Pavones: Surfing and Seclusion on the Southern Pacific

Far down Costa Rica’s Pacific coast, near the border with Panama, you will find the rural beach town of Pavones. Pavones isn’t well known, mostly because it is so hard to get to, but that hasn’t stopped surfers who come for its famous left break. This picturesque town isn’t only for the surfing crowd, though. Raw jungle, rugged terrain, and miles of remote beach make Pavones a great place to just escape from it all.

In this post, we’ll let you know what to expect when visiting Pavones. We’ll cover what the town and beaches are like as well as how to get there.

Pavones Costa Rica Destination Guide

Orientation

Pavones is located in the southern-most part of Costa Rica, one of the most undeveloped regions of the country. Although you will find a few larger towns here, much of the landscape remains wild jungle with patches of agricultural land mixed in.

The town of Pavones itself is set on a point near the mouth of the Gulfo Dulce, a large bay that feeds into the Pacific Ocean. Directly across the bay is the Osa Peninsula, an even more remote area, much of which is protected land. To the northeast is Zancudo, another rural beach town.

To the south of Pavones, heading towards the Panama border, is Punta Banco. We’ll cover this more below, but if you follow the beach road out of town, you’ll pass through a few small communities before the roads ends in Punta Banco.

Beach Road Pavones
The beach road in Pavones

Getting to Pavones

Overview

Pavones is a long drive from San Jose, at about seven hours. To shorten the trip, many people take a small plane from San Jose to Golfito.

Alternatively, a road trip is a fun way to get there. You can make several stops along the way, checking out places like Manuel Antonio and Uvita/Dominical, to break up the drive.

Driving Directions

Pavones is off Route 2, a busy highway that connects Costa Rica to Panama.

Once you get to the larger town of Rio Claro, you’ll take a right off Route 2 at Servicentro Rio Claro (gas station) onto Route 14. A little more than halfway to Golfito, you’ll take a sharp left onto Route 238, marked by a bar called El Rodeo. Then it’s a right-hand turn in El Barrido (at the fork in the road), and another right in Conte at the Super Conte (small grocery store). This road (Route 611) will lead you all the way to Pavones.

Expect to spend at least 1.5 hours getting from Rio Claro to the coast. Along the way, you’ll meander through tiny towns and beautiful countryside. The roads start nicely paved, later turn to smooth gravel, and finally become a long stretch of bumpy dirt.

As you get closer to Pavones, the terrain will become a little steeper and rougher. We visited during rainy season (May to November, we were there in July) and used our 4×4 a couple of times. However, during dry season, you should be fine without it.

Check out our Rental Car Discount through Adobe Rent a Car to save 10% and get free extras like a second driver. Adobe also offers our readers free roof racks for surf boards; just be sure to request one in the comments when you make a reservation.

As you approach Pavones, there are some small bridges to cross. These are the old-fashioned one-lane bridges without guardrails that you often find in the Costa Rican countryside. They are fine as long as you go slowly.

Nun's Bridge Pavones Costa Rica
A one-lane bridge on the way to Pavones

We don’t recommend making this drive after dark because of these bridges and also because there are lots of turns to make on unmarked roads. So plan accordingly.

Things to Do in Pavones

Since Pavones is in a remote area, it doesn’t have as many tours as some of Costa Rica’s other destinations. However, you can still do some fun things. Sportfishing is an option, as well as chocolate tours, horseback riding, whale and dolphin watching, and ATV rentals. Here are some of Pavones’ most well-known activities.

Surfing

Pavones is a favorite among surfers in Costa Rica. It’s said to have one of the longest left breaks in the world. We’ve talked to people who say you can pick it up on one end of the beach and ride it all the way through town. That’s a mile or more! Of course, you need optimal conditions for this to happen, which means a big southern swell in Pavones.

Waves are fairly consistent in Pavones, though, and surfing is said to be stellar for at least 150 days a year.

Surfing Pavones

Although Pavones usually isn’t crowded, during big swells, it can get busy with surfers visiting from other areas. If you happen to be coming then, you could check out Punta Banco to the south for solid rights and lefts, and fewer crowds.

Beaches

Playa Pavones

Playa Pavones is a long gray sand beach. It is backed by thick rainforest and tall palms, giving it a very wild feel. The southern end of the beach near Pavones Point has dramatic rock outcroppings at lower tides. Here, some small pools form that are fun to wade in. It’s worth walking this stretch if you can just to take in the sheer raw beauty.

Southern End Playa Pavones
The southern end of Playa Pavones with lots of scenic rock outcroppings

Aside from surfing, you can also boogie board at Playa Pavones. We caught some fun smaller waves near Pavones Point at mid tide.

The Rio Claro also flows into the Gulf at Pavones Point and is a popular place to toss in a fishing line.

Punta Banco

About 20 minutes south of Pavones, following the narrow beach road, is Punta Banco. Punta Banco has an even more wild feel than Pavones. Every time we visited, there were only a few other people around, mostly local fishermen.

A big highlight of Punta Banco are the elaborate tidepools. These are best at very low tide. If you snorkel, bring your equipment to check out the deeper pool in the center (near the end of the road where you park). We saw several cool yellow and black pufferfish here as well as some other colorful fish.

Tide Pools Punta Banco Southern Costa Rica
Tide pools at Punta Banco

You can walk Punta Banco for miles south to take in amazing views. There are some scenic streams to cross, surrounded by vibrant greenery, where you can dip your feet in the refreshing water.

Wildlife

Since the area is brimming with rainforest, there’s a lot of wildlife to discover. Even walking or driving along the beach road south of town, you can see a lot. Squirrel monkeys, white-faced monkeys, howler monkeys, sloths, coati (raccoon-like animals), and many kinds of birds including Scarlet Macaw Parrots are just a handful of what can be found.

In the Golfo Dulce, you can see dolphins during most times of year on boat tours and also different species of whale. Humpback whales are the most common since they use this area as their breeding grounds.

Planning Your Visit to Pavones

Amenities

Pavones is a small town so don’t expect to find everything you need there. But it does have the basics.

In the main area, you’ll find a couple of small grocery stores, a hardware store, police station, school, and church. If you’re planning to cook, bring any harder-to-find items with you as the selection at the local markets is limited.

Notably, Pavones does not have a gas station so be sure to fill up in Rio Claro before you get off the highway.

Pavones does not have a bank or ATM machine either so bring some cash.

Center of Town Pavones
Part of the main area of town

Restaurants

We traveled during Covid-19 so, unfortunately, did not get to eat at any of the restaurants. There are a handful of good options in town, though. Most are simple places offering traditional Costa Rican food, but you can also find Italian cuisine, Costa Rican-Mexican food, and cafes serving innovative, healthy options.

Where to Stay in Pavones

Pavones has some good options for lodges, cabins, casual hotels, and surf retreats. Many of these are right in town.

If you’re coming to surf, you might enjoy Surf House Pavones, which is in a great location near the river mouth. They have boards and bicycles that guests can use for free. Check Rates and Availability Here.

For all the comforts, we highly recommend Pavones Point. This is a newer property with a handful of high-end condo-style units. The two- and three-bedroom units are contemporary and have all the amenities you would need. Each comes with a full kitchen, spacious outdoor sitting area, and A/C throughout. The property overlooks the beach so you can enjoy your morning coffee with the ocean breeze. We loved our stay here. Check Rates and Availability at Pavones Point.

Pavones Point Hotel
Pavones Point

Another popular option is La Ponderosa. La Ponderosa has been around for quite a while. It’s about a mile and a half from the center of town, south of Pavones Point. The well-kept property is directly across the street from the beach and surrounded by lush jungle and gardens. They have seven suites and one larger house, each with A/C and a screened-in balcony. Check Rates and Availability Here.

Rainy Season

If you are planning to visit Pavones from around May to the end of November, your trip will coincide with rainy season. This is an important point because the southern Pacific region receives some of the most rain in Costa Rica.

During the early rainy season months of May through July, the weather in Pavones tends to be fairly good, with mostly sunny skies and showers in the afternoon or evening. But rain tends to pick up later on. September through November can be quite wet, with some roads washing out. Be sure to rent a 4×4 vehicle with higher clearance if you’ll be traveling during peak rainy season.

Conclusion

Our recent visit to Pavones left us wanting more. The wild landscape and all-but-deserted beaches, along with the feeling of being in the middle of nowhere, was just the recharge that we all needed. Our kids still talk about going back. With lots more to explore, you can bet it won’t be long.

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Have a question about visiting Pavones or have you been there yourself? Leave us a comment below.

Looking for more information to plan your visit to Costa Rica? Check out these posts:

Central Pacific Coast Regional Snapshot: If you’re thinking of spending a couple of nights along the central Pacific to break up the drive to Pavones, check out this post. It will give you a feel for that region and help you narrow down where to go.

Drake Bay: Costa Rica Unplugged – Another remote destination in the jungle is Drake Bay. Drake is one of the best access points for visiting Corcovado National Park, famed for its wildlife.

Driving in Costa Rica: What to Know Before You Go – We recommend a rental car since Pavones is more remote. Check out our guide with tips and information on what to expect.

Costa Rica Rental Car Discount: Check prices and availability through the company that we recommend, Adobe Rent a Car. Our readers get 10% off and a free second driver, surf rack, and car seats for kids.

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