Dry Season on the Nicoya Peninsula
Writing from Playa Dominical. A thunderstorm grumbles its presence in a surreal grey morning. This is a telltale sign that the rainy season is not yet over, and October marks the rainiest month for all of Costa Rica. But in November everything begins to dry out, and a strong offshore breeze begins pushing from Rincon de la Vieja across the Guanacaste region to the Nicoya coast. The high and dry season begins, yet what does this signify to surf travellers from around the world?
The most important is all day offshores from Ollie's to Mal Pais. The Papagayo winds, once they get going, can blow up to 40 mph for days at a time. Stories are told about how surfers need to wear springsuits at Witches Rock, since the winds bites hard and the warm water on the ocean's surface gets blown out to sea, leaving a cooler undercurrent to chill a surfer's lower half. During the Costa Rica National Circuit finals held two years ago in Tamarindo, the sponsor tents were blown over by the strong offshores, not to mention numerous beach umbrellas and camera tripods. When the Papagayo wind eases off, perfectly groomed waves can be found at Playa Negra, Playa Langosta, and Playa Grande. Truly epic sessions with clear blue skies, crystal-clear water, and rainbows lining the spray of each wave rolling though can be found up and down the Nicoya coast.
The second change in November is the weakening of Southern Hemi swells. Unfortunately, waves coming from south of the equator are less powerful during the months of December through February. November and March cannot be included since witnessing several powerful swells that hit the Southern Pacific coast during those months, one of which broke my favorite 6'6". On the upside is that the northwest swells coming down from Alaska push in surf to spots in northern Costa Rica that are quiet most of the year.
It seems that this information is not that obscure since every surfer and his or her family comes to visit during this pristine climate. So bring your alarm clock. Why? Because you will need to wake up at 4:30 a.m. and be in the water by 5:00 in order to get some waves to yourself. Parking lots are full by 7:00 a.m. and it stays packed until the tide backs off or comes in too far - or the moon doesn't shed enough light for a night session. At the popular breaks mentioned above I have seen 30 people on each peak, jousting and jostling for every set wave with an instinctive mentality that "position is possession." And then the longboarders, well, that is a whole other article to write.
To get away from the tourist crowd and too many longboarders, make a visit to the Caribbean coast. When the world visits Guanacaste in the high season, the locals come out of the jungle around Puerto Viejo and show why they deserve respect on the most hollow wave in Costa Rica. From January to March, Salsa Brava can get up to triple overhead and break boards like toothpicks. If the wave does not cripple the inexperienced surfer, the reef six feet below the surface and the impossible paddle back in will make one think hard before attempting this black diamond break. There are more forgiving beachbreaks to the north and south, and these provide plenty of fun without having to share every peak.
The high and dry season officially starts November 15th and ends April 15th. During those months the sky is clear, the roads dusty, and the waves incredibly sweet to ride. International visitors come in packs to crowd every lineup on the Pacific coast, but there are waves for everyone if you are vigilant of the tides and an early riser. The Caribbean coast offers less crowded peaks and the heaviest wave in the country, so bring a full quiver of boards. And remember to pick up any trash and respect the locals in order to keep Costa Rica inviting for future travelers. Buen viaje!