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Throughout our travels, we alternate between busy city life, stunning natural landscapes and relaxing beaches. With Andy being a particular lover of the beach life, we seem to spend a fair amount of time hopping around beachy surfer towns – some good, some not so good. We’ve put our heads together and come up with what we think are the top 6 coolest surfer towns across South and Central America, where you can catch some waves, find backpacker parties and/or find some peace in all the hustle and bustle of travel.
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At one of the most northerly points of Peru, lies Máncora – a town with a bit of everything. From beaches as far as the eyes can see to wild nightlife to secluded yoga dens. Máncora is famed as one of the best places to learn to surf in South America due to a combination of having a slightly warmer portion of the Pacific Ocean, generally small to medium-sized waves and reasonable pricing for lessons.
Whilst a bit of a tourist trap, people tend to spend more time than planned in this town with a series of cool hostel chains, plenty of partying and stunning sunsets after a long day on the beach. We’d say this is more of a party town with surfing a secondary concern for many who visit – but gives you the chance to get whatever experience you want out of it. We spent a few nights at the party-mad Loki Hostel before a few at the beautifully chilled out Psygon Surf Camp.
Often compared with Máncora due to having a bit of a reputation as a party-town and a fairly close proximity to the northern coast of Peru, Montañita is very much Ecuador’s answer to one of Peru’s coolest spots. However, Montañita does have its differences. A far smaller town all-in-all, it spans maybe only 4 or 5 blocks along and inland from the beach.
It feels a little more authentic here as a sleepy surfer town during the week, but always livens up on the weekend. This weekend rush means that locals flock to Montañita for long evenings drinking on the beach and endless rows of food trucks and pop-up cocktail stands before heading to one of a number of banging beachfront clubs.
It’s a pretty cheap place to learn to surf, with long stretches of beach in each little town every 5-10 mins down the coast on the local bus (Ayampe is a beaut!); and was certainly one of our favourite locations in Ecuador – something we’ve heard from a lot of people.
Punta del Diablo, Uruguay
Uruguay is often overlooked by many travellers, who favour Brazil, Argentina and other larger, more well-known countries nearby. It is also often one which fails to make any ‘Top’ list when it comes to places or things to do in South America. However, the truth is Punta del Diablo is awesome, and so ‘voila!’, it has made our coolest surfer towns list.
Punta del Diablo has a very different vibe to other places on this list, with the centre being a charming collection of well-crafted wooden shacks and stands. There is a real healthy life vibe here with some great smoothie bars around too (don’t worry, they can also fill them with alcohol!).
Admittedly we went in low-season where even the town’s main beach wasn’t overly crowded, but the sheer mileage of beach means you will always be able to find a quiet spot. Whether it’s the expansive sand dunes of Playa de la Viuda on one side of the centre or along to Playa Grande, just north of the main town (pictured), the untouched bliss just keeps on going.
There are plenty of good walks to be had and the more than occasional penguin knocking about, depending on the time of year, making it a pretty damn cool place to be. The uniqueness and great vibes deservedly place it on our coolest surfer towns list.
Surfer towns in Central America
Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica
Sitting on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica gives Puerto Viejo a pretty good starting point for being part of a gang of cool laid-back surfer towns in CR – and it very much delivers. Here you’ll find a brickety-brack pueblo of only a few thousand people and a very close-knit community among the locals.
Each night of the week, a different bar has the major party to which travellers and regulars (both native and foreign) flock. There’s also a rotating ladies’ night meaning that as a female you don’t have to buy a drink before midnight any day of the week except Sunday.
An incredibly laid-back town with a friendly vibe, Puerto Viejo is pretty great for learning to surf, with a number of surf instructors/schools on beaches nearby. Playa Negra is excellent for absolute beginners, who can then graduate further down the coastline to Playa Cocles where the waves get a little more fun!
Even if you aren’t a surfer, spending the day cycling down the coast to a series of beautiful beaches before enjoying some good Caribbean-style food and partying with a real local feel is definitely worth the visit.
Santa Teresa, Costa Rica
The Pacific coast of Costa Rica is a dream for finding great surfer towns, sunning it up and enjoying the pura vida. Tamarindo Bay has some of the best spots around, with Tamarindo itself a big tourist hotspot for surfing and partying. Further down the coast you’ll come to amazing little towns such as Sámara, another ideal spot to surf or watch on from one of many cool bars and restaurants along the beachfront.
However, it is the Santa Teresa tip of the peninsular which stood out to us. After almost a year of travelling, it tends to take something pretty impressive to make a beach stand out; and in Santa Teresa it really did. A completely untouched feel, with miles of beach, rocks and palm trees – and the occasional incredible sunset – makes it a must-visit. Unsurprisingly, it’s regularly a favourite location for travellers around Costa Rica.
A relatively quick quadbike ride around the coast brings you to Montezuma, a little town full of character and ways to pass your day. From a surfing perspective, Santa Teresa is the place to be for those a little more experienced and a great spot to end the day with a couple of beers on the beach.
This surfer town right ar the centre of Central America’s Pacific Coast is an absolute wonder to behold. Miles and miles of empty beach are there for your taking after a hard day on the waves. Many of the hostels in Popoyo also do board rentals and surfing lessons for beginners. The waves near the town are suitable for non-experts, but those who want more challenging waves can hop on a 4×4 shuttle to nearby beaches where the reef breaks lie.
Unlike some of the other surfer towns in Central America, Popoyo is crazy-quiet, with hardly anything going on save for a handful hostel bars and a pizza restaurant. It’s a beautiful place to really get absorbed in your surfing.
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