Surfing in the Caribbean
Surfing in the Caribbean can be a hit or miss affair, but when it’s good, it’s real good.
Beyond the fact that the waves get good, the water is just out of this world. The shades of blue and green, the temperature. Not to mention the Caribbean culture. Surfing in the Caribbean can be an be an amazing surf trip, just be ready to pay attention to the seasons and perhaps chase storm swells.
The thing with surfing in the Caribbean, you really must pay attention to the seasons much more than say a surf trip to Costa Rica where the Pacific Coast gets at least some swell most of the year.
There’s a reason that the Caribbean is probably known more for snorkeling and just laying in the crystalline sand. When it’s flat, it is completely flat. Like a lake. Not even a ripple.
So a surf trip to the Caribbean really requires playing the odds properly to maximize your chance of getting any waves, much less good ones. But do your homework and you are sure to be rewarded.
Of course, the Caribbean is a big place and there are sure to be exceptions, secret spots, and the locals who chuckle knowing that there are actually waves in their spot all year round.
In fact, I learned a bit about this from my time living and surfing in St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands. I surfed there a lot more than I expected, but it would have been hard to nail down many of the short-lived swells that blew through if you weren’t on the spot.
But planning a surf trip is different than living somewhere full time. You have to play your best odds.
In this article, we’ll break down the Caribbean into a few different regions just to organize it a bit, and attempt to offer some information on when a good time might be to hit each spot.
And if I’ve actually been to a place, I’ve been known to spin a yarn about my adventures, so we’ll see.
Central American Coast
When people think of surfing in the Caribbean, they instantly go to islands. And why not? That’s what I tend to think of as well – washing up on some deserted sandy beach like Robinson Crusoe or storming around the Indies like a pirate. I get it. I’ve read those books too.
Or in this case, maybe catching winter swells in Puerto Rico or at Soup Bowls in Barbados.
We’ll get to these, but let’s stop to consider the Caribbean coast of Central America and what it might offer as well – namely the coasts of Costa Rica and Panama.
Many wandering surfers are familiar with these two wave-rich destinations, and we’re no different. There are plenty of articles on Roam Chronicles about both countries.
Usually, however, people are talking about the Pacific coasts when talking about surfing in Costa Rica or Panama, but that leaves other places to be explored.
Additionally, the Caribbean side of both of these countries offers a completely different feel and experience than the Pacific coasts that you may be more familiar with.
The Caribbean has a different history, and it has greatly affected the populations of all of the regions that border it.
Costa Rica – Limon and Puerto Viejo
Surfing on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica is centered around the city of Limon.
Limon is a different scene then Tamarindo by a long shot, and if you want to read some writing about it from some of our favorites like Paul Theroux or Allan Weisbecker, then you might enjoy The Patagonian Express or The Search for Captain Zero (great reads whether you’re actually heading to Limon or not).
Puerto Viejo is a Caribbean town, and the wave there, known as Salsa Brava is no joke.
When it comes to surfing on the Caribbean side of Panama, we’re talking about surfing Bocas del Toro.
We have a guide and some other Bocas del Toro articles that might help here:
Surfing Caribbean – Greater Antilles
The Greater Antilles consists of the larger islands in the Northern Caribbean. This includes Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti, Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico.
There is plenty of surf to be found in this region of the Caribbean, with Puerto Rico probably being the most reliable.
Of course, at least for travelers from the US, Cuba is still touch and go depending on the daily whims of politicians in Washington DC.
And Haiti… Well, Haiti’s descent into chaos is a really sad development.
Jamaica has its spots, and the Dominican Republic certainly gets swell too.
Surfing Caribbean – Lesser Antilles
The Lesser Antilles consists of the smaller islands that are made by the volcanic arc that stretches from the Virgin Islands in the north all the way around the edge of the Caribbean Sea south to Venezuela.
In the chain of islands that make up the Lesser Antilles, Barbados is definitely the most well known for surf. It is easy to see why.
Just look at a map and you’ll see how Barbados sticks out beyond the others right into the Atlantic, giving it a great position to pick up swells that march across from Africa.
Although, there are opportunities to catch waves throughout this region.
When it comes to planning surf trips, surfing in the Caribbean often gets overlooked due to the fickle nature of the waves. However, east coast surfers have known forever that a well-planned surgical strike mission can lead to a great surf trip, especially since it can give you a break from your wetsuit.
Of course, for those people who have found themselves camped out on islands in the Caribbean, you find that there is more surf than advertised but you just have to be there to catch it.
So here is our guide to the Best Surfing in the Caribbean, although admittedly based on planning a trip, not relocating forever. But hey, if relocation is in the cards, this might be a place to start.
When it comes to planning a surf trip to the Caribbean, on of the first places to check is Barbados. The famous Soup Bowls catches those winter swells marching across the Atlantic.
Puerto Rico stands tall as one of the best places to surf in the Caribbean.
Bocas Del Toro, Panama
Bocas del Toro, Panama has been gaining notoriety in the last 10 years or so for having some of the best surfing in the Caribbean. This group of islands off the north coast of Panama is an amazing destination, and while it has become famous in the surf press for the hollow barrels of Silverbacks, there are surf breaks on Bocas del Toro to suit all surfers needs.
Related: Killing Time In Changuinola Panama
Salsa Brava, Costa Rica
When it comes to surfing in Costa Rica, most people are thinking of the popular breaks up and down the Pacific side of the country. It is important to keep in mind that one of Costa Rica’s most notorious breaks is on the Caribbean side of the country.
Salsa Brava is located near the town of Limon.
Want to check out an amazing story that ends at Salsa Brava – check out In Search of Captain Zero.
Surfing in the BVI (or the USVI for that matter) is always going to be a fickle affair. That being said, Tortola will provide the goods when the swell is right.
Surfing St. Thomas US Virgin Islands
My Own Rum Diary in St. Thomas
Best Surfing in Central America
Read more Roam Chronicles.