Puerto Viejo Deep Dive: Surfing the Caribbean’s gnarly waves
Sunshine, surfing and reggae make Puerto Viejo one of the preferred destinations of many Costa Ricans. There’s something about the Caribbean that makes you relax, and feel at home. The locals are very friendly, and their cuisine is delicious. You’ll also find several surf spots for different levels, and if you are lucky enough, you could surf all day long
Beware though, you need some surfing experience to surf most of the spots in Puerto Viejo and some are only for advanced surfers. The Caribbean’s waves are fast and furious and not everyone has come out victorious.
The Caribbean season starts around December and stretches out to March. That’s when storms churning off Cartagena, Colombia, and an ENE swell brings waves directly to Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast. This does not mean potential swells will come in during other times of the year. But if you want to be assured action, make sure to be here during this season.
When the waves do hit, Cocles and Hermosa beach are two of the best beach breaks in the zone. The wave will break at a depth of less than 1 meter from the sand and these waves are usually pretty fast. If the waves are big, breaking a board is easier than you think.
Cocles and Hermosa sound tough, but that’s only where the locals go when there are no waves at the reef breaks.
Salsa Brava is one of the gnarliest and heaviest spots in the zone. It’s also known as the Costa Rican pipeline, or The Spicy Sauce (a direct translation from Spanish). If you do not have an advanced surfing level, stay out of the water. Surfing above your level can lead to an accident or even death. Even local surfing legends have been victims of the reef. Just ask Gilbert Brown about his tooth.
Just getting to the spot is a challenge and I highly recommend getting local help if you decide to go in. There are a series of canals in the reef that you have to navigate to get out to the spot. I wouldn’t explore them on my own.
It’s common to see surfers come out of the water with wounds after they slam into the coral reef. If at any point you do get cut by coral, take care of it immediately. There are some species of coral that are toxic and in general, these cuts are very infectious.
If you cut yourself make sure to follow this recommendation from Surfline:
Remove all dead skin with a sharp, clean pair of scissors that have been boiled to kill bacteria. (Bacteria love to grow in, under, and around dead skin.) Anesthetizing around the wound is a good idea, if that’s what it takes to clean it well. Clean it with soap and fresh water and a soft, sterile brush, if required. Flush with a mixture of one-half water and one-half hydrogen peroxide to remove coral dust and then flush with fresh water. Don’t grab the bottle and pour it on the wound, dilute it. Full strength peroxide might delay the healing process. Then use clean water to flush it under pressure and very thoroughly for five minutes.
Following this advice can prevent you from going home early and ruining the trip for your buddies.
But the risk is worth the reward. The wave at Salsa Brava is a peak that can break in both directions. Depending on the swell’s direction, it may be more constant in one direction rather than the other. If the weather is not too warm and there’s been some rain, there’s a high chance the water will be glassy and ideal for surfing. If the conditions are aligned with the proper swell, you can surf all day long with the best barrels of your life.
If you are coming to this beautiful town, make sure to bring your surfing gear. There are no surfing stores around and even getting a wax bar is more complicated than it should be. It’s also most likely overpriced.
Puerto Viejo isn’t the best place to buy a board either. You will find some surf rentals and surf schools, but I wouldn’t consider it a commercial surf town like Santa Teresa.
If you’re in town with some non-surfers, there are several beaches you can drive or bike up to that will get you feeling the laid-back Caribbean vibe. Playa Negra, Punta Uva and Manzanillo are a few spots to chill with the family and non-surfing friends. There aren’t big waves at these beaches so you can go for a swim without worrying too much about riptides and waves violently crashing on your head.
This does not mean you should disrespect the ocean and its imminent dangers. Always keep an eye out for rip tides.
Puerto Viejo is a town where people embrace their culture/ Calypso, patty (a spicy meat-stuffed empanada-looking pie) and rice-and-beans are some of the treasures you can find here. The best patty I’ve ever had is in a little yellow shack in downtown Puerto Viejo. It’s a personal must-go for me, and I usually go more than once.
Also, a trip to Limon that doesn’t include rice-and-beans with your preferred protein and some fried plantains isn’t a complete trip. If you visit, don’t miss out on any of these.
Remember to be safe out in the water, and avoid spots you have never been in by yourself. Take care of nature and be respectful to locals. Having this said, see you in the water!
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