The beach is 10 kilometers long and arrow-straight, with waves pummeling ashore, drawing surfers. The best time to visit is Saturday at 4 P.M. for the weekly surf competitions (no fee, $300 prize), hosted by The Backyard.
Beginning some two kilometers south of the village, the Playa Hermosa and Punta Mala Wildlife Refuge (Refugio de Vida Silvestre Playa Hermosa y Punta Mala, tel. 506/2643-1266) protects the nesting grounds of four species of marine turtles. It is off-limits to visitors. The sandy beach road ends at the ranger station, which has a turtle hatchery open to view (free).
Discovery Horseback Tours (tel. 506/8838-7550, www.horseridecostarica.com ) has guided tours, and Motoworld (tel. 506/2643-7111, www.mareabravacostarica.com ), at Marea Brava Beachfront Suites & Villas, has motorcycle and ATV tours.
Las Olas Hotel (tel./fax 506/2643-7021, www.lasolashotel.com ) offers surf tours and rents surfboards, snorkeling gear, and mountain bikes. Loma Del Mar Surf Camp (tel. 506/2643-2313, www.rovercam.com ) also offers surf classes and board rental. Surf camps include Waves Costa Rica (tel. 506/2643-7025, www.wavescr.com ), Jim Hogan Surf Camp (www.jimhogansurfcamp.com ), and Del Mar All Girls Surf Camp (tel. 506/2643-3197, www.costaricasurfingchicas.com ).
Chiclets Tree Tour (tel. 506/2643-1880, www.jacowave.com ) has a canopy tour that includes a daunting tree climb. Trips are offered at 7 A.M., 9 A.M., 1 P.M., and 3:30 P.M. daily.
Surprisingly, the only surf shop is CA Factory (tel. 506/2643-2871), two kilometers south of Playa Hermosa on the main highway. It rents and repairs boards, and offers lessons.
The snazzy Marea Brava (tel. 506/2643-7111, www.mareabravacostarica.com , $10 pp) has a rustic and atmospheric air-conditioned co-ed surfers’ rancho with bunks.
The Argentinian-run Posada Playa Hermosa (tel. 506/2643-2640, www.fbsurfboards.com/surfcamp , $40 s/d low season, $50 s/d high season) has five furnished ocher-painted log-beamed cabins in a delightful Robinson Crusoe kind of place. Furnishings are delightfully tropical, and all cabins have a private hot-water bathroom. There’s a communal kitchen. Fischer Bros. surfboard rental and repair is here.
My budget pick, beloved of surfers, is the offbeat Cabinas Las Arenas (tel. 506/2643-7013, www.cabinaslasarenas.com , $33–55 s, $49–60 d), well run by a Yorkshire-Canadian couple. The seven rooms are in a two-story unit, each with refrigerator, fan, stove, and private bath with hot water; some have cable TV and refrigerators. It has a simple, attractive bar-restaurant, and a river-stone courtyard over the beach. You can camp ($12 per tent).
Surfer dudes Jason and Jonathan run Las Olas Hotel (tel. 506/2643-7021, www.lasolashotel.com , $45–75 room, $100 cabin), a modern three-story structure with eight nicely kept rooms with kitchenettes and patios. There are also three two-story A-frame cabins, each with three bunks below and a double and single in the loft. There’s a pool and a restaurant beachside.
A similar alternative, run by U.S. surfer dudes Tobik and Dennis, is Cabinas Brisa del Mar (tel. 506/2643-7076, www.playahermosahostel.com , $35 s, $40 d year-round) with a community kitchen, basketball court, and ping-pong.
The Ola Bonita (tel. 506/2643-7090, www.olabonitacr.com , $75 s/d) offers seven cross-ventilated, air-conditioned rooms with cable TV, kitchens, and walls of whitewashed stone. Downstairs rooms are dark. It has a small pool. Almost a twin, the nearby Sandpiper Inn (tel. 506/2643-7042, www.sandpipercostarica.com , $80–130 s/d) has eight spacious, air-conditioned rooms in landscaped grounds with a tiny pool fed by a water cascade emanating from a whirlpool. Rooms have cable TV and high-speed WiFi. A shady restaurant offers meals.
For intimacy, opt for the modern Hotel Fuego del Sol (tel. 506/2643-6060, www.fuegodelsolhotel.com , $74 s or $86 d room, $124 junior suite, $143 master suite low season; $86 s or $98 d room, $161 junior suite, $182 master suite high season), a handsome two-story colonial-style structure in landscaped grounds. It has 17 spacious air-conditioned rooms and two suites, with cool tiles painted in tropical motifs, plus a pool with swim-up bar, gym, and beachfront restaurant. It has a one-week surf camp.
I’m impressed by the Surf Inn Hermosa (tel. 506/2643-7184, www.surfinnhermosa.com , from $80 s/d low season, from $120 s/d high season), which has air-conditioned studio apartments and condos, all with WiFi, and a beautiful contemporary aesthetic that includes glass-block showers.
A tad overpriced, the Marea Brava (tel. 506/2643-7043, www.mareabravacostarica.com , $100–184 s/d low season, $120–266 high season), next to Fuego del Sol, has a range of accommodations, from simply appointed rooms to suites with kitchenettes to more elegantly furnished suites and villas, all air-conditioned and with ceiling fans and furnished decks. It has a lovely pool complex with thatched restaurant.
The standout property, at the extreme north end of the beach, is the resort-style Terraza del Pacífico (tel. 506/2643-6862, www.terrazadelpacifico.com , $97 s/d rooms, $158 junior suite low season; $112 rooms, $189 junior suite high season), which caters to the more upscale surf crowd. This Spanish colonial–style property has a superb beachfront location and 62 well-appointed air-conditioned rooms, all with WiFi. The landscaped grounds boast a circular pool with a swim-up bar. There’s a casino, restaurant, and bar. Rates include breakfast and tax.
Meanwhile, a trio of hotels adjoin each other in the heart of Playa Hermosa hamlet. The Plaza Resort (tel. 506/2643-7223, www.theplazadehermosa.com , $125–200 s/d low season, $150–225 s/d high season) has beautifully furnished luxury condos in a three-story beachfront tower. The bargain-priced two-story Tortuga del Mar (tel. 506/2643-7132, www.tortugadelmar.net , $69–79 s/d low season, $75–93 s/d high season) has eight spacious and delightfully furnished rooms and studios, and could well be the preferred hotel at Playa Hermosa. Finally, the three-story Hermosa Beach House (tel. 506/2643-7178, www.hbhcr.com , $54–159 s/d low season, $64–179 s/d high season) has a variety of modestly appointed rooms and suites overlooking a swimming pool.
My favorite is The Backyard (tel. 506/2643-7041, www.backyardhotel.com , $110 s/d room, $175 s/d suite year-round), with modestly stylish furniture, including king-size beds, in its “deluxe” rooms and suites, all with cable TV and a full roster of mod-cons. The main draw here, though, is the restaurant and bar.
Hermosa Bungalows (tel. 506/2643-7190, www.beachlifemgmt.com ), all on its lonesome two kilometers along the dirt beach road, offers colonial-style bungalows on stilts. They have a beautiful breeze-kissed beachfront location, but you’ll need wheels, as you’re a ways away from any restaurants or services.
Yoga fans will want to check into Vida Asana Retreat Center (tel. 506/2643-7108, www.vidaasana.com , $38 s or $52 d rooms, $99 s/d duplex), in the hills inland of Playa Hermosa. It has a gorgeous tropical aesthetic and offers surf and yoga packages.
For a quick bite, the roadside Jungle Surf Café (no tel., 7 A.M.–9 P.M. daily, $2–10) satisfies with Tex-Mex, “killer omelettes,” burgers, barbecue chicken, and filet mignon. Go for the fish tacos. Surf movies play on the TV at the bar.
Steeped in ambience, the rough-hewn, Rastafarian-themed Jammin Café (no tel., 7 A.M.–9 P.M. daily), at Cabinas Las Arenas, serves pancakes and omelettes for breakfast, plus nachos, chicken quesadillas, ceviche, and vegetarian Rasta pasta in Caribbean sauce.
The center of action is the Backyard Bar (8 A.M.–10 P.M. daily) at the Backyard Hotel, with a large international menu, including tapas, burgers, seafood, and steaks. It draws a crowd for live music and barbecue on Saturday (4–8 P.M.), a nightly sunset happy hour (4:30–7:30 P.M.), and free drinks for ladies on Friday (5–8 P.M.). It sometimes has go-go dancers. Wednesday is ladies’ night (10 P.M.–1 A.M.), with “bonfire, dancing, and babes.”