(Excerpts from The Surfer's Guide to Costa Rica & SW Nicaragua)
North of Tamarindo, but in the same bay on the same long stretch of beach and better exposed to south swells. One of the best beach breaks in Costa Rica, Playa Grande is known for its barrels, especially with good winter offshore winds. Like most beach breaks, it’s fickle, depending on tides, swell direction and sandbars, but it is one of the most consistent waves in Costa Rica and does get big and powerful. And like most beach breaks that get big and powerful, Playa Grande is also the site of frequent tourist drownings. So you should be a good swimmer and surfer if you decide to paddle out here on anything but the smaller days.
Playa Grande is accessible from Tamarindo by either driving back toward Villareal and turning north toward Huacas, then back toward Matapalo and the beach, or by taking a long paddle and hike. To hike you need to first cross the estuary that borders Tamarindo to the north. This is a sketchy proposition, as there are crocodiles in that river. In 2016, a 59-year old surfer was heading back to Tamarindo and got attacked by a croc while crossing the river. He lost his leg.
If you drive over you can park next to the Las Tortugas Hotel and pay the guards a couple of bucks.
Heading over to Playa Grande is usually worth your time because it’s almost always bigger than Tamarindo, especially on south swells that pass Tamarindo by and hit Grande head-on, and it’s usually less crowded if you stay away from the main peak. Playa Grande is nice in the winter with the offshores to groom those hollow peaks, but it blows out early, often and easily. Grande breaks best on higher tides. The best peaks are just south of the Las Tortugas Hotel, close to the parking.
Where to Stay for Playa Grande
Speaking of the Las Tortugas... The oldest and best known hotel is right on the beach: the venerable Hotel Las Tortugas, which is also the closest hotel to the surf, because it was built before the restrictions were put in place outlawing any more construction in favor of protecting the turtle nesting beach. Not the best prices or ratings, but a good choice. At Las Tortugas you will find other surfers looking for a more peaceful experience along with turtle-lovers and other nature lovers, since this is a world-famous turtle nesting area. (Apparently, turtles like beach breaks.) A preferred option is the RipJack Inn. It’s just 75 meters from the beach, but nicer and less expensive all around than Las Tortugas. TripAdvisor rates it #1 for the area. There are many other good lodging options, and the nice thing about the Playa Grande area is that you can walk to the surf from most of the area’s hotels, they’re all that close, even those in Salinas, the little town a short walk up the main road.