If you’re like us, now is the time of year when you start dreaming about hitting the beach and catching some waves. With spring right around the corner, it’s time to start planning your upcoming surf trip. Don’t even think about grabbing that full-body wetsuit and hitting the ice-cold water off the coast of Washington; better to grab your board and head to warmer waters down south.
Latin America has some of the best surfing and most laid-back surf towns in the entire world. In an effort to get you out of the Pacific Northwest and onto some waves, we’ve compiled a list of the 5 best surf towns in Latin America. Many towns are just a short and fairly inexpensive flight away. Get started today on planning your next adventure.
Santa Catalina, Panama: Located along the central Pacific coast of Panama, Santa Catalina has the most consistent surf in the country. There are a handful of surf spots within walking distance of town that offer up stellar year-round surf. You can enjoy long beach breaks and waves that run both left and right. There is also stronger point breaks that send tubes over a rocky bottom, although only more experienced surfers should attempt to ride these waves. Local surf shops rent boards and provide lessons, with options for everyone from beginners to professionals. The town of Santa Catalina is chill, with a laid-back and relaxed vibe. There are good pizza joints in town, as well as a handful of bars where you can grab an ice-cold beer after a long day in the lineup.
Mal País, Costa Rica: Costa Rica is known worldwide for its awesome surf towns, and Mal País is undoubtedly one of the best. Set along the southwestern corner of Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula, Mal País has a beautiful setting and superb surf. Locals use the term Mal País to refer to the collective area and the numerous beaches that are found here, including Playa Carmen, Santa Teresa, Mal País, and Playa Hermosa. The waves vary from beach to beach, but rest assured that you could find high-quality options in all of them throughout the year. Playa Carmen is popular with long-boarders and beginners, while Playa Santa Teresa serves up fast, heavy point breaks. The area is developing quickly, but it isn’t yet overrun with chain hotels and crowds of tourists.
Montañita, Ecuador: Ecuador gets a lot of press for the Galápagos Islands (which absolutely deserve it), but the country’s Pacific coast has some fantastic destinations as well. If you’re looking to surf and hang out with international travelers, Montañita has you covered. Montañita is popular with backpackers, most of who come here to lounge along the white-sand beach and surf world-class waves. There is a long beach break, with the best waves coming from February through May. It’s easy to rent surfboards, boogie boards, and bikes in town. The restaurants serve up tasty seafood alongside vegetarian options, and there are all sorts of bars that keep the party going until late in the morning. The town is also a short 2-hour drive from the international airport in Guayaquil, so you won’t have to spend several days getting to the waves.
Sipacate, Guatemala: Guatemala doesn’t get as much attention as some of its Central American neighbors when it comes to surfing, but rest assured, there are good breaks here as well. The lack of infrastructure along the coast has actually kept the crowds away, so you’ll never have to fight off other surfers to get to the best surf. The tiny town of Sipacate hosts the best surfing in Guatemala. The largest waves come from March to October, with some waves barreling in as high as 16 feet. Plan to stay at the El Paredón Surf Camp, which has simple accommodations and is near some of the best breaks in all of Guatemala. While here, make sure to also visit Monterrico, a nearby beach that is an important nesting site for olive ridley and leatherback sea turtles.
Máncora, Peru: Most travelers know Peru for the Inca site of Machu Picchu or the mysterious Nazca Lines, but there are some seriously awesome sections of the northern coast that are also worth checking out. Máncora is one of the coolest places in Peru, and it also happens to have some of the best surfing in all of the country. The town is popular with young, bohemian types and travelers who just want to soak up sun and ride the waves. Surf schools teach beginners how to get started, while more advanced riders can head straight to the ocean to catch the incredible waves. The waves here are long, and there is a great deal of variety when it comes to breaks. Best of all, you won’t have to worry about vitamin D while you’re here—Máncora sees about 300 sunny days per year.