Week of December 14-21, 1995
Surfing safari to Costa Rica
Q: Some friends and I are thinking of making a trip to Costa Rica at the end of December to surf and find adventure. Do you have any recommendations on where we should go, where we should stay, and what we should be particularly aware of?
Los Angeles, CA
A: If you're planning a trip to Costa Rica--a.k.a., the unofficial adventure sports capital of the world--the hardest question of all is what not to do.
Since you've narrowed it down to surfing, however, here are a few specific suggestions. If you've got your sights set on the Caribbean coast, where there can be waves up to 12 feet in the winter, Puerto Viejo is known for its big surf and hollow right-hand break on the famous La Salsa Brava, outside the reef in front of Stanford's Restaurant. The waves here are best from December to early March, with a shorter mini-season in June and July. Be aware that while the nearby break can make the surfing exciting, it also ups the danger level. If you wipe out, you're liable to crash you and your board on the reef, so it's recommended for experienced surfers only.
As for inexpensive accommodations, you may want to check out the 20-room Hotel Puerto Viejo, the biggest place in town. It's popular with surfers, and the people who work there are local wave experts. But best of all, the rooms are clean and cheap--about $5 U.S. per person. Since there's no phone there, we advise writing ahead for reservations (Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, Limon). Another good bet is Cabinas Manuel. Their rooms sleep four for the price of one, so if you're going with a group, this may be the place for you (011-506-58-0854). One word of caution: The recent increase in muggings and robberies--despite beefed-up police presence--makes it a good idea to ask locally about which streets are safe for walking alone at night.
Over on the Pacific coast, where the waves are consistently huge all year long, Playa Tamarindo has become somewhat of a surfers' Mecca. With a wide, white-sand beach, nearby wildlife refuge, and plenty of budget hotels, Tamarindo definitely merits a closer look. The waves are especially good at the river estuary just north of town and at Playa Langosta, an uninhabited surfing beach about a mile south of Tamarindo. If you want to try the surf right off Playa Tamarindo, beware of barely submerged rocks and rip currents. You'll have your pick of cheap digs. Try Cabinas Zully Mar, a favorite among budget travelers that's located right in the heart of "downtown" Tamarindo. Rooms with a private bath (hot water will cost you more) and ceiling fan start at $22 U.S. per night; call 011-506-26-4732 for more information. Before you go, you may want to check out "A People's Guide to Eden" in our December 1990 issue or pick up a copy of Lonely Planet's Costa Rica: Travel Survival Kit.