waves. You’ll surf them all morning and then breako on tacos. Mmmm.
There’s a hodgepodge of camp options in town. Yoga camps with wellness focus abound, as do bargain camps for the budget surfers. You’ll be able to find just about anything!
Surf camps in Portugal
- Best time to go: All year round (but autumn to spring tend to be best, and the Algarve is best in the winter)
Portugal has by far the best range of surf camps in Europe. That’s to be expected. The country has a consistency that makes Indo blush and breaks for literally everyone. It also cut its teeth as a sand and sun vacation hotspot, so it’s already easy to access on low-cost flights from the UK, Germany, Poland, the Netherlands etc etc.
The duo of Ericeira and Peniche on the Central Coast can muster a line up of surf camps to keep you going for years. They are fantastic, too. From hedonistic backpacker hostels to luxurious coastal villas, there are all sorts of stays spread between them. And they can make use of countless surf spots that almost always have something for the learner crew.
For something a little more local, less commercial, you can also stray south to the Algarve. Charming surf towns like Aljezur beckon there, with small-group camps that promise a very social vibe.
Surf camps in Peniche
Peniche probably just about wins out when it comes to the best towns for surf campers in Portugal. It’s close with Ericeira (see below), but Peniche’s access to the beaches of Baleal mean that you get more in the way of beginner-friendly waves, even into the depths of the peak swell season of winter.
The sheer number of surf camp options is a testimony to just how awesome this is as a learn-to-surf spot. You’ve got the most cutting-edge brand names (Salty Pelican, we’re looking at you) next to locally owned B&B-style surf lodges that ooze PT character.
Surf camps in Ericeira
Ericeira is a close second to Peniche for surf campers. Look for a place to stay in the town or south of it and you’ll have fantastic access to around 10 separate breaks that are dead on for beginners up to intermediates.
What the camps in this fun-loving town do right is the balance between local Portuguese life and that surf hol vibe. They channel a sort of chilled B&B feel, letting guests stay in a whole villa with chillout areas and garden pools. It’s almost as if you’ve rented your own pad and are surfing with mates, only the admin and transport and rental is all taken care of.
Surf camps in Lisbon
Lisbon is arguably the best surf city on the planet. And it’s not even on the sea!
The capital of Portugal actually straddles the Tagus River estuary, but the sweeping 14 miles of wave-splashed sand at the Costa da Caparica is just over the bridge to the south, while the Estoril Coast – home to Carcavelos and Cascais – is an hour to the west.
Most of the best surf camps here are located in the latter, with access to the city itself by train and the beaches by quick minivan transfer. What we love is that you can spend a couple of days learning to surf and then retreat to Lisbon itself to check off the sites and party. It’s a great vacation format that doesn’t require too much traveling.
Surf camps in Algarve
The Algarve is best known as a holiday mecca for sun seekers in the summer months. They all go to the god-awful 18-30s resorts on the south coast. Skip that and come in autumn, winter, or spring and you’ll find the western coast, beginning around Sagres and going all the way up to the regional border with Alentejo, is downright amazing surf territory.
Really, you’re looking at basing yourself in either the surf town of Sagres, the stunning country town of Aljezur, or somewhere in the countryside in between. The surf stays here are invariably whitewashed villas set amid the olive groves. Chilled places but with access to lovely breaks that are really consistent. Arrifana is probably the main place you’ll go.
See our picks for the best surf camps in the Algarve & our guide to the top surf camps in Sagres
Surf camps in Sagres
The town of Sagres is right at the base of the country, on a perch overlooking the western Algarve and the Southern Algarve. You couldn’t really make up a better locale for a surf town, which is why this one really leads the charge when it comes to camps in the sunny Algarve region.
We’ve got the lowdown on a handful of the very best around, including options that are perfect for families and others that are more suited to partying backpackers.
Surf camps in Spain
- Best time to go: Autumn-Spring, with bigger swells in winter
Spain has slowly but surely been taking a slice of the surf-camp pie off of Portugal. And it’s been doing it in style, too. We simply love the array of country-style lodges that the country offers along the trio of regions on its north coast, from Galicia to Asturias. They are often wedged into quiet villages and have walking access to beaches that are never that busy at all.
If you want something a bit livelier, consider checking out a surf camp in San Sebastian. That’s the coolest town of the Basque Country, and it’s possible to access famous bays like Zurriola without even leaving town.
There still isn’t a massive array of surf camps in Spain. It’s very much a case of quality over quantity for now. All in all, it’s a great alternative to busier Portugal.
Surf camps in Morocco
- Best time to go: Winter, from November to March. Summer is way too windy.
Morocco is just about perfect for the European surfer looking to escape the cold-water waves of December and January. It’s the winter that’s the peak time here, you see. The wind dies down and NW swells push through the Atlantic to send regular clean swells into western Morocco from November to March.
Taghazout is firmly established as the hub of it all. It’s got more surf camps than you can shake your tagine at. They don’t just surf in Taghazout Bay, though. Most now offer trips out to Tamraght (an amazing beginner spot), Banana Beach, and others.
More recently, other parts of the Moroccan Atlantic have been eyeing up that tourist dollar, and they have the waves to rival Taghazout on the surf camp front. They’re also not quite as busy. For us, it’s Imsouane and Sidi Kaouki that really stand out.
Surf camps in Taghazout
If you’d asked us 10 years ago if a surf camp in Taghazout was a good idea, we’d have screwed up our face and said “na, go somewhere else”. The place just went from teeny-tiny fishing village to global surf destination too fast. For a while, it didn’t even have proper sewerage systems. Needless to say, there were unwanted things in the water.
Fast forward to 2023 and things have changed A LOT. Taghazout has caught up on the development front, it’s got good links to nearby Agadir and even Marrakesh, a range of epic surf camps with fantastic ocean views, and – importantly – a working waste water network.
As we’ve already mentioned, this is a perfect choice for EU-based surfers who want warm weather and warm water in the depths of winter, which is peak season in Taghazout, all only 4 hours’ flight from London or Berlin.
Surf camps in Sri Lanka
- Best time to go: November-March for southwest coast, May-August for Arugam Bay
Sri Lanka is an epic, epic, epic place to go for a surf camp. First, off, a nod to the waves. Hardcore shortboarders always complain how soft conditions are here. We love it! The outer reefs of the southwest coast here temper big Indian Ocean swells into lovely, cruisy, mellow rights and lefts. Many of the reefs are also deep and forgiving. For beginners who want a taste of what warm-water Asian surfing is all about – this one can hardly be beaten.
Then there’s the uber-chill vibe and rich, enthralling culture of this palm-strewn island. Come here midwinter and you’ll bathe in 95-degree heat, dine on the tastiest dal curries you’ve ever eaten, and explore teafields and Buddhist temples and more. It’s not for nothing that it’s a seriously wonderful spot.
Downsides to Sri Lanka are its seasonality – the main surf areas only work well between November and March – and the regular political upheavals, though everything is a-okay at the time of writing (March 2023).
Surf camps in Indonesia
- Best time to go: All year for beginners, but dry season (June-August) for advanced surfers
When we talk about surf camps in Indonesia, we’re really focusing on two main islands. The first is ever-famous Bali. The second is its next-door neighbor of Lombok. In truth, they’re quite different, but each has just about the perfect combo of swell, beach breaks, cheap living, and good vibes for surf campers.
We’d say the vast majority of travelers – especially beginner surfers – will enjoy the offering of those two (which we look closer at below). More advanced surfers and surf travelers who like to tread off the beaten path also have lots to enjoy in Indo, though – there are 17,000 isles here in total and loads of em have surf breaks…
Camps are now mushrooming up all over the place. Java has some great options, especially in Batu Karas, a town on the south coast with waves for all levels. Then there are the out-and-out advanced and upper intermediate options in the Mentawai Islands, where you’ll score barrels every day and stay on remote islands in the middle of nowhere.
Surf camps in Bali
- Best time to go: Dry season (May-August)
Bali is one of the original places to do a surf camp. The island might hit the mag covers for its monstrous lefts and barrels – Uluwatu, Padang Padang – but the south coast also hosts some of the world’s finest beginner surf beaches.
The first of them is Kuta. We tell everyone: Forget about that now. Almost all of the best camps here have moved away. Kuta is just too polluted and too tacky.
Canggu has sort of taken over. It’s a great option if you don’t want to stray too far from the airport or want to stay in a proper town with its own nightlife and bars – Canggu is as cool as they come. For quieter breaks you can also head up to Medewi or Balian, or even to certain places on the Bukit Peninsula.
Our top three surf camp in Bali for 2023 are:
Surf camps in Lombok
- Best time to go: All year
If you pushed us to name the single best destination for a surf camp right now, it would probably be Lombok. The island just has the perfect set-up: One main surf town (Kuta Lombok) that’s packed with camps and pulses with nightlife, a 30-mile stretch of south-facing shoreline that gets swell all year and has breaks of all types (easy beachies to frothing barreling reefs), and – here’s the kicker – one of the widest arrays of camp options outside of Bali.
Oh yea, and did we mention that it’s downright stunning here. You’ll surf in the shadow of soaring Mount Rinjani – a volcano that’s shrouded in cloud come the rainy season – and get to laze on shimmering white beaches like Tanjung Aan between sessions.
Surf camps in the Mentawais
- Best time to go: Dry season (May-August)
The Mentawais buck the trend when it comes to surf camps. See, the options here aren’t reeally aimed at complete beginners. They are aimed at seasoned surfers who just can’t shake that vision of Kandui or Bank Vaults barreling like a beauty out of their minds.
Once upon a time, the Ments were the province of surf charter boats only. No more. There are some seriously lovely camps that offer 6+ hours of surfing each day, professional video analysis, and more. There’s even one on a private tropical island. Nice.