Learning to surf on a beginner surfboard at the beach can be difficult and challenging, but also very rewarding. Some people travel all over the world, just to find the perfect waves. If you are a beginner big waves and fast water can seem intimidating, but there are a lot of great and exotic places that have waves for beginners, too.
When you imagine surfing, Hawaii or California probably come to mind. While they have certainly earned their reputation for surfing, there are a lot of hidden gems in the other half the hemisphere. For the last few years surfing has been on the rise in countries in South America, and now there’s no denying that South America offers some incredible surfing opportunities, even for beginners. While the cold of the Pacific Ocean might cause you to think twice, don’t let it deter you. That’s what wetsuits are for. The beautiful beaches and incredible natural surroundings in South America combined with wave potential and often uncrowded beaches will more than make up for chilly water. Not to mention the incredible charm and uniqueness these countries have to offer.
So, keeping in mind that the seasons in the southern hemisphere are not the same as the northern, let´s take a look at some of the best spots for beginners in South America.
Let’s start at the top of South America with Colombia. This country is very unique because it touches both the Pacific and the Caribbean. Caribbean waters are generally calm and warm, which is ideal for beginners. The Pacific side will promise some impressive waves and isolated beaches, some of which may be suitable for beginners. Because Colombia is just above the equator, you can generally expect warm weather, and warm water along the coasts. This country is also unique in that it has two summers or dry seasons lasting form December to January and again from July to August, while the winter or rainy season lasts from April to May and October to November. Water temperatures will range from 25.8°C (78.4°F) in January to 30.1°C (86.2°F) in October.
- Terquito: This beach is located just south of Nuquí on Colombia’s Pacific coast, and one of the few beaches along Colombia’s Pacific suitable for beginners. This beach is a bit difficult to get to because of its remote location in the middle of a jungle. You’ll have to fly in, but it will definitely be worth the extra effort it takes to get there. Once you land in Nuquí, you’ll feel like you’ve traveled to a different planet. The beaches here are isolated and lined by lush jungle. You’ll feel like you have paradise all to yourself as you ride the left and right hand beach breaks.
- Cartagena: On the main beach of this colorful city with an old style European charm you’ll find waves perfect for beginners. The waves often depend on the wind so some days will be hit or miss. The waves are beach break however, so they will be perfect for any beginner. Breaking left, they can get between 50 and 150 meters long and up to 1 meter tall on a good day. There probably won’t be too many surfers, although the beach might get crowded. If you tire of the smaller waves, or they don’t seem to be picking up, you can always try one of the other beaches around Cartagena, which aren’t difficult to get to.
Ecuador is small in relation to other South American countries, but it promises to give you a number of incredible beaches and balmy weather. Straddling the equator, the dry summer lasts from June to September and the wet season from October to May. Water temperatures generally range from 24°C (75.2°F) in October to 27°C (80.6°F) in March. So you can probably skip the wetsuit.
- Canoa: This small town gives you access to a number of beaches. As you surf the easy right and left hand beach breaks you’ll have a nice view of the steep tree lined cliffs that frame the shores. Luckily, you probably won’t have to compete with many other surfers to catch these consistent waves. This is the perfect place for beginners.
- Atacames: Five hours from Quito, this white sand beach can get pretty popular during the summer. The weather is warm all year and the waves are consistent, so if you want to go when it isn’t crowded, avoid Ecuador’s holidays. Here you’ll find exposed left and right hand beach breaks. The beach isn’t just great for beginners – it also hosted the ISA World Junior Games in 2009.
Moving further along down the coast we arrive to Peru – famous for its Incan ruins it has more to offer than just Machu Picchu. Along the coast you’ll find black sand beaches made from volcanic ash with some of the best surf in the world. You’ll find pro surfers catching some intense waves here or trying to ride the longest wave in the world, Chicama. But don’t worry, there are plenty of places for beginners to catch some waves while enjoying Peru’s unique geography. Peru’s summer lasts from December to February. Even though the air might get warm during summer, with an average water temperature of 19°C (66°F) throughout the year you might feel a bit turned off of the surf. But don’t let the chilly waves deter you. Wearing a wetsuit you won’t even notice the cold as you ride these amazing waves.
- Cerro Azul: Most tourists would skip this rugged little fishing village 139 kilometers south of Lima, but as a surfer you should put it near the top of your list. At the end of the bay rocks form a point that creates a variety of waves, making this location ideal for beginner or intermediate surfers. A pier divides the waves into left hand point breaks and right hands, which are much more challenging. The more common left hand point breaks are perfect for beginners and don’t collapse easily. It isn’t difficult for learners to catch these waves. While this might not be the most beautiful town, the beach is nice and often uncrowded. Everything adds up to a very quiet and relaxing atmosphere where you can enjoy some perfect waves all year round.
- Huanchaco: This beach town is located in the north of Peru just outside of Trujillo. Although some people have warned that the waves here can get a bit mushy at times, the good news is that there are waves every single day, so it’s unlikely they’ll stay mushy for long. This is also a very safe beach for beginners – the bottom is covered with some smooth flat rocks and sand, so if you fall off your surfboard you’re unlikely to run into any jagged rocks. The waves are left hand break points and the swells range from 1 to 2.5 meters. This is such an important surfing location it is now protected as a World Surfing Reserve. Not only that, but the town itself is close to ancient ruins, and (if you are feeling particularly adventurous) a world famous wave – the Chicama, the longest wave in the world.
What’s not to love about Chile? This is one of the safest, most developed countries in Latin America. Chile is so thin, you can almost throw a rock in any direction and hit the ocean or the Andes. Because of its length, you’ll find some of the greatest geographical diversity crammed into what’s relatively a little country. Easily to travel, you won’t ever get to far from the coast, and Chile certainly has many unexplored beaches to surf. The water will be cold – as cold as 12.1°C (53.8°F) in June and only a few degrees warmer in summer – so unless you like to suffer a wetsuit is a must. It’s best to come during late spring or summer (December to February) if your hoping for some sun and nicer water temperatures. Even so, the water is powerful and incredibly beautiful. The chill and freshness will give you a refreshing burst of energy.
- Totoralillo: Just a twenty minute ride south of Coquimbo, this little beach has several break points – both right and left hand. Although some can get pretty powerful, many are suitable for beginners. The waves may be a short 50 meters on average but are known to form tubes, which will be fun to try for a new surfer. The beach promises to be white, beautiful and likely uncrowded. The beach forms a sort of circle before thinning into a strip that leads back to the mainland, so you can explore to see which spot offers the best waves for you personally. The calmest waves are often dotted with body boarders and people swimming, so you can always warm up there before trying something a little more difficult.
- Pichilemu: About three hours south west of Santiago, this is a world famous surfing destination and many championships have taken place there. The beaches are long and the greyish colored sand comes from volcanic ash. You won’t find white sand beaches here, but you will find incredible waves for all levels. Beginners should stick to the beach La Puntilla – literally the point. This part of the beach, as you might be able to guess from the name, sticks out into the ocean from the shore and offers left hand point breaks that can get up to 500 meters long. The bottom is sandy but unfortunately the waves can be a bit fast and sometimes powerful, so keep that in mind. If La Puntilla still seems a little daunting, Playa Las Terrazas is more calm, and right at the center of the city. You can just surf the calmer waters there, or use it to practice before heading over to La Puntilla. And, if you want to learn by watching some of pro surfers, head over to Playa Infiernillo or Punta de Lobos to see them tackle the brutal waves.
Moving around the southern tip of the continent bring us to Argentina and its Atlantic coast. Although much of this coast isn’t always known for consistent surf, there are quite a few places worth exploring. After flying into Buenos Aires and enjoying all that miraculous city has to offer, you can make your way down the coast to the more surf-friendly sections. Even though you might subconsciously think Argentina would be a little warmer than the Peruvian and Chilean’s Pacific water, you’d be wrong – the water can get down to 10.1°C (50.2°F) in September and will only get to 20.7°C (69.2°F) at the height of summer (December to February). Get ready to suit up again.
- Mar del Plata: This coastal city of just over 600,000 is the most popular place to surf in Argentina, and it’s not hard to see why. With around 47 km of coastline, whether you are planning on taking your first lesson or working on improving your skills, you’ll have plenty of options to choose from. The best beaches for beginners might be Waikki or La Serena. Waikki is a right hand break point with a sandy bottom and easy going waves, while La Serena has a right and left beach break. At La Serena the waves get a little stronger but it shouldn’t be anything to worry about. Unlike many of the other surfing locations mentioned here, keep in mind these beaches are right next to a large city, so during the weekend you can always expect beach goers. If you want to avoid the crowd surf during the week or early in the morning.
- Miramar: This city is a little further down the coast, about 45 km south of Mar del Plata. Its population is a lot smaller, at around 30,000 so you may have a little less competition when trying to catch the waves. The downside is that sometimes the waves can be a little inconsistent – the wind can make or break the surf. You’ll find right and left beach breaks that range from 50 to 150 meters. Because the waves are unpredictable, you need to watch them before you enter the water. Many times you’ll find waves suitable for beginners, but the waves can become more advanced. In general, you’re more likely to find beginner waves closer to the center of the town.
It might be tempting to overlook this little country situated right above Argentina, but if you do you’ll be missing a relaxing, beginner-friendly surfing experience. Not far from Montevideo are a few spots perfect to relax, enjoy a beach bum surf culture and either learn to surf for the first time or hone your abilities. You will be able to relax on the beaches, drink a few beers and because Uruguay isn’t too costly, save a lot of money at these surfing spots. Although the waters can reach 23.9°C (75°F) in summer (December to February) , they are still 10.6°C (51°F) in winter. Hope you still have your wetsuit with you.
- Punta del Este: If you follow the coast east of Montevideo, you’ll arrive to Punta del Este, a popular tourist town, complete with casinos and nightclubs. Its beaches are many and varied, but the best for beginners is Playa Brava. Along the beach you’ll see a variety of sculptures, the most famous being the large dusty fingers of Los Dedos jutting out of the sand. The waves should be fun and easy and not too challenging for the most part. It’s a good beach for learning how to surf for the first time.
- Punta del Diablo: About 100 kilometers north east of La Paloma, Punta del Diablo is known for its constant waves. The little town only has a little over 800 people but during summer, people pour into this town to relax and surf. Given the influx of people, you may not want to go during peak summer season (late December to early March). You’d think given a name like diablo the waves would be unforgiving or a challenge, but normally they are easy going and of average size. You shouldn’t have trouble riding these waves. They may be on the shorter side, but there are plenty of them, so you’ll be able to keep going back out for more.
Moving up along the Atlantic coast we reach Brazil. From Río to the Amazon there’s a lot to see and it might be hard to take it all in. Brazil’s waves are as diverse as the rest of the country and offer surfing options for every level. Even so, the best place to go for the most consistent surf is in the south. The average water temperature is 22°C (71°F) in the southern surfing sector, but farther north the waters may reach 28.4°C (83.2°F) in summer. Brazil’s seasons are still in line with the rest of the hemisphere with summer lasting from September to February, so plan your trip accordingly.
- Barra da Lagoa: Situated on an island off the southern coast of Brazil, this beach has a sandy bottom and left and right beach break waves. You aren’t going to find anything too intense at this beach. The town is very small, the waters are a bright blue and the coast is lined with greenery. It is a very calm spot, and not much of a challenge, but perfect for absolute beginners.
- Itacaré: This town, 226 kilometers south of São Paolo is fairly removed from the rest of the world, offering dozens of beaches even more isolated. You may need to walk a kilometer or two to get to the beaches, but it is bound to pay off. The beaches are surrounded by jungle, isolated, and provide excellent waves even for beginners. Engenhoca is probably the most popular beach for beginners. The waves are long and consistent but not too big for a beginner to handle. The view and the waves will make the trek to the beach well worth the effort. And the best part? In summer you won’t even need a wetsuit.
Skipping a few thin countries along the Caribbean coast that don’t offer any promising surf, we’ll jump ahead to our last country on the list – Venezuela. Closer to the equator, the sea temperature will be much warmer, usually hovering around 27°C (80.6°F). Unlike many of the other countries mentioned, Venezuela’s unique location gives it a tropical climate. It really only has two seasons – winter or the rainy season, which lasts from May to November and summer or the dry season, which lasts from December to April. Luckily Venezuela is mostly undiscovered surfing territory. It has options, but is lesser known among the South American countries, which means you will have less competition.
- Isla Margarita: This island will be a warm relief from some of the colder water temperatures throughout South America, bringing you the delightfully consistent warm temperatures within the water and without of the Caribbean. The island offers a wealth of beaches and tons of surf, not all for beginners. Here, the best beach for beginners is Guacuco. There you’ll find a right and left hand sand-bar break that can get up to 300 meters long. If you aren’t going in the peak of vacations, it shouldn’t be too crowded, either. You can fly there internationally or from Caracas or take a ferry.
- Boca de Aroa: This fun beginners spot is located about 3 hours north west of Caracas. The dark blue waves come from a left and right hand beach break. They can are moderately consistent and can range from 50 to 150 meters but might even get 2 meters high. The beach will likely be uncrowded, so you can have the waves to yourself.
When it comes down to it, really all of these countries have amazing possibilities and are bound to give you a once and a life time experience, not just when it comes to surfing, but in so many other ways as well. The geography, climate, natural features and culture will definitely dazzle you as much as the waves and probably make you want to extend your trip indefinitely. So many times the ruggedness of South America and a somewhat misleading reputation for danger makes people cross them off their list, when in reality, these places will steal your heart and leave you wondering why the beach you’re sitting on watching a perfect sun setting over incredible waves is deserted. But then again maybe you’d rather keep the secret, and the waves, to yourself.
image credit: Surftek South America