When we talk about surfing, Central America is one of the best places you can play around. Among the many surfing experiences, Panama and Costa Rica are the premier locales for surfing. Picking any one of these places guarantees you a good time.
There’s no question why people choose Costa Rica over Panama. It has surfable weather all year, inexpensive to visit, and has one of the coolest waters in the region. Even then, Panama offers a bevy of different surfing locations to choose from and with different challenges and an easier time moving around.
Are you unconvinced? Let’s give both Costa Rica and Panama a deeper dive. Let’s see which country has the better surfing options and which one can become the best in Central America.
Let’s compare these two beautiful countries and see the one we like better.
Panama vs Costa Rica: Where to Surf
It’s almost too hard to differentiate Costa Rica from Panama in many aspects. Both share almost similar climates and positions in Central America too. They are identical in almost every way apart from the local culture and the surf they offer.
Both Panama and Costa Rica also shares the same advantages for their beaches. Their coastlines provide access to the tides from the Carribean and the Pacific. These offer a different experience with every surf spot. Both countries are perfect for surfers of all levels of experience.
With that in mind, we understand why people would prefer one over the other. Here’s why.
Surfing in Costa Rica
Costa Rica is a popular surfer’s paradise for a reason. It has one of the most consistent surf all year round, almost unaffected by changing seasons. The locale can be inexpensive if you know what you’re doing, even if it has a lot of developments for tourists. It is also generally cool and less humid compared to many of its neighbors in the area.
The Pacific side of Costa Rica picks up any swell from the Pacific. Many of the waves that come here start from the southern hemisphere, giving off a variety of swells. There are also more prevalent waves from May to December, coming from the northwest.
On the Carribean side, the coasts pick up a lot of wind swell via the storms in the Atlantic. They get a lot of tropical storm fronts from December to April. These give a nice, pleasant wave that surfers from beginners to pros can enjoy.
Apart from surfing, Costa Rica’s beaches are also more developed than Panama. It’s a nature lover’s paradise, with a lot of access to many things to do within the range of the coast. Its stunning beaches will wow you when you’re resting and challenge you when you’re surfing.
Costa Rica is also cheap in general. Many people can settle in Costa Rica for less than $2000, and tourists take advantage of small coast towns for everything they need. You can eat at small hole-in-the-wall shops for about $3.50 and local beers for less than $2.
Why You Don’t Surf in Costa Rica
The drawback of Costa Rica is that it doesn’t have a lot more challenging surfs to offer. The biggest waves in the country can go around 12 feet (3.66 m). These surf spots include Mal Pais, Playa Dominical, and Salsa Brava.
Around 95 percent of people will be happy with the surf spots in Costa Rica. Only people looking for their next biggest adventure would feel like they are missing something here.
Why Surf in Panama
Panama is, without a doubt, one of the best beach destinations in the world. If you are surfing, it’s one of the biggest buffets of different beaches that has something different to offer. Every place you go, you will find out how different every locale is from one another.
There are different advantages to surfing in Panama. The best advantage is that, over the years, Panama developed its routes to beach destinations. Almost all locales are within a few hours’ access to each other, letting you jump around as you want to.
Panama is also among the safest countries in Central America if you want to surf. Many of the locales are very friendly to foreigners and tourists. Much of the modern Panamanian culture comes from coexisting with people from all walks of life.
If you’re looking for friends, many tourists come to Panama’s beaches. You won’t feel like an outsider, and the locals are easy to talk to, so it’s hard to feel lonely.
Another great thing about Panama is its laidback people. You can party around, roam the streets, and even do some shopping at any time. From its beaches, you can access everything from Central America’s top hospitals to the best lodgings.
Panama is inexpensive too. You can find some comfortable living in Panama for less than $1000 every month. Food will only cost you a couple of dollars and lodging a little more.
Why You Don’t Surf in Panama
With that in mind, the biggest issue with Panama is the inconsistency of its waves. While Panama’s swells are great all-year-round, its best swells are seasonal at best. You would want to visit around December to May, then June to August for the rainy season.
Not all surf spots also offer the same quality. While there are many surf guides on the internet now, you still would want to go to the beach yourself. The variation in the quality of the swells can be disappointing to surfers who expect something else.
Much of Panama’s surf spots need a good amount of searching before you find the right one. They’re worth the search, but it can be tedious without the right sources of information. Even at this age, many surf spots are “local secrets” you can only learn from the people who live in the area.
Where to Go Surfing in Costa Rica
If you’re looking for places to surf around Costa Rica and Panama, there are areas that you want to visit. There are a few places that we can recommend from both locales.
For Costa Rica, many of the best waves come from Santa Teresa. The geographical position of this small town in Puntarenas gets the best swells with utmost consistency. It gets swells from both north and south, with the best time from May to November.
Playa Carmen beach break is the best choice for people who are looking to learn. It has that long right wall with a nice, short left break. You would want to take advantage of it on a high tide, but you can take advantage of it at any time. This wave is great for surfers of any experience level, especially beginners.
The Punta Barrigona break is a long left, with superb south to northwest swell that can be quite hard to ride. This reef break is great during the low tide, but it can get dangerous because of the rocks. It’s best to ride this if you have enough experience and protection on your body.
Another fantastic beach break is Santa Teresa, which has the same swells but with more hollow barrels. It can get super steep, but the longer beach gives you different places you can start. You’d want to ride the waves here during low and high tide, giving you short and sweet rides.
Salsa Brava is near Puerto Viejo, which is a righthand reef break. Its waves are short and barreling but can swell as high as 12 feet (3.66 m). It stays consistent from December to March, making it perfect for experienced surfers.
Where to Go Surfing in Panama
For Panama, some of the best surf beaches are in or near Santa Catalina. It is along the Pacific Coast, giving it a variety of different surf spots. It has different breaks for different levels of experience so that everyone would enjoy it here.
If you want something for beginners, you can visit Playa Venao. It has long and very forgiving waves, with big swells on a beach break. Depending on the time, you can go here as a newbie or as an experienced surfer. If you want to feel some challenging swells but not waste your life doing so, Playa Venao is the best.
For those looking for a challenge, the place to go is Bocas Del Toro. Bocas Del Toro is home to some of the most challenging surf spots in Central America. This includes Silverbacks, which is only for experienced and kamikaze surfers. Other spots in Bocas include Playa Paunch, Playa Red Frog, Playa Bluff, and Playa Careneros.
It’s best to visit Bocas Del Toro from December to March and June to August.
So, which one between Panama or Costa Rica has the best waves for surfers? Each Central American country has its own distinct traits that make people come to them.
If you want consistent swells all year and don’t mind the lack of challenge, Costa Rica is the surf country for you. For those who want a variety of challenging surfs that will help you get better, go to Panama.
Which kind of surfer are you? Do you like to surf the entire year casually or challenge yourself to some of the best waves? Whatever your choice, we’re sure you’d love to visit both Costa Rica and Panama.
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