Surf Costa Rica's Matapalo and Pavones Waves
Costa Rica is a popular surf destination--so popular, in fact, that many surf towns are crowded, as are the surf breaks. If you’re willing to go the extra mile and don’t mind remote locations, you can surf Costa Rica’s Matapalo and Pavones waves.
Matapalo is located on the southern tip of the Osa Peninsula, where the Pacific meets the Golfo Dulce. Pavones is across the mouth of the Gulf, close to the Panama border. Of the two, Pavones is the more consistent break, and considered the longest warm water left-hander in the world. Matapalo, in contrast, is a right-hander.
Surrounded by lush jungle, Matapalo is a remote location, which should be borne in mind when you head to the beach. The coast is home to three surf spots with strong right breaks: Pan Dulce, Backwash Bay, and Playa Matapalo.
Pan Dulce (Sweet Bread) is a small break appropriate for beginners and intermediate-level surfers. Backwash is a slower ride, with a rocky reef and steep waves. Hit the beach at mid or low-tide for the longest rides.
Playa Matapalo is the most challenging of the three breaks, with a strong right break and a tendency to attract southwestern and western swells. Under the right conditions, spectacular barrels form.
Riding Pavones Wave
If you consider Matapalo remote, you haven’t been to Pavones. Because the region is so difficult to reach, Pavones lacks the crowds seen at more accessible surf sites. Ten miles of beaches and the clear waters of the Rio Claro combine to create an intense left-breaking wave.
Located near the ecotourist town of Golfito, Pavones earns its reputation as the longest warm water left-hand break in the world. When conditions are right, it’s possible to hit the left for more than a mile. You’ll need to be there during a major southern swell for the big waves to form.
If Pavones gets too crowded for your liking (which despite its remote location is possible when a heavy swell hits), consider Punta Banco to the south, where you can find both left and right surf breaks.
Before you can surf Costa Rica’s Matapalo and Pavones waves you need to reach them, which can be challenged. Matapalo is a seven-hour drive from San Jose and some roads require a 4x4s vehicle. Avoid driving at night due to poor road conditions and be cautious on the roads when it rains.
It’s possible to take a bus to Pavones, if you don't mind a fifteen-hour trip. By car, Pavones is a ten-hour drive, and the roads are extremely poor and treacherous. An easier option is to fly from San Jose to Golfito and take a two-hour taxi ride to Pavones. The taxi ride will set you back about $70.00 each way.
From Crocodile Bay in Puerto Jimenez, it’s only a one-hour 4x4 car ride to Cabo Matapalo and the surf beaches there. It is also possible to fly from San Jose to Puerto Jimenez in under an hour, and then take a rental car from the airport to Matapalo easily.