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Salsa Brava - Getting There, What To Expect…

From San José, take the main highway to the port of Limon, the drive is on a two-lane road which winds through lush green mountainscapes, then a half hour straight shot to the coast. There is also an airport here, so check out SANSA and NatureAir for flight info. The black sand beaches attract international visitors from all over the world, who come for the relazed easy vibe, and some to see the endangered sea turtles that reproduce there every year. Tourism is a healthy industry here, and surfers make up a small but significant portion.

The history is unique in this area around Limon. Primarily settled by Jamaicans who came to build the Panama Canal, then stayed for the rich fishing, farming, and to start a new life. Little did they know, they were sitting on one of the best waves in Costa Rica. The culture here is distinctly Jamaican, the bars and restaurants blast reggae, serve jerk spiced dishes, and overall a ton of weed gets smoked here in the name of Rastafarian “whatchamacallit.” The scene is mellow here, but it can get sketchy around Limon - more so than the Pacific side towns - so be on your best behavior and keep your guard up.

There are other coral reef breaks north, south, and just offshore if you can hire a boat to take you there. Sun in the morning and afternoon rain is common, conditions get blown out during the day, so dawn patrols and sunset sessions are the best time to hit it. If you are planning a trip in the winter months, surf is bigger on this side, while it tends to be smaller on the Pacific side.

The take-off spot at Salsa Brava and some of the other reef breaks can be sketchy, the crowd sits right at the tip of the triangle. Locals get the first waves of the set, then you get a chance to paddle in the loose pecking order made up of travelers and less savvy locals. The weekend crowds from San José get on it when the swell is pumping, but you can still get waves north and south of Limon, just make sure you don’t surf alone.

Now for the sobering part… and i will preface this next part by saying “I’m scared of sharks!” Now that I’ve pussied out over the sharks, the known fact is that the beaches north of Playa Bonita and just south of Limon have more sharks than swimmers. If you love sharks, you will love the crocodiles! They roam out from the rivermouths on an outgoing tide. Bring bug repellent. Not for the sharks and crocs… for the mosquitoes, which are a nuisance at dawn and dusk. At night you should stick to public areas and don’t travel alone due to the risk of getting harassed by thieves or drug addicts. But hey, the waves are great.

During the summer months waves are smaller and swells less frequent. Wave sizes range from flat to small windswells, which usually only last a couple of days.

Fall hurricane season swells can be powerful depending on the storm direction and duration. Expect surf in the knee high to two-foot overhead range depending on the swell. At this time of year, short rain showers in the morning and afternoon prevail, so conditions are glassy at dawn and deteriorate during the day.

Bigger swells start to kick up in late November out of the Northeast. Wave size is consistently waist high most of the time to a couple feet overhead on the best days. December generally means less rain, more frequent swells, and overall better weather for surfers and tourists.

February through April are the best months for surfing here and waves stick in the head high to the triple overhead range. Reef breaks like Salsa Brava hold the swell and get heavy and hollow, beachbreaks get closed out. Powerful Northeast storms coming from the east coast of the United States generate long period surf south of Cuba and below the Lesser Antilles. No need to come here to surf at this time of year if you aren’t a seasoned surfer.


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