Sitting in the heart of one of the world’s premier surfing regions, Las Catalinas provides a surf basecamp with access to many of the area’s breaks. From the legendary Witch’s Rock to the shores of Playa Grande, from the all-play shores of Avellanas to the nearby beaches of Flamingo, and even from the tranquil bay at Iguanita to the once-in-a-blue moon breaks on Playa Danta, here are some of the best waves around Las Catalinas.
Break Overview: Witch’s Rock is Costa Rica’s most iconic surf break, renowned around the world for its perfect A Frame wave and an atmosphere unlike any in the entire world. Witch’s Rock is located in the heart of Costa Rica’s Santa Rosa National Park, and sits overlooked by the Roca Bruja (Witch’s Rock), a rock with a composition unlike anything for hundreds of miles, at the mouth of an estuary teeming with big reptiles and big fish. Surrounded by nothing but ocean, tropical dry forest and the powerful presence of Roca Bruja, this break is backed by countless fables, stories, and myths, making it a truly legendary break.
How to Get There: There are two ways to access Witch’s Rock from Las Catalinas. The first is via boat, a ride of a little over an hour departing from Playa Danta or Playas del Coco, which parks just outside of the break for surfers to paddle in. Boat trips can also access nearby Ollie’s Point, another high energy, well-known Costa Rican surf break.
The other option is to drive first 1.5 hours to Santa Rosa National Park, and then venture in through the park, a 2.5 to 3.5 hour drive along a 10km dirt road. The path is challenging even to the hardiest 4 wheel drive, which can be impassable during certain times of year.
When to Go: Witch’s Rock is on the Papagayo peninsula, and acts as a “swell magnet”, which can works on all tides, on medium low to high swells, with waves in almost any direction, between 250-275 days a year. There are two factors to keep an eye on for Witch’s rock. First, a very strong onshore wind can dirty the wave and make it close out too early, and second, when the swell passes big and reaches huge levels (more than 2.5m), Witch’s Rock can turn to a dangerous wave for the inexperienced rider. A wave for moderate to expert surfers.
Break Overview: Playa Grande sits at the heart of Guanacaste, and is one of the most popular breaks in the region, located a short drive from many of the towns that dot the coast, and at the front doorstep of the town by the same name. Almost 4km long, Playa Grande is another swell magnet, pulling in swells from almost every direction. With the right timing of the tides, Grande is surfable 300+ days a year, easily accessible, and provides a diverse wave such that on the same day expert surfer, intermediate, and novice can all find a break position to have a good time. The area also has plenty of restaurants and a lively community, as one of the hubs of surfing on the coast of Guanacaste.
How to Get There: To get to Playa Grande from Las Catalinas is a 45 minute drive, and surfers can drive almost up to the beach and find parking (as well as snacks nearby).
When to Go: Playa Grande is very dependent on surfing at low tide, and can get choppy with too much wind. However, almost every day of the year these conditions can be found in the right mix, and the break provides good mix of beginners and advanced waves with a low to medium-high swell.
Break Overview: Playa Flamingo is the closest consistent break to Las Catalinas, a left-hand point break over a shallow reef. As a bottom break, Playa Flamingo’s wave is much more predictable once it is firing, but the break as a whole should be reserved for more experienced surfers, due to the proximity of the point and the potential for underwater obstacles. Due to the topography of the bay around Playa Flamingo, the wave has a narrower angle to begin breaking, with good surf found there between 75-100 days a year.
How to Get There: To reach this break from Las Catalinas, simply drive 15-20 minutes to south end of the beach, and then walk to the south point.
When to Go: Playa Flamingo’s wave starts to break with a medium to large swell ranging from Southwest to Northwest. However, once it’s firing, it tends to continue doing so relatively independent of tides and wind.
Break Overview: Playa Avellanas is another large beach break with quite a bit of variation, working on all tides and most swells due to the presence of a sand break, rock break, and point break all at the same beach. Avellanas is both a great spectator beach, thanks to the plentiful trees and shade along the shore, as well as a great beach for beginners to learn, since there is always a bigger or smaller spot to find based on the swell. Thanks to its variety, Playa Avellanas works if there’s even a moderate swell, with good surfing available 275-300 days a year.
How to Get There: Playa Avellanas is a little over an hour and a half from Las Catalinas by car, with easily accessible parking and a few iconic restaurants in the area as well as a local legend, the big pig that lives nearby and wanders the beach.
When to Go: Avellanas is good almost any time, and in a wide variety of conditions. An offshore wind is better, but the break works even when there’s onshore wind, and there’s a break going at almost any tide.
Break Overview: Playa Iguanita is in the back corner of Bahía Culebra. The area as a whole generally has very few waves, but down at Playa Iguanita there’s a river mouth where a sand bar generates a tranquilo, waist-high break for some of the most relaxed surfing in Guanacaste. Excellent for the beginners or those just looking for a mellow day on the waves, the area has a ranger station with showers just off the shore, and a beautiful atmosphere of tropical beauty for long, slow rides over a waist-deep sandy bottom.
How to Get There: Playa Iguanita is a little over an hour’s drive from Las Catalinas, on Bahía Culebra.
When to Go: Due to the sheltered nature of the bay, Iguanita only breaks to be surfed at low tide, when the swell is moderate to heavy elsewhere in Guanacaste. However, this makes Iguanita ideal for when the surf elsewhere is too heavy, as the massive waves calm to a lively but still very much surfable height.
Break Overview: Playa Danta has frequent, waist to chest high waves, but the wide open mouth of the area and the generally smooth underwater topography means that waves tend to close out quickly, more suited to body surfing. However, on rare occasions throughout the year, when the waves line up just right, with enough size, at mid tide, the waves will stand up rather than closing out, forming the Las Catalinas ‘morning runners’. The waves have this name for two reasons. First, they move quickly across the water, sweeping in towards the shore. The second is for the reaction and rush for boards among town’s surfers upon seeing these waves cresting just right.
How to Get There: Step out from your front door and head down to the beach.
When to Go: Playa Danta only breaks when the swell is particularly high on the coast of Guanacaste, so during these mornings keep an eye on the swell. The morning runners come rarely, maybe a dozen times a year, so they are a rare treat to complement this surf base camp at the heart of the region’s many different breaks.
Easy access to this wide range of breaks makes Las Catalinas an ideal surf base camp for a trip to Guanacaste, either for those more experienced in surfing or just looking to get started. Transport there and back for you and boards can all be handled by concierge, and Beach Town has plentiful shops, restaurants, and activities to explore between surfing sessions. To learn more about this walkable beach town, and visit on your next trip to the area, you can reach out to the team at Beach Town Travel.
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