surf holiday beginner

The Best Worldwide Beginner Surf Destinations

Even though our surf camp is in the Dominican Republic, we are also surfers ourselves and have traveled extensively for years in the search for waves to catch.

Based on our experience, here are our top beginner surf destinations in the world, which could also suit intermediate and expert surfers.

Dominican Republic.

We must begin with one of our own places of course: Swell Cabarete is located on the North Coast of the Dominican Republic. We very deliberately chose this location after having visited many countries around the globe which might have been suitable as a place to build a surf camp, especially a surf camp which offers perfect, complete-beginner waves for learning to surf.

The boxes we feel that must be ticked to be considered a great beginner surf destination are as follows:

  • Consistency of surf
  • Are there waves for multiple levels of surfers?
  • Are there any dangers in or out of the water?
  • Ease of access to the waves
  • Distance to an international airport

Consistency of surf

To be suitable as a beginner surf camp destination we need to be able to offer our guests surfable waves at least 300+ days of the year.

The North coast delivers on this, with at least 340+ days of surfable waves at Playa Encuentro.

surfing dominican republic

Waves for multiple levels of surfers

Of course, not everyone is a beginner surfer, so in order to consistently make it into the top ten surfing destinations, a great surf camp needs to cater not just for complete beginners, but for intermediate and even expert surfers. Fortunately for us at Swell in Cabarete, once again Playa Encuentro delivers; there are multiple waves and different peaks, all within a short walk from each other. From mellow inside beginner waves to big barreling waves on shallow reefs for expert surfers + everything in between.

Are there any dangers in or out of the water?

Playa Encuentro is also a very safe spot to surf or to learn to surf because there are no dangers in or under the water. Tidal differences are minimal so getting injured from the reef bed is almost impossible. There are no dangerous rips or currents at Playa Encuentro, so there’s no danger of being dragged out to sea.
Neither are there sharks or other dangerous sea life (for example crocodiles and sharks as can be seen in certain parts of Costa Rica) so the Dominican Republic scores very highly on this element too. It also helps to have very warm water year-round, so another bonus point is scored there.

Ease of access to the waves

‘Highway surfing’ is not a term that surfers want to hear as it means they are constantly on the search for waves, without finding them. Again, the Dominican Republic’s waves score highly on the ease of access criteria; it’s only a journey of 10 minutes to a charming, completely unspoiled surf beach.

neno swell

Distance to an international airport

Just as with the afore-mentioned highway surfing we also wanted to minimize the travel time for our clients, so we wanted to be close to an international airport. Our location in Cabarete is just 25 minutes from Puerto Plata international airport (code POP). Santiago International airport (airport code STI) is one and a half hours away. Santo Domingo international airport (airport code SDQ) is also an option at 3 hours car journey time and with buses on offer running north every hour during the day.

Because Cabarete and Playa Encuentro ticked all the right boxes, that’s where we put our first, purpose-built surf camp.  We haven’t talked much about other important criteria, such as choice and quality of food, the beauty of beaches, additional activities on offer, or an available party scene when required, but Cabarete has all of these too, so it still remains our firm No.1 complete-beginner surf destination.

We have clients who come and visit us year after year and always at some point, they ask us ‘Are there any other surf camp destinations that you can recommend to me since I love the whole Swell experience, but want to visit a new country?’ Because of this, we have just completed our 2nd Surf hotel, Swell Bali

Bali & Indonesia

Indonesia is widely regarded as one of the best countries in the world for surf.  It enjoys 100’s of world-class surfing spots dotted along its many thousands of different islands.  But Bali in particular is famous for its waves: A small island with a huge variety of surf spots to suit surfers of all levels, from complete beginners to experts looking for big barrels.  It’s the home of legendary waves like Uluwatu, Padang Padang, Impossibles and Bingin.  These are only a handful of what’s on offer though, there are tons more and all within a short distance.   Bingin village is the location we chose to build our new Bali Surf Hotel.  Bingin is one of the best waves in Bali at low tide, but at higher tides is an ideal place to learn to surf or to get those smaller green waves intermediate surfers love.


    • High-quality surf for surfers of all levels
    • Year-round surf
    • Bali’s surfing beaches are all within a short drive from the international airport of Denpasar (DPS)
    • Warm water year-round
    • Stunning scenery
    • Serene Hindu culture
    • Notoriously friendly Balinese people
    • Famously delicious and cheap local food + a huge variety of good Western restaurants at very reasonable prices.
    • Lots to do other than surfing


  • Bali is usually quite a long journey from Europe and the Americas.
  • Can be rainy between December and March

More info in available here:  surfing in Bali

Where else in the world can you learn to surf? 

As mentioned earlier, we have also visited more than 20+ surf destinations and countries over the last 25 years in our search for waves and fun.  Here is our honest opinion on some of them:

Costa Rica

Costa Rica is still one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world and surf tourism is growing fast there.  It’s mountainous and beautiful and there are some fine surf camps and surf resorts in Costa Rica, suitable for an awesome surf holiday.


  • Very pretty country and scenery
  • Famous for its nature and animal/reptile species
  • Some good surf spots available
  • Lots of eco-tourism
  • Politically safe country
  • Plenty of flights to Costa Rica from lots of countries


  • Costa Rica has become very expensive in recent years: on average 40 to 70% more expensive than a surf holiday to another comparable destination such as Bali or the Dominican Republic
  • Many of the surf areas are remote and require long road journeys or another internal flight once you have arrived at San Jose airport.  Travel time from the airport to the beach can be between 4 and 8 hours depending on where you stay.
  • The surf can be crowded these days
  • Theft is an issue
  • People say that Costa Rica has become too ‘Americanised’
  • Not a wide choice for eating out in these remote surfing areas and food choices can be very limited/rather expensive
  • Some known water hazards, such as crocodiles at river mouth spots.

More info on surfing in Costa Rica as a surf destination for beginners:


Nicaragua is less popular than it’s neighbor Costa Rica, basically because of fairly regular political turmoil.  Tourism only started to take off 20 or so years ago and it’s much less developed than its neighbour, which can be seen as a real plus.  Like Costa Rica, it’s also a beautiful country.


  • 30-40% cheaper than Costa Rica
  • Offshore winds create very clean surf conditions


  • Not a large variety of good beginner surfing spots
  • Travel distances between surf spots is very long
  • Not a wide choice of dining available
  • Recent political unrest is again causing instability

More info on surfing in Nicaragua


Hawaii is the birthplace of surfing. Year-round warm weather and water and great beginner waves around the south coast of Oahu make it a great place to have your first surfing experience.


  • Beautiful scenery and beaches
  • A safe place to visit
  • Plenty of other activities besides surfing
  • Great surf for expert surfers


  • Very expensive (there are only a few surf camps but they are pretty basic and tend to be double or triple the price of Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic.)
  • Very, very crowded in the water leading to well-known local aggression.

More info on surf camps in Hawaii:


If you are based in Europe then one of the most popular places people go surfing is to Portugal.  The long, exposed coastline with plenty of beaches is suitable for surfers of all levels.  Portugal is also rich in culture, especially around Lisbon.


  • There are plenty of cheap and basic surf camps (please note that these tend to be more suitable for 18 to 25-year-olds)
  • Variety of surf spots suitable for people of all levels
  • Surf & culture & city life close to Lisbon


  • Coldwater year-round so you will need to bring and wear a wetsuit at all times of the year
  • There are literally 100’s of surf camps and schools so it’s surfboard mayhem at times.
  • Because of the cheap nature of the majority of surf schools, they tend to teach in very large groups; often 20 students to one surf coach
  • Cold air temperature between November and April
  • Basic food choices in the north of Portugal (more choice towards the Algarve region).

More info on surf holidays in Portugals:

Sayulita, Mexico:

A charming fishing village just north of Puerto Vallarta; it’s one of the most beautiful Mexican towns we have ever visited.  We actually lived there for 10 months whilst we researched its possibility as a new surf camp for Swell.  The food and ambiance in Sayulita is wonderful.  In the end, we left because of its rather inconsistent surf, but when there are some waves it’s great fun.


  • Stunning town and some really fun surf out front.
  • Within a short drive, there are a variety of surf spots suitable for people of all levels
  • Incredible food on offer in the town.


  • Surf gets very busy
  • Mexico’s infamous cartel crime hangs a shadow over the area, even though we found Sayulita to feel safe
  • It’s rather expensive to stay there
  • The water in Sayulita bay can get rather dirty.

Canary Islands

This group of islands lies off the coast of Morocco and are a part of Spain.   Rugged and volcanic (not active volcanos) the landscape of most of the islands is dramatically barren and in places resembles the moon-surface.  The Canary Islands have a great winter climate (Nov to April) and some fun surf spots.


  • Easy to get to from Europe
  • Quite a few surf spots dotted around most of the Canary Islands (Lanzarote, Tenerife and Fuerto Ventura have the best surf spots)
  • Good climate


  • Surf gets very busy
  • The Canary Islands are notoriously wind-swept, so many surf spots get blown out by mid-morning.
  • You will need a wet-suit year-round as the water is always cold
  • They are known as cheap islands to stay on, which for some is an advantage, but if you are looking for any kind of luxury, it’s hard to find.


This group of atols has some fun surf and has been described as a mini version of Indonesia.  Generally, it’s pretty expensive to stay there.  A lot of boat charters operate in the region.


  • Stunning, unspoiled islands
  • Fun surf for all levels
  • Warm water


  • It’s a bit of a trek to get there
  • Expensive
  • Can be considered as being rather dull post-surf as there is very little to do
  • Alcohol is prohibited.

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is a relative newcomer to the surf holiday market but has gained a reputation for having some fun waves.   There are two provinces with very different surf seasons, so make sure that you do your research on where you should go at what time.


  • A variety of surf spots
  • Warm water
  • Great local food
  • Relatively inexpensive


  • Strong monsoon season
  • Crowd levels
  • Long-distance between surf spots.

All of the above entries are based on our experience with several trips to each of the countries mentioned.   We haven’t commented on places we haven’t experienced ourselves, so it’s far from a definitive list.  There are many more countries in the world that cater to beginner surfers with suitable surf camps and surf resorts.

If you have any questions about surfing destinations, feel free to send us a message; normally, we’ve been there and can tell you if it’s suitable for you.  If you prefer to come and see us in either of our two fabulous Swell locations, please do check out Swell surf camp in the Dominican Republic or our brand new location, Swell Bali in Indonesia,  you can contact us easily by using the contact us links on either of those websites.

Enjoy the waves wherever you go!

Jeroen & Clare
Owners Swell Surf Camp


Located on the scenic north coast of the Dominican Republic is our purpose-built surf resort

We cater for surfers of all levels, from beginners to expert surfers who are looking for an active surf holiday

Swell offers full surf packages holidays


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beginner surf destinations

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  • Think of Swell as the anti-surf camp. There’s plenty of surfing, of course, but the similarities to other surf camps end there. For starters, the rooms are stylish — more boutique surf hotel than reggae-loving surfer digs. Then there are the legendary breakfasts (omelets, pancakes and crepes, fresh-squeezed orange juice, and fruit bowls). Structured surf lessons take place each morning, with an instructor alongside you and the head surf coach watching from shallow water, ready to offer learn to surf tips between riding waves. If you are serious about learning to surf, then Swell should be on top of your destination list. Highly recommended!

    Reference Source:
    [Frommer’s Travel Guides]

    Designed with the discerning surfer in mind, Swell Surf Camp is far from a crash pad. The spare clean lines, plush bedding, modern photographs and funky furniture say ‘boutique surf retreat’ but the pool, ping-pong and foosball tables and social vibe suggest otherwise. A huge wood communal table is the center of the hanging-out action, after all the surfing is done. Highly recommended!

    Reference Source:
    [Lonely Planet]




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