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Pavones Regional Surf Guide

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When it’s working, Pavones is considered by many to be the best wave in Costa Rica (other contenders to that title include Salsa Brava and Witch’s Rock). The trouble is that it isn’t always “working” and is thus inconsistent and remote enough that it hasn’t been ruined by over-development in the area.

Depending on what you read, the Pavones break is either the second or third longest left-hand break in the world, and definitely the longest in Costa Rica. Extending over a kilometer, a ride can last over two minutes, leaving even a strong surfer’s legs shaking. One friend of mine, who lives in Dominical and has surfed around the world, said it was the best wave he has ever surfed, and when it’s good, he drives almost four hours to get there, surfs it for six hours straight, and then drives all the way back.

In addition the area of Pavones is one of the most beautiful beach areas in Costa Rica, rivaled only by Santa Teresa/Montezuma, and Dominical/Uvita for being the unspoiled postcard-perfect tropical beach paradise that tourists fantasize about finding in Costa Rica.

Pavones Area Surf Spots

Here’s a list of the area’s surfing spots and beaches, listed from east to west, which is generally the layout you’ll find them as you drive to the area.

Zancudo

The beach at Playa ZancudoZancudo means “mosquito” in Spanish, and this area was originally named for the buggy infestations of these biting insects from the large estuary and mangrove section to the east. What we find now in Zancudo is a long flat beach, with a classic beach break of smaller waves that can tend to close out. The entire beach is lined with lots and houses, mostly older Tico houses, a couple restaurants, and no big developments. It’s very beautiful, quiet, and remote… possibly a well-kept secret with the name keeping many people away. This isn’t a surf destination, but if you end up here you can try out the waves.

Playa Pilon

Playa PilonBetween the Pavones and Zancudo areas is Playa Pilon, a long sandy beach with a river in the middle. Some people attempt to drive to Zancudo from Pavones along the beach. Some will make it and others will get stuck. A local told us it was impassible except to ATVs and motorcyles, but our hotel manager in Pavones said we’d probably make it in our 4×4 as long as it wasn’t high tide. People go this way to save the 25km / 45-60 minute drive up the mountain along the back route. Surfing? Yes, the whole beach has waves and you can find some nice points. Since it’s farther east, the waves are smaller than Pavones, but it’s a good option when the swell is higher, or good for beginners too.

Cocal Amarillas / Punta Saleas

Playa Cocal AmarillasJust before Playa Pilon is Playa Cocal, or Cocal Amarillas, which has more beach breaks and lined with endless coconut trees just like all the other beaches in the area. Like most of these secondary beaches, surfers often ignore these breaks and instead crowd into Pavones. Why surf an ordinary break when one of the world’s best breaks is nearby? Yet, when the swell is smaller, which is usually the case, you can find great rides here to rival what’s going on at Pavones. When it’s good the Punta Saleas / Pilon break is usually great too. While not as long, reports have it going from 500-800 meters… still one of the longest waves anywhere!

El Higo

El Higo Surf Spot and BeachEl Higo means “The Fig” and this beach is named after the huge fig tree on the beach here. These giant strangler figs, also known as Banyan trees, or “higuerones” here in Costa Rica, can grow to be among the largest trees in the world. The beach here is just east of Pavones, and gets great waves, mostly heading towards the left since the swell usually comes from that direction as it wraps around Punta Burica.

Las Gemelas

Las Gemelas PavonesFrom Pavones you can see some large boulders known as “Las Gemelas”, which means “The Twins”. Since it’s so close to Pavones, it gets nearly the same size swell and heading from the same direction. When Pavones is full of people, this can be a great option and a few will head here to avoid the crowding.

Pavones

Pavones Surf SpotWhat can one say about Pavones that hasn’t been said before? This left-side rivermouth break is undoubtedly one of the best and longest waves in the world. When it’s big, the various sections link up and the ride can last over two minutes! You might guess that it can get very crowded, since people come from all over when the swell is big and oriented right. A few of Costa Rica’s surf contest champs live here and surf daily. It’s no wonder they’re the best… living at this wave gives them more time on the board than their competitors elsewhere.

La Piña

This isn’t so much of a surf spot as a place to take photos of some of Costa Rica’s most beautiful rock formations. The La Piña restaurant is now an Italian pizzeria, and is the major landmark for finding this area. Nearby you will discover a large rock with concrete stairs leading up to a cement bench, from which to watch the waves or stare aimlessly into space. If you’re lucky, you can see some of the local kids surfing a super-dangerous rocky point in front of their house, while their parents sell fruit and pipas from their small stand. These kids literally weave in and out of very sharp boulders in the water, defying death on a daily basis.

Chucuaco

Chucuaco, Pavones, Costa RicaLike La Piña to the north, Chucuaca, which is named after a local bird, has a lot of rocky spots mixed in with small sandy coves. It’s one of the most scenic parts of the area, with few hotels or houses… great for romantic strolls on the beach or surfing waves without crowds.

La Nicaragua

La Nicaragua Beach PhotoBefore you get to the end of the road, you’ll find the Rio Nicaragua and a series of nice beach breaks near the river, with little development and great waves to avoid the crowds at Pavones to the north. The river here isn’t so big and not the type to host crocodiles as the larger estuaries in Costa Rica usually do. Also, because it’s farther around the corner, it catches better and bigger swells than Pavones.

Punta Banco

Punta Banco is a small village at the very end of the road. From here on, the only way to go further towards the tip of the peninsula is to take a boat or go by horse. At Punta Banco, you can stay at the amazing beachfront hotel Rancho Burica, and surf a great beach break right in front, which works at all tide levels. Up the hill from here is the popular Yoga Farm, a popular yoga retreat center.

Pavones Town and Activities

Photo Gallery

SUP Video of the Wave: 2:15 minutes and 1.05Km!

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