There are few places in the world that compare to the nature and beauty of Pavones in Costa Rica. Pavones is not on a typical tourist’s agenda and if you don’t surf, you probably haven’t even heard of it. If you do surf, you probably know other Pavones is the southernmost destination on the Pacific side of Costa Rica and is famous for its peeling left that can hold up even with a large swell.
If you decide to make the investment in both time, money, and yourself (because going here will change you), here are some helpful tips to help you plan your trip to Pavones because frankly there’s a reason not many people come all the way down here.
Getting To Costa Rica
The logistics getting to Costa Rica isn’t simplest travel destinations, especially if you’re on a budget (like we usually are. To figure out you logistics of getting to Costa Rica (on a budget), be sure to go read out post Tips for Planning a Trip to Costa Rica: How to Get Cheap Flight + Rental Cars, and Other Travel Tips.
Once you get to Costa Rica here’s how to plan your trip to Pavones.
Traveling in Pavones
Depending on where you stay in Pavones will really determine if you need a car. If you are purely looking to surf then I recommend being in Pavones itself. However, there’s not much to this sleepy little town other than a super (market) and a few sodas (restaurants).
If you stay in Pavones town, then just take the bus in. It will save you money and headache. Like I say in my other blog, Why We Love Pavones, I personally think it’s worth it staying a bit south of Pavones town. I love the surf here but I also love the incredibly raw nature and clean air that I get more of as I go closer to Punta Banco.
Click here to read everything you need to know about getting a rental car in Costa Rica and other things to know about traveling to Costa Rica.
Driving to Pavones
First of all, driving in Costa Rica especially anywhere near San Jose or Jaco can be interesting, to say the least. People drive fast and rules are loosely enforced.
Drive defensively and be aware. I personally have never had a problem but we have a lot of experience driving in other places in the world.
Now actually getting to Pavones requires 6 hours of travel from the major airport, 1 of which is down a bumpy dirt road. We like to call this dirt road, “the filter.” It’s due to this filter that Pavones remains a relatively hidden gem however it does require a bit of work get to.
The good thing, and bad thing, is that over the last few years we’ve seen the dirt road progressively become more paved which does make it easier to get to but I fear it may ruin Pavones’s beautiful uniqueness and off the beaten path feel.
Finding Pavones isn’t easy and Google Maps ain’t that accurate down in the jungles of Costa Rica so here are some directions:
It’s hard to time flights and drives in order to make it from your house to Pavones in one shot. We usually land in San Jose around 10 and by the time we get through customs and rent a car it’s close to 1pm. Sunset is at 6pm year round and you don’t want to drive Pavones in the dark your first time. Because of this we usually sty in Uvita and finish the drive in the morning.
Airport to Uvita:
From where most of the rental car agencies are, head towards the airport on Highway 1 (east)
Check your odometer when you pass the airport. After 8 kilometers, exit right (look for a bridge), go in almost a complete circle here as the exit will get you on the bridge
You will take this road for 6 km and then get on Highway 27 which is a Toll road.
You will pass 3 booths on this road. They takes US dollar bills up to $20s, but each is less than $2 so if you have smaller bills it’s easier. The tolls in colones are 400, 700, and 530.
There are a bunch of Sodas and fruit stands right before you pay the third toll and this is an easy place (not beautiful) to grab a bite if you are starving from your travels. There are also plenty of places in Jaco but I don’t recommend stopping here.
If you can last 3 hours, the best place to eat is Cafe Mongo Congo, in Dominical. It’s a vegan restaurant that serves up amazing food and the best coffee!
We usually spend the night in Uvita because it’s the last big town before pavones. It’s closer to the airport, but only by 30 min, to stay in Dominical. Dominical is very Americanized and if you are intimidated going to CR your first time, this could help ease your transition. But Americanized means touristy to me and other than eating at Cafe Mongo Congo, I don’t like it here that much.
Uvita supposedly has a nice beach and Ballena is nearby. Since we are itching to surf we just stop in Uvita to sleep and then continue on our way early. W
e’ve stayed at Hotel Villas Gaia and it was easy. Rooms were comfortable and breakfast was free the next morning and very good. Last time we stayed in a hostel, Cascada Verde, because we were on a tighter budget. I personally loved the place. It’s very unique because the rooms are all built into a tree house. It had a big kitchen for us to make our meals and there is a grocery store nearby to get food.
There is also a bank and ATM next to the grocery store so get your money here before going to Pavones as there is not an ATM there.
Either way, staying in Uvita is great because the howler monkeys get pretty close
Uvita to Pavones:
From Uvita it will take you 3 hours.
Thirty minutes after Uvita you will go right in Palmar (follow signs for Golfito) get gas here or when you get to Rio Claro fill up on gas (and get cash if you didn’t in Uvita)
In Rio Claro you go right again (still following the signs for Golfito).
Pay attention for this next turn. There will be a bar called Rodeo on a left bend but it’s hidden on the left and the turn is a very tight left so you can easily miss it. Go left here. Now you have only about one hour fifteen minutes left (if you have 4×4, a little longer with 2wd).
In 15 minutes you will hit a dirt road, although every time we go down more and more is paved so you might not hit dirt for long.
What to Pack
Pack as little as possible and things you don’t care about.
Seriously, we go down with about
- 3-4 pairs of shorts and shirts
- 4 or 5 bathing suits
- 1 pair of flip flops
- 1 pair of beat up closed toe shoes if you plan on hiking
- Thin long sleeve
It rains a lot down in Pavones and it’s so humid things don’t dry so we always bring clothes we don’t care too much about. If you happen to spend a lot of money and have a room with AC then go ahead and bring fancier clothes. We don’t. We hand wash what we bring and if the mildew smell doesn’t come out, we leave it when we go.
But remember, because it’s so wet and humid, the area is drop dead gorgeous so keep things in perspective!
I brought our packable rain jackets because we were visiting at the start go the rainy season (May through November), but really didn’t need them. For one, because it’s so warm when it rains that a jacket really is too much. And second, it never rained for more than half a day and some days, not at all.
I do recommend a light long sleeve cotton shirt. It’s nice for cooler nights and for to protect from mosquitoes.
The bugs aren’t too bad—at least they weren’t in June. The temperature was a little cooler (and more pleasant) in June than the year before when we went in May (but with climate change you never know).
Budgeting a Trip to Pavones
This depends a lot on your habits and what you are looking for. You can visit Pavones very cheaply and put up with some discomfort OR you can pay more money for luxury.
Here is what our trip cost for the four of us for a 10-day trip. Our accommodation is a little more on the rugged side but still with plenty of comforts. We spent 7 nights in Pavones, 1 night in Uvita, and 1 night in San Jose before flying out (and thanks to Volaris, one night in Guadalajara but that was free).
-Airfare for 4 people $828 (including picking seats and carrying a surfboard bag)
-Rental car $289
Hostel Cascada Verde for 1 night $55
Casa Marea Alta Punta Banco for 7 nights $560
Hotel Brilla Sol San Jose for 1 night $75
-Groceries. We cook our own food most of the time. Grocery shopping in Pavones is affordable, though some suggest cheaper options in Panama or Maxi Pali. Personally, I prefer supporting the local grocery store owners in Pavones. For our one week we spent about 100,000 colonies which totals less than $200
-Eating out $225 (This varies depending on how much you cook at home. We didn’t eat out much.)
One meal for 4 people at Ebenezers in Pavones 25,000 ($45)
2 dinners at the Italian restaurant Pina (just for a snack of one pizza to share each time) 30,000 ($105)
Brunch for 4 at Cafe Mongo Congo in Dominical $40
Dinner for 4 at hotel in San Jose $60
Misc airport $25
Total trip cost for 4 people to go to Pavones for 12 days $2300
- Air $825
- Transport $350
- Hotel $700
- Food $425
Remember to go check out our blog Tips for Planning a Trip to Costa Rica to see how we get cheap flights and rental cars.
Pavones isn’t the only awesome surf destination in Costa Rica either. Check out our blog 4 Best Surfing Beaches in Costa Rica too before deciding if Pavones is the best destination for you.