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Best Beginner Surf Spots in Central America

May 31, 2021

Best Beginner Surf Spots in Central America



Where are the best beginner surf spots in Central America?

From the south of Mexico to the eastern tip of Panama, the biodiverse region of Central America harbors some of the best surf spots in the world. With countries bordering both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, there are thousands of beaches and breaks to choose from, as well as charming beach towns and backpacker communities.

While it’s tempting to head to the most popular surf spots in Central America, these are not always the best surf spots for beginners. They will often be too advanced for beginner surfers or too crowded for a good time.

These are our picks for the best beginner surf spots in Central America. 


What makes a surf spot good for beginners? 


Surfing conditions are complex and always changing. Factors such as wind speed, wave height, swell exposure, the tide, and the sea floor, all contribute to a location’s surfing conditions.

While conditions change, certain surf spots are known for maintaining factors that are helpful for beginners learning to surf. These include:

  • A soft, sandy bottom (no sharp rocks or coral)
  • Semi-shallow (waist- to chest-deep) areas to learn 
  • Slow, long rows of waves rolling toward shore
  • Relatively consistent waves year-round (or seasonally)

You also want to find uncrowded line-ups where you don’t need to navigate through a lot of people or worse, fight for waves. The surf community is mostly a friendly one, but surfers can be territorial and impatient with beginners.  

Let’s dive into some of the best beginner surf spots in Central America.


Playa Venao, Panama


Pros:

  • Reliable, consistent swell
  • Breaks suitable for all levels
  • Uncrowded, less-discovered
  • Soft, sandy ocean floor
  • Plenty of accommodations and restaurants

Cons:

  • Few shopping opportunities (a local grocery store is coming soon!)

Sure, we may be biased, but even Matador Network calls Playa Venao “Central America’s most fascinating surf destination.” Unlike many top-10 destinations, Playa Venao manages to maintain its natural landscape and laid-back beach vibes while offering enough modern accommodations to keep travelers happy. 

Playa Venao is unique in that it offers waves suitable for all levels, from beginner to advanced. Its semi-shallow beach break and slow, clean waves are perfect for beginners, while a further-out, faster point break keeps the more advanced surfers entertained. It’s the perfect set-up for groups of different skill levels, or a beginner surfer who wants to progress. 

Our surf camp happens to be directly in front of the best beginner break on the beach, but the more advanced waves are only a few paddles away. 



Though considered one of Central America’s best surf spots, Playa Venao is still relatively undiscovered. Compared to other popular destinations, Playa Venao flaunts uncrowded line-ups, a spacious beach, and a friendly and diverse community of locals, travelers, and expats.



While no one would call Playa Venao “touristy”, the area offers enough amenities for a comfortable visit or even long-term stay. Accommodations range from budget hostels to luxury hotels (with Beach Break falling right in the middle). The food scene is impressive and international, with local farm-to-table options and authentic cuisines from around the world.

While most people come for the surf, Playa Venao also offers a range of eco-activities such as zip-lining, waterfall hikes, island SUP tours, whale watching, and more. At Beach Break Surf Camp, we even have a modern fitness center with a full schedule of classes and a co-working office right next door. 

Tamarindo, Costa Rica 

Pros:

  • Reliable, consistent swell
  • Breaks for all levels
  • Plenty of accommodations

Cons:

  • Crowded beach and line-ups
  • Crocodiles live in the estuary
  • High “petty crime” rate

Tamarindo is a primetime destination for travelers and surfers in Central America. There are several surf breaks to choose from, some of which feature typically slow, clean waves that are great for learning and beginner surfers.

As the second largest beach town in Costa Rica, you’ll find plenty of accommodations as well as tours, attractions, shopping, and nightlife. It’s a popular destination so things can get crowded, both in the surfing line-up as well as the beaches and local businesses. 

Prices have gradually increased as the town has grown in popularity. Luxury hotels can range nearly $300 night while many restaurants feature the tell-tale $$$-$$$$ label on Tripadvisor. There are budget-friendly options, however, and it’s still cheaper than most U.S. or European surf towns

One thing to be aware of in Tamarindo (and much of Costa Rica) are “crimes of opportunity.” While violent crimes are fairly uncommon, petty crimes such as theft have become more common as the area has become more touristy. As a local wrote on Tripadvisor, “there are always people around waiting for you to leave something of value unattended, so be cautious.”

Playa Maderas, Nicaragua

Pros:

  • Reliable, consistent swell
  • Breaks for all levels
  • Beautiful region

Cons:

  • Crowded surf breaks
  • Submerged rocks

At the center of Nicaraguan surf culture, Playa Maderas is a popular surf destination with both major and minor league surfing contests happening year-round. It boasts clean waves for all abilities, making this a great beginner spot in Central America. You’ll find a good mix of beginners learning to surf as well as more advanced locals and traveling surfers. 

Playa Maderas is “arguably Nicaragua’s most crowded surf break” with an average 20-30+ people in the line-up on a given day. This can be stressful for the beginner surfer who may be less in control of their board or need some extra time to read the waves. Thankfully, the vibe at Playa Maderas is rated mellow and friendly so you can hopefully avoid getting side-eyed at in the line-up. 

Located twenty minutes from San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua’s top-visited beach, Playa Madera itself is a “teeny-tiny” surf town with a decent range of accommodations, bars, and activities. 

Playa El Tunco, El Salvador

Pros:

  • Globally recognized surf spot
  • Popular backpacking hub
  • Great food, shopping, partying

Cons:

  • Waves can be rough 
  • Rocky ocean floor
  • High gang activity and crime rate

For the more adventurous traveler, Playa El Tunco in El Salvador is a buzzy surfer town and the country’s biggest backpacker hub. The small yet lively town has exploded into an impressive variety of accommodations, dining, and nightlife. With consistent waves practically year round, the region is a popular surfing destination and even once hosted an International Surfing Association SUP-surfing world championship.

Unfortunately, you can’t talk about El Salvador without touching on the country’s infamous gang warfare and crime rate. According to the U.S. Department of State Travel Information, “El Salvador has one of the highest homicide levels in the world and crimes such as extortion, assault, and robbery are common.” 

While there is doubtlessly much beauty, fun, and surfing to be found in El Salvador, you should exercise caution at all times and avoid traveling alone, at night, and in certain regions.

Sayulita, Mexico

Pros:

  • Popular surf and travel destination
  • Multiple surf breaks 
  • Beginner spots with mellow waves 

Cons:

  • Crowded surf breaks
  • Hotels can be pricey
  • Holiday / spring break rush

A charming coastal town and travel hub, Sayulita is a fan favorite for anyone seeking  . a classic (if not crowded) Mexico getaway. With a variety of surf breaks and fairly consistent waves year-round, Sayulita has plenty to offer both beginner surfers and the more advanced.

Sayulita offers a sand bar that’s perfect for beginners, with its long, mellow waves and favorable wind conditions. The only downside is how crowded it can get, as several surf schools travel to the spot. There are also more intermediate surf spots in Sayulita, though more advanced surfers tend to favor Puerto Escondido.

Sayulita gets particularly crowded during the spring/summer breaks. If you plan to check out this classic surf spot, aim for the winter months and be prepared for early wake-up times to avoid the crowds. 

Best Beginner Surf Spots in Central America


As you can see, there are several great choices for beginner surf spots in Central America. 

If you want to have fun and be safe while learning to surf or advancing your skill, choose a spot that has:

  • Uncrowded beaches and line-ups 
  • Reliable, consistent waves 
  • A soft, sandy ocean floor
  • A selection of slow, small, clean waves 

As we’ve learned, Playa Venao, Panama is one of the best beginner surf spots in Central America. Our uncrowded line-ups and slow, semi-shallow beach breaks are perfect for learning to surf, while our further-out point break offers faster, larger waves for whenever you’re ready. 


Visit our Surf Camp page to learn more about why Playa Venao, Panama is one of the best beginner surf spots in Central America. 


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