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Catch a Latin Break Surfari Finder
Ten great places to go surfing in Latin America this summer—from beginner-friendly to most challenging. By Jeff Gangemi


Costa Rica: Pura Vida
Costa Rica is a bomb that's gone off. It's just too difficult to be a beautiful, safe tropical country without attracting a lot of attention. Crowds can be a factor in the water, but the pura vida lifestyle is still alive and well by land and by sea. The leader in Central American ecotourism, Costa Rica has set aside 25 percent of its land for use as parks and reserves.

Summer (April-September) is the most consistent season for surf on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, as any Southern Hemisphere storm will ignite its variety of world-class breaks. For great instruction and an equally great base of operations, try Witch's Rock Surf Camp (starting at U.S. $750 for weeklong beginner course, includes lodging; www.witchsrocksurfcamp.com) in the charming surf town of Playa Tamarindo, about an hour shuttle-ride from the international airport Liberia. They serve everyone—from the newest of newbies to the more seasoned veterans of surf—with an array of surf safari options.
Baja California, Mexico: Boarder Jump
Ever since surfing caught on in the sixties, northern Baja didn't stand a chance to stay a secret—not when located so close to southern Cali's inspired surfers. Some of the rustic charm of free camping disappeared with the introduction of the Trans-Baja highway in 1973. Now, you generally must pay to camp. Yet, the hassles of crossing the border keep crowds to a minimum in this dusty surfer's paradise.

Most everyone drives in through Tijuana on the main San Diego freeway, one of the busiest borders in the world, and down the so-called "scenic" road (it gets much more scenic once you make it through Tijuana) toward Ensenada. If you don't want to plan the trip yourself, Northern Baja Surf Camp (U.S. $700 for a week, includes meals and transport; www.bajasurfadventures.com) is located close to the surf—just a hundred miles (161 kilometers) past Ensenada. Indulge in amenities (like flushing toilets) and plenty of recreational games to do between sessions. Ping-pong anyone?
Guatemala: New Kid on the Beach
Tranquil Guatemala's best surf is found along its 140-mile (225-kilometer) Pacific coast. The country is still in its infancy as an international surfing destination. According to local surfer Adolfo Cruz, "There are no more than 150 active Guatemalan surfers." Now's the time to go for mellow beach-break waves and a conspicuous lack of crowds.

Check out El Paredon Surf Camp (U.S. $290 a week, includes transfers, board rental, meals, and lodging; elparedonsurfcamp.tripod.com) on the southern coast, just a two-hour drive from Guatemala City. After a session off the black sand beach, ask the camp owners to set up some activities for you. Try paddling a canoe through mangrove channels, while communing with the pelicans, herons, and kingfishers in neighboring Sipacate-Naranjo National Park. Or help return turtles to the wild at the Marine Turtle Nursery, run by the National Council for Protected Areas.
Mainland Mexico: The Original Surf Safari
Mainland Mexico played host to some of the first traveling American surfers more than 40 years ago, thereby setting the gold standard for surf safaris. The southern two-thirds of its Pacific coast has great waves for tricksters and longboarders alike. The coastline is beaded with spot after spot of great waves. Though sometimes crowded, the prime coastline is so vast that you can undoubtedly find an area to surf all by yourself.

North of the international seaside resort of Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo, on the central Pacific coast, Playa Kandahar Beach Surf Resort (U.S. $75 a night; www.nomadsurfers.com) is strategically placed within walking distance of some of Mexico's best surfing areas. Check out the never ending reef break at La Saladita (aka "the wave machine") a short walk down the beach.
Brazil: Land of Plenty
Still South America's reining economic power and a regional leader, any mention of Brazil also demands mention of the people who delight visitors with their vitality. After all, we can credit the Brazilians with such cultural contributions as Carnival, the samba, and capoeira. The massive country boasts over 4,500 miles (7,242 kilometers) of coastline with swells rolling in from all directions.

Brazilian beach breaks offer waves for all skill levels. For experienced surfers, the winter season (which corresponds with the North American summer) features bigger waves and smaller crowds. Itacaré Surfcamp (U.S. $725 for two weeks, including breakfast; www.nomadsurfers.com) is located in the picturesque fishing village and surfer hideaway of Itacaré, 186 miles (300 kilometers) south of Salvador.
Panama: Gnarly Noriega-Land
Noriega may be long gone but the surfing culture has made a permanent mark on Panama's 1,500 miles (2,414 kilometers) of coastline. Thanks to a low crime rate, Panama is also one of the safest places in Central America right now. And with the U.S. dollar circulating as the legal tender, conversion hassles and rip-offs are not a worry. What's more, the country's roads are some of the best in Latin America, making it the only country in the region where you can surf good waves on both coasts in a single day.

Much of the Panamanian oceanfront is still virgin, especially at Morro Negrito Surf Camp (U.S. $550 a week, includes airport transport, food, lodging, and boat trips; www.nomadsurfers.com). Set up shop on two private islands, the camp limits the number of surfers to only 20 at a time. The larger island lures surfers with its sandy beach break and two excellent point breaks, not to mention the private cabanas overlooking the sea. There's also diving, fishing, sea kayaking, horseback riding, hiking, and the simple pleasure of lounging in a hammock.
Uruguay: Undervalued Down Under
Uruguay is best known for its golden beaches, which draw a European and South American jet-set invasion of tourists during the high-season, similar to Argentina and Brazil. This small Atlantic-bordering South American country with the highest literacy rate (98 percent) in Latin America also has a stable middle class. As a result, Uruguay enjoys a comfortable standard of living, making time for (you guessed it) surfing.

The most conveniently located collection of surf breaks clusters around the small city of Punta del Este, which is about an hour's drive from the airport in Montevideo. Sun Valley Surf (U.S. $100 for a daylong lesson; www.sunvalleysurf.com) provides instruction and recommendations for where to go to surf around the country.
Nicaragua: Offshore and Often
Still trying to overcome ugly truths of a rocky past, Nicaragua is trying to clean up its rep. A bloody revolution between the Sandinistas and the U.S.-backed Contras destabilized the country for much of the eighties. Now that the political climate has stabilized, Nicaragua is turning to tourism to promote one of their most lively natural resources—the waves.

Nicaragua's best surf breaks are concentrated in one area along its southwest Pacific coastline in the province of Rivas, where a rare microclimate generates generous offshore winds almost all year long. Check out Popoyo Surf Camp (U.S. $885 a week, includes transfers, meals, lodging, and surf tours; www.wavehunters.com) in the town of Salinas. The great surfing, coupled with a mellow atmosphere, is the perfect hook-up for the surfer looking to log as much water time as possible.
Peru: Land of Consistency
When considering a trip to Peru, most people picture the legendary lost city of Machu Picchu or the exotic Amazon jungle. Perhaps that's why the Inca surf, even with consistent swells and a wide variety of waves, often doesn't make the must-see lists for die-hard surfers. Although Lima is infamously dirty and sometimes dangerous, travel in the Peruvian countryside is safe for foreigners.

Let the folks at Pico Alto International Surf Camp (U.S. $1,113 a week from New York or U.S. $881 from Miami, includes airfare, transfers, meals, and lodging; www.waterwaystravel.com) in Punta Hermosa show you around their stretch of coast. There you'll discover about 17 major surf spots that break anywhere from four feet to 15 feet (1.2 meters to 4.6 meters). Beginners need not fret. Even if the surf's huge, Pico Alto's experienced guides will hand-deliver you to the best surf to suit your mood.
Chile: The Big Chill
The Chilean economy is strong, and the people are hospitable to foreigners. Together with the incredible beauty of its topography and the well-developed transport system, Chile is already a classic destination. However, the rough, rocky point breaks dotting the southern coast have added a new mystique to Patagonia. In recent years, hard-core surf travelers have begun to take notice.

The southwestern coast of South America has some of the most consistent storms in the world, creating both strong currents and large (so large they have even started tow surfing) constant swells for surfing. Most spots in southern Chile are in cold water—often below 45º F (7º C)—and are for advanced surfers only. Check out La Casa del Sol (U.S. $480 a week, includes lodging, meals, transportation; www.casasol.com/surfing-chile.php) for a serious surf camp destination in Patagonia.

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Additional Excerpts
From the print edition, May 2005

The World's Best Hikes: Author Peter Potterfield's top trail picks
Point, Shoot, and Know When to Run: NG photographer Carsten Peter's incredible life
Pelton's World: A modern-day Easy Rider lays down the rules of the road
"Life's an Adventure" Reader Photo Album: See readers' photos and submit your own


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May 2005



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