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Car Rentals in Costa Rica: Deciding on Insurance Options

Surf CR logoWhat does this have to do with surfing in Costa Rica? A lot, since when you are planning a vacation, it is one of the most important decisions to make. You have decided to rent a SUV with 4wd and now you have to decide which insurance option to take.
 
A. Full collision coverage with a $0 deductible and a very low deposit (usually $100).

B. Basic collision coverage with a $1000 deductible and a higher deposit (usually $500-1000).

C. Use the collision coverage on your credit card and just get the minimum insurance required, called third party liability, which covers the other person’s vehicle and injuries and has a $5000 deductible. Your deposit is the highest (from $500 to $2000+).
 
Option A costs the most and option C the least. The actual costs vary with each car rental company, but for this article I will choose Alamo for my explanation. Their rates when I book the reservation for you are $30/day for option A, $15/day for option B, and $10/day for option C for midsize and standard SUVs. The larger Fortuners, Prados, and vans are $40/day for option A and $25/day for option B.  
 
To determine which is best, it depends on your tolerance to risk and your budget. Driving in the city a lot or well off the paved roads in the countryside would have more risk for damages. If you are driving in the peak of rainy season, late September to early November, then the chance of muddy roads, bigger pot holes, and flooding are possible. One way to determine your risk is to confirm with your Airbnb hosts exactly what the road conditions are leading to their house. And even though the weather forecast is going to show rain every day on your trip, be sure to check that there is not a tropical storm or hurricane that will cause heavy rain fall.

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My First Surf Trip to Costa Rica

Surf CR logoIt has been 26 years since I first visited Costa Rica. I had been surfing in Cocoa Beach, Florida and was ready to take on some larger swells. I flew down with my friend Ron and we rented an SUV with U-haul Car Rental (the name sounded respectable). Our first stop was the Caribbean coast.
 
We made it to Puerto Viejo and ran into Johnny Futch who had been an expat in Costa Rica for many years. He showed us how to get out at Salsa Brava and helped us find a boat to Isla Uvita. Hurricane Cesar just passed through and the Caribbean Sea was filled with small branches and wrack from the storm. We were nervous about the boat driver as he had two sea turtles tied upside down in his shed and he dropped us off in the middle of nowhere with giant tankers passing by. The waves were way bigger than I had ever surfed and we were lucky to make it back alive, as the captain used the swell to ride right over the shallow reef back to shore.

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How Much Cash Do I Bring To Costa Rica?

Surf CR logoIn my 50+ trips to Costa Rica I would always be concerned with how much money to bring and then exchange once I’m there. These are my recommendations. I would take down $300 in USD in twenties and some ones for tips when you get there. Then I use the cash and get change in colones. Be advised that it is 687.50 colones to one dollar (on July 6, 2022), but a restaurant or store may give you only 650. That is still better than the currency exchange at the airport. When I’d run out, I would get more colones out of the ATM. The best exchange rate will be with the bank (you need your passport for that) and then the big grocery stores give the current rate. The toll operators also give change in colones, but don’t give them anything larger than a twenty dollar bill.

A lot of stores will have a calculator and they decide on the amount in colones if you give them dollars. It is not worth arguing with them since they also may factor in the time and resources (gas) to get to the bank and exchange dollars back or deposit them. Some banks can be an hour away and the wait time in them could be hours.

Now some situations call for bringing a lot of cash, like paying for a house rental or buying a new surfboard. It is easier to get it the U.S. than using the ATMs in Costa Rica. First most ATMs have a max of $200 withdrawal daily. You are also getting charged the ATM fee there and at your home bank (in most cases—some credit unions give refunds). And if you get colones you already lose on the exchange rate as the buy and sell price is about 25 colones difference.

If you are bringing over $1000, make sure you hide it well. or make sure your room has a safe. Hide some of it in a different place. Get travel insurance that covers theft. I would not carry it on me when I am out. And I would rather pay the international wire transfer fee than carry a lot of cash in the first place. However, each traveler has a different risk tolerance.

Send me a note and I will tell you three of my favorite places to hide money. You can find the tide charts on our website for the whole year, crsurf.com/costa-rica-surf-report/costa-rica-tide-charts-2022. Safe travels!


How to Find Waves Around Quepos and Manuel Antonio

Surf CR logoSo you are a surfer who is visiting Manuel Antonio with your family or friends. They don’t surf but they don’t mind if you wake up early and go for a session before breakfast. How do you know where to go?
 
The first thing to check is the tide. Manuel Antonio is a high tide break. At low tide is mostly closes out. The only spot that does work well at low tide is the Quepos river mouth. To get there, you drive to Quepos and head towards the Pez Vela Marina. Right before the marina there is free parking and you can see the break straight out front. Be sure not to leave anything in your vehicle as break ins are common.
 
The Quepos rivermouth needs some swell in order to work and is mostly a longboard wave unless it gets to be chest high or bigger. When there is a massive swell, it still is not that scary and is a left breaking wave that you can ride for 300+ yards. There are a few locals who dominate the peak, but there is a second peak farther to the north and on the inside that is easy to sit on. And you could surf the break at mid tide or high tide, but after catching a long ride it is harder to get back to the peak. At low tide you can belly it to the sand bar and then walk up to the top of the break and use the river mouth rip to take you right back to the peak.

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How to Maximize Your Time Surfing – Budget vs. Luxury

Surf CR logoOh, the good ole days. When you could find a cabina with a fan and mosquito net for $10 right on the beach, get $1 Pilsens, and $3 casados with the freshest fish. Now those places have been replaced by hotels charging over $200/night with loud a/c blasting artificial air all night, $7 craft IPA brews, and $30 a plate for a filet of yesterday’s catch.
 

Pavones photo: Greg Gordon

Rather than argue which route is better, budget versus luxury, I’ll give two examples of each—perfect surf trips (this would be experienced surfers).

Budget #1

Fly to San Jose, since with more flights the airfare is cheaper. Bring your surfboard as there is only one surf shop in Pavones—Sea Kings—and their board selection is limited. Take the bus to Pavones and camp right on the point (find the bus schedule at centrocoasting.com). The paddle out is right on the sand to the south and you can sit out front of your tent and stare at perfect lefts coming through all day. Walk up to the supermarkets in town to get your food and stop by the fisherman’s camp to see what fish they caught. Buy some 6-liter bottles of water as you will need a lot of water to drink. Remember the mosquito repellent and the rain tarp.

Encanta La Vida photo: EncantaLaVida.com

Luxury #1

Fly to San Jose and then take a local flight to Puerto Jimenez. Bring your shortboards but keep the board back under 7 feet for the smaller plane restrictions. Then pick up the Prado rental and drive to Encanta La Vida resort or your own private villa. Drive or walk between Cabo Matapalo and Pan Dulce, surfing whichever spot is working best depending on the swell direction and tide. Enjoy your meals by the pool, prepared by the restaurant or your own private chef.

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How to Maximize Your Time Surfing – Road Trip vs. Surf Camp

Tamarindo – Covenient and beginner friendly waves.

Surf CR logoHow do you decide which is a better option to maximize your time surfing? If you are a beginner, I would say go to a surf camp 100% of the time. It will be safe, you will be well coached, and you will have support from others to get you up and riding. But what about if you are an intermediate or advanced surfer? First is how much about the waves in Costa Rica do you already know? Second is do you want to spend time with other surfers? Third is how far do you want to go?
 
I did not make how much it costs a reason since you can spend an endless amount on either option, and it may still not lead to more surf time. That is unless you did an overnight boat trip to Witch’s Rock and Ollie’s Point, then you get to surf both spots for at least two hours in the morning and afternoon, before the other boats arrive and after they leave—totally worth the >$2000/night price tag for the boat.

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How to Plan a Successful Surf Trip – Part 2

Surf CR logoIn the last issue, I explained the first of many factors to consider when planning a Costa Rica surf vacation—finding the best time of year to go based on what type of waves you are looking for. In this article I will discuss whether to bring boards or rent them while you are there. Some points to consider are where you are going, what type of boards you need, what are the airlines going to charge you, and the convenience of each option.
 
Some beach towns have a dozen surf shops (Tamarindo) while others have only one (Pavones – Sea Kings Surf Shop). Nosara has a half dozen places to rent boards, my favorite being Coconut Harry’s. Santa Teresa has Denga Surf Shop with a decent selection of long and short boards, but they are quite used. Manuel Antonio has some board rentals on the beach, but they are mostly beat up. Manuel Antonio Surf School has a few nicer long and fun boards to rent, but supply is limited. The Caribbean side has two places to rent boards in Puerto Viejo, and on the beach in Playa Cocles.  
 
So, if you are a beginner surfer then these locations will have a sufficient longboard to ride. There are options for soft tops and hard top surfboards at many spots, and at this stage in your surfing progression you just want to catch waves and lugging your longboard from home may not be worth the hassle. If you are an advanced surfer though, you may want to bring the boards you ride at home since you know how they perform and you may not find a similar board at even the bigger surf towns of Jaco, Nosara, and Tamarindo. And if the waves are too small or too big, you could always find a board to rent (or buy used) to fit the conditions. There are a few Facebook groups that buy and sell surfboards in Costa Rica.

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How to Plan a Successful Costa Rica Surf Trip

Surf CR logoWhether it is your first surf trip or your 50th, it is important to plan where and when you want to go. You do not want to get skunked or find waves too big for your comfort level. You need to have the right boards to ride. You want to maximize your time surfing, and not driving around looking for waves. And you want to make sure you are safe and comfortable when you are not in the water. In the next few articles I will discuss each factor and provide tips on how to have the best time surfing in Costa Rica

Check the Season and Tides

Most travelers know Costa Rica has two weather seasons—rainy season from May to November (rainiest in October) and dry season from December to April. But there are also wave seasons. Swells from the South hit the Pacific coast from mid-March to mid-October. Some Northwest swells hit the Pacific from December to March. And East swells hit the Caribbean coast from December to March. 

If you want a better chance of catching bigger waves, travel between late March and early June to the Pacific side, and mid-January to mid-February on the Caribbean. There are other good months on the Pacific, but the later in the season you go the more chance it will be rainy and the winds won’t be in your favor. May is my favorite month on the Pacific since the first rains make everything greener, and it is no longer high season so there are less surfers in the lineup, but before summer when families go on vacation. 

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Lifeguard Update

Surf CR logoDid you know that Costa Rica has no national lifeguard program? The country averages about 60 drownings each year, many taking place on unguarded beaches. Luckily the beaches of Manuel Antonio are protected by at least one guard from the Cruz Roja (Costa Rica Red Cross), but they do not protect Quepos or any of the beaches at 30 kilometers to the north or south. Once you get to Dominical however, the Guardavidas de Costa Ballena are protecting those beachgoers.
 
That lifeguard program was created solely from private donations all the way back in 2001. In the past it had trouble with finances many times, and when the lifeguards could not be paid, people drowned in the heavy rip currents that at times are found there. Then in 2018 the community created a non-profit association to manage the program and received financial aid from the Municipality of Osa. This was the first time in the country where the local government helped fund a lifeguard program.
 
The non-profit association uses the funds received not only to pay the lifeguards, but to cover their insurance, legal fees, purchasing new equipment, repairing the towers, and help for the administration and accounting of the funding. The board of directors are all volunteers (including myself) and we ensure that there are lifeguards in the towers seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. in Dominical and Playa Hermosa de Uvita.
 
This year has been difficult to raise funds since public gatherings were not allowed and so a plea was made in September for help. Many private residents, local citizens, and businesses stepped up to donate what they could, and we were able to pay the lifeguards their holiday bonuses and give them a small raise. Over 30 businesses signed up for the $1/day club, contributing $365 a year to support the program. You can see who these generous donors are on our website, lifeguardscostaballena.com, and stay informed of our latest news and events.
 
A special thanks goes out to Benn Gilmour of Jackpot Sportsfishing who auctioned off a full day fishing trip on one of his boats. That one action raised $2000, and we hope other community members step up to help us continue to save lives. If you wish to donate to the program, you can by any of these methods:
 
Banco Nacional deposit
Asoc. Guardavidas de la Zona Sur de Costa Rica
Cedula Juridica 3-002-738759

Cuenta en colones: 200-01-195-003885-0
Iban: CR39015119520010038851

Cuenta en dólares: 200-02-195-002023-9
Iban: CR45015119520020020237

Banco Nacional swift code: BNCRCRSJGCI
 
Paypal (single or monthly donation),  Click Here! It’s easy!
 
U.S. tax deductible donation to the extent allowed by law through our U.S. non-profit partner Amigos of Costa Rica. This can also be a monthly donation, CLICK HERE! It’s easy!


What Makes the Perfect Surf Instructor?

Surf CR logoYou see them on the beach, sitting between rows of surfboards on the beach, dark tan, with a small sign offering surf lessons. You have always wanted to learn to surf, but not sure which instructor is going to be the best for you. Well, there are some important things to consider for your safety and ability to learn.
 
The first thing you should ask is what are their qualifications to teach. Just because they have surfed their whole life (if they are 20 years old that may be only 6 or 7 years) does not make them an instructor. In Costa Rica there is a specific certification an instructor must hold in order to give lessons, offered through the ISA (International Surfing Association). If they do not have it, they are working illegally.
 
Part of this course is knowing how to save someone in open waters. That can make the difference between life and death, and the rip currents in Costa Rica can be dangerous. The instructor should also know how to speak English or your native language, so he or she give clear instructions. They should give the first part of the lesson on the beach, showing you the parts of the surfboards, how to hold it when walking out to the water, how to paddle and stand up. 

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Three Surfers from Costa Rica Qualify for the Olympics in Tokyo

Surf CR logoLet’s do the math. There are 7.6 billion people on the planet and 35 million of them are surfers. Out of everyone who surfs, out of thousands that surf at the competitive level, only 40 surfers will be invited for the first time to the 2021 Olympic Summer Games in Tokyo, Japan. And three of those surfers are from Costa Rica! That’s 7.5% of the field from a country that only has 0.07% of the world’s population. It’s amazing!

Brisa Hennessy

BRISA HENNESSY photo: Pablo Jimenez

So, who are these three soon-to-be superstars? The first is the most ‘famous’—Brisa Hennessy. Brisa is currently ranked #16 on Women’s World Championship Tour (WCT), the most elite group of surfers on the planet. Due to her ranking, she had qualified for the Olympics first. Her surfing skills came from growing up near the tropical right hand point breaks of Matapalo, on Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula. When she was 9 her family moved to Hawaii and later travelled to Fiji often to surf some of the most beautiful and dangerous waves on the planet.
 

Leilani McGonagle

LEILANI MCGONAGLE photo: Sean Evans

The second athlete is Leilani McGonagle. Her path to the Olympics was different. In order to qualify, she had to earn a 7th place or better in the ISA World Surfing Games, held this June in El Salvador. 121 women were competing in this event, some of them already qualified through their WCT status. With her powerful frontside attack, honed sharp by years of growing up surfing Pavones, she passed through the first heats easily. But each round had tougher competitors, and with little sleep each night and running only on desire and determination, she battled through to the final rounds of the event—earning her ticket to Tokyo.
 

Leon Glatzer

LEON GLATZER photo: Pablo Jimenez

Our third surfer from Costa Rica is Leon Glatzer. He also grew up in Pavones, surfing the long, left hand point break to perfection. And his path would be the same—he would have to qualify through the ISA World Surfing Games by placing in one of the top five positions. Five spots for 136 surfers, some of them already competing on the elite level, but not guaranteed a spot unless they had a good result here. Since Leon’s family is from Germany he was accepted on to their national team and received the best preparation possible for an Olympic athlete. He trained relentlessly for three years and it showed as he wowed the judges with huge airs and powerful carves in El Salvador. He barely lost an early heat, but then powered through the repechage heats all the way to the semifinals. With his 5th place finish, he earned one of the final coveted spots and will represent Team Germany (and ‘Pavones, Costa Rica’) in the Olympics.   
 
This will be the first time ever that surfing is in the Olympics. It was a dream started by an Olympic swimmer from Hawaii, the Godfather of surfing, Duke Kahanamoku. And now three surfers from Costa Rica will be able to live out that dream. Vamos Ticos!


Where to Surf Around Manuel Antonio and Quepos

Surf CR logoIf you are reading this, I hope you are already at your hotel in Quepos or Manuel Antonio and wondering where to find the best waves for your level of surfing. For April, May, and June, these months are some of the best of the year for swells and quality wave conditions. The reason is the Southern Hemisphere is going towards their winter, when powerful South and Southwest swells plow across the Pacific and send big long period swells to the Costa Rica coastline. Meanwhile it is still ‘summer’ here, when the winds are offshore for a longer part of the day and the rains are limited to the afternoons or evenings.

Ocean surfAbout two thirds of the time the waves will be big, so where do you go? If you are a beginner or intermediate surfer, you should check out the Quepos river mouth, a long left breaking wave that works best at lower tides. Also, you could drive about 80 minutes north to Boca Barranca, another long left that works at low tide. Or you can drive an hour south past Dominical to Dominicalito, which has a protected bay and the waves are smaller. This break works at lower tide.

If you want the bigger waves, then the closest spot is Playitas, at the north end of the beach in Manuel Antonio. This wave breaks best at high tide and has rights and lefts. Or, another great high tide break is Dominical, which has some great sand bars near its river mouth. And Isla Damas ten minutes north of Quepos is known to have an amazing barreling left, but takes a boat or jetski to get there. One of my favorite spots is Esterillos Oeste 40 minutes north, which has big, more slopey waves that can break up to a half mile from shore. This spot is amazing for SUPs and longboarders who want big surf, and works at both high and low tide. And it does offer a more hollow inside break for shortboarders at high tide when there is some size.

There are a few secret spots, too, and of course other perfect peaks that take longer than an hour to reach. But to find quality waves when it is either big or small, you don’t have to travel that far. Check CRsurf.com for the latest forecasts and tide charts for the whole year.


Native Moments

Surf CR logoThere’s a formula for this type of book. A coming-of-age story about a young man leaving a sordid past and discovering himself while in an exotic place. He falls in love, finds himself, and decides to stay where his heart lies in a paradisiacal bliss. Well, this book breaks that mold and tells a story of wrong decisions, harsh realities, and fragile relationships in a setting that I am very familiar with, Tamarindo, Costa Rica, in the early 1990’s.

That is what kept me enraptured with the book. Thirty years ago, Tamarindo was a dirt-road town along a small pristine bay with waves at both ends of it (Grande and Langosta), plus multiple surf breaks in the middle. To get to other breaks like Avellanas and Playa Negra you had to cross streams which was a terror if it was your credit card paying for the car rental.

Native Moments book coverOne of the characters in the story is Pablo—an older longboarder—who did sell ‘Burgers as big as your head’, and at his cabinas I had played a lot of pool myself back in the 1990’s. Nic writes about the surf shops in the area, the local pros, the beautiful beaches, the wildlife, the lodging options, and all that brings back the nostalgia of many readers’ first surf trip.

The main characters, Sanch and Jake are the tragic heroes. I rooted for them to make the right calls, and sometimes they did, but at other times they were a train wreck. They heard some good wisdom throughout the book, philosophies that could easily apply to today’s social issues. I could relate to what they witnessed on their surf trip because the author brought up the dark side of Tamarindo, too—cocaine, prostitution, theft, localism, crowded shore breaks with beginners learning to surf – the worst.

The author did a great job writing like someone in their twenties going on their first surf trip. There’s a lot of cussing, there’s a lot of drinking, there’s fights and hookups, getting stuck, and getting sick. Do not expect to deepen your vocabulary or get an expansive history lesson of the area. But you will be transported to an earlier time of Costa Rica surf exploration, and Sanch and Jake’s adventures will keep you turning the pages until the surprising conclusion.

You can purchase this book at Bookstore of the Waves in Tamarindo or online through Amazon—Native Moments.


The Best Waves in Costa Rica for Advanced Surfers

Surf CR logo

The Labyrinth

On the way to Ollies Point, you pass this break on the boat. It only starts working when the swell gets to be two feet overhead or bigger. It is predominately a right that has a steep takeoff, followed by a quick barrel if the swell is the right direction, or a racy section where you can maybe fit in a turn or two, and then either clamps shut on the inside or flattens out if you make the shoulder. The rocks on the inside are menacing and knowing that if something goes wrong you are miles from the nearest port can make this spot fearful.

Playa Negra

Roca LocaA popular right rock-reef break, it is fun when it’s chest to a foot overhead. It’s easy to find the takeoff spot, just look for the dozen guys sitting right on it. But when it gets to be three feet overhead and bigger, the lineup thins out. There is usually a crazy riptide from the swell direction and from the water rushing back out through the shallow inside reef. A second take off spot appears another 30 yards farther outside, so if you are trying for a smaller set you will can easily get caught and walloped by a set wave. But if your timing is right, it is a roll in drop-in with a steep section to carve and then a right round barrel to plow through with a quick exit before you end up on the rock shelf.

Roca Loca

This spot is found half way between Jaco and Playa Hermosa. It is best when it’s double to triple overhead and usually there is not anyone out, or maybe just a few charging locals. The hardest part is paddling out, as there is a steep climb down from a parking spot known for breakins. Then you have to find the keyhole through the rock ledge, which is made more difficult at higher tides or when the closeout sets wash out the entire coast. Once you are out, the takeoff spot is clear—just find the ‘crazy rock’ boil and sit on it until the sets come. This wave can break 150 yards with a steep takeoff followed by a long wall—great for big gouges and top turns. Just don’t get behind it or it will swallow you up and getting back out is not easy.

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Take a Surf Trip to Esterillos Oeste

Surf CR logoIf you are a surfer and either are living in Quepos or Manuel Antonio, or just traveling through, sometimes you may want a different wave to ride. You could go south to Dominical if you want bigger waves at a beach break, or check out any one of the beaches from Isla Damas north to Bejuco. But Esterillos Oeste, the last major exit before Playa Hermosa, has two things the rest don’t—a rocky point break and a giant mermaid statue.
 
Esterillos OesteThis rocky point is at the far north end of the beach. It is actually a patch of rocky ‘fingers’ that stretch out into the ocean. The rocks make the wave break more evenly and also increase the power of the wave in some spots. The best part is when the waves are double overhead or bigger, they can break REALLY far out—like 300-400 meters out—and although they are huge and lumpy, with a bigger board a surfer can ride the wave almost all the way in. The point set up also offers a way for the surfer to dodge the bigger waves that come in while they are trying to paddle out. 

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