Craving an escape to warm tropical waters? perhaps you are dreaming of your next balmy surf trip but unsure of where to go? Look no further than Central America!
Yes, you may have to squint to see it on a map, but good things come in small packages, and fewer packages contain as much variety and quality as does this wonderful region of the world. Crammed full of culture, cuisine, breathtaking landscapes and world class waves it’ll be sure to surpass every expectation.
Discover the friendly and empty shores of Guatemala or the natural footers paradise El Salvador. Enjoy over 300 days of offshore breeze in Nicaragua and explore the epic pacific coastline of world class surf stretching from Costa Rica to Panama.
We've put together 3 road trip itineraries for surfers looking to explore Central America. Whether you're going just for the waves, the nightlife or the culture, you'll find what you're looking for in the this overlooked and underrated part of the world.
2-3 Weeks For The Wave Hungry
This trip is perfect for you if you plan to surf, surf, and do nothing else but surf!
Punta Mango, El Salvador - If world class waves are what you’re after, you can skip Guatemala and head straight to El Salvador. Stay in El Cuco and get a boat or bus to this heavy local favourite. Crowds are to be expected but the speedy walls and deep barrels will be well worth the effort.
Popoyo, Nicaragua - Development is just kicking off along the dusty Guasacate coast, but Popoyo reef break is all time. Enjoy perfect lefts and rights breaking over a smooth rocky bottom with a near constant offshore breeze from morning to night. With enough swell you might get lucky to surf the massive outer reef and keep one eye on the beach break too, which can provide some deep sandy bottom howlers on the right day.
Pavones, Costa Rica - Pavones is a legendary spot offering the longest lefts in the world. You’ll need to bring your A-game to beat the dedicated ex-pat community to the best sets and to make the fast walling sections, but if you do, you’ll be treated to an insane kilometre of wave.
Santa Catalina, Panama - This rustic and basic fishing village is home to some of the most consistent and mind blowing surf in the region that’ll be sure to top off your trip and leave you grinning from ear to ear. Make sure to bring plenty of cash because at last check there are no ATMs in town.
2-3 Weeks Of Surfing & Partying
Looking to surf all day, party all night?
Bocas Del Tora, Panama - This Caribbean collection of islands offer a mix of quality to beginner waves and you’ll discover thriving nightlife with plenty of restaurants to whet your appetite on Isla Colon. Exploration is at the heart of surfing here, boat taxis will drop you off and pick you up at your wave of choice at the time you decide.
Puero Viejo, Costa Rica - Jump across the border to Costa Rica and settle in the nearby town of Puerto Viejo. You’ll find yourself surrounded by rainforest, monkeys and all sorts of incredible wildlife. The pace is slow but the vibe tremendous. At Cocles beach break there are plenty of rolling walls to be had while Punta Uva, 8 km out of town, caters nicely to long-boarders. Those after the sweet rush of adrenaline may attempt Costa Rica’s best and most dangerous wave Salsa Brava, located right in town. At night the bars blast reggae, mix up delicious cocktails which you’ll sling down by the light of some fire twirling.
San Juan Del Sur - Nicaragua - If you like to party and love a free t-shirt, then look no further than San Juan Del Sur. The main attraction here is a famous bar crawl named Sunday Funday. There isn’t really much surf in town, but a quick 10 minute ride will get you to plenty of decent breaks to both the north and south.
El Tunco, El Salvador - There is no greater base from which to surf El Salvador’s incredible stretch of coastline than El Tunco surf town. Either walk 2 minutes to El Sunzal and surf its long right hand walls or grab one of the many buses or taxis that frequent the main road to explore further afield. When the sun drops below the horizon, the best bars and restaurants are right there at your doorstep, brimming with people looking for a good time.
2-3 Weeks Of Easy Waves & Culture
The perfect beginners surf journey across central America who does not want to miss the opportunity to see the beauty of central American culture.
El Paredon, Guatemala - Begin your journey in Guatemala, a wonderful country full of excellent food, friendly people and pleasant surf. Although it’s not so well know for its surfing, Guatemala enjoys the same consistent swell that creates world class surf everywhere else in the region. Best time for beginners is between November and May because the rest of the year brings some gnarly currents.
El Zonte, El Salvador - El Zonte beach is in the same area as El Tunco but it is generally less crowded. There you will find plenty of white water to practice on and you can even strut your stuff on the smooth right hand point break when you’re feeling confident. The vibe is super chill and it’s also the best place to eat the delicious national dish - pupusas.
Las Penitas, Nicaragua - This laid back beach is the perfect hangout to get away from it all while scoring some classic surf. For those who want to escape the beach and get a little more culture, the nearby colonial city Leon is just a short ride a way.
Tamarindo, Cost Rica - This area is full of surf shops, surf schools and restaurants all backing an incredibly beautiful coastline offering perfect beginner-friendly conditions. There is also the option of the river mouth providing plenty of fun for the intermediates. It’s the perfect place to get your last bit of relaxation before heading back home.
Central American Travel Tips
- When to go - The whole pacific coast of Central America receives year round swell, that said, beginners will enjoy the sunny days and lower swells of the dry season from November to April while more experienced surfers will prefer the larger more consistent swells of the wet season from April to October. The Caribbean side, however, is best from December to February and has another decent swell period in June/July.
- Bring an extra leash (or two) - Leashes are always heavily in demand but are rarely sufficiently stocked. You won’t find one cheaper and easier than you can at home, and you’ll appreciate saving precious time that’s better spent surfing than shopping.
- Tight budget? - Avoid Costa Rica if you’re on a tight budget. It's not high-roller status, but its a little more pricey than other parts. While accommodation prices aren’t so crazy bad, food and other general costs will drain your savings fast. It’s worth dropping in but plan on keeping it short.
- Safety - Although the region has a reputation for theft, most instances are opportunistic and most tourist areas are considerably safe. Keep your wits about you, take local advice and don’t wander around drunk at night to avoid the most common instance of robberies.
With the above 3 itineraries in hand, you've pretty much got a great surf trip across Central America in the bag. Keep in mind that this region is so large and diverse (even though it doesn't look so on a map!) that there is plenty more to see and do; if you explore, you'll be rewarded!
Don't agree, or have your own must-see destinations in this region? Leave a comment below, we'd love to here from you!