Central America - General Information
With more concentrated diversity than any other place on earth, Central America has the Caribbean’s white sand beaches and underwater worlds of coral reefs as well as little local villages that look as though you have travelled back in time, with cobblestone streets and 16th century buildings. There are rainforests & jungles; massive gorges & crocodile infested rivers; Pyramids and ancient ruins dating back thousands of years; and many different amazing cultures. The 8 countries that make up Central America - Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama and Mexico are a colourful and exotic destination with many opportunities to find surf.
Costa Rica, Panama and Nicaraguahave a multitude of fantastic set-ups both along the Pacific and Caribbean coasts. The Pacific shore is popular for its classic beach breaks, long points, and fast breaking hollow waves which generally work all year round.
'South of the Border' of the United States and officially part of North America but more akin to Central America in culture. Mexico stretches down to Belize and Guatemala. Apart from being the largest Spanish speaking country in the world, it also has over 6000 miles of coastline to be explored.
Mexico has so many sights & contrasts, such as northern Mexico with extreme weather, desert, and mountain ranges; through to central Mexico with Mayan ruins, historical towns, and picturesque villages full of colour and culture. To enjoy some of the most popular white sand beaches in the world, you should stop by the Yucatan Peninsular which is surrounded by the Caribbean Sea and is popular with divers as it has the second largest coral barrier reef at its shores. The Pacific Coast is dotted with some of the best beaches. You’ll find awesome surf spots all up the coast from the south near the Guatemala right up to Baja California.
Costa Rica is generally a safer destination than some of its other Central American neighbours. Costa Rica is also a brilliant surfing location as it has two coastlines; the Caribbean and the North Pacific, which both produce consistent head-high surf all year round. The Caribbean side has a short surfing season but produces large swells from tropical storms off Mexico. The Pacific coast has smaller but generally more consistent surf, generated by low pressure systems located off New Zealand.
Tamarindo is one of the best surf destinations in Costa Rica as there are a wide variety of surf breaks within a short distance.
Playa Avellanes/Negra is best for those looking to travel to a remote location.
Nosara receives consistent swells, good wind conditions and is particularly enjoyed by longboarders.
Mal Pais is ideal for surfers looking for a quiet holiday as there is not much nightlife in this area, but good, consistent waves and a friendly atmosphere.
Playa Hermosa/Jaco is best for the more experienced surfer.
El Salvador is a natural footers paradise due to the number of right hand point breaks, some of which are world-class rights that break for several hundred metres. Crowds here are non-existent as the waves are situated away from the main towns and cities and there is huge potential to discover spots that have never been surfed before. The rainy season between March to October is the main swell season and the south swells during this time can get up to 10ft.
Panama is a natural bridge between North and South America and the Panama Canal joins the world’s two largest oceans. As well as great waves, Panama has huge expanses of tropical rainforest, and is one of the most biologically diverse areas in the world. Although slightly less exposed to the North Pacific Swells than Costa Rica, it gets the west and south swells that are generated from the Roaring 40s and hurricane swells.
Puerto Rico is the Caribbean's version of the North Shore of Hawaii. It is blessed with good surfing conditions all year and can get pretty big and powerful. Northerly swells that are generated from the east coast of America are the main source of the waves in Puerto Rico. The main surfing season is from October to February. The surf can be anything from 2ft to 20ft, and there are waves to suit all abilities.
In the south-central part of the country, Lake Nicaragua covers a surface of more than 8000sq kms, creating a huge, flat area where wind can blow almost all year around. As a result, the south Pacific side of Nicaragua receives almost constant offshore winds, and unlike virtually all other Pacific destinations, the wind does not change during the day. In Nicaragua, not all the breaks are accessible by vehicle nor are most beaches marked with signs, therefore unless you are staying at one of the surf lodges you will need water transportation or a vehicle with a guide to get around.
Central America usually has two distinct seasons - wet and dry - however the one thing that is predictable about Central America is it unpredictability! In some areas you may experience up to four seasons in one day and then in others there’s a hurricane season and it can be dry to the point of drought during the rest of the year.
Traditionally the wet season runs from June through until October, where some places may receive up to 300mm in one month, the dry season then runs from November through until May. Just remember that it is not uncommon to have 2 weeks of sunshine and blue sky during the wet season or flooding during the dry.
Less swell arrives during the dry season but offshore winds blow nearly every day.
Water temperatures rarely vary, hovering around 27-28°C.
In Mexico there are two main seasons. Although there is some variation in temperature over the year, and throughout the different areas of Mexico; the most obvious difference is between rainy and dry seasons. The rainy season throughout most of Mexico falls roughly from May through September or October. During the rest of the year there is little or no rain. Don't be discouraged from visiting during rainy season, when you'll see lush, green landscapes, and it often only rains in the late afternoons and evenings. But June to November is also Hurricane season, so if you are travelling during this time, make sure you know if you are heading to an area prone to hurricanes!
The Northern Pacific Coast is generally considered the most consistent area from December to April. During these months, strong offshore winds combine with ideal swell directions to make breaks like Witches Rock, Playa Negra and Playa Grande great spots to surf. The Central and Southern Pacific Coasts are generally best between May to November when the south swell season starts while the Caribbean Coast tends to get the best conditions from November to March.
There are 2 seasons in El Salvador for surfing: dry season, which is from November to April and rainy season which is April to November. The rainy season will generally give you larger waves while the dry season will give you a more consistent break. The best time to go is during the wet season between March and October, but you can also find smaller waves in the 3 - 6ft range in the dry season. Water and air temperatures are warm all year around.
Expect hot and humid conditions year round in this lush, tropical country. December to April is dry season and is the best time for outer island surf missions. For the majority of the country, May to November is rainy, but this is the best swell season for the Pacific side, although good waves can be found here year round. On the Caribbean side, the surf peaks twice. The main season on the east coast is during the regional wet season in the months between December and March.
The surf season in Puerto Rico is from late summer to early spring. Puerto Rico receives the majority of its swells during hurricane season as large storms move off the west coast of Africa. Also during winter months as cold fronts and low-pressure systems move off the eastern seaboard of the United States, sending in long period groundswell to the north and northwest facing beaches.
Nicaragua has a long surf season, from around March to November. The swell averages 3-5 ft. with bigger swells of 6-8ft occurring regularly between April-October.