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by Baxter Cepeda, photo editor
 
A week is enough to understand why pura vida is so common and fitting in this unforgettable tropical country north of Panama and south of Nicaragua.

Endless vacation packages are available on the Internet, including specialized trips for surfers. But the best way to travel to Costa Rica may be without hotel reservations. Although reserving a rental car may be a good idea.

Accommodations, especially for low-maintenance surfers, include hostels (yes, clean) for about $10 a night per person up and down the country’s 755 miles of wave-blessed Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea coasts. Local meals, great fruit shakes, and bottled water can be purchased almost anywhere, including near most surf spots, and all prices are low.
This trip focused on the southwest coast in search of abundant, clean, and empty overhead waves.

San Jose
The main international airport is in San Jose, in the middle of the country and site of its university. The adventure begins with driving a rental car through rush hour traffic and onto the Intercontinental heading south through the interior; The destination is an 800-meter, left-breaking wave to be found near the Panama border in the Pacific coast town of Pavones.

Missed turns, rainy weather, steep climbs, and slow trucks can easily turn the eight hour trip into 12, but waterfalls, rivers, and tropical rainforest keep travelers entertained. The last few miles are unpaved, signs are rare, and bridges are concrete slabs.

Pavones
Actually reaching (and leaving) Pavones depends on the rain. A car ferry a few miles before the secluded surf town often cannot cross a small river after heavy rains because thousands of large tree trunks float by. And small creeks intersecting the road can turn into uncrossable flash floods.

Despite all that, Pavones truly does break forever, is always warm, and has great conditions in the morning. With some luck, Pavones will provide an unforgettable wave or two for even the most spoiled O‘ahu surfer.

Staying in Pavones longer than planned is tempting, especially if a great day comes along, but it is not worth risking the return flight home, and there is so much more to see and surf.

Dominical
A few hours up the coast from Pavones is a town called Dominical, another great surf destination. Within a few miles of the town are numerous barreling point and beach breaks.

This town is more of a party scene than Pavones, with great clubs right on the beach.

Driving north from Dominical means more dirt roads, which is strange, because many tourists use the road. Most main roads in Costa Rica are quite good. The country is very modern compared to some of its neighbors.

Manuel Antonio
An hours drive up the coast north of Dominical is Manuel Antonio, which does not offer great waves but is a popular town with tourists because of its beautiful, tranquil bay, great hiking trails through rainforests featuring tucans and monkeys, secluded white sand beaches, shopping, dining, and dancing. Also available are surfing lessons, beach massages, and kayaks, which are the only way to reach secret pristine beaches.

Jaco
A few miles north of Manuel Antonio is Jaco, a relatively big surf town not too far from San Jose. This is not the most family-friendly place, but is overall safe and provides a good base for visiting some of the numerous breaks that surround the town.

A few minutes south is Playa Hermosa, a black sand beach featuring endless beach breaks. A huge tree named Almendro, located on a little dirt road, marks the main spot, but good spots abound.
If the surf is not good, zip-line tours over the jungle canopy or white-water rafting trips are available, as are other activities to keep you feeling pura vida.

All photos by Baxter Cepeda and Daniel Sandoval

 


A board shaper in Jaco puts the finishing touches on one of his creations.


Guide books and maps are a must; trees fallen on the road are not labeled.

 

The view out of a $5 hostel in the secluded town of Pavones where an 800-meter ride on a left-breaking wave, which attracts surfers from all over the world, finally comes to an end.
 

A huge tree, called Almendro by the locals, marks the main beach break at Playa Hermosa.
 
 

 

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