Surfing spots around the Osa Peninsula

Susan Wesley-Vega | Live the World

November 23, 2022

Where is Osa?

The Osa Peninsula (pronounced "oh-saw"), located just before the border with Panama, is on the Southern Pacific Coast. It is about a 6-hour drive from the Juan Santa Maria International Airport, a little farther from San Jose. It is a wonderful adventure, consider checking out other beaches along the way, like Jaco and Manuel Antonio. If you drive, plan to stay overnight near the airport in Alajuela and then get an early morning start.  The Alajuela area is a great introduction to Costa Rica and its second-largest city. Or, you can skip the drive and get a small flight to Drake Bay or Puerto Jimenez.

Getting around in the Drake Bay-Osa-Gofito region

The International Pan American Highway is well-paved and a safe drive. It stretches north beyond the boarders into Panama through Costa Rica and into all of Central America.  However, once you venture off the main highway, all road promises are off the table! For the most part along the coastlines around Drake Bay, the Osa Peninsula, and Golfito, you can expect mostly gravel and dirt roads. The truth is it is a paradise for all-terrain, 4-wheel vehicles (ATVs).  Costa Rica is safe so you can feel free to have fun exploring.  Be sure to have a full tank of gas and take plenty of water.

© Flickr/Juan Carlos Madrigal

While the Osa Peninsula is one of Costa Rica’s most remote, off-the-grid vacationing destinations, it still offers rustic amenities. Think about it as roughing it (even though many lodges offer wonderful comforts) and you will not be disappointed. This wonderfully remote tropical region is worth the trip. Consider staying at The Jaguar’s Jungle Lodge & Hostel, La Leona Eco-Lodge, Ojo del Mar Eco-Lodge, or Poor Man’s Paradise Hotel.  Bosque el Cabo Rainforest Lodge is at the outermost tip (Cabo Matapalo) of the peninsula and a great restaurant is the Kalaluna Bistro.

7 Popular surfing spots

Backwash Bay- features a large and slow reef break in the center of the Bay. The best surfing is during mid- to low-tide times when swells tend to come from the west or southwest. These sectioned waves are thrilling for longboarding sessions. There is usually a fun right that breaks in the middle of Backwash Bay, but it is not an everyday occurrence. On days that it is happening, it is worth checking out at mid- to low-tides. Sometimes the waves can be quite steep and usually are not as consistent as, for example, at Matapalo.

Cabo Matapalo- The beach at the peninsula’s outermost point is called "Hog Hole" locally. It receives consistent open-ocean waves that can be good for surfers of all levels.  There are strong right-hand waves that break best around mid-tide. These can be quite challenging on big swells. Probably, one of the big attractions is the seclusion of the surfing experience, even on weekdays. It is important to be aware of, and watch out for, rips, undertows, and rocks that can “disappear” at high tide.

© ‏Flickr/Marco Zanferrari

Eclipse- is a river mouth break found in Golfo Dulce. The break at Eclipse is hardly ever crowded. You can plan for a generally consistent break with both right and left side breaks. Most often, low tide offers perfect surf conditions. Usually, the best and most common groundswells are from the south and southwest. Wind swells are less frequent.  Surfers and swimmers need to watch out for rocks and jellyfishes.

© Flickr/

Pan Dulce- is the smallest break off a long beach break that cuts to the right. For the most part, Pan Dulce is rideable only on the larger swells that wrap into the gulf. When you can catch it well (usually at mid-tide), you can usually ride long for up to 500 meters. Pan Dulce offers great waves for beginners when the swell is small at low-medium tide.

Playa Pavones- is accessible from Bosque del Cabo Rainforest Lodge by crossing Golfo Dulce by boat. Pavones is popular with surf enthusiasts who want to pick up and ride long waves and large swells. The fun thing is that waves tend to be sectioned. This allows surfers to carry out various maneuvers during a long (2-3 minutes), exhilarating ride. Interestingly, waves are peak and surfing at Pavones is excellent during the rainy season, from April to October. It is good to check surfing conditions online.  At times, the swells from Golfo Dulce can block the waves practically eliminating any surf for weeks.

© Flickr/lewisha1990

Playa Zancudo- is a long, sandy beach that stretches for 6 miles near a small village off Golfo Dulce fringed by coconut palms and almond trees. It has a large river mouth beach break that goes both left and right, breaking over a sandy bottom. The spot is great for all levels of surfers. The waves are gentle, fun with ordinary power that is particularly enjoyable for beginners. Playa Zancudo is a secluded beach due to access to more than its name. (“Zancudo” means mosquito.) 

Rio Sierpe River Mouth- has a fast, powerful, and long, hollow break on both the left and right. It has a challenging surf for advanced surfers. The Rio Sierpe break is accessed by boat from Dominical beach. Like most beaches in the area, the break is secluded and not crowded.

© Flickr/dakine kane

Besides surfing, what else?

The Osa region is remarkably untouched; categorized by National Geographic as one of the most biologically rich places on earth. Besides surfing, the coasts are famous for awesome whale-sighting tours.  The area is said to be the longest humpback-whale-watching season in the world! Additionally, it is home to one of the largest populations of scarlet macaws in Costa Rica and four species of monkeys. Be sure to take tours or ride out to explore the vast, and extremely bio-diverse, rainforests. 

© Flickr/Mike Melrose

In between surfs, you can take picnic hikes to explore inland and check out the precious world premier rainforests.  Another very popular natural attraction of the Osa Peninsula is Corcovado National Park on the western side of the peninsula. Corcovado National Park is one of the richest and most diverse tropical areas on the planet. It covers nearly half of the entire peninsula and has the largest lowland rainforest in Central America.

© Flickr/ismail esen

The Osa Peninsula is one of Costa Rica’s most remote and rustic destinations. Be prepared to vacation in a “roughing it” style while also enjoying good meals, fabulous photo ops, and Internet.  Try staying at a treehouse lodge! The wonders of nature surround you from the clean and warm ocean surf to the unforgettable views of land.  It is worth the trip; your photos will be the envy of your friends, and your memories will be yours forever!

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