Surfing in Central America: Insider Guide

February 21, 2022

Looking to go surfing in Central America? Whether it’s your first exploring the region or the fifth, there is so much to discover in this incredible part of the world.

This insider guide to surfing in Central America will explore the region’s best destinations, beaches, and seasons for surfing. We’ll also provide an unbiased look at the pros and cons of each country, from a surfer’s perspective. 

While you can go surfing just about anywhere in Central America, you’ll find that certain destinations are the best fit for your skill level, travel comfort level, and the time of year you’ll be traveling. 

Panama

A man surfing during sunset.

Panama offers some of the best surfing in Central America, with two coastlines offering access to both the Pacific and the Caribbean. Because these two bodies of water tend to fire at different times of the year, you can find great surfing in Panama no matter when you visit. 

Beach Break Surf Camp outdoor look at the beach

The best surfing in Panama on the Pacific side is in Playa Venao, where Beach Break Surf Camp is located. This beautiful region has hosted multiple surfing championships and is known for its reliable southern swell, bi-directional breaks, and variety of waves for all skill levels. 

4 women holding hands while sitting in water on their surfboards.

Playa Venao also offers incredible vibes, with a laid-back beach atmosphere and diverse population of travelers and surfers from around the world. 

Santa Catalina is another popular surf destination on the Pacific, while the Pacific beaches near Panama City offer less reliable, but decent surfing depending on the time of year. On the Caribbean side, Bocas del Toro is a popular destination for more advanced surfers, as well as backpackers and travelers in search of a nightlife party vibe.

Costa Rica

Photo of Costa Rica beach.
Photo: Marriott Hotel and Travel

You can’t talk about surfing in Central America without including Costa Rica, one of the first popular Latin American tourist destinations. Costa Rica is known for its beautiful beaches, impressive biodiversity, and thriving tourist economy. 

Costa Rica is home to several great surfing beaches, from the ultra-popular Tamarindo and Puerto Viejo to the beginner-friendly Jaco and Playa Pavones. While some beaches are better suited for beginners or advanced surfers, you can find a destination for any skill level.

Expect to find higher prices, more crowds, and less availability in Costa Rica than other Central American surf destinations. It’s been “around” the longest in terms of tourism, and the environment and prices reflect that. Still, it's a truly beautiful country and somewhere everyone should experience at least once. 

Guatemala

Photo of an Guatemalan beach
Photo: Surf Guatemala

Guatemala offers an emerging scene for surfing in Central America, with a few excellent yet lesser-known surfing beaches. You won’t have to fight many crowds to get around or paddle out in Guatemala, which doesn’t typically register as a top surfing destination.  

The best time for surfing in Guatemala is between March and June, when the waves and weather are at their best. Sipacate, Iztapa, Champerico, and Monterrico are all great surfing beaches, though they can be difficult to reach due to their location and lack of transportation options for visitors. 

As a lesser-known tourist destination, Guatemala offers very affordable accommodations, restaurants, and other services. Most parts of Guatemala are relatively untouched by tourism, which offers both benefits and challenges in terms of authenticity and accessibility. 

Belize

A man surfing the waves in Belize.
Photo: Slickrock Belize Adventures

Traditionally, Belize has not been a super popular destination for surfing in Central America, due in part to the Belize Barrier Reef. As the second longest barrier reef in the world, it blocks much of the swell the country would otherwise receive. Many areas that do get swell break over live coral, which would be dangerous for surfers and ecologically disruptive if they landed on it.

Still, there are a select few areas you can surf in Belize, most notably Glover’s Reef. This point break is driven by trade winds which blow year-round. With an average 4-6 foot drop, Glover’s Reef isn’t recommended for beginners. While you won’t be paddling by many tourists in the water, expect to see a lot of locals in the line-up, as one of the country’s few surfing beaches.

El Salvador

A man surfing high over the waves.
Photo: Josh Kerr, Magic Seaweed

Some of the best surfing in Central America can be found in El Salvador, which is known for its mega-long waves and fantastic point breaks. It’s definitely a region for more advanced and adventurous surfers– perhaps those who have surfed most of Central America and are looking for something new. 

The best time to go surfing in El Salvador is in the wet season– May through October– when southern swells are most common. The most popular surf spot is La Libertad, which sits a convenient 25-mile drive from the country’s main international airport. Oriente, which lies about 100 miles out, is also relatively popular. 

Unfortunately, crime is a major issue in El Salvador, with high levels of petty and violent crime, political corruption, and gang activity. While tourist regions have higher security, attacks on tourists are not unheard of. If you visit El Salvador, be sure to stick closely to recommended areas and don’t take unnecessary risks. 

Nicaragua

A photo of a Nicaraguan beach.
Photo: Better Wave Travel

Nicaragua is often overlooked for surfing in Central America, but the country offers some excellent breaks and a uniquely beautiful landscape. 

The best surf breaks in Nicaragua are in the Rivas province, which enjoys southern swells nearly year-round that average about 3-5 feet. Playa Maderas and Playa Majagual are popular surf beaches, as well as Playa Gigante and Popoyo which lie a bit further north.

The best time to go surfing in Nicaragua depends on whether you prefer big waves, or less crowds. Summer offers the biggest swell, which, combined with the season, can bring heavy crowds. The autumn months are still relatively reliable and offer significantly less crowds. Don’t bother going in the wintertime, when waves can be non-existent.

Surfing in Central America: You Can’t Go Wrong!

A man and a women holding their surfboards heading out to the sea.

Wherever you decide to go surfing in Central America, you’re bound to have an unforgettable experience. With the region’s stunning landscapes, beautiful array of cultures, and waves to be found year-round, surfing in Central America should be on everybody’s bucket list.

If Panama is on your list of places to go surfing in Central America, check out our affordable accommodations and surf camp packages at Beach Break. We sit directly on one of the best surfing beaches in Panama and offer the best amenities and vibes!

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