If you’re a surfer in Costa Rica, then you’ve likely heard of Pavones—a renowned surf town boasting the world’s second longest wave.
But you don’t have to be an avid surfer to fall in love with this pristine paradise. From SUP to hiking to beach hopping, there’s plenty to see and do in and around Pavones (if you’re willing to head off the beaten path.) Here’s everything you need to know about one of our favorite sleepy beach towns in all of Costa Rica:
Your Ultimate Guide To Pavones, Costa Rica
Pavones is one of those quiet and tranquil towns that oozes of “traditional” Costa Rica. Here you’ll find only a handful of shops, restaurants and grocery stores. There are no gas stations, no ATMs and definitely no nightlife (though the mini-supers will sell you plastic bottles of gas and give you cash back at a fee.)
In place of development and standard amenities, you’ll find extremely friendly locals, an abundance of wildlife, cheap seafood and nearby stretches of secluded beaches. It’s still the sort of town where everyone waves to everyone. Cows, horses and even pigs are commonly seen meandering down the dirt roads. And every now and again there’s a Cow Festival, where a local serves $2 bowls of beef and vegetable stew in the town center, accompanied by a blaring DJ, a bursting piñata, and anyone who lives within a five-mile radius.
Many travelers come to Pavones for the surf but stay for the peaceful vibes.
Photo by our good friends and travel buddies The Yoga Nomads
How To Plan The Ultimate Surf + SUP Getaway In Pavones
Surfing Pavones, Costa Rica
You’ll find Pavones on the Golfo Dulce in Southern Costa Rica, about a seven-hour drive from San Jose. Across the Gulf is the Osa Peninsula, which is easily reached via a 30-minute boat ride.
As a result of this unique location, the waves can be hit or miss. During a swell, skilled surfers can catch a wave that could last up to three minutes. Other times, you’ll be lucky if the waves are high enough to surf at all. As a result, the best time to visit Pavones tends to be during the rainy season (April through November) when your chances of a swell are best. However, on our recent February trip, we got lucky, and Dan was able to surf some of the best waves of his life.
One of the unique things about the Pavones Break is that there are four various points you can get on and off. (When the swell is big enough, this is when you can ride all four from start to finish.) Pavones does have a rocky bottom/beach, so it’s not the most forgiving spot for beginners.
The fastest and largest section of the Pavones wave is right at the delta of the Rio Claro. This is also the most ridable section during smaller swells and works during all tides. If you continue down the beach, then you’ll reach a small bay. This bay section creates a gentler and slower wave more suited for beginners and longboarders.
Pro Tip: When the swell is up, it’s possible to ride from the Pavones Point all the way into the bay, creating the 2nd longest left wave in the world. That said, the wave can get extremely crowded when word gets out that conditions are just right.
If you don’t have a surfboard, it’s possible to rent one from a small shop right in town at the Sea Kings Surf Shop. The owners are excellent and can help answer any additional surf questions you might have. It’s also right next to Cafe de la Suerte, our favorite hang-out cafe in Pavones. Use the WiFi while you splurge on the biggest smoothies we’ve ever seen. The sandwiches, energy balls, and shakshouka are all tasty as well.
A Surprising Gem For Stand Up Paddle Boarding (SUP) in Costa Rica
While it’s no secret that Pavones is a mecca for surfers, not as many active travelers realize that north of Pavones is one of the best spots in Costa Rica for stand up paddle boarding: Pilon Beach.
The consistent and gentle break at Pilon Beach makes this a phenomenal place for both beginner and advanced SUPers who want to enjoy the glassy water of the Golfo Dulce, as well as try their hand at SUP surfing.
We love Stand Up Paddle Boarding, not only for the great full-body workout but also because it provides the perfect medium to enjoy a morning out on the water while soaking in the stunning scenery. At Pilon Beach, it’s not uncommon to have dolphins make an appearance around (or under) your Stand Up Paddle Board!
We went out for the day with Agua Vida Surf and couldn’t have been more impressed by Shawn, our instructor. Not only did we learn a ton about Stand Up Paddleboarding, including new strokes and techniques, but Sean also got me confidently surfing a couple of baby waves—something completely new to me on a SUP! Our next trip to Pavones, I plan on taking a couple of days with Shawn to get more comfortable SUP Surfing while Dan is out on his own.
Agua Vida Surf also offers sailing and kite surfing classes, rentals and camps.
Other Must-Try Activities in Pavones, Costa Rica
If there’s no swell when you’re in town or you’re simply too exhausted for another day of surf and SUP, don’t worry. There are other activities in and around Pavones!
If you don’t go there for SUP, we highly recommend stopping by Pilon for a long walk on the beach. The area is stunning, and it’s not uncommon to stroll along the beach without encountering another soul. As you walk away from Pavones, the water becomes quite calm and makes a great spot for an ocean swim.
Pilon is also the best spot to find super cheap and fresh seafood. Whole fish will set you back just a couple of dollars, while a kilo of jumbo shrimp goes for $20.
Keep heading north of Pilon and in another 15 minutes or so you’ll arrive at Zancudo. Zancudo has an interesting vibe. It’s not necessarily our favorite beach, but the sunsets are incredible, and there are a handful of great restaurants. We love the food at Coloso del Mar. We recommend the guacamole, the blue cheese buffalo quesadilla, or the chicken mignon.
From Zancudo, you can also take boat tours of the Golfo Dulce and nearby mangroves, or hop on a sports fishing expedition.
Finally, Zancudo is the easiest spot from which to take a short boat ride to the Osa Peninsula. We love the Osa, and while we would recommend spending as much time as possible there, a day trip is enough time to visit Corcovado National Park or go on a short hike.
The Rio Claro
You can’t miss the Rio Claro when in Pavones. The Delta is right where the most popular surf break is, and makes a great spot to soak in the sun. (Though do note a new road is under construction that will go straight through this popular hangout spot.)
During the dry season, walking up the Rio Claro is the perfect way to spend a leisurely morning. The way the sun glitters through the trees is surprisingly gorgeous, and you’ll easily find a few deeper spots to go for a dip. We walked up the Rio Claro for about an hour and a half but easily could have continued much longer.
If you visit during the rainy season, try hiking up the Rio Claro and then tubing back down. Ask the locals for details on the best way to go about this.
Yoga Classes and Retreats
It wouldn’t be Costa Rica without yoga classes on offer. Both Shooting Star Yoga Retreat and the Pavones Yoga Center have daily classes. We never made it to any, but they both have excellent reviews. The Pavones Yoga Center is particularly popular for 200-hour yoga teacher training immersions.
Where To Stay In Pavones
We stayed at an AirBnB in Pilon which worked perfectly for our small group of four. It was centrally located between Pavones and Zancudo, and we used the kitchen and outdoor grill quite a bit.
Tiskita Jungle Lodge in Punta Banco (a short drive south of Pavones) is another excellent choice. It’s easily the best hotel in the entire area. Nestled in the rainforest, you’ll be surrounded by the biodiversity for which Costa Rica is known. And while scarlet macaws and howler monkeys are frequent around Pavones, it’s nice to feel truly emerged in the jungle experience. The hotel can arrange all your activities for you in the area if you also want to experience classic adventures like zip lining, horseback riding and more.
Whether you’re ready to surf an epic swell or you’re simply looking for an off the beaten track adventure in Costa Rica, you’re bound to fall in love with Pavones.