South America has been a traveler’s favorite for decades, with affordable living costs, an area so vast, and an abundance of things to do you could spend years exploring! Turns out the continent is also in a prime geographical position to produce world-class waves.
South America is one of the world’s best surf destinations, and this huge continent could have everything you want on your next surf trip. There’s every type of wave you could imagine, easy to get around, backpacker vibe, and a whole host of wicked things to do–no-brainer surf destination.
However, with thousands of miles of coastline, choosing the best place to go is tricky. Here’s everything you need to know about surfing in South America, from the best countries and spots to the best times of the year and all the travel tips you’ll ever need for visiting this wave-rich continent. We’ve heaps to get through, so let’s dive in.
Table of Contents
Surfing in Ecuador
While not as famous for world-class surf as its neighbor down south, Ecuador has super fun waves. Throw in a tropical climate year-round, low living costs and many cool things to see, and you have the ingredients for an awesome surf trip.
There are all types of waves dotted along Ecuador’s coastline, from hollow beachies to long points and beginner-friendly bays. No matter your ability, there’s something for you to ride. So when should you surf in Ecuador?
Best Time of Year to Surf in Ecuador
Ecuador has waves year-round, so you can expect to score fun waves at any time of year. However, January to March provides optimal conditions for surfing in Ecuador. During winter, while the waves turn on sometimes, the coast is plagued with low-hanging mist, rain, and onshores (July and August).
Best Surf Spots in Ecuador
Montanita is the capital of surfing in Ecuador and is where most of the nation’s best spots are. A thriving backpacker, perfect for digital nomads and backpackers looking to party! The waves are usually mellow, the sun shines, and you can live for a fraction of the cost of what you can in Europe or North America.
There is a long beginner-friendly beach break in town, with a fun, punchy right point breaking off the northern headland. For Ecuador’s best waves, you’ll need to drive a few miles up and down the coast, but I’ll let you find those spots for yourself 😉
For a once in a lifetime surf adventure, the Galapagos islands could have everything you’re looking for. The islands are a world heritage site–a stunning group of islands where you’ll encounter countless wildlife species, such as sea lions, lizards, Galapagos sharks, rays, and turtles. You’ll share the lineups with many of these!
Around the coast, there are a number of epic volcanic reef breaks with power and shape to resemble something in Hawaii. Check out Tongo reef on San Cristobal or Playa Tortuga on Santa Cruz.
During the northern hemisphere winter, there are a handful of waves that are simply world-class, but you’ll need to explore to find them! A combination of great waves and abundant wildlife provides one of the more unique surf trips you’ll ever do!
Surfing in Peru
With thousands of kilometers of exposed coastline, open to the vast expanse of the Pacific, it’s no surprise Peru has epic surf. While there are many different types of waves, the nation is known for its long left points.
Peru has a great backpacker trail, and you’ll encounter many a traveler and surfer from all over the world. An epic country to travel through, with low living costs, a solid bus system, and epic places to see, Surfing and exploring in Peru is a must-do South American surf trip.
Best Time of Year to Surf in Peru
Winter. Peru’s breaks light up during the large south swells that hit the coast in winter (April – October). This is, by far, the best time to surf in Peru! Unfortunately, these swells bring the Humbbolt current–a cool current from the Antarctic, bringing gray skies and cool water to the coast. While not as cold as Chile further south, you’ll need a decent 3/2 or 4/3.
Best Surf Spots in Peru
The furthest north of Peru’s countless surf zones is Mancora. A fun, left-hand point out the front of a vibin’ surf/backpacker town. The weather and water are warm year-round, and the waves are best during summer when the northern hemisphere swells reach the area. Mancora has a handful of waves around the coast and is the hometown of former CT surfer Lucas Messinas.
Lobitos is nothing more than a series of dusty tracks with a few surf hostels and accommodations overlooking the point. There’s not much going on here, but the waves are incredibly fun! A dreamy left point that peels beautifully down a sand bottom point. If you want somewhere relaxed where you can focus solely on surfing, Lobitos is for you!
A wave that needs to introduction. Chicama has long been dubbed the world’s longest left, rivaled only by Skeleton Bay in Namibia. Regardless of the tile, the wave is stupidly long, and when the swell hits 3-4ft, you’ve got hundreds of meters of fast left-hand wall. Seriously, it’s ridiculous how long some of the waves peel; I once rode a wave for 2 minutes! Check out the full breakdown of surfing in Chicama here.
Modern, sleek, and a welcome break from much of Peru’s barren coastline. Arriving in Lima will feel like you’ve arrived in Europe or North America. The city has all the conveniences and luxuries you need–perfect to reset if you’re on a long multi-nation surf adventure. Check out Miraflores for fun peaks breaking over boulders between a series of rock jetties.
Surfing in Chile
Ahhh Chile! The world’s longest country boasts hundreds of epic waves, many of them world-class. Known for its cold water, huge swells, and beautiful nature, Chile provides a true sense of surf exploration. You’ll always find waves in Chile– one of the most consistent places I’ve ever visited!
Best Time of Year to Surf in Chile
The best time of year to surf in Chile is winter. This is when large south swells hit the coast and light up the various point breaks that earn Chile its reputation as one of the best cold water surf spots on earth.
Best Surf Spots in Chile
Just over the border from Peru, Arica is known for the infamous “El Gringo”. A harrowing slab, breaking almost directly onto a dry rock slab. Popular with hard-charging locals and bodyboarders, the wave is also part of the WQS roster and one of the most challenging events of the year.
There’s a handful of slabs in the area and an average beach break if you’re after something mellow. Read my full breakdown of surfing in Arica to learn more.
South of Arica is another Chilean surf town famous for its slabs and solid swell. Iquique has several terrifying slabs and is a great place to get tubed or go sandboarding if you’re too scared to surf!
The jewel in the crown of surfing in Chile is the south. South of Santiago lies countless world-class waves, much of which are uncrowded, possibly untapped! A true surf adventure destination mixing natural beauty, low crowds, pumping left points, and long winding roads. Oh, and some cold temps…
To base your adventure, head to the famous Pichilemu and surf Punta De Lobos; from here, you’re a few hour’s drive from a number of Chile’s best waves. Read the full guide to surfing in southern Chile here.
Surfing in Brazil
It’s no secret Brazil has produced some of the best surfers to ever walk the planet, but the country remains somewhat “off the radar” for the traveling surfer. While the reason for this could be down to Brazil’s reputation for aggressive crowds and poor waves, the reality of surfing in Brazil is much different…
Best Time of Year to Surf in Brazil
Brazil has waves all year; the best time will depend on where you go. The country is absolutely massive, comparable in size to Australia. In winter (April – October), the coast receives its largest swells that come deep from the south Atlantic.
Best Surf Spots in Brazil
Arguably the best place to be a surfer in Brazil. Florianopolis is a beautiful island with dozens of white sand beaches, lakes, hills, a tropical climate, and a host of punchy beach breaks.
Surfers such as Michael Rodrigues and Mateus Herdy are from here, and the waves have helped shape them into the amazing surfers they are today. Check out Praia Mole, Campeche and Barra de Lagoa! Here’s a full breakdown of surfing in Florianopolis.
North of Sao Paulo is Fliple Toledo’s hometown, a beautiful town with hundreds of surf spots nearby. Fun, consistent beach breaks in abundance and a great place to surf for all levels.
Rio De Janeiro
Rio De Janeiro is one of the most visited cities in the southern hemisphere; with famous sights like Cristo Redentor, Ipanema beach, and Sugarloaf Mountain, the city is considered one of the most beautiful on the planet.
The same stunning white sands that attract the hordes of tourists and local beachgoers are also home to super fun waves. Rio’s beaches are surprisingly powerful; we’re talking hollow, punchy barrels breaking over shallow sandbars. Read more about surfing in Rio De Janeiro.
Saquarema has drawn the surfing world’s attention for its backwash and for hosting the CT and QS each year. A sleepy town an hour or so outside of Rio, Saquarema is a super consistent beach break with a left wedge at the northern end and dredging right-hand barrel off the southern break wall.
Beautiful beaches, a laid-back vibe, and a great place to check out if you’re looking to score waves and escape the craziness of Rio. Check out the full breakdown of surfing in Saquarema here.
Surfing in Argentina
While lesser known for surfing than its surf-rich neighbors, Argentina has great surf. Throw in great living costs and a wicked vibe, and Argentina could be a surfing gem.
Best Time of Year to Surf in Argentina
The best time of year to surf in Argentina is during winter. This is when the largest swells grace the coast and provide the best conditions. If you don’t mind the cold, you’ll get waves!
Best Surf Spots in Argentina
Mar Del Plata
Mar Del Plata is by far the best and most well-known surf spot in Argentina. The area has a number of breaks, mostly beach breaks, with peaks breaking off the various rock walls that dominate the beaches. A cool town and the go-to spot to base your Argentina surf trip.
Getting to South America
Whether you’re just heading one South American nation or embarking on a multi-nation epic, getting to South America is easy. Fly to Rio, Lima, Santiago, or Quito from any major city around the world. Obviously, if you’re planning to travel to multiple countries, it makes geographical sense to start in Ecuador and travel south or vice versa. Check out flights to South America here.
Getting Around in South America
South America is super popular for backpackers and travelers, so getting around is relatively easy, as long as you don’t mind the odd long bus ride.
By plane is by far the best way to get around South America, you can find cheap flights between most cities, and you’ll get to where you want to go as quickly as possible.
Hiring a car can give you the most flexibility when exploring waves in South America. While the costs can rack up if you plan to drive cross-border, within one country, you can find super affordable rental cars. I always use Rental Cars–it’s my go-to hire car booking site.
The bus is your new best friend if you’re on a budget surf trip to South America. Bus routes are reliable and extensive throughout the continent, and while distances are vast, you can find overnight bus tickets between cities for less than $50! Some companies even take you cross-border.
I once took a bus from close to Chicma in Peru to Lima, a 12-hour overnight bus that cost around $25. What’s more is that many of the buses are comfortable and have reclining leather seats, A/C, TV, charging ports, and wifi, if you’re lucky. Check out your South American bus routes here.
Best Surf Camps in South America
If you want to improve your surfing in great waves and meet people like you, staying in a surf camp can be a great idea for surfing in South America. Here’s an overview of some of the continent’s best surf camps.
Chicama Boutique Hotel & Spa
If you’re looking to score the world’s longest left and want to stay in comfort and luxury, then look no further. Perched on the hill overlooking the wave, the boutique hotel and spa gives you everything you need.
For a beginner-friendly surf experience and party vibe, there’s no better place to stay in Montanita than at Montanita Cabanas. A FlashPacker hostel boasts a pool, jacuzzi, garden, privates, hot water, and all the communal space to meet other traveling surfers. Check out more about the camp here.
While not strictly a surf camp, Selina Florianopolis is part of the hostel chain common throughout central and South America. The Floripa property is something out of a dream, beach front at Praia Mole and with a surf school onsite gives you everything you need for surfing–equipment, and coaching available on site! Winner!
A hostel come-surf camp located only minutes from the world-famous Punta de Lobos. With a surf hire/school on site, there’s no better place to be if you’ve come to learn or score waves in Pichiemu. Learn more about Sirena Insolente here.
Best Beginner Surf Spots in South America
Tips for Surfing in South America
As is typical with most of the world’s best surf destinations, you can expect some localism in South America. Locals get their waves first, and during my year-long trip, I did encounter some localism, notably in Panama and El Salvador, but don’t stress, unless your snaking and dropping in on the locals, you’ll be fine!
Getting around in South America is pretty straightforward, with decent bus routes and affordable flights throughout the continent. Despite this, distances can be vast, meaning if you’re on a budget surf trip, prepare for some 10-12 hour + bus journeys!
While countries such as El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Ecuador are super affordable, the cost of living in much of South America is not as cheap as you’d expect it to be.
As you head south toward Lima, water gets significantly colder. While in northern Peru, you can still surf in boardies, especially during summer; by the time you reach Chicama, you’ll need a 3/2, and by the time you get to Lima and head toward Chile, you’ll need a 2/4, oh and maybe some boots.
With the exception of Brazil, most South American surf destinations are Spanish-speaking, and many people do not speak English. While you might be able to get by with English in the major cities and surf towns, some basic Spanish goes a long way! I’d suggest grabbing a basic Spanish phrase book to carry with you.
Off the Beaten Track Surf Destinations in South America
If you’re after a true surf adventure, Easter Island is one of the most unique and remote places on earth. A rich history and once-in-a-lifetime kinda place; the island is a five-hour flight from Santiago and is technically part of Chile. The island also has some super powerful Hawaii-style reef breaks.
With some of Ecuador’s best waves, Galapagos combines great surf, stunning natural beauty, and some of the most unique and abundant wildlife on the planet. A 2-hour flight from Guayaquil on the mainland, and while not one of the most budget trips you’ll do, the Galapagos is an amazing adventure surf trip.
In the deep south of Chile and across the border into Argentina lies Patagonia. An incredible destination with mountains, lakes, and some of the world’s finest hiking. While you might not visit solely for surfing, if you’ve got the means for adventure, a 4×4, and maybe a jetski, you never know what you could find.
Fernando De Noronha
Off the northeast coast of Brazil is a paradisiacal island with laid-back vibes, a tropical climate, and super fun waves. Mere hours from the mainland, Noronha is a stunningly beautiful place and will make for an unforgettable surf trip. We’re talking beach break barrels, azure waters, bikini-clad women, and white sand. The Caparinhas go down alright too!
Whether you’re embarking on a 6-month surf adventure or just a quick escape, South America may have all the ingredients you need for an awesome surf trip. Whatever country you visit, expect to get waves, see cool sites, meet great people, and surf your brains out!
For more information on surfing in South America, check out my YouTube channel or read my other blog posts. I hope you’ve found this info helpful, and let me know of any questions below! Yew!