Is a Costa Rica surf camp experience on your family’s travel wish list? Maybe you didn’t even realize Costa Rica is one of a the world’s best surf destinations. Twenty three years ago, George and Karen Harrison bought a stunning piece of beachfront property in Montezuma, Costa Rica. Using ox carts to bring in materials, they built what is now Peaks N’ Swells, a professionally coached surf camp run by their daughter, Hillary.
We booked our first family surf camp in 2011, and within weeks of our return home had already decided to return for another surf adventure the following year. In and of itself, the camps are incredible, but it’s the local knowledge imparted by the Harrison family that makes the trip exceptional.
Peaks N’ Swells family surf camps are offered in November, March and April — months that the Harrisons know from experience offer great weather, warm water, and predictable swells. The all-inclusive surf camp package includes breakfast, lunch and dinner, daily surf coaching and yoga sessions, villa-style accommodations, massage, and professional photography (by none other than Karen herself).
Unlike many resorts where times are set for meals or surf lessons are based on convenience, Peaks N’ Swells religiously checks the tide charts to make sure you and your kids are in the best possible conditions at the best possible break. If Internet is down, Hillary calls her friends around the peninsula to get a first hand report on what’s happening in the surf. It makes it one of the best surf camps in Costa Rica, and an ideal place for kids to learn to surf.
While the camp and surf school kept us busy for part of every day (read this post on Mother of all Trips for a more detailed review), we did tap into the Harrison’s extensive knowledge of the Nicoya Peninsula do some exploring.
Montezuma Waterfall: One of the most memorable of those excursions was a hike to the Montezuma Waterfall. Hilary told us that the “old school” route was to bypass the first pool and continue hiking to the top where we would be rewarded by a rope swing and majestic views from the top of the waterfall, and she was spot on. The hike is technically challenging, especially for small children, but so worth it.
Cemetery Island: On our day off, Karen loaded us all into the truck for a trek out to Cemetery Island. You can only access the island during low tide, so the trip has to be timed perfectly. Once on the island, there are shallow tide pools to explore and, true to its name, a cemetery marking the final resting place of Nicoya locals. On the way home, we pulled up under a huge tree so the kids could fill their t-shirts with marañón, the cashew fruit, which we later dried and ate with dinner.
Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve: One afternoon while the advanced surfers in our group ventured into more challenging waters, Karen took the rest of us to the Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve, 1,270 acres of preserved forest at the very tip of the Peninsula. Karen impressed the kids (and the adults) with facts about sloths, monkeys and history of the area as we watched iguanas scamper around and took in the incredible views.
Santa Theresa: After a big session of surf at Playa Hermosa, Hillary detoured into Santa Teresa, a surf town, so that we could stop into Kina’s Surf Shop, where we stocked up on sunscreen and rash guards. While the guys looked at surfboards, the girls snuck next door to try on the cutest bikinis made by a local surfer who knows that you don’t want to be fumbling around with straps while trying to catch a wave.
On the nights we ventured into town for dinner, the Harrisons recommended the best places to eat, including Playa de los Artistas, which is probably my favorite restaurant anywhere in the world. Café Organico also became a regular stop for snacks and smoothies, as did the authentic Italian gelateria in town.
Hilary also arranged for Jorge to stop by the camp at lunchtime with a steaming basket of his famous empanadas. However, the single best piece of local knowledge (from the viewpoint of my boys) came from Hilary’s husband, Ryan, who introduced us to Trits — a super sweet, almost marsh-mellowy Costa Rican version of an ice cream sandwich.
Peaks N’ Swells is about learning to surf for all levels of surfers, with incredible instructors and spending time with family, but for us it was also about exploring another part of the planet with our kids. This trip embodied everything we wanted in a family vacation — adventure, culture, and a sense of authenticity that comes with a small, family-owned property.
Ciao Bambino can help! Ciao Bambino offers a complimentary accommodation booking service where our team of family travel experts ensure all your needs are met. Check out the Peaks N’ Swells family-friendly hotel review in the CB! Hotel Collection to request dates and one of our Family Vacation Consultants will follow up.
Ciao Bambino can also plan a comprehensive family vacation in Costa Rica that include vetted guides and activities around the country. Connect with a Family Travel Advisor.
This is a guest post by Emily Bradbury who lives, works, and plays in the green mountains of Vermont with her husband and two boys. She asked me if she could share her experience at surf camp in Costa Rica with our readers. The camp, Peaks N’ Swells, sounds amazing. Adventure loving families, this is one for the bucket list!
Editor’s Note: Photos by Emily Bradbury
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