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Stormrider Guide to surfing Limón


Salsa Brava, Steve Fitzpatrick


+ Consistent, seasonal swell - Flat between seasons
+ Powerful reefbreaks - Lack of good beachbreaks
+ Insignificant tidal range - Extremely wet
+ Laid back Carribean style - Petty crime

Costa Rica’s Caribbean coastline receives fairly big and wild waves from short-lived, seasonal storms, mainly centred off Colombia. These powerful, short-fetch Caribbean swells break in the 2-12ft range on some excellent reefs, concentrated around Puerto Limón and Puerto Viejo. The Caribbean coastline is short (212km) and the majority is within the barely accessible Tortuguero National Park, a long sandy line backed by huge waterways with countless beachbreaks, potential rivermouths, and brimming with sea-life.

When to Go

The main winter season from Dec to March sees many storms churning off Cartagena in Columbia, aiming ENE swells and stormy weather directly at Costa Rica. There is also a June-August season, July being the safer bet. The Talamanca coastal range helps to calm down local squalls and induces offshore winds in the morning. Tidal phases are only 1m, but that’s enough to make the heavy coral reef platforms even more dangerous at spots like Isla Uvita and Salsa Brava.

Surf Spots

A boat from Puerto Moin is best for accessing the northern breaks of Parismina, Tortuguero Beach or Barra Colorado. The remaining stretch from Limón to the Panamanian border, features endless black sand beaches and occasional white sand coves, fringed with small coral reefs. In April 1991, a 7.4 earthquake raised the coral reefs by 2-3ft (0.6-1m) and affected some of the Limón spots. Playa Bonita is the main beach in the area and features a chunky left reef at the north end which gets slamming hollow in a strong NE swell. It’s an easy base for checking the variety of local breaks between Portete and Piuta like the rare rights of Cocaine Point, which need plenty of N in the swell. The serious right ledges of Roca Alta get shallow and tricky at low tides. Isla Uvita, where Columbus landed in 1502, is a long paddle, but it picks up everything and shunts along a shallow ledge, offering challenging, bowly lefts for assured tube-hunters only. If there aren’t any boats for hire in Limón, the paddle from the mainland takes about 20mins; jellyfish rather than sharks are the major cause for concern. En route to Cahuita there is 60km (37mi) of average but consistent beachbreaks like Westfalia, where sandbanks are deserted, but close-out when over 4ft (1.2m). Check the Barco Quebrado at the Rio del Banano rivermouth where better shaped banks are often seen. Don’t expect crowds until close to Cahuita, whose national park attracts more trekkers and divers than surfers and remains uncrowded. The main beachbreak, Playa Negra, occasionally gets good tapering walls and holds a bit more size. The road gets rough to Puerto Viejo, but is worth the hassle as it is home to the notorious Salsa Brava, a righthand reefbreak that can hold 12ft+ (4m). This fairly short, barreling wave with two distinct sections is consistent, heavy and crowds are the rule, especially from Dec to March. The outer reef, Long Shoal, has steep, fast take-offs into short shoulders, for experienced surfers willing to make the long 3km/2mi paddle/boat ride to escape the SB crowd. The beachbreaks of Playa Cocles are mellow and fun, perfect for beginners, while a short left breaks beside an island at the north end, offering mid tide slashable walls, until the swell gets overhead. At the south end, Little Shoal is a coral shelf mix of mainly rights, plus a few lefts that are less intense than nearby reefs. Punta Uva is a bit more challenging as the scattered peaks can get hollow, although they shoulder off quickly and give intermediates a good session. Outside, the point can line-up playful right walls. Manzanillo beachbreaks pick up small swells and are wind exposed, plus there are right reef options off the headlands which requires a bit of trek through the beautiful jungle of the national refuge area.


dominant swell NE -E NE -E NE -E NE -E NE -E NE -E
swell size (ft) 3-4 3 1-2 3 1 3
consistency (%) 80 60 30 60 10 70
dominant wind N -E NE -E NE -E NE -E NE -E N -E
average force F4 F4 F4 F4 F3 F4
consistency (%) 95 74 78 85 61 91
water temp (C) 26 26 27 27 27 27
wetsuit boardshorts boardshorts boardshorts boardshorts boardshorts boardshorts

Travel Information

The Talamanca coastal region is affected by an extremely wet climate. Rainfall averages 2400mm (95in), which is close to rainforest levels. Unfortunately, the rainiest months (Dec/Jan, July/Aug) correspond with the swell; it can rain for days on end, but the sun usually comes out a bit every day. Rain can come in heavy downpours, often at night, followed by clearing skies. Temps are similar throughout the year. Typically the lows will be above 21°C (70ºF) and the highs below 30°C (86ºF). Expect high humidity and cooling breezes. Water temps are very stable in the 26°C (29ºF) range; boardies all the time.

Lodging and Food
For nice hotels, avoid Limón (apart from Park Hotel) and head to Playa Bonita (Matama ($50/dble) or Cocori ($30/dble). In Puerto Viejo, go to Kurt Van Dyke’s major hotel ($16/dble or $5 /basic room) or Surf Point at Punta Cocles (25$/dble). A good meal with seafood at Stanford’s costs $12, beware the spices!

Nature and Culture
Cahuita National Park wildlife includes howler monkeys, sloths, iguanas, parrots, hummingbirds and toucans. Diving can be good when surf is flat. The Caribbean side means serious nightlife, especially in Limón (Springfield) and PV (Crucial Bar or Sunset Reggae). Have a look at Bri-Bri handicrafts.

In the Shop..